Tuesday, September 19, 2017

All the Planets in Their Turn Confirm the Tidings

one of the things that i feel more deeply now as i know that most of my life is behind me is the interconnectedness of all things.  from the tiniest particle of matter to the tallest mountain, everything is a part of the vast universe, and that universe enters into all its component parts.  i don't dream of heaven but of returning to the earth to nourish and replenish it.  i hope i'm not entombed in some watertight container that keeps what remains of my body from contact with the soil that surrounds it.  rather, i want my body to be burned and scattered so that i live on in the soil that nourishes life.

the self that i have so long protected is a creation of my mind.  the "real me" is not the collection of thoughts and stories that run through my brain.  we are all parts of something much larger, of that creative consciousness from which everything arose and to which everything returns, continually arising and returning.  if there is a God, all of creation is a part of that great mind which inhabits all that is.  nothing is ever lost, only changed, transformed, as our bodies are in death.  we have always existed, only in different forms, parts of one another and the universe.

to return in another body, to try to get life right the next time around would be lovely.  second chances are wonderful gifts.  but if that's not how things work, to become part of the earth, to nourish new life, is lovely, too.  may we each find our place in the grand scheme of things.  may we see our connection to everything else.  may we be part of the environment, not set apart from it.  may we honor the majesty of creation by loving ourselves and others as part of the mystery of life.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

For the Beauty of Each Hour

my wife has gone with her sister to visit her sister's daughter and her family, leaving me at home alone.  this morning as i ate breakfast, i left the door leading onto the deck open so i could look out across the back yard at the trees with leaves that are already turning.  we've had an unusually mild summer, with lots of rain in june and the first half of july and cool temperatures in august and on into september.  as a rule, the colors of fall are not in evidence until late october in this part of the country but this year the maples and dogwoods are already changing color and losing their leaves.  the other trees haven't begun to turn but they can't be far behind.

looking out at the beauty of nature, i began to think of many things:  the controversy between God being in control of every detail, like when we have an early fall, and what is called "divine Providence," the idea that some unseen hand set nature and motion and left it to takes its often random course; the question of what we used to call "global warming" and now call "climate change" being the result of human abuse of the atmosphere or part of a natural cycle that is inevitable regardless of human action; whether or not our mild summer, early fall, and the destructive storms during this hurricane season are caused by climate change or random events unrelated to the larger question of our changing atmosphere; of how so many along the gulf of mexico are suffering as a result of these storms while we in our area are relishing the cool weather we've enjoyed over the past several months.

i wonder why we are wasting so much time debating the cause of warming temperatures on our planet.  even the climate change deniers can't question the temperature measurements that demonstrate that the earth is steadily warming.  we know that continuation of this warming will cause worldwide catastrophes.  the sea levels will rise and low-lying islands will disappear.  coastal cities will flood.  arctic and antarctic ice will melt, destroying the ecosystems of humans, plants, and animals.  the permafrost is disappearing, releasing huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, causing large swaths of frozen tundra to become unstable, and releasing disease-causing organisms that had been frozen into the atmosphere and ground water.  regardless of the cause of this warming, there are steps we can take to slow it, if not halt it altogether.  why not take those steps?

of course, the main reason for our failure to address the impending crises is economic.  more money can be made in the short term if we ignore the earth's warming.  we can continue to pour greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we can continue to blow the tops off mountains to extract the coal to burn in our power plants, we can continue clearing land to grow crops and to make the riches of the rain forests more accessible, and some will get richer in the process.  more concentrated wealth in the hands of a small number of people won't be worth much to them if their beach homes are washed away by the rising tides and they and their children are infected with diseases that were dormant until the melting arctic ice released them.  wealth won't do much good if the ecosystems that produce the food we eat are destroyed by flooding and drought and verdant farmlands become vast deserts.

whether one is a "God-is-in-control" fundamentalist, a "divine-Providence" deist, or a "we-have-to-figure-it-out-on-our-own" atheist, there are clear choices to be made.  either we take steps now to save our planet or our race will not survive on this planet.  the science fiction writers who saw visions of humankind lasting into the distant future only by abandoning a once-green earth will not be writers of fiction, but prophets.  i'm grateful for the pleasant summer and early fall.  i'm sorry that so many people are suffering from the hurricanes that have destroyed their homes and livelihoods.  the future is more important than my transient emotions.  it's time to put aside futile debates and take action.

may we do all we can to stop the destruction of our planet.  may we contribute to causes that protect our environment.  may we elect leaders who have the courage to address the causes of our present situation.  may we stop denying science in order to enrich ourselves.  may we do what we can in our individual lives to mitigate the causes of climate change, and may we do so with courage and compassion.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

As in Our Daily Life We Struggle to Be Human

i can be very arrogant.  too often i witness the actions of others and think, "how wrong, how mistaken, this person is.  if only this person would do things as i would do them, life would be easier for them."  i create little stories in my mind of the way other people should behave and long for control of their lives, as if i have the answers while they proceed in ignorance.  this is something i work on constantly, and i hope i'm having some success in understanding myself better.

when these thoughts pop into my mind, i'm trying to be aware of what's happening.  i can't just tell myself that i'm mistaken, because this attitude of mental superiority is ingrained in my psyche.  instead, i have a little conversation with myself, telling the "me" in my head that i'm doing it again, recognizing that i might be right about the wrong-headedness of others while reminding myself that they are not mine to control.  it might just be that i am wrong and they are right, that i can only live my own life, that i have no claim over the lives of others and the actions they take.

since i've begun to remind myself of my lack of control over others, indeed of the time i waste thinking about how others should live their lives, i've discovered that i'm much happier and have better relationships with those who have to put up with me on a daily basis.  it is enough to try to make right decisions about my own life and how to live more skillfully without trying to manage how others live their lives.  this is not to say that i won't intervene if others are doing harm to themselves or someone else, but i have to recognize the possibility that they could be right and i could be wrong.  maybe their decision is the best one for them, but it won't hurt to have a discussion about other courses of action as long as i admit my inability to control what others do and deal with my arrogance in thinking that i have the answers to their problems.

may we be honest with ourselves, recognizing our shortcomings.  may we deal with them in compassionate ways.  may we not condemn ourselves for our failings, rather may we be mindful of how to live more skillfully through awareness of the stories we tell ourselves and how those stories affect our relationships with others.  may mindfulness bring us peace and greater respect for others.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Life Will Be in Your Keeping

this past week my wife and i celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary.  as we reflected on our lives together, we realized that, unlike most of the couples we know, we are partners in most everything we do from grocery shopping to decorating our home.  for instance, when the mail arrives, we usually sit down together and go through it.  each night before we go to sleep, we set goals for the next day and plan what we can accomplish together and what tasks we need to complete independent of one another to get everything done.  we've never had gender roles in our marriage.  i enjoy taking care of the yard, so that's something i do on my own for the most part, but when i'm down in my back or pressed for time, my wife will help out with the edging and string trimming while i'm on the mower.  she loves lots of bric-a-brac, and i'm very clumsy around these little tchotchkes, so she's the duster and i'm the vacuumer when it comes to cleaning the house.  we both share cooking duties.

it's been a very satisfying way to live our lives together, and i think we are closer than most couples that we know.  it's awkward when we go to another couple's home for a meal, because we feel forced to conform to traditional gender roles, with my wife helping out with the kitchen chores while i sit relaxing in another room with the male of the couple.  we prefer to have other people at our house, because we feel comfortable sharing kitchen duties and visiting with the other couple as we prepare to put the meal on the table.  when we travel with another couple, we invariably find the men sitting in the front seats with the women in the back.  by the end of the trip, my wife and i are glad to be home so that we're not separated by sitting in our "assigned" seats.

my wife and i are not only partners in marriage, we are each other's best friend.  i can't imagine having lived all these years without her, and i think she feels the same way.  we haven't given up our individual identities, but there is a shared identity that is the result of being partners/best friends/lovers for so much of our lives.  i count myself fortunate to have shared this wonderful life with someone who cares for me so much and hope that we have many more years of enjoying each other's company.

may you find someone to share your lives with.  may each of us relish the loves and friendships that enrich our lives.  may those of us who have a life-partner never grow apart from that person and may we always put the well-being of that partner on a par with our own well-being.  may we love deeply, richly, and well.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

While the Coward Stands Aside

what is left to say about the events in charlottesville?  the actions of the white nationalists protestors and that of one of their number in killing a counter-protestor and injuring others are reprehensible.  every person, including president trump, should condemn these nazis, racists, white supremacists, members of the alt-right, or whatever label should be applied to them.  such views must be strenuously opposed by anyone who believes in human dignity and equality.

in a democracy such as ours it is difficult to balance the right to free speech for even the most repugnant points of view with the danger of allowing hate to fester and multiply.  the alienated and hopeless of a society are attracted to those who provide them with a scapegoat to blame for their problems.  it is too easy to blame those who are different from us in some way or other for our problems rather than looking for real solutions and recognizing that we are all in this together.  we look to our leaders to develop solutions but what we are getting with the current regime is a frightening attitude of blaming the victim, sometimes in veiled terms and, in the case of mr. trump, overt bigotry.

the issue of racism in this country is a difficult one.  in the south, we've been taught to revere people such as robert e. lee.  for those of my generation, he has been proclaimed as a reluctant leader of the confederate forces, a man whose loyalty to his place of birth superseded loyalty to the nation as a whole, an anti-slavery advocate who would have freed the slaves he owned through marriage to his wife had the civil war not erupted.  we were taught that stonewall jackson and others like him were heroic defenders of their homes, rather than traitors to their country.  this myth of southern heritage runs deep in the confederate south, covering up the enslavement of a millions of people who toiled to enrich a land-owning aristocracy that lived in ease--an inhuman system that endured far too long in a country that proclaimed itself the bastion of freedom.

we look at jefferson, washington, madison, monroe, and other "founding fathers" who advocated noble ideals and served honorably in the early years of our republic, while participating in the "peculiar institution" even during their presidencies.  we honor them and at the same time abhor their complicity in the scourge of slavery.  many of us who have deep roots in the south have ancestors who owned slaves.  my great-great-great-grandfather and his son from whom i am descended were slave-owners.  are we to disavow them because of this immoral practice?  how do we live with our families' role in such evil?  does the depraved ownership of other human beings negate the good things our ancestors accomplished?

many more generations must pass before the corruption wrought by slavery can be ameliorated.  in the meantime, we must resist the calls of those who would divide us into black versus white, native-born versus immigrant, english-speakers versus spanish speakers, or any other artificial boundary marker.  we must be one people, one common humanity.  we must speak out against the hate-mongers and those who use hate for their own purposes of controlling others and enriching themselves.  people like donald trump have no place in our government, and the sooner he and his ilk are gone from positions of power the safer our republic will be.

may we never pretend the great cancer of slavery was excised at the end of the civil war.  may we work to eliminate the lingering effects of slavery.  may we not fall into the trap of blaming scapegoats for the problems that exist.  may we fight demagogues whenever and wherever they appear.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

All We Like Sheep

one of my favorite television shows is granchester on pbs's masterpiece mystery.  i find its exploration of the conflict between organized religion and the struggles of its characters to be much like the conflict many of us deal with in our daily lives.  the three characters i find most fascinating are sidney, leonard, and geordie.  sidney, the male lead, contends with the disconnect between his love for amanda, who is in the process of divorcing her husband, and his role as an anglican priest.  leonard, sidney's curate, is trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his priestly duties.   geordie, a police detective and sidney's friend and partner in solving the crimes that are the focus of each episode, is an athiest with a large family and is involved in an affair with a clerical worker in his police station.

sidney finds it increasingly difficult to continue his clerical responsibilities.  he feels that he is asking of his parishioners a perfection that he himself is unable to fulfill and condemning himself and those who worship in his church to lives filled with guilt and unhappiness.  on the other hand, he understands that, as a priest, he can show the compassion that he believes the church ought to embody to his congregants in ways that he could not if he abandons the priesthood to marry amanda.

leonard tries to follow the archdeacon's advice and becomes engaged to a woman he has befriended in the period when she is caring for her dying father.  he feels a deep love for her and wants to deny his true sexuality.  leonard realizes that sidney is right in advising leonard that the engagement and approaching marriage would be unfair to both leonard and the woman he plans to marry, and she she senses that he is filled with conflict about his sexuality and breaks off the engagement.  in his anguish over the end of his engagement, leonard turns to the local photographer with whom he had a prior relationship.

in one scene that i love geordie talks with sidney about his love for his wife and children as he ends the affair with his fellow employee.  geordie is filled with remorse and longs to return to his family.  sidney assures his that god forgives him, but geordie will have none of the talk about god.  geordie is concerned with the harm his affair has done to all those he loves, including sidney, realizing that he has put sidney in a difficult position as sidney maintains their friendship while showing compassion for geordie's wife and children.  at the end of the scene, when geordie has repeatedly said that god's forgiveness is meaningless in the face of his unbelief, sidney says, "then i forgive you."  geordie's stoic facade breaks down as he bursts into tears and lays his head on sidney's shoulder.

in the face of the trials each of these characters face is the embodiment of the church in the persons of the archdeacon, who tries to maintain priestly discipline in sidney and leonard, and their housekeeper, mrs. maguire, who struggles with her own strict orthodoxy and her longing to express herself as a person and as a woman locked into a conventional life.  this is the struggle many of us face:  we see an institutional church that places adherence to rules that are inhuman above compassion for the hurts that are part and parcel of being human.  in the face of everything we've learned about sexuality, we see a church that treats those who cannot conform to traditional male/female gender rules as sinners who must be shamed into conformity.  we see a church that uses guilt to beat its adherents into submission.  we see a church that is more concerned with maintaining its traditions, buildings, and status than it is with suffering.  we see a church that denies the very message that jesus preached to his early followers.

may we, like sidney, see that showing compassion for those who are in pain is more important than maintaining orthodoxy.  may we accept our humanity and that of those around us and stop seeking a perfection that cannot be attained.  may we stop judging and start loving.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

To Love, To Laugh, To Cry

yesterday some dear friends celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  i suppose "celebrated" is the wrong word, because they spent much of the day cleaning out their garage and the rest of it moving furniture.  it was also the husband's 74th birthday.  my wife and i helped them with the furniture, and they in turn helped us swap the positions of a couple of large pieces of furniture in our house.  they exchanged gifts with one another and received cards from several family members, as well as getting a congratulatory call from a relative.  my wife and i were amazed, and a little troubled, that such significant milestones in their lives were observed with so little fanfare, but this was their wish, apparently.  the husband did comment once that this was some way to recognize their anniversary and his birthday, but the wife had the attitude that "it is what it is."

as i reflect on the non-event that was their anniversary/birthday, perhaps this is the way it should be: a perfunctory recognition of events many years ago and then carrying on with life as it comes to us.  we are cooking dinner for them and two of their family members, and that's the most party they'll get.  it is part of our nature to create special days commemorating significant events in our own lives and those of others--birthdays, anniversaries, national and religious holidays--and i suppose we should call to mind these events and honor their significance.  we crave such celebrations and invent occasions like mother's and father's days, chocolate day, hot dog day, secretary's day, bosses' day, and the like to satisfy our desire for things to celebrate.

 maybe just celebrating life each day ought to be enough.  every day is a day to be honored and recognized.  the continuing ability to awaken, to take the next breath, to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, the joy of just being alive is a cause for celebration, one that we often fail to observe.  so today is the first "joyful living day" that i'll try to remember each day that i continue in this life.  after all, at a few months past seventy, there are fewer days left to embrace the joy of life, and i need to celebrate every one i'm allowed.

 may each of us rejoice in life, in the mundane and the extraordinary, in the sickness and the health, in the noisy and the quiet, in every facet of life.  may we be grateful for life's trials that make us stronger and help us to deal with adversity, just as we are grateful for those moments that are free of challenge.  may we see that every day is a gift, that each day we awaken we are fortunate to be alive.  may we be filled with joy.  shalom.