Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage

i am becoming increasingly aware that the focus of our church's approach to life is unhealthy and misguided.  in every lesson that is taught at wednesday evening bible study, every sermon that is preached, and every prayer of confession in corporate worship, we are told how unworthy we are as human beings.  the calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of humans is a recurring theme that we hear each time we enter the church for study or worship.  i am sure our minister is unaware of how her emphasis of human frailty when compared to God's greatness beats us down as a congregation.

i long to hear words of encouragement and to be reminded that we are created in God's image.  i want to hear joyful words that celebrate the richness and beauty of creation.  i need to feel loved, valued, and comforted inside the doors of the church.  we spend too little time studying the teachings of jesus and too much time on the failings of the ancient hebrews and paul's criticisms of the early christians.

in the background there is constant sniping and bickering between those who believe our minister should leave and those who are loyal to her.  behind the scenes there is a struggle for power in the church and a demand that other staff members demonstrate absolute loyalty to the minister.  it has come to the point that those who continue to have personal relationships with the critics of our minister are on the "naughty list" of the minister and her allies in the church leadership.  my wife and i have tried not to engage in this infighting, as have many of our friends, but it becomes increasingly difficult to stay above the fray when it is suggested that a staff member may be fired if he talks to members of the wrong faction.

this is not what church is supposed to be.  our participation in church should bring us joy and renewal.  the church should support us as we seek to follow the teachings of jesus.  the church should be honest rather than teaching old myths as fact, while ignoring the valuable lessons that those myths preserve.  we should see each others as sisters and brothers in the family of God, not as members of one faction or another.  as more and more of our members flee this atmosphere, i fear for our congregation's survival as a church.  i don't want to be one of those who abandons the church, but something must change soon or my wife and i will no longer feel welcome.

our minister is a good person at heart.  she wants our church to flourish, but i fear that her inability to reach out to those whom she has hurt and offended stands in the way of healing our divisions.  those who have befriended and been most supportive of her have engendered an attitude of intolerance toward her critics, many of whom have valid points.  bullying of those who dissent by some lay leaders will not bring us together.  it is heart-wrenching to witness the upheaval and bitterness and to be told at every turn that we are unworthy of God's love, that God's grace is all that keeps us from damnation, that we have no redeeming virtues.  where are the words of love that jesus taught?  where is the good shepherd who cares for the sheep?  where is the call of jesus to come to him to find rest, to carry the yoke of his easy burden and bear his light load?

may we who are christians stop dividing one another into sheep and goats.  may we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  may we worship a God of love rather than a god of wrath.  may we abandon petty squabbles and power struggles and embrace one another as members of a family.  may we regard all those who seek to do good and to love others as part of our family regardless of their religion or lack of religion.  may we acknowledge that all suffer and long for love, compassion, and respect.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Clear the Chaos and the Clutter

this past week i stayed home most of the week.  i attended two rehearsals, but other than that i had no commitments to any group or organization.  i had no appointments.  i ran few errands.  instead, i accomplished some major projects in my home and yard, and i feel a great sense of satisfaction.  i had forgotten what it's like to live several days in a row without the call of obligations to church, civic organizations, and volunteer duties interrupting my daily routine.  it was wonderful to get up and know that i had the entire day to do what needed to be done at home.

i realize that i've allowed the needs of the community to overwhelm my life.  i suppose it's the desire to be needed by the larger world that has caused me to become so involved in organizations that make great demands on my time.  because so many others have no trouble saying no when called on to help, i always say yes, and that's not a good thing.  in the process of being the one that others can always count on, it's too easy to lose one's way.  this week of pretty much withdrawing from the world has been good for me, and i'll try to discipline myself to do more of it.

i've checked my calendar for the coming week, and there is one civic organization meeting and two musical rehearsals on it.  i have one big outside project at home that i want to attend to, so i'll build my week around that project.  if it works out that these outside responsibilities interfere, i'll skip some or all of them.  it's time i reclaimed my life!  the little voice inside my head that tells me that i'm being selfish is mistaken.  the organization and the musical groups will go on if i'm absent this one time, but the big task i have to accomplish at home won't get done without me.  that job needs to be done now while i have a few warm days to work outside during february, which is often the coldest month of the year here.

perhaps these simple decisions are trivial ones.  they don't address the destructive policies of donald trump and the republicans in congress.  they don't alleviate hunger or homelessness.  they don't reverse the increasing income equality in this country, promote peace and understanding in the world, or help with the myriad of other problems that are larger than my day-to-day schedule.  yet i feel good about my decisions.  maybe focusing on my little corner of civilization for a couple of weeks will give me a better perspective on how i can use my time wisely for the benefit of myself and others.

may each of us take time to evaluate the effectiveness of our busy lives.  may we step off the merry-go-round of meetings and the constant demands of volunteerism once in a while and focus on what is and isn't important to us.  may we set priorities and boundaries that enable us to be at peace with ourselves and the world around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Swords of Scorn Divide

the evil continues to grow.  i want to cry out to the world that our country is not like this.  we don't believe in turning away those who need sanctuary.  we don't believe in betraying those who have been our allies in far away battlegrounds by telling them that they are not welcome here.  we don't believe in condemning entire groups of people because a few of them have become radicalized, often because of our own arrogant actions in their countries.  yet this is exactly what our president is doing with this awful executive order that has created chaos for those who had been given permission to come here and are now being stopped when they arrive, only to be sent away.  he has destroyed the lives of so many desperate people in one stroke of the pen.

thank goodness that federal judges have put much of this decree on hold until saner minds can reason through the mess.  the majority of us who voted for someone other than donald trump watch in bewilderment as he tries to muffle the voices of scientists who work for the government and as he puts forward his panel of billionaires to head important government agencies, most of whom are not qualified for the positions for which he has nominated them.

last week i wrote about how much this man must be suffering and i still believe that he has to be in great pain in order to do so much harm in such a brief period of time.  he can only ignore the damage his presidency is doing to so many if he is completely focused on himself and convinced that he alone is right.  each of us must do whatever we can to rail against the horror that the next four years may bring if donald trump's power is not  held in check.  i hope that those from other countries who read my words and the words of others who write condemning this president's actions will realize that the usa is very different from this man who has become its leader.  he attained his position from an archaic institution that allows someone to become president even though a majority of voters voted for someone else, and now he behaves as if most of us support him.  i can't say loudly enough that we don't.  i've never participated in a public demonstration against any elected official before, but now i must.  we must resist this man in every lawful way that we can.

may those in power see that most americans are opposed to the positions and actions of the president.  may our senators, our representatives, and our judiciary hold his powers in check.  may each of us do whatever we can to stand up for justice and mercy, for compassion, for using the wealth of our country to improve the lives of those who need our help rather than for building walls.  may the next election defeat the forces of fascism.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Somewhere in the Darkest Night a Candle Glows

a dark day occurred a few days ago, a day that haunts me just as much as the day my mother died, as much as the day our son announced that his wife had fallen in love with another man and had asked him for a divorce.  i could not bring myself to watch any of the inaugural proceedings on that day, knowing that seeing the spectacle of this man becoming our president would make the day even darker.  i wore a black shirt that day, my version of sack cloth and ashes.  i'm certain millions of others around the world felt much as i did on that terrible day.

now we watch as donald trump and his cohorts began dismantling much of what barack obama accomplished.  one of his first acts was to increase the cost of buying a home for young home buyers who rely on the federal housing administration.  when he went to the headquarters of the cia, ostensibly to repair the damage his insulting tweets had done to morale there, he devoted much of his address to lambasting the media for accurately reporting the size of his inaugural audience when compared to that of president obama's.  here is a man more concerned with the size of many things that relate to himself than he is to the well-being of others.

our conservative-leaning local paper had one of the most offensive political cartoons i've seen in my lifetime in yesterday's paper.  it showed a desperate president obama digging his fingernails into the top of the presidential desk in the oval office as several men tried to drag him away.  here is a man who has been nothing but gracious to the egomaniac who has succeeded him, who spent his last days in office doing what he could to protect the country from the ravages to come and freeing those who deserved clemency, a man who reveres our tradition of a peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next, a man who did his best for eight years against incredible odds.  yet his enemies, even now that he is no longer in office, cannot resist belittling and insulting him.

as president obama said, we will be ok.  we will get through these next four years.  many who are already well off will be even better off at the end of donald trump's first term.  many who are struggling now will have to struggle harder for four years.  we will see that most of the promises to take the side of the great mass of people in our country were empty promises, as the rich-becoming-richer pattern of our economy will accelerate.  the "others," that faceless mass of non-white, non-gender-conforming,  non-evangelical-christian population will be scapegoated as the cause of all that is wrong.  hard working people with brown skins who have come here to better themselves and their families will live in fear, never knowing when the rug will be pulled from under them.

in the face of all this, how do we regard donald trump and his ilk with loving kindness and compassion?  should we regard them in this way?  i keep reminding myself that great suffering must be the cause of their disregard of the needs of so many at the bottom of the economic ladder, the cause of their rejoicing that they now have the power to take away health insurance from so many who could finally secure it through the affordable care act or to enrich themselves and others at the expense of some of our most precious and beautiful public lands or to interfere in difficult decisions women have to make regarding their bodies or to intensify the denial of climate change, the cause of mr. trump's need to have his ego stroked constantly and his fear of accurate reporting that calls facts that are inconvenient to him to the public's attention.

the inability to see the suffering they are causing must be a result of their own great suffering, and we must wish that their suffering may be alleviated.  we must extend our compassion to them in the hope that they will see that we are all in this great struggle of life together.  there are not good guys and bad guys, not black and white and brown, not gay and straight, not muslim and christian and jew and buddhist, only people who deserve to live lives of dignity and respect.  there are only people who need to be cared for and cared about.  there are only people who need meaningful work and adequate wages.

may we honor the accomplishments of the great man who just left office and those of his family.  may we have compassion for the man who succeeded him and for his allies.  may we stand up for what is right in difficult times, fearlessly and with loving kindness.  may we be filled with the hope that everything, as president obama said, will be ok; we will make it through these next four years.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

That My Heart Will Be Peaceful and Calm

i am, like all of us i suppose, a creature of habit.  i want to live my life with a certain orderliness, to organize my days after a certain pattern.  i follow a routine upon wakening:  i open our dog's kennel and together he and i leave the bedroom, i close the door from the bedroom so as not to wake my wife as i putter around the house, i turn off the house alarm, i grab my phone and stick it in my pocket, i get myself a glass of ice water and take my early morning medicines, i get my computer, i sit down in my chair in the den, i meditate, i practice my german, i read the blogs i follow on that day of the week, i feed the cats and the dog.  by that time my wife is usually up and breakfast preparations are begun, or, weather permitting, we go for a walk and then begin working on breakfast.  after breakfast, our day together begins.

usually, our day was planned the day before.  when we finish breakfast, we have our plan of action determined.  my wife is a great list-maker, and she has her list for the day which we begin to follow.  i, on the other hand, avoid writing lists at all costs.  somehow, once something is put on a list that is written down, it becomes an obligatory action, and failure to perform it is a moral failing.  sure, i have lists in my head, but for me those are not as binding as written lists.  if i'm not able to tick something off my mental list, i can push it over into the next day's list without feeling guilty.  between my wife's written lists and my mental lists, our days are pretty productive.

at the end of the day, we sometimes have very different perspectives on how the day went.  my wife often feels as if we didn't accomplish enough--there are items she was unable to cross off her list.  i then begin to recite all the things that we did accomplish and, by the time i've reminded us of all the tasks that were completed, we both feel pretty good about our day, and we have the start of the next day's list with what remains on our to-do lists for this day.

when something happens and my routine is disrupted, i have to psyche myself up or the change spoils my day.  it helps if i know in advance that i won't be able to follow my usual routine so that i'm mentally prepared for it, but, if i oversleep or some emergency occurs, it's hard for me to keep from feeling as if my day has been ruined.  sometimes i wish that i could be more spontaneous about how i live my life and wonder how people who don't follow a pattern in their daily lives get anything done.  what must that be like, to have no ritual at the beginning of the day, no set plan for how the day is to go, no goals for the day?  i am envious of such people, and yet i am comfortable in my regimen.  i enjoy the feeling that each day is productive, that i get some important solitary processes done at the beginning of the day, and that my wife and i work together to achieve our predetermined daily tasks.

i have the fifteen-or-so blogs that i read each week organized into bookmarks for each day of the week so that i generally get around to them all.  i have my pills for each day in pillboxes that are prepared two weeks in advance.  i have timers on lights inside and outside the house that i want to come on and off at precise times.  we always begin thinking about what we are to cook on the weekend early in the week, so that by thursday we have a menu worked out, and on thursday or friday at breakfast we make our grocery list based on that menu and do our grocery shopping after breakfast one of those days.  we cook enough on the weekend so that we don't have to do much cooking for our dinners during the week.  we have a set time each month that we sit down together and pay our bills.  on sunday morning i write my weekly blog post and refine it on monday and tuesday before posting on tuesday morning.  during the summer, thursday is yard day, so grocery shopping has to be done on friday morning.  this is pretty much how our life is organized, and i suppose it works well for us.  not much is left to chance and there is a precision to our days that is quite satisfying.

i know that living this way would be maddening to many, just as living without a set process for getting things done would be maddening for us.  we each are so different and yet so much the same.  we yearn for stability, but we achieve it in diverse ways.  some of us are planners, some of us "fly by the seat of our pants."  for some of us each day is a blank canvas to be filled in as the day goes by, and some of us have all the puzzle pieces laid out for us in advance so that the day is a process of putting the puzzle together.

life is wonderful that way--so many varied approaches on how to live it, and all of us wanting the same things in the end.  love, respect, appreciation, food, shelter, clothing, contact with others, times of rest and activity.  if we have those things, life is good.  may we each have a good life, regardless of how we approach it.  may  we not judge others for living life differently from us and may we celebrate our diversity, appreciating each other for it.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We Blossom and Flourish as Leaves on the Tree

i am thinking lately of acceptance and change and the interaction between them.  so often we humans have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be.  we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration when things don't live up to our preconceived ideals.  i think of how a friend's marriage fell apart because his wife had an idealized conception of marriage.  she believed that their relationship ought to be like what she had seen in movies and read in romance novels that were far removed from the realities of life's daily give and take.  when their marriage wasn't fairy-tale perfect, she was filled with anger and disappointment and began an affair with another man, bringing their marriage to an end.  she went on to marry what she believed would be her perfect mate, and now they, too, are divorced, because of her unrealistic expectations.

life is seldom as we wish it to be.  reality intrudes on our image of how things "ought to be."  a child gets sick, and our plans for the day go out the window.  the car won't start, and our schedule is shot.  one phone call turns our day topsy-turvy.  our candidate loses the election, and we believe we are doomed.  change is the one constant in life.  i am not the same person i was a moment ago.  a moment from now i will be another person, and yet i am still me.  circumstances change and i react to them.

does this mean i shouldn't make plans?  life would be chaos without some thought for what i must do to give life order and to accomplish what needs to be done.  but i must hold those plans loosely and not feel as if disaster has set in when life interferes.  if i insist on following my plan rigidly, the outcomes are anger, frustration, and disappointment, and i injure those around me.  life is not my plan for the day--life is change.

must i, in the name of acceptance, put up with the wrongs of the world?  do i just say, "oh, well, donald trump won, and i have to accept his ideas about how our country and the world should function"?  must i abandon accomplishing what i had planned for the day because some emergency has intruded?  acceptance of how things are and acknowledging that change is inevitable doesn't mean tolerating that which we believe to be wrong or giving up on our plans and dreams.  acceptance of how things are and acceptance of change means that we accept the flow of life and adapt to the bumps and hurdles that are inevitable.

we live in an imperfect world and are ourselves imperfect creatures.  sometimes the vagaries of life that interfere with our "perfect day" are serendipities that stop us from making mistakes or lead us to an epiphany that would not have occurred otherwise.  the lemons of life that mysteriously become lemonade remind us that, while change is not always beneficial, it is the stuff of life.  railing against change is futile; working to bring it about is our mission, if we accept that there is no straight course to the changes we seek.

may we live lives of acceptance of impermanence.  may we understand that what is will not be in the next moment.  may we embrace the flow of life, sometimes allowing it to carry us along, and sometimes swimming strongly in its current.  may we work to change that which needs to be changed while accepting the reality of the present moment.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Oh, Rest Beside the Weary Road

we have an advent calendar shaped like a christmas tree.  at its base is a tray that contains ornaments of various colors and patterns that attach to the tree magnetically.  each day during the season, i add another ornament to the tree, counting down to christmas.  on christmas day, there is a large star to top the tree.  i look forward each year to filling the tree with ornaments as the big day approaches.

as i reflected on what christmas means to me, i thought about all the clich├ęd phrases we use to describe the meaning of the day that is so important in the christian calendar.  christmas is probably all those things--a time of new beginnings, of hope, of light in the darkest time of the year.  for me, it is a mark of the rapid passage of time.  my advent calendar fills with ornaments so quickly, and before i know it, it's time to put the star on the top.  my wife and i are celebrating our 48th christmas together, and we are both observing our 70th christmas.  it seems as if only a short time ago, i was a wide-eyed child jumping with excitement on christmas morning and an even shorter time since my wife and i celebrated our first christmas together.

how could so many years have elapsed so quickly?  coming, as it does, so close to the end of the old year and the start of the new, i suppose it is natural to associate december 25 with replacing the old calendar with a new one and beginning a new year, filing the old one away in our memories.  i think there is more to it than that, though.  christmas reminds of events that happened so many years ago, in a place and time that are very different from our own.  it reminds us of oppressive occupiers of a tiny land in which the baby was born.  it reminds us of cruel kings that would slaughter innocents to protect their thrones.  it reminds us of the universality of a mother's love.  it calls us to look back at events even further removed from the day of jesus' birth: to ancient lands, to earlier religions that called humankind to lives of peace and virtue, to cultures so different from ours and yet so similar in many ways.

christmas means looking back for me, back through the eons of time and remembering how much we have in common with those who have gone before us.  the present reminds us of the cycle that repeats over and over:   cruelty, selfishness, bigotry, and fear of those who are superficially different are eternal, but so is kindness, concern for others and the natural world, love, respect for one another.  in the face of all that is wrong with the world, there are religions and philosophies that assert what is right with the world.  the birth of a baby in an obscure place that christians celebrate at christmas was not the beginning of the search for what is right, but a continuation of it, a reminder that there are many lights piercing the darkness.

may this season bring joy in the face of sadness, hope in the face of fear.  may we be reminded that kindness ultimately defeats cruelty, but the selfishness from which that cruelty is born continually reasserts itself, making the need for love and kindness all the more important.  may we love unconditionally and without reason.  regardless of our religion or lack thereof, may we have "happy holidays!"  shalom.