Tuesday, August 23, 2016

And the World Will Be Better for This

there are many kind and loving people in the world, and i am fortunate to be surrounded by some of them.  when i go to choir rehearsal at church, i often sit next to "c" who is the exemplar of a good person.  c is a couple of years younger than me.  c's wife passed away a few years ago, leaving a hole in his life that can never be filled.  he is always filled with optimism, though, and never gave into bitterness over his wife's untimely death.  he speaks with glowing pride of his grandchildren and spends much of his spare time helping one of them who is handicapped.  i marvel at his capacity for caring for others and his refusal to speak ill of another person.  i always feel better for having been around him.

then there is "l," another friend from church.  she and her husband, "s," always have smiles on their faces.  their love for each other is evident when you are around them.  l sings in the choir, too, and i've served on several committees with her at church.  no matter what difficulties we encounter when we work together, she always persists in looking for solutions, never expressing any discouragement.  she is quick to laugh and has an uncanny ability to find middle ground between opposing opinions, bringing people with seemingly irreconcilable differences together.

one of the friends i most admire is "m,"  a wonderful musician and a great human being.  m if full of energy, a full-time teacher who also conducts our local orchestra, directs the music at one of our large catholic churches, leads our community chorus, performs frequently as a pianist, and still has time to help anyone who calls on him.  he and his wife have a young daughter, and he's a devoted father and husband.  it's difficult to deal with temperamental musicians, but m never becomes impatient.  he encourages young talent and is one of the most modest people i know.  when he smiles, everyone around him has to smile with him, and one never know what witty remark he will come up with next.

as i think about c, l, m, and the long list of friends i admire, they have this in common: they are filled with optimism, always looking for solutions, never allowing life's difficulties to get the better of them.  may we all be problem-solvers rather than naysayers.  may others feel better for having been around us.  may we look forward to a bright future rather than allowing past mishaps to fill us with bitterness and fear.  may our lives touch others for good.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I Ask No Dream, No Prophet Ecstasies

while i waited in line at the drive-through window of my neighborhood pharmacy, i noticed one of the bumper stickers on the back of the car in front of me.  it read, " global warming?  how about global prayer?"   it was taking an interminable time in line so i had some time to think about the suggestion on the bumper sticker.  did the woman in that car really think that global warming would be solved if everyone prayed about it?  was she suggesting that global warming is a hoax, as one of our presidential candidates has told us, but global prayer is a real way to solve our problems?

i was reminded of the politicians who assure the victims of gun violence that they are being prayed for as these same politicians fight tooth and nail to make certain that there are no restrictions on gun ownership or the "right to bear arms.," whose solution to the stream of mass shootings is more guns and prayers.  prayer is fine, but God doesn't need us to tell God that people are suffering and need care; we have minds that enable us to solve our own problems without God's intervention.  in order for the world to be a better place, it is action that is required, not prayer.

it's too easy to simply try praying away the difficulties we face.  we can pray, "God, please bring an end to senseless killing and abuse of the environment," and we might as well wish on a star for all the good our words will accomplish.  why should God do what we can do on our own?  it's our responsibility to figure out how to bring about a world where life is valued and the earth is cared for.  God may be watching and weeping, but we made this mess, and we should clean it up.

"prayer is america's only hope" signs are in people's yards all over town, but those signs and the people who believe them are very wrong.  concerted action is america's best hope.  we are stronger together, as the democratic nominee says, and it's time we stopped trusting in pie in the sky and started taking the steps necessary to make the world a better place.

may we care for one another and the environment of which we are a part.  may we remember that prayer without action is useless, and right action is possible whether we pray or not.  may we turn from the smugness of praying and then waiting for an answer that will never come without our working to bring it about.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

While the Coward Stands Aside

for the past week i've been a little down since my minister emailed to ask if we could get together to discuss my concerns about our church.  in her note she suggested that i had asked to talk with her about this at some future time, but i don't remember making such a request.  i have expressed my intention to talk with her in conversations with a couple of friends about our mutual concerns.  perhaps one of them has talked with her along the same lines and let her know that i would also like to speak with her.

at any rate, we've made a tentative appointment to meet, and in the back of my mind i've been thinking about what i want to say.  i have several items on my list: the way the dismissal of a staff member was handled, the adoption of an exclusionary wedding policy, the approval of new bylaws and a statement of belief and how that process was carried out, the church's investigation of membership in an organization that exists primarily because of our denomination's decision about marriage equality.  most of all i am upset about my wife's treatment by a member of the congregation, a woman who is involved in several of the activities in the church in which my wife also participates.  after my wife was attacked a second time in a very unkind and public way by one she thought was her friend, my wife stopped going to church, and i can't blame her.  if my wife is made to feel unwelcome and afraid of another such attack, i feel unwelcome, too.

when our congregation considered the new bylaws and statement of belief, i asked questions in what i thought was an informational meeting.  the man who was presenting these documents to the congregation answered them in a manner that let me know that my questions were unwelcome.  to my surprise, the proposed bylaws and statement were put to a vote then and there and approved with all but three of us who were present voting in the affirmative.  i was shocked that such important changes were pushed through so quickly.  we needed more time to think our way through these proposals and to discuss them more fully after the initial presentation.  after this experience, i don't feel free to ask questions or to express my opinion.  it seemed clear from the responses i got when i asked questions that my questions were viewed as challenges to the leadership and that much discussion had taken place to which i was not privy.

i am troubled that the adoption of the new wedding policy, the new bylaws, and the statement of belief were moved in large part by legal concerns.  our church's insurance company advised the church that certain statements need to be a part of our policies as a defense against lawsuits and persuaded the church to buy additional insurance as a protection if the church is sued after its refusal to sanction same-gender marriages.  decisions of faith and practice that are driven by a desire to avoid being sued are questionable, as far as i'm concerned.

i fear that my discussion with my minister may lead to me making decisions i don't want to make, like choosing between leaving our church and many of the people i love dearly behind or continuing as a member when membership is bringing me more stress than joy.  as we've elected church officers, we have pledged to support the decisions that they make on our behalf, but i find myself challenging some of the most important decisions they've made.  can i do this and still keep my pledge to support them?  i know that it is better to have this discussion with my pastor and get this out in the open with her, but i'm still anxious about doing so because it may lead me some place i don't want to go.

may we have the courage of our convictions, but may we have tolerance to realize that others may be right and we may be wrong.  may we remind ourselves that there is such a thing as the "tyranny of the majority," and the rights of minorities must always be protected.  may there always be room for disagreement and questioning.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

a few days ago i watched a "law and order" marathon with a visiting relative.  in one episode the plot revolved around the arrest of a black woman on a serious charge.  a grand jury refused to indict her on the charges, and the episode ended with her husband confronting a departing black assistant district attorney on the steps of the courthouse.  the husband said that for too long the arc of justice had bent in ways that penalized blacks, suggesting that it was now time for that arc to bend in the other direction.  this was a rebuke to the ada who had insisted on the woman's prosecution, arguing that the law was the law and meant nothing if it was not rigorously applied regardless of race or mitigating circumstances.

the relative with whom i was watching commented that he was tired of hearing "blacks play the race card."  "none of the problems blacks face," he opined, "are my fault or the fault of anyone i know."  he went on to say that he knew lots of blacks who were decent human beings, but one had only to look at how many blacks were in prison and how much crime was committed by blacks to realize that blacks were just plain different from whites.  one hears such arguments over and over in our country; one of the current presidential candidates is relying on such racism to get himself elected.

i just looked at him and said nothing, knowing full well that nothing i said could sway him.  he would never hear the blood of thousands of blacks who suffered at the hands of their masters crying out to him.  he would never understand the fear black parents feel every time their child steps out into the world.  he would never admit that attitudes such as his caused the lynching of countless blacks at the hands of angry white mobs.  he would never admit that it the responsibility of those of us whose ancestors perpetuated and fought for the institution of slavery to right the wrongs of those who went before us.  "they" aren't like "us:" this rallying cry is the motto of bigots who are compelled to find a scapegoat on which to blame the ills of society.  "it's 'their' fault" that they are poor, 'their' fault that there are freddie grays in the world, 'their' fault that young black men are jailed in disproportionate numbers, 'their' fault that blacks are too often the victims of police shootings.

no, it's the fault of all of us who refuse to acknowledge our own culpability for what our society has become, of all us who fail to temper justice with mercy, of all of us who elect racists to office.  those who elect the leaders of our country must vote for the candidates and parties that recognize our responsibility to right past wrongs, to regard all people no matter their race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender identity as equals who are entitled to pursue happiness.  we are stronger together.

may we enlarge our liberties, increase the opportunities for all our people, broaden the scope of our democracy, and realize the dreams of those who founded our nation.  may we turn from those who see only fear and distrust, those who would divide us rather than unite us. shalom.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

We Will Walk Side by Side

those of us who are citizens of the usa are presented with two very different choices in the current political battle: one a vision of our country as ridden with crime, overrun by "illegal aliens" bent on doing us harm, a land which must turn back to a time in the past where a white majority ruled and "others" knew their place; the other is a vision that sees all people who reside here working together to solve our problems, with every person having access to a living wage and health care, one that looks forward with hope to a future where all share the benefits of our prosperity rather than a turning back to an earlier time when mom stayed at home while dad earned the living and made the decisions and when people of color were invisible.  the first vision sees one man as its only hope, a supreme leader who will save us by making "great deals" while turning his and our backs to the rest of the world.  the second vision makes all of us partners in the work that lies ahead, building on the accomplishments of the current administration, strengthening our partnerships with our allies and working with them to make the world safer and more prosperous.

i was doubtful of the choice of tim kaine as mrs. clinton's running mate until i read his remarks in florida, where he said, in spanish, that all are welcome and called all of us americans, together.  after reading what he said there and reviewing his positions on a number of issues, i saw the wisdom in his selection.  the symbolism of having a hispanic vice-president, along with the several hispanics that were under consideration who have admirable qualities, is appealing, but mr. kaine may be able to reach constituencies that other potential running mates could not.

the politics of fear that were on display in cleveland and mr. trump's acceptance speech in which he said, "nobody knows the system better that me, which is why i alone [emphasis mine] can fix it" paints a picture of a country in chaos, overrun by terrorists and "foreigners," where lawlessness is rampant and "the first task of [trump's] new administration will be to liberate our citizens from the crime and terrorism and lawlessness that threatens their — our communities."  hearing what came from the republican convention, one is reminded of an earlier time when many were afraid for the future, and a remarkable president said that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  in his first inaugural address, franklin roosevelt painted a picture of hope in dark times and inspired us to work together to solve our problems when he said, "this is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously."  he did not present himself as a "savior" who was the only  person capable of "fixing" what was wrong.

as i read mr. kaine's and mrs. clinton's remarks in florida, i thought of franklin and eleanor roosevelt and the hope that they brought americans in a very dark time.   i thought of the stark contrast between mr. trump and his supporters who see a bleak present that can only be escaped by finding scapegoats and turning power over to a "deal-maker" whose primary accomplisment has been the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others and who has encouraged others to follow his example, and mrs. clinton and mr. kaine who challenge us to trust in ourselves and the principles upon which our country was founded to solve our problems together with cooperation and compassion, trusting each other rather than fearing one another.

may we embrace the vision that makes us better than we are now.  may be choose hope over fear.  may we lay down the weapons with which we now confront each other and turn to one another with open arms.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

And the Choice Goes by Forever

the other day one of the republican vice presidential hopefuls came out with a disturbing proposal, perhaps one of the most disturbing proposals i've heard in my lifetime.  when newt gingrich suggested that we "test" every muslim in this country to determine if they "believed in sharia law" and then to expel those who do, he demonstrated that he and all those who would have one set of laws for one religious group and another set of laws for all others engage in the most vile sort of prejudice.  jewish religious courts have functioned in this country and other countries, serving the needs of those who subscribe to certain expressions of the jewish religion, with no outrage from the bigots who scream about "sharia law."  in israel, sharia courts are permitted for the resolution of legal questions among its muslim residents who choose to use them, and those courts seem to serve their purpose just as the jewish halacha courts do.

the scapegoating of an entire group of people for the bad acts of a few of its members is reprehensible.  after the senseless murder of members of a prayer group in south carolina by a "christian" white supremacist, there were no calls from right-wing politicos to examine the practices of christians or to ban christians from coming into the country.  clearly, it wasn't the religion that was at fault, rather this tragedy was the work of a warped mind with little understanding of the christian religion.  similarly, the terrorist acts in france and elsewhere and the actions of the islamic state extremists have nothing to do with islam and everything to do with using religion as an excuse to justify the most hateful and repugnant practices.  blaming islam for the misapplication of its teachings is anathema to everything that the usa stands for.

how frightening it is that there seems to be a large group of people in this country who are ready to follow politicians who spout such hateful rhetoric!  how disturbing it is that there are candidates for high office who pander to bigots who have little understanding of the principles upon which the country was founded!  may we condemn bigotry of every sort in the strongest terms.  may we look for the common decency that we all share, regardless of religious belief or the absence of belief.  may loving-kindness and compassion win over hatred and discrimination.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Somewhere in the Darkest Night a Candle Glows

as i rode my bike through the park a few days ago, my mind turned to the meaning of morality and the role of religion in instilling morality in human beings.  these thoughts came against the backdrop of needless gun deaths in louisiana, minnesota, and texas.  i wondered then and continue to wonder if morality is truly a function of religious belief.  are believers any more or less moral than non-believers?

one thinks of all the evil done in the name of religion--the crusades, the havoc wrought by isis and al-quaida, the troubles in northern ireland, the persecution of an ethnic minority in burma, the hindu-muslim conflict in india, the murders in bangladesh--just to list a few.  if one takes a literal reading of the bible as one's guide to morality, then slavery, incest, honor killing, the repression of women, and genocide are justified.  we see the claim that discrimination against lgbt persons in the name of "freedom of religion" is a valid christian moral choice.

it seems to me that religion is all too often an excuse for the powerful to seek control over those less powerful.  one wonders if the source of the problem is not religious belief, if perhaps the world would be better off if the practice of religion were abandoned altogether.  are atheists more moral than believers?  in many cases, i think so.  the tribal nature of religious practice often diminishes individual responsibility for the moral choices that are made.  it becomes easier to harm others as part of a group than as an individual, particularly when there is consensus among the members of that group as to what constitutes "good" and "evil."  a non-believer must develop a lone sense of what is right and what is wrong.  certainly, there are individuals without belief that pursue hedonistic lifestyles without concern for the harm done to others, but belief or non-belief have little to do with such a choice; some self-proclaimed believers live such lives, as well.

when we define morality as making choices which do ourselves and others the least harm or the most good, religion has little to do with it.  every day is filled with such choices.  do i sit on my rear playing computer games while my spouse labors to take care of all the chores necessary to keep the house running?  do i make healthy choices so that i can be more productive, long-lived, and beneficial to myself and my family?  do i hoard my money or spend it on that which brings me fleeting pleasure while others are without the necessities of life?

may we embrace a moral ethic which brings us true happiness, increases good, and diminishes suffering in the world.  may we not use religion to justify the harming of other beings.  may the world be better because you and i have lived.  shalom.