Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

the event, held on the grounds of, and paid for by, a large church was called "red, white and blast."  on one end of a large grassy field, a giant usa flag hung from a line supported by two "cherry-pickers" extended from utility trucks.  at the other end of the field, bounce houses provided amusement for scores of children.  hundreds of small usa flags marked the route leading to and from large parking lots and still more of the flags were planted around the field.  families sat in lawn chairs and on blankets all over the field between the giant flag and the bounce houses, awaiting the arrival of dark and the promised fireworks spectacular, as vendors sold frozen treats and drinks on the pavement beside the field.

on the stage in front of the giant flag a brass ensemble played.  during a break between songs the members of the musical group performed a skit in which one musician, acting the part of a baseball player, bemoaned the hiring of a new umpire, to one of the other musicians, who played the role of a fellow baseball player.  As a pretend pitch was thrown, the new umpire seemed to be unable to make a decision about whether the pitch was a strike or a ball, finally deciding it should be deemed a "strike-ball," exhibiting characteristics of both.  the next pretend pitch made contact with a phantom bat, and the umpire, unable to determine "fair" or "foul," asked the audience to vote on what call should be made.  this was too much for the players, who brought out the rulebook.  the umpire pointed out that the rules called for "subjective" determinations to be made and that many of the rules were quite old and might no longer apply.  the players stalked away, calling over their shoulders that there was no longer any reason to play a game that had no rules.

the obvious point of the skit was that society was abandoning the rule book, that is, the bible.  without the biblical rule book, there was no point to life.  right or wrong was determined by the position of the majority.  there was no prevailing morality because the "objective" criterion of the rule book had been abandoned.  the problem with this point of view is that the bible is not a rule book.  it is a religious document that is often self-contradictory.  those who espouse the rule-book view of the bible are the self-appointed umpires who get to choose which rules are to be obeyed and which are to be ignored.  they claim to have an absolutist position on what is right and what is wrong, but even the most cursory examination of history demonstrates that the interpretation of the biblical rules changes over time.  the practice of slavery that was supported by biblical rules is no longer considered to be right; this "right" has now become a "wrong."  the legitimate use of birth control and abortion that evangelical christians once considered "right" has now become "wrong."

as a preacher i heard recently put it, there are many in our society who use the bible as a hammer with which they drive nails into the hands and feet of those with whom they disagree.  they pick and choose which of its contradictory rules to follow; they ignore those they find unpleasant or "antiquated."  they forget the simple, profound "rule" of micah 6:8:  "what does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

may we not use any "sacred" book in ways that were never intended.  may we instead use our reason as we read these books, gleaning what wisdom we can without using them as weapons against those who disagree with us.  may we more concerned with cultivating lovingkindness and compassion within ourselves than we are in insisting that others conform to our views of right and wrong.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Come to Me and Do Not Fear

he came to them, and they welcomed him.  he sat among them and heard their kind words.  in the end, he hurled racial epithets at them and killed nine of them.  then he fled, soon to be apprehended.  this killer was not choked to death by the police, as a black man was in new york for stealing a pack of cigarettes.  this killer was not shot in the back by the police, as  a black man was in south carolina for fleeing from a policeman.  this killer was taken into custody without a struggle, and almost immediately those who would perpetuate the society which fostered this killer began to rationalize away the racism that filled his heart.

he must have been high on drugs, they said.  he killed them because they were christians, not because they were black, they said.  he killed them because they didn't carry guns and couldn't defend themselves, they said.  it was the victims' fault, they said, because their leader promoted a message of non-violence and espoused the cause of reasonable gun laws in his role as a state senator.

they looked at the symbols with which he surrounded himself and declared that the symbols didn't matter.  it's ok to fly a flag on the grounds of the state capitol, even though that flag glorifies a past that forced thousands of people of color to live in the most degrading and cruel conditions, a past that ripped thousands of free men and women from their native lands to live as the property of others, they said.  "that flag is part of our heritage," they said, failing to mention that heritage is disgraceful and ought to be disavowed in the strongest terms.  it's insignificant that he posed in pictures with that flag, they said.  it's unimportant that he wore clothing that pictured the flags of white-supremacists regimes in africa, they said.

how can the right-wing apologists be so blind?  or is it blindness, at all?  is it pandering to the bigots in society in order to win their votes, to keep the bigots on the side of right-wing politicians who depend on the racists to stay in power, especially in the former confederate states?  contrast their ignoring the cause of the young killer's actions with the speech of the victims' families.  "i forgive him," was the litany that was heard coming from their mouths and hearts.

may we have hearts filled with forgiveness.  may we go the extra mile for those who demand the first mile of us.  may we pray for those who "despitefully use" us.  may we condemn a past that visited unspeakable horrors on so many innocents.  may we refuse to see those who appear different as "others" who are a threat.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Stand Alone on the Word of God?

we christians are wont to claim that christianity is the only true religion and quick to point out what we view as absurdities in other religions.  how often do we examine our own religion in the same way we examine other religions or analyze the beliefs of our own expression of christianity in the same we analyze the beliefs of other variants of christianity?  if we put ourselves in the place of a hindu looking at christianity as an outsider, what would we point out as problems with christian belief?

how can we believe in a god who creates creatures with certain desires and then punishes them for acting on those desires?  how can we believe in a god that insists that we follow the teachings of a "holy" book that is full of contradictions and how do we know which of those contradictory teachings are right?  how can we believe in a god that commands us to overpopulate the world?  how can we believe in a god that becomes angry and destroys what that god created?  how can we believe in a god that visits terrible suffering on us and expects us to accept that as the will of a loving god?  how can we believe in a god that "saves" some to live in eternal bliss and condemns others to eternal suffering without regard to the virtues of either the saved or the damned?  how can we believe in a god that sanctions the descendants of abraham and sarah to murder thousands of innocents in the process of conquering a small corner of the middle east?  how can we believe in a god that creates us with rational minds and then expects us to accept the irrational on faith?

this list could continue, and we christians need to examine our religion as non-christians would.  so much of the world's suffering is caused by our inability to see that some of the basic tenets of our religion are indefensible when held up to the light of reason.  to insist on irrational belief, on blind faith, is to deny what is the defining characteristic of human nature.  a true God expects us to use our minds, to question, to sort through that which is reasonable and that which is unreasonable.

may we not waste time defending the indefensible.  may we never fear to ask questions or to challenge conventional beliefs.  may we not place our faith in beliefs that make no sense, but may we instead use our minds to search for truth and follow that path wherever it leads us.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

proponents of so-called "state's rights" in the usa are adamant about the empowerment of the individual states to control what happens within the borders of that state without interference from the federal government.  when the matter at hand was slavery, this theory of constitutional power held that the central government had no power to outlaw slavery within a state without the consent of the voters of that state.  the american civil war was waged over this question.

now there are a range of issues that are pitting the "state's righters" against the federal government.  these include marriage equality, environmental standards, health care generally, and women's health care with regard to abortion.  some of these issues are before the supreme court now, and some of the advocates of the superiority of state control over federal control have put forth the argument that those who disagree with a potential court ruling favoring marriage equality can legally ignore the court's ruling because it is a matter of conscience--god's law (as they see it) trumps human law as interpreted by the supreme court.

what strikes me as odd is that many of those who are so adamant about the rights of individual states are quick to assert state control over individual and local issues.  they see no contradiction when they insist that state power should control a woman's health, requiring tedious and unnecessary medical delays when a woman seeks to end a pregnancy, as if state legislatures are in a better position to make such private individual decisions on behalf of women.  when local communities decide that hydraulic fracking is inappropriate within their city limits, conservative legislatures influenced by powerful energy lobbies have no problem in taking away local control in the same manner they condemn the federal government for imposing national environmental policies on the states.  when town councils or popular city votes create ordinances that protect the rights of gay residents, state's right legislatures see no hypocrisy when they pass state laws taking away the rights of municipalities to pass such ordinances for those who reside in their city limits.

this controversy is as old as the constitution itself.  one of the first challenges to federal authority was a "whisky rebellion" fought against a tax imposed by the new federal government, a rebellion that was quickly put down by president washington.  new england states considered seceding in opposition to the war with mexico early in our history.  one would think that a bloody civil war would have settled the question once and for all, yet it persists.  it seems that we citizens of the usa want it both ways; we want the federal government to exert control when we are in agreement with it, and we want individual states to exert control when a majority of the state's residents disagree with national policy.  we forget that in a democracy, the individual doesn't always prevail; sometimes those with whom we disagree are in the majority, and we are forced to acquiesce to the majority decision, even though we are free to loudly protest that decision.

may we who are residents of the usa remember that compromise is the essence of democracy.  may we all respect the opinions of others, even when we are convinced that those opinions are wrong.  may we argue against those opinions responsibly within the framework of laws which allow democracy to exist.  may we rejoice in our freedom to speak out without fear of retaliation from an oppressive government.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

See Our Fathers and Our Mothers and Our Children Sinking Down

last week i wrote about the delight many experienced at the discovery that josh duggar had sexually abused several minors, including some of his sisters, while he was still a minor himself.  i suggested that gleefully condemning mr. duggar about his moral failure was a moral failure as well; i was (and am) disturbed that regarding his actions as an indictment of some sort of defect in right-wing thinking ignored the fact that proponents of a wide range of political beliefs are guilty of the same sort of abusive behavior.

i wrote little of the effects his behavior had on the victims and hope that i did not imply that their suffering is of little consequence.  the male-dominated climate in which the young mr. duggar was raised made it all too easy for the under-age females he abused to be placed in a position of forced forgiveness for the wrongs he did; they could not be regarded as good christians if they failed to acknowledge his repentance with corresponding absolution.  there is no evidence that the victims had access to any appropriate counseling.  without clear understanding of the wrong done to them and the psychology of their abuser, they could not have been in a position to come to terms with him when he re-entered their home.  nor has there been any indication that josh duggar took any action to make amends to his victims.

those who quickly spoke out in support of the duggar family failed to take note of the philosophy that prevailed in their home, which taught the children growing up there that (1) the outside world is dangerous and to be avoided, so schooling in the home was essential, (2) the role of men and women is to "be fruitful and multiply," implying that the sole purpose of marriage is to produce offspring, (3) the role of women is to care for those offspring and to keep a dominant male happy, and (4) expression of sexuality outside marriage is sinful and impure.  these beliefs created an environment that was harmful to all parties involved and contributed to the abuses that josh duggar visited on his sisters and others.

may we look with empathy on those who were abused.  may we open ourselves to varied points of view and philosophies so that our minds and lives don't become narrow expressions of suspicion about all those who differ from us in appearance or belief.  may we treat each other as equals without establishing hierarchies based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And When Like Wand'ring Sheep We Strayed

a young man who has been home-schooled, who has lived much of his life as a star of a reality television show about his family that includes 18 siblings, is discovered to have been guilty of fondling girls, including some of his sisters, during his early teen years.  it's too easy to ridicule josh duggar for his fall from his right-wing pedestal and to shake our fingers at him for his and his family's pompous pronouncements about how gay rights endanger children.  they've engaged in hypocritical and ill-informed statements about how marriage equality and laws prohibiting discrimination against the lgbt community harm children.

maybe we should consider what led this young man to this point.  he was denied the opportunity to have social interactions outside his family that most kids have growing up.  how was he to learn what is appropriate or to have the chance to experiment and discover how to express his sexuality during those formative years when hormones are raging?  he was brainwashed with a one-sided view of the world and denied experiencing the diversity of opinions and lifestyles that kids outside the home-schooling community learn to deal with.  when he made these terrible choices as a young teen, he wasn't allowed to access qualified counseling services; his mistakes were treated as "sins" that are forgivable and which can therefore be swept under the rug, so to speak, rather than as cries for help in dealing with something he was unable to comprehend on his own.

how many others are trapped in this narrow-minded mindset during those critical years when they should be learning to deal with the world at large?  we are so quick to point our fingers in delight when self-proclaimed paragons of "family values" are discovered to be just as human as the rest of us.  a conservative senator from a southern state is outed for his dalliances with a prostitute and we gleefully condemn him rather that feeling empathy for his family and the pain he and they must be experiencing.  a "family-values" representative is exposed for his attempts to seduce a page of the same sex, and we are so quick to condemn him.  an anti-gay pastor is discovered with a social media account on a gay app on which he seeks liasons with gay men, and we chortle with delight at his discomfort and "fall from grace."

sure, the hypocrisy of their public persona which hides a hurting psyche that is at odds with what they publicly proclaim makes us angry, and we are thrilled to be able to condemn such two-facedness.  while we do this, we forget that we are all human, we all fail, we all engage in hypocrisy at times.  perhaps we would do better simply to remind ourselves and the world at large that these failings of prominent conservatives demonstrate that they, too, have feet of clay like the rest of us.  while we learn from the dangers of narrow-minded gay-bashing, "sin"-condemning self-righteousness that characterize these proponents of "family values," we should see that they are human like the rest of us.

may we not use the shortcomings of others to place ourselves on a pedestal of tolerant virtue.  may we speak out against wrong but still see the humanity in the failures of others and ourselves.  may we be quicker to empathize and slower to take joy in castigation.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Womb of Life and Source of Being

gracious God--that is how i begin my morning meditation, with a prayer that addresses a God that i will never fully understand.  it would be easy for me to be an atheist, except i can't get past the idea that a long series of unlikely events had to occur in order for life on this earth to exist.  how is it that in this small corner of the universe life evolved on this tiny planet?  there must be a beginning, a primal cause, and for me, God is the most satisfactory explanation.

i reject the idea that God is a "personal" God, a great santa claus in the sky, or a vengeful rule-maker with a notebook, keeping a record of how good we are at following mandates recorded in an ancient collection of writings.  God is not my buddy.  God is not jesus.  God is not the cause of all the terrible things that happen in this world.

i don't know what God's role in the world is.  i believe that God cares for all that God created, that all life is sacred, that all of creation should be honored and cared for.  i don't believe that God intervenes in human history or that there is a "will of God" to be discerned.  i believe that the only commandment, the only will of God, is that we love one another and in so doing we love God.  there is no "right" religion, and as we explore the role of organized religion in history, it appears that religion has done more harm than good.  we fight one another in the name of religion.  we seek to convert one another by any means possible, including force.  we commit the worst sorts of atrocities in the name of God, and it is little wonder that many come to the conclusion that there is no God.

two verses from the first epistle of john are for me the most true sentences about God: the one who doesn't love, doesn't know God, for God is love (1 john 4:8) and God is light and in God there is no darkness (1 john 1:5).  this is the essence of religion, not the layers of complexity that have been heaped upon us by religious authorities.  God is not the christian God, not the islamic God, not the hindu God.  God is.  for me, that's enough.  love is the key that unlocks the mystery of God.  if we seek to live a life that is filled with love, we come to know God, even if we don't believe that God exists.

may we love, not in the name of any religion, but simply because that's the best way to live.  may we honor all that is around us, caring for the planet that is our home.  may we cast aside the differences that religion imposes on us and embrace one another as human beings without any need to control each other.  shalom.