Thursday, April 25, 2019

For Those I've Loved Along the Way

my week is not nearly as hectic now as it was earlier.  thanks to two days of rain, i'm forced to take a day off from some chores that have been weighing on me.  i can leave them undone without feeling badly.  so today, i will spend most of the day doing things i love to do, leaving the crab grass to flourish in the spring rain and the lawn unmowed.

as i began moving around after getting out of bed, my thoughts went to a dear friend who lives several hours away.  i haven't heard from him in some time, and my voicemails, texts, emails, and messages on messenger have gone unanswered.  i believe that he is well from his posts on facebook, though i can tell he is extremely busy with work-related responsibilities.  it seems as if he has cut me out of his busy life, and i am hurt by it.  i know i've done the same to others in the past and feel deep remorse for having done so.  i supppose the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind," has a great deal of truth in it.  i know from experience that putting off keeping in contact with a distant friend can ultimately lead to being so embarrassed for our failure that we finally ignore that person.  i hope that isn't what has happened with my friend.

our hearts are tender things.  we are hurt to discover that we are not as important to another as that person is to us and to find that busy lives sometimes lead those dear to us to neglect us as pressing matters that are closer to home crowd us out.  being ignored in such a way causes deep suffering and often we want to cry out in anger at the person who is neglecting us.   as i reflected on this in the early morning, i realized that anger is not a good response, though it is a natural one.  a better response is to continue to love that one who has been an important part of my life even when he ignores me, to wish him well in his busy life, and to hope that, when things slow down, i'll hear from him.  even if he forgets me, i can hold him in my heart, recalling the many good times we had together in the past, good times we can't enjoy now because of the distance between us.

may we allow lovingkindness to overcome suffering.  may we keep anger at bay as we look for more positive alternatives.  may our hurts never cause us to stop striving to be compassionate.  shalom.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Too Little Time

at the beginning  of this week my schedule is very full, so i won't have time to write a post for tuesday, as i usually do.  i hope to find time later in the week to post something.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Simplest and the Best

this is holy week in the christian calendar.  the week began with palm sunday, or, in some churches, palm/passion sunday, when the entry of jesus into jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of his life is remembered.  i am always torn between the celebratory nature that the re-enactment of this procession takes on, with children marching through the church waving palm branches, their faces full of smiles as they giggle down the aisles, and the knowledge that this is the beginning of the end for jesus' life as an itinerant teacher.  there is a mystery about jesus' participation in this event, with his sending of some of his followers to secure the donkey he rides on which has obviously been planned in advance.  such a procession could hardly have escaped the watchful eyes of the roman occupiers, and it is amazing that jesus wasn't arrested in the midst of it for participating in an insurrection against roman rule.  yet it continued uninterrupted according to the gospel accounts, which makes one wonder if it really took place exactly as the writers told it.

perhaps the group welcoming jesus into the city wasn't as large as we imagine.  maybe it was only a small group of his followers.  matthew's gospel describes jesus as being greeted by a "very large crowd," while luke mentions "the whole multitude of disciples."  we have an image of something like a parade with people standing on either side of the road throwing their cloaks and palm branches on the ground ahead of the approaching donkey on which jesus rides inside the city, but the gospels say that this took place before jesus enters jerusalem, as he makes his way to the city.  we don't know how those who honored him knew that jesus was coming or had time to prepare to greet him unless word had been sent in advance, again suggesting that this event had some prior planning.

at any rate, we probably make too much of this "triumphal procession," since it heralds the coming crucifixion of jesus a few days later, when another crowd gathers to call for his death and to mock him as he is taken to the place of execution.  the celebratory nature of our observance of palm sunday is irksome, overshadowing the important teachings of jesus that come between it and the last passover that jesus and his disciples share, teachings which we largely ignore in our holy week devotions.  i would prefer that we do away with all the fuss associated with palms and concentrate on what jesus had to say once he entered in the city, as he condemned the desecration of the temple, denounced the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and taught through a series of parables.

may we not be so caught up in the beginning of holy week that we forget where it leads.  may we listen to what jesus taught, rather than focusing on this one event in his life that we recall on palm sunday.  may his message of a love which transcends the trappings of power be remembered every day of our lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Fast Falls the Eventide

a few days ago my younger brother passed away.  my sister's husband called early in the morning to let me know, and at first i couldn't believe what i was hearing.  he had been battling a number of health problems, the latest of which was some breathing difficulties.  apparently his doctors didn't think this difficulty was life threatening, and his death might have been from another cause.  he was severely underweight and had a heart attack a few months ago.  my sister had been staying with him for a couple of nights before his death and heard him gasping for air in the early hours of the morning.  by the time she got to him, he had died.

tomorrow, we'll travel to the town where he and my sister lived for a wake in his memory.  he has been cremated, and his son will take his ashes to be scattered at sea, because he had worked for many years on an ocean-going boat and had traveled all over the world.  my nephew plans to have a marker erected in the cemetery where my brother's wife is buried.  one of my jobs today is to call relatives to let them know of his death and the wake, though most of them will be unable to attend because of the distances involved in traveling to it.

while i am sad that my brother is no longer with us, i'm glad that his suffering is over.  he has struggled for so many years, most of them living alone and far from family.  his son lived about an hour from him, but he had a family of his own to care for and a long commute to work every day, making it difficult for him to see his father as often as he'd have liked.  it was a six-hour drive for me to reach him, and my sister lived seven hours from him.  he had moved to where my sister lived about three months ago, and they were enjoying each other's company most every day.  i'm so glad they had those few months to be with one another and that he had someone to share his problems with for that brief time.

his passing brought the fragility of our lives home to me.  i had told myself that he would outlive me, though i knew deep down that he couldn't hold out much longer, given the health battles he was fighting.  his death has forced me to think of my own mortality and to make better plans for what needs to be done for my family's benefit when i'm gone.  i'm thinking of the difficulties my nephew faces, since none of us expected his father to go so soon.  he has his dad's few possessions to dispose of, his dad's two dogs to find homes for, all his business affairs to sort out, knowing next to nothing about those affairs, all of this while accompanied by his wife and two small children and much of it having to be taken care of within a five day span before he and his family have to make the seven hour drive back home.  there's little anyone else can do to relieve him of those responsibilities, though my sister and her husband are there to help in any way they can.

may we do what we can to plan for our lives' end.  may we think not only of ourselves but of those we will leave behind, doing what we can to make things as easy on them as possible.  may we accept the inevitability of our mortality and live as though each moment might be our last.  may we find peace in both life and death.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

When You're Down and Troubled

we've been having some work done in our house, making it necessary to completely dismantle one room, moving every stick of furniture in the room, taking down every picture and decorative item, and unplugging every electrical device in that room.  consequently everything that had to be removed from the room had to find a temporary place in the rest of the house, the end result being that the entire house was disorganized and messy.  because my wife had several appointments that took her away from home during most of the work, i was forced to stay home all the time with the man doing the repairs, which, of course, took longer than anticipated.  by the time he finished, i was a nervous wreck, afflicted with cabin fever and irritated because everything in the house was topsy-turvy.

now we have to put everything back together, which is much more time consuming that taking everything apart.  we've managed to get all the furniture back in place and to return the items that were removed back to the room where the work was done, but all the little items like pictures and electronics have to be reinstalled.  our whole house was in need of cleaning, and that task took us a couple of days of hard work, but it's finally done so that we're not fighting dust and dirt everywhere.  this week both my wife and i have obligations that will take us away from home for much of the day every day, so that completion of putting the remaining items back where they belong will be slowed.  it seems as if we've been working on this one room of the house forever, and we're ready to have it done completely.

as i sit reflecting on this ordeal, i'm both angry and embarrassed.  i'm angry because i've been a slave to this room for more than two weeks and it's still not finished.  i'm embarrassed that i'm angry and frustrated, so unable to deal with what is really a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.  i'm not hungry, cold, or homeless.  i'm not poverty stricken.  i have a wonderful partner who is helping me with the work that has to be done.  yet, i have to be honest in recognizing my feelings and the mixed emotions i'm experiencing.  the room now looks so much better, and we will enjoy it for many years to come.  intellectually i know that it's a good thing that we had the work done, but in my heart i wish we'd never started.

i know that in time, these feelings of anger and frustration will go away.  in another month, i'll walk into our remodeled room and think, "wow!  this is so much better!"  right now, i feeling sorry for myself, as i try to finish up the last tasks that will complete the room and working on putting myself in a better frame of mind.  it's amazing that little disturbances in our daily lives can make us feel so lousy, that the calm and peace that we think we've achieved can disappear so easily.  just writing about it is helpful.  i already feel less stressed and better able to cope.  i suppose these few words have been the screams i wanted to let loose.

may we learn to put the petty annoyances of life into perspective.  may we find ways to give voice to our negative feelings in ways that are not harmful to others.  may we recognize that change is often painful, even though it is necessary and inevitable.  may we find the inner peace and strength to deal with the vagaries of life.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bid Darkness Turn to Day

in christianity, the christian is asked to accept a great many things on faith.  one of these is acceptance of the bible as the revelation of God to humankind.  the orthodox view based on the bible is that God created the universe, intervened in human history, ultimately chose abraham and his descendants as the "chosen people," and from those people the savior of the world emerged: jesus, who was God incarnate.  this god-man, we are asked to believe, was born of a virgin, and at his birth miraculous events occurred.  during his brief itinerant ministry, he went about teaching and healing the sick before being crucified by the romans only to rise from the dead three days later and, after a brief period visiting and reassuring his followers, ascended into heaven.

the bible is filled with events, many of which have been proven to be factual, but it also contains much that is unprovable.  if we abandon the need to believe every word of the bible as part of a literal record, as a historical document that is without error as we've received it, then there is much in it that can be of benefit.  much of it, though, is contradictory and orthodox belief goes to great lengths to reconcile those contradictions.  how can a God who is love and light have ordered the massacre of thousands of innocent people, as the account of the israelites' conquest of palestine tells us?  why would God choose this small clan to be the repository of all knowledge of God and wait several thousand years before revealing through the teachings of jesus that all people could be part of the kingdom of God?  how could and why would God cause a woman to bear a child in a way that is biologically impossible?  the queries are interminable.

we have the ability to use our minds in a reasonable way.  it makes little sense to abandon reason when it comes to the most basic question of life:  what is the purpose of our existence.  if the existence of a creator who is the source of all that exists is reasonable, then we must ask about the nature of that creator and our relationship with the creator.  this is where religion enters, and we begin to make assertions based on faith rather than reason.  when those sorts of assertions are accepted without question and viewed as fact rather than possibility, religion becomes dangerous, the basis for wars and all sorts of inhuman acts.  why is it that we must insist on our own views as the correct ones, why can't we live with the ambiguity of not knowing for certain?

as i've gotten older, it's become easier for me to live with such doubts and uncertainties.  i don't have to know the final answers.  it is enough to ponder the questions and to try to live my life seeking to serve others, to see others as beings making their ways through life in much the same way as myself.  there are many so-called sacred writings that contain worthwhile information, but what makes them sacred is not the demand that we accept them as truth based on blind faith.  their sacredness comes from their ability to lead us to better relationships with one another.  when these writings teach us to hate or to view one group as superior to another, they cease to be useful, and we have no obligation to honor or obey those teachings that cause us to harm one another.  that is why it's easy for me to ignore much of what the bible says.  when the bible teaches us to love and care for one another, i can honor those teachings.  the rest i must refuse to accept.

may we never give up our quest for truth or our ability to use our minds to reason for ourselves.  may we refuse to accept anything on faith, always seeking proof as a basis for belief.  may lovingkindness and respect be the foundations of our lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

We'll Guard Each One's Dignity

a few days as we ate dinner with another couple, our male dining companion brought up the teachings in the new testament regarding the role of women in the church.  he was referring to i corinthians 14:33-35 and and the second chapter of i timothy.  in both women are instructed to remain silent during worship, deferring to their husbands.  the passage in the first letter to timothy also teaches that women are secondary creations, since adam was created first and then eve.  in the fifth chapter of ephesians, verses 22-24 say this: " wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the lord.  for the husband is the head of the wife, even as christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.  therefore as the church is subject unto christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."

both my wife and i strongly disagreed with these passages, and our companion, realizing he had touched a nerve, quickly interjected that he was not endorsing the content of the verses in questions, but merely pointing out what "the bible taught."  knowing he believed every word in the bible was literally correct, dictated directly by God to the writers of the canon, we were certain that he was letting us know that the practices of the church we all attended were antithetical to the teachings of the bible and therefore not acceptable to him.  in our congregation, and in the denomination as a whole, women serve as officers in the church, serve as ordained ministers, and are regarded as equals of men, a practice my wife and i support and believe to be consistent with the teachings of jesus, regardless of what the letters purported to be written by st. paul say.

this brings up the larger question of how one reconciles contradictory passages in the bible if one believes the bible is wholly inerrant and literally true from cover to cover, but i'll write about that another time.  what i am concerned with in this post is the idea that women are "subject" to men, that women are inferior creations who caused sin to enter the world by falling for the serpent's temptation in the garden of eden and leading the first man to disobey God.  for me, this concept is entirely without merit.  it is not reasonable for members of one gender to be considered superior to the other.  men and women are far more alike than they are different, and all of us are a blend of what we traditionally consider "male" and "female" traits, despite the differentiation that biology imposes on us.

to discriminate against women based on any teaching, including those of the bible, is wrong, having more to do with control and power than with logic.  in one of those contradictory bible passages, st. paul says in galations, "there is neither jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in christ jesus."  in the eyes of God we are all equal regardless of our backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or social status, and our behavior towards one another should reflect this equality.

may we see each first as humans beings.  may we not seek power over one another for any reason, including gender.  may we look for our commonalities and relish our differences without regarding those differences as making one person inferior to, or superior to, another.  shalom.