Monday, September 21, 2015

Fly Me to the Moon

my wife and i are off on a month-long trip, so i won't be posting for a while.  i hope to be back blogging by mid-october.   may all who stumble upon this page or who come to it on purpose be well, may you be happy, may you be at peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Blessed Assurance!

three events keep swirling through my mind--first, a county clerk's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her belief that doing so would be a denial of her christian beliefs and her subsequent jailing for contempt of court; next, the dismissal of our church secretary because of her problems relating to other members of the church staff; and, finally, walking into our local movie theater and hearing an advertisement for how to have a "lasting relationship with jesus christ" by attending a local evangelical church.  how are these events related to one another?  what does their coming to mind together mean for me?

i am suspicious of those who are confident in their own rightness and righteousness.  i am troubled by those who seem to have no doubts about their own beliefs and who can dismiss the beliefs of others with self-assurance.

i ask myself how would issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple harm kim davis, or how would her faith be harmed if she permitted her deputies to issue licenses even if her own conscience would not allow her to do so.  how can she be so certain that her "deeply held" religious beliefs are right and should therefore be forced on others?

if an employee of a church harbors resentments against other staff members, i question whether the problem is best solved by firing that employee.  would it be better to bring the staff together to air grievances and to try and come to terms with the source of those resentments, resorting to dismissal only as a last resort when all else has failed?

i wonder why movie patrons should be subjected to advertisements recruiting members for a local church after they've paid for admission to a movie theater.  should the theater chain make a profit by selling ads for the purpose of religious proselytizing?

in all of these situations, there is an underlying assumption that, since i am right, you must be wrong if you fail to adopt my belief system.  the county clerk says that her belief that same-sex marriage is a grave sin makes it her duty to prevent others from committing this sin in so far as it is possible for her; there is no questioning of the reasons a same-sex couple would wish to commit to each other in marriage.  the church elders take the side of some staff members against another staff member and say that the staff member who is having difficulties relating to some other staff members must be in error without giving her  a chance to defend her position or providing a mechanism for all of the staff to work through their differences; there is no opportunity for all of the staff to find wholeness by honest communication with one another.  the church which seeks to "save" others by paid commercials at the movie theater forces ticket holders to listen to their message, quite a different thing from the recruiting ads for local colleges and blurbs to entice attendees to buy tickets for upcoming movies; their "saving" message is reduced to just another commercial as trivial as the other commercials that play in the lobby and restrooms.

may we allow room for doubt and questioning.  may we seek healing and wholeness rather than taking the easy road of getting rid of whatever offends us.  may we not reduce the most profound questions of life to glib answers that can be found in a thirty-second blurb over a public address system.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

But the King's Own Army None Can Overthrow

"who is this king of glory?  the lord strong and mighty, the lord mighty in battle."  so says verse 8 of psalm 24.  i wonder how much suffering resulted from this kingly image of God, this god of war.   how many wars have been fought with all sides claiming that God is on their side?  how many victories have been credited to God's favor?  how many have been killed in the name of God?

in our church's wednesday night bible studies, we are investigating the teachings and preaching of charles spurgeon, the famous 19th-century british preacher.  on one of these wednesday studies, we contemplated spurgeon's image of a christian approaching the throne of God, as God sat in majesty.  that image seemed too earthly for me.  i thought of spurgeon, steeped in the the traditions of british respect for the monarchy with great britain at the height of its imperial power, seeing a god who is the heavenly embodiment of the english sovereign and wondered if this is the image of God that we ought to have in our heads, if indeed we ought to have any image of God.

if God has neither form nor substance, should we create such for God?  when we do, are we not worshiping a god of our own imagining?  this battle-king god of the old testament is far from the God about which jesus teaches.  we must choose between a God of love and a god of war, the latter being the justification for all sorts of oppression and cruelty that humans visit on one another.

may we never pretend to understand God as a human-writ-large.  instead, may we revere the mystery that is God, not daring to believe that we have found a solution to that mystery.  may we replace certainty with doubt, with searching, with dissatisfaction when it comes to answers that come too easily.  may we see God in every act of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

And Sorry I Could Not Travel Both

yesterday was the 47th anniversary of a significant milestone in my life, and i spent much of the day thinking about what my life was like 47 years ago.  i had just begun a new job, my first full-time "adult" job.  it was a job i had taken by default--more about that later.  my boss was unpleasant, and the duties he assigned me were not what i had been promised when i accepted the job.  each day was a torture, but i made it through the year for which i was contractually obligated before moving on to another job.

this was at the height of the vietnam war, and i, like many other men my age, faced difficult choices.  as a college student, i had been exempt from military service, a privilege that i had qualms about, as i watched other young men sent off to the war because they could not afford to attend college or they had not been fortunate to receive an education that permitted them to enroll.  when i graduated, i received a grant to study for my masters in special education, a field that was just emerging, at least in our state.  i had worked in a camp for special needs students the previous summer and felt called to work with these young people.  i knew, though, that if i began my masters' work, the draft board would call me up, and i would be shipped across the pacific, very likely to die fighting a war i opposed.

i had few choices: i could accept the grant and take my chances (which weren't very good), i could flee the usa for canada or another haven perhaps never to return to my home, or i could accept a job that allowed me to continue my exemption.  i chose the last and have always wondered what would have happened had i taken the second alternative, the one i felt most positive about.  yet that choice, too, seems cowardly.  so many of my peers who did not enjoy the privileges i enjoyed had no choice; when they were called they had to go.  there were no draft-exempt jobs or colleges open to them, nor could they afford to flee to another country.

the choice i made set me on a path that i continued for my entire career.  some of the jobs i accepted in my field were wonderful, others, like my first job, were miserable.  yet all-in-all those years were good ones, providing a decent income for my family and yielding a good retirement when the time came.  even the bad jobs provided much personal satisfaction along with the hardships.  it's amazing how a single choice can affect so much of what follows, and in the end it's fruitless to consider "what if" as we look back on the choices we've made.

may we each rejoice in the life we've been given on this beautiful planet.  may we be grateful for our family, our friends, the many joys we experience.  may we do the best we can with the opportunities we're given, without regret for not having chosen another path.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Bible Tells Me So

the voices of the religious right continue to lament the course the usa has taken, what with the rulings of the supreme court in favor of marriage equality and the continuing, though increasingly limited, access of women to abortion services.  some of them have said that we should rejoice because these rulings, along with the proposed agreement with iran, are signs that the "end times" are upon us.  several have warned that "god's favor and protection" have been or soon will be withdrawn from the country to punish us for obeying "man's law" rather than god's.  the god in which they place their faith is very different from the god in which i believe.

this god of vengeance that picks winners and losers among the nations of the earth causes grave evil to befall those who fail to "follow the rules."  the rules of this god are determined by a narrow interpretation of the bible, and the rules change from time to time, depending on the human interpreters' views.  it appears that this god is controlled by those who believe in Him (because this god is definitely male); it is the believers, not their god, who pick which biblical rules are to be followed and which are to be ignored, and the believers interpret what the rules mean.  those who disagree are doomed and sooner or later will be punished.  these "christians" support israel unquestioningly, not from any sense of redressing wrongs visited upon the jewish people, but because of their interpretation of israel's role in the coming apocalypse based on their view of biblical prophetic writing.

is such a god worthy of veneration?: a god that can be manipulated for one's own political ends, a god that punishes some and rewards others based on standards devised by that god's followers, a god that creates only to destroy, a god that insists that men should control women, a god that allows terrible suffering to occur so that "good" can come from the experience.  i want no part of such a god.  God is not a great santa claus in the sky who gives us what we want when we ask for it, God is not an ogre that causes suffering for all because the first humans ate a forbidden fruit.

may we turn from such a vision of God, either to rejection of belief altogether or to another vision of God.  may we see those who worship this false god of the religious right for what they are: narrow bigots who have created a god of their own imagining to suit their own purposes.  may we proclaim that their god is not dead, but rather that such a god never existed, no matter how many films are made that say otherwise.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

You, the Everlasting Instant

a few days ago, someone who was not a christian asked me what it meant to me to be a christian.  at first i replied that it meant to treat others with kindness and respect, and my questioner said that any decent person, christian or not, would act in such a way, pushing me to differentiate my christian practice from that of non-christians.  as i thought about his challenge to me, i told him that first i am a theist and second i try to live my life in accord with the teachings of jesus.  i went on to say that many christians would not consider me a christian because i don't share many of their orthodox beliefs, but it's not my place to determine if someone else is a christian; i can only address my own identity as a christian.  that seemed to satisfy him, and the discussion ended.

as i've thought about that conversation, i have tried to define what being a theist means for me.  i find myself thinking of God as the First Spark that set everything in motion, of God as Beginning.  i think, too, of God as being That which is greater than the sum of the parts, the parts being all that is, each part vibrating with the energy of creation.  i think of the collective energy of every molecule, every being, every bit of matter as containing the essence of the Primal Cause, so that God is at once within and without, and everything-that-is is a part of God but no thing alone is God.  God is the Ground of Being, so that nothing exists without God, and God exists because creation evolved from that initial elemental explosion.

so we are all filled with bits of the universe that resulted when nothing became something.  we are tied together by the impulse of creation.  every object, animate or inanimate, is bound to every other object, and God is present in all.  some would say that makes me a pantheist, and maybe they are right.  but i see God as more that the life force which exists in each part of creation.  God is the Cause, the Great Mystery that breathes life into the void, the Beginning and the End.  Perhaps next week, i'll write about what i think God is not!

may we all seek to understand the reason for our being.  may we embrace all of creation and sense our connection to every part of the universe.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

To the Marriage of True Minds

47 years ago this month, my wife and i were married.  we were both 21 and had just graduated from college.  we were so excited to be beginning our "adult" lives together.  we came from very different backgrounds, though we were born within 30 miles of each other and grew up only 45 miles apart.  early in our marriage, our beautiful daughter was born, but we waited ten years after that for our wonderful son to join our family.  one of the joys of our marriage is that both of our children turned out to be kind, loving people that are a pleasure to be with.

over the years, my wife and i have had our differences.  we sometimes allowed insignificant disagreements to make us angry at one another.  at times, we became so involved with our jobs that we defined ourselves by our work.  over the years, we've seen that we're better together than we are separately, and we've learned that a little patience and kindness go a long way towards making our marriage a happy one.  the individual quirks that so irritated each of us at one time have become endearing idiosyncrasies that we not only tolerate but embrace.

last night we watched the movie "still alice" about a brilliant and lovely woman afflicted with a rare and aggressive form of early-onset alzheimer's disease.  alice's family came together to support her and each other, and we were reminded of what it means to truly love your partner, to live out "for better, for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, 'til death do you part."  in an age where it's so easy to give up on one another, we are so glad we didn't.  how terrific it is to take pleasure in being together, to know that we support one another, to have this wonderful life together.

may every person find the joy of loving another for a lifetime.  may we see beyond the petty annoyances of living with another person to the genuine person who is our beloved.  may our love for our partner be molded by patience, kindness, and compassion.  shalom.