Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Love Doesn't Insist on its Own Way

(my apologies for being a few hours late with this post.  we've been traveling and only now have i found time to write what's been on my mind.)

a recent visit to the home of a relative who lives about five hours away reminded me of this characteristic from paul's list in first corinthians 13.  we were dividing our time between two related families who live on opposite sides of a large city.  in order to move conveniently from one home to another, we needed to leave the first home we visited on a friday morning.  to lengthen our visit at this first location would have meant adding an extra hour to our travel time and fighting rush hour traffic at its worst, adding even more to our time to reach our second destination.

the relative whom we first visited had it in her head that we had to stay the entire friday at her home before leaving.  she hadn't thought through the inconvenience it would cause us, and at breakfast we explained to her why we needed to leave on friday morning.  (we had already extended our visit by one extra night at her insistence.)  she was preoccupied with other matters and didn't pay attention to our explanation.  when the time came for us to leave, she became quite angry and agitated, stormed off to another part of the house, and, when one of us followed her to try and reason with her, she became even more angry and said some very unkind things.

we always dread visiting her home, because inevitably there is an explosion like this no matter how careful we are to avoid upsetting her.  this relative is very talented--a wonderful musician, keeps an immaculate house, can do anything from laying flooring to plumbing to gardening.  she is economically well-fixed, has a brilliant daughter and two equally gifted grandchildren--in short, everything she needs to live a happy, contented life.  but she is an eternal victim, and her past constantly haunts her.  her father was an abusive controlling man who terrified his wife and children, her first husband was equally controlling, her daughter was alienated from her for several years because she lived with and eventually married a man that the daughter resented after her divorce from her first husband, and even now, her daughter and grandchildren keep their distance much of the time.  her second husband is several years older than she and in poor health, and she resents having to care for him.

when we talk with her, the conversation is a litany of all her problems past and present, and, when we visit, she must determine the schedule and control all the activities that take place.  she is the epitome of a sort of self-love that insists on its own way to compensate for all the unhappiness in her life, an unhappiness that she blames on others but which really stems from her own insistence that everyone else must submit to her wishes to compensate her for her past and present misfortunes.

all of us fall into the trap of insisting on our own way from time to time, but we do no one a favor when we become a doormat for others who insist on their own way.  relationships with others are about compromise--i'll go your way some of the time if you'll go my way at other times.  my wife exhibited a perfect example on this trip when she went with me to an event that she didn't give a fig about because she knew how much i wanted to go, despite my telling her that it would be alright if i missed out on this event so that she could have more time with relatives she wanted to visit after we left the first relative's home.  as she told me later, "i knew how important this was to you, and i was determined for you to have this experience no matter what."  this is true love, a giving of yourself to make room for another's happiness.

may we all have such a love, one that allows others to have their own way when it matters most.  may we let go of the selfish belief that the world owes us our own way because we somehow deserve it.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Love Is Not Rude

it seems to me that rudeness often goes hand-in-hand with arrogance.  we see this in the way people who believe that their station is above that of another speak to  those they consider "beneath them."  for instance, a waitress may be treated rudely by a patron who seemingly has no respect for the waitress, regarding her as an object rather than a person worthy of consideration.  an employer may belittle an employee because of some perceived failing, knowing that the employee likely has no recourse because of the employee's dependence on the income from his job.

those who consistently treat others rudely are betraying a lack of empathy for others, considering these others as conveniences whose humanity is of little consequence.  i remember a friend telling of a woman with whom the friend played bridge from time to time.  this woman spoke curtly, often cruelly, to the wait-staff at the establishment where they played bridge, and once when a person who was dressed shabbily happened to come into the room where they played bridge, this woman rose from her table and addressed the poorly-dressed intruder with utter contempt, ordering him from their presence.  my friend said that this was the last time she played bridge with this woman.

we've all witnessed this sort of behavior.  most of us don't have the courage to speak up when this happens, and, in so doing, we participate in the rudeness.  we are all guilty of being rude from time to time, forgetting that, despite outward appearances or station, we are all the same.  perhaps, we are so absorbed in our own problems and circumstances, or are angry at some other event in our lives, that we forget ourselves and are rude to another.  but there is never an excuse for rudeness or for tolerating the rudeness of another.  we cannot love ourselves or others and be rude at the same time.

may we remember that love and rudeness are mutually exclusive.  may we treat others as we want to be treated, respecting each person and regarding each person as being worthy of our consideration and respect.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love Is Not Boastful

love is a quiet thing, something that requires no recognition from others.  when paul lists the second of his "love is not" characteristics, i am reminded of the two men who stood in the temple praying--the story jesus tells in luke 18.  one, a pharisee, thanks God that he is not like others men who commit all sorts of sins; he speaks loudly so that those around him may know that he's not like another man who is also in the temple praying.  the second man, a "publican," simply prays for mercy, knowing that he, like every other person, has done wrong.  the first man is not really addressing God but has come to the temple so that others can see how righteous he is.  because he is more concerned with how others perceive him, any good acts he performs are done to impress others with his righteousness, not out of any genuine love for anyone other than himself.  the second man recognizes his own shortcomings and senses the contempt that others, especially those like the boastful pharisee, feel for him.  his only concern is that God see him for what he is: a human who struggles and fails and continues to try to live a better life.

we all have some of both men in us.  we want others to see us as good people, people whose hearts are filled with love, and sometimes we let our need to be recognized for seeking to do good take precedence over the right motivation of doing good for the benefit of others.  if our hearts are filled with love, it is not the recognition of others that is important; we act out of love because love is at our very core.  the needs of others are uppermost in our minds, and whether others see the actions that flow from the love in our hearts is of no consequence.

may we make the right effort that moves us from being like the self-righteous pharisee toward being like the repentant publican.  may we recognize that we all fail to live up to our ideals and keep trying to fill our hearts with love for love's own sake.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Love Is Not Envious

there doesn't seem to be good antonym for envy.  as a state of being, one who is envious is not contented, and so, perhaps "contentment" is the best opposite of envy.  we all envy attributes or the possessions of others.  we long to look like another who is closer to our ideal of good appearance.  we wish that we had the wherewithal of another who has more than we.

one wonders if contentment is always a virtue.  why make the effort to be a better person if one is content with things as they are?  is the ambition which grows from envy always a bad thing?  perhaps the inherent problem with envy is a matter of degree.  when we have enough of something--good looks, health, material possessions--we ought to be content with enough.  when we lack the basic necessities of life, we should not be content, but neither should we envy those who do have what they need and wish that we could possess what they have at their expense.

at its most base, envy covets that which is not ours.  when we become envious, we wish to take from those who have what we want and deprive the possessor of that which we envy so that it may become ours.  without this covetousness, there is no envy.  when we say we envy someone's appearance, do we mean we wish to have the same attractiveness or do we wish that we could become more handsome while the other becomes less so?  in the first instance, we are not envious in the bad sense, but rather we are wishing for something we do not have without depriving another of that quality.  in the second, we are truly envious, desiring to take from the other in order to appear to have that quality ourselves, to be better looking in comparison and not because we are inherently good-looking or because we have worked to improve our appearance so as to be more attractive.

envy is an insidious evil.  may we understand where the desire for self-improvement ends and the coveting of that which we do not have begins.  may our effort be the right effort, not the effort that grows from envy and a lack of contentment when what we have is enough.  may our effort grow from a generous, not a covetous, spirit.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Love Is Not Arrogant, Part 2

i continue to think about arrogance and the great harm we do to others by our arrogance.  as i watch, read, and listen to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in paris, the arrogance of the attackers and that of those who rail against them disturbs me.  religious fanaticism and bigotry are perhaps the worst expressions of arrogance.  many are so quick to brand all who follow the path of islam as evil.  they fail to see that all religious extremism is woven from the same arrogant cloth which seeks to impose the will of the extremists on others.

we see christian extremism rearing its ugly head in the united states and elsewhere.  many of those elected to high office here are determined to impose their brand of christianity on the rest of the nation, denying women control over their own bodies in the name of religion, calling for the persecution of gays in the name of religion, branding the poor as "takers" in the name of religion, rewriting history to conform to their religious ideals.

we see buddhist extremists persecuting muslims in burma, othodox christian extremists persecuting gays in russia, islamic extremists persecuting religious minorities in the middle east, jewish extremists persecuting arabs in israel, gaza, and the occupied territories.  all of this grows, like the christian extermism in the united states, from the arrogance of believing that some have the right, even the duty, to impose their own convictions on those who disagree with those convictions.  it is not islam that is the problem; it is the arrogance of fanaticism.

in the west we still persist in our arrogant belief that our way of life and the christian religion which is dominant are more advanced, superior to cultures that are far more ancient.  when christianity was in its infancy, hinduism, buddhism, and other eastern religions had been practiced for many hundreds of years.  even the judaism from which christianity sprang was a relatively young religion when the religions of india and asia were already ancient.  in our arrogance, we have stormed around the globe making colonies, imposing our economic and political systems and religion on them.  we have taken natural and human resources that were not ours to take and used them to enrich ourselves.  yet we have the audacity to continue to proclaim our superiority over those we have left in desperate circumstances, creating nation states from former colonies that have little chance of becoming unified, cobbling together disparate groups of people who have no historic ties, as if the world were ours to divide up as we think best.  what horrible results our arrogance has produced, and we refuse to take responsibility for our actions.

may we turn from our arrogance.  may we recognize all religious extremism for the evil that it is.  may we accept blame for the problems arising from our own cultural and religious arrogance.  may we see that the terrorists in paris have much more in common with us than we want to admit.  may we forgive and be forgiven.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Love Is Not Arrogant

though this quality of love is the third of the "love is not" characteristics in st. paul's list, a movie preview i saw recently prompted me to skip the preceding two in the list to write about arrogance.  we see too much arrogance in our society these days, the arrogance which says, "since i know i'm right, you must be wrong."  politicians insist that their solutions to the problems facing our county are the right ones, that their positions must prevail since those who have other ideas are dead wrong.  there can be no give and take, no compromise.  religious leaders insist that their view of the christian faith is the only true view, that those who interpret the teachings of the faith differently are in error, and that those who are adherents of others religions or no religion are dead wrong.

arrogance is dangerous because the arrogant believe that they have a monopoly on truth.  the arrogant see no other possibilities, no common ground with those who disagree with them.  the trailer that got me to thinking about arrogance was for a movie called "do you believe," a "faith-based" movie that appears to suggest that a lack of faith in the atoning sacrifice of jesus on the cross is the cause of suffering in the lives of its characters, that this strain of christian theology is the answer to the problems these characters and, by extension, all of us confront.  the movie is from the same studio that produced "god is not dead," a movie that has an atheist professor who is in a position of power over his students abuse that power by insisting that the students accept his belief that there is no God.   of course, in the end, the professor is converted from atheism to fundamentalist christianity because one student refuses to knuckle under.

since i haven't seen the newer movie, i shouldn't condemn it out-of-hand, but from the scenes in the trailer, it appears to have the same heavy-handed, simplistic arrogance of its predecessor.  it is not the content of the "believe" movie about which i'm so concerned, but the pervasive view in american society that one political party or one narrow view of christianity is the only valid one.  no party or religion can claim to be the only source of truth.  arrogance and the intolerance which grows from it are the banes of a democratic society, and we cannot allow ourselves to be taken in by an arrogance which refuses to love and respect those with whom we disagree.

may we take to heart st. paul's teaching that "love is not arrogant."  may we be open to the views of others.  may we never believe that we and those who agree with us are the only ones who can be right.  may love open our hearts and minds to other possibilities.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Love Is . . .

in first corinthians 13, st. paul lists several qualities of love, and i try to remind myself of those qualities each morning.  in this new year, i've been journaling about those qualities.  this morning i want to share what i've written in my "love journal" about the two positive attributes the st. paul lists: patience and kindness.  there are "off the top of my head" entries in my journal, and my thoughts are not fully formed.  if you have suggestions or comments that will help me or someone else understand what one means when one says, "love is patient, love is kind," i would be happy for you to help me and others to grow in patience and kindness.

love is patient:  love is willing to wait, to live life unhurried.  love doesn't seek instant gratification, but puts aside the lust for things in favor of being in the present and enjoying what is already in and around us.  love doesn't expect others to recognize what we need and supply it.  love doesn't have unrealistic expectations of others, but cherishes them for who and what they are without wishing to make them something that satisfies one's own needs.  because love is patient, love is accepting and therefore bears all things.

love is kind:  may we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  may we think first before we act, asking ourselves, "is this the way i wish to be treated?"  if we lived with such mindfulness, how much suffering we would refrain from visiting upon others, how many evil deeds would cease, how many good deeds would be performed.  how well our country would run if those in power imagined themselves in the shoes of those affected by the laws they enacted before voting on laws that harm others and take away their rights.  if employers put themselves in the place of their employees, would those employers resent providing a living wage or health insurance to their employees?  if teacher imagined themselves in the seats of their students, would they treat those students disrespectfully, and if students placed themselves at the desks of their teachers, would they misbehave and resent the authority of their teachers?

the essence of kindness is putting oneself in another's place, of seeing that all of us are essentially the same.  when we are treated with cruelty, and unkind actions and words are directed against us, may we try to react in the way we wish to be treated rather than responding in like manner.  may unkindness stop with us.  may our words and acts be mindful, without any attempt to repay unkindness with unkindness.

i am working on comments about the characteristics st. paul lists next, all of the next group stated in the form of what love is not.  what i hope to accomplish is to refrain from simply restating what was written so long ago but rather to become mindful of the underlying meaning.  may this effort help me to grow in understanding, to become a more loving and lovable person.  may we all work together to love others and to love ourselves.  shalom.