Tuesday, May 24, 2016

In Our Joys and in Our Sorrows

i listened one evening as my friends, jack and jan (not their real names), talked about the day that had just passed.  jan said, "what a day! nothing went the way we had planned.". she continued, listing all the things that had "gone wrong."

 "I thought it was a lovely day.  even though it didn't go as planned, look at all the things we accomplished," jack replied, listing all the things that they had been able to do because of the changed circumstances of the day.

as I thought back on their conversation, it hit me that there are so many good, but not perfect, things in our lives.  jack had seen the day as a good one, though an imperfect one; jan had seen the day as a bad one because of its imperfections.  i was sitting in my chair--a good one but not a perfect one.  it was a bit too narrow, but it supported me well.  the back was at just the right angle to cradle my lower back that often hurts, and the seat was at the right height.  all in all, it was a good chair.  the floor on which my feet rested was beautiful, but it was easy to damage, and it showed every speck of dirt that settled on it--good, not perfect.  our house was a wonderful house, thoughtfully planned with many unusual, but beautiful and helpful, features.  after sixty-two years, things had to be repaired from time to time, and the plumbing, though functional, was a little quirky.  a good house, but not a perfect one.

i could list so many good-but-not-perfect things in my life, as we all could.  the point is that if we expect perfection we will always be disappointed.  if we expect each day to conform to our ideal, we'll never have a "good" day.  we are so much happier if we accept the circumstances of each day as it comes to us.  so what if the repairman who promised to come shows up today, two days later than he said he would, to make a needed repair.  at least he's here now, and you make the best of it.  or what's the great tragedy if you discover that the shirt you had planned to wear today is found to be in the laundry with a stain on the pocket?  you have other shirts that are just as nice.

life is full of these inconveniences.  we can either deal with them with acceptance or allow them to ruin our day.  may we choose the former.  may we embrace the day on its own terms, taking things as they come.  may we say at the end of the day, "it was a lovely day.  i am grateful for it." may we learn from the events that force us to change our best-laid plans and rejoice.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Matter What May Be the Test

a bad storm with heavy rain and high winds passed through our area a few days ago.  all over our county and the neighboring counties, trees were downed, and power outages were widespread.  we were fortunate that we suffered no damage or loss of power, but several of our neighbors had trees come crashing into their homes.  the day after the storm, our local newspaper had a front page story on the havoc caused by the storm, and one person whose home had suffered major damage was quoted as saying that god had been good to them, sparing them from any physical harm.  if "god" had protected them from harm, why hadn't "god" protected their home and the scores of other homes that had trees blown into them?  why had their home been hit, when most other homes were unharmed?  had they done something wrong that resulted in this god punishing them by causing the tree to fall on their home, while god spared them from injury?

i will never understand the worship of such a capricious god.  so much of life is governed by happenstance.  storms are ungovernable forces of nature.  trees fall in storms for many reasons--sometimes the tree is weakened by disease, or it is of a type that has shallow roots that are susceptible to being blown over in water-soaked ground, some just happen to be in a spot where the winds of the storm are strongest.  who knows?  many trees fall without doing harm to people and homes.  what does God have to do with any of this?  God didn't cause the storm.  God didn't direct the path of the wind.  God didn't protect some homes while causing damage to others.  If anyone or thing is to blame for this storm, it is us, who go about abusing our planet and increasing the likelihood of more and more violent storms.  The same storm that wreaked so much havoc also brought about needed rain--blessings and curses from the same source, but the source wasn't God.

i am sorry that several homes were harmed by the storm.  i am happy that ours was not among them.  if the next storm blows one of our trees into our home, it won't be because God is sending us a message, and, if we escape damage, it won't be because God is protecting us.  whatever the result of the next storm, that result will be caused by "that's just the way it is."  we may thank God for being present with us in our suffering or our rejoicing, but God deserves neither credit nor blame for the random circumstances of life.

may we not fall into the trap of seeing God as the cause of some or all of the events of our lives.  may we not look at what happens as some sort of signal from God.  may we be grateful that we can live our lives using the resources we've been given, and may we accept blame for the misuse of those resources, striving always to live more skillfully.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When Upon Life's Billows

a few days ago, my friend brent got a call from his son sam, who was filled with excitement because he had been offered a job in a town about a thousand miles away.  sam's new job gives him the opportunity to use his talents and experience in ways that past jobs have not, and the location is ideal for his son, who loves to hike and camp.  the town to which he plans to move is in the high desert, with several national parks nearby and the rockies almost at the city limits.   it's no wonder that sam was elated about the possibilities when he called his dad.

i was startled when brent reacted in anger and hurt.  "why is he doing this to me?  there are lots of jobs near where i live.  why would he take a job so far away?" my friend asked.  i didn't know how to react.  a lecture on how brent should have felt wouldn't be helpful, and i could understand why brent wanted his son to live near him as he gets up in years.  i sympathized and suggested that this would give brent an opportunity to visit sam in what seemed to be a perfect location.  i reminded him that inexpensive flights to near sam's new home are often available.  "i'm not going.  he doesn't want to see me or he wouldn't move so far away," brent told me.

my heart aches for brent and for sam.  i know that sam is at a stage in his life and in his career that makes taking advantage of what he's been offered attractive to him.  i know that sam wants to venture off, since he's lived in the same area his whole life, and an offer like this may never come his way again.  right now, he has no children, and there are good job opportunities for his wife in this new town.  if they can get established there and prosper, then sam and his wife can begin their family, and brent will have the grandchildren he yearns for.

i wanted to say, "this is not about you, brent.  try to see this through sam's eyes, and be happy for him.  here is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that sam would be crazy to pass up.  life has presented sam with a great job in an ideal location, and you should be excited for him and be thrilled that he called you immediately to share this joy with you."  i knew that lecturing brent wouldn't help him, though, and i hope that, as sam talks more with his father about his plans, brent will have a change of heart.  right now, all i can do is share brent's suffering and hope for a good outcome.

may we take upon ourselves a measure of the suffering of others, reacting to them with compassion, even when we believe they are wrong.  may we be present for others in their suffering, never presuming to tell them what they should be feeling.  may our love help others overcome their suffering as we share in their hurt and grief.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Are We "One in the Spirit?"

i am wary of "doctrinal statements," those strings of words that seek to define who is and who is not a christian.  my own congregation, through its elected officers, adopted a wedding policy that said that "for christians, marriage is between a man and a woman," a policy that tells me and others like me who believe in marriage equality that we are not christians.  another church in my denomination begins its statement of beliefs with "All Christians believe that there is but one God and that God is manifested in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  this statement says that anyone who rejects, or questions, the doctrine of the trinity is not a christian, since all christians are trinitarians.

such statements are attempts to place boundaries around the "true" christians, excluding those who have other beliefs and those who refuse to build fences to protect the flock and keep the apostate at bay.  many christians are so busy excluding gays, transgender persons, and other undesirables that they ignore the pattern jesus established in his ministry as he sought out those who were outside the fence of jewish religious practice, those who were excluded for whatever reason.  "don't question, don't doubt, accept our version of orthodoxy no matter how unreasonable," these boundary-makers say, and the area within their fences becomes smaller and smaller.

the capacity for compassion knows no such boundaries.  why would God have given us reasonable minds if God didn't want us to use them?  it's no wonder that the ranks of the "spiritual but not religious" continue to swell as the numbers of those who practice formal religion shrink.  our churches are too involved in making rules and establishing prerequisites that the needs of those outside the fence are ignored.  the ability to love and care for others has nothing to do with a catechism and everything to do with seeing that we are essentially the same no matter what our beliefs are.  we can't be one-in-the-spirit if we are wrapped up in building walls to protect ourselves from those dangerous "others."

may we stop thinking of ourselves as the protectors of the faith and start seeing ourselves as part of humanity, all of us searching for answers and seeking comfort from the vicissitudes of life.  may we love in such a way that no one need fear to doubt and question.  may we use our minds, never accepting any belief on blind faith.  may loving-kindness and compassion take precedence over belief.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Fellowship of Love

i am writing this post on a sunday morning, though i won't post it until tuesday morning, as is my custom.  as i thought about what i would (should) write, i began to think about the day to come.  soon i will get up and begin breakfast preparations, first for the six animals in our household--four outside cats, one inside cat, and one dog--and then for the two humans.  after clearing away the breakfast remains, we'll prepare to go to church.

then i thought, "why do we go to church most every sunday morning?"  i no longer believe much of what is taught there, and i feel a certain dishonesty about my faithful attendance.  yet, i need to belong to this collective that is our congregation.  i need to be part of a larger group than my small household or even my extended family.  i need the friendship of these lovely people that i see on sunday mornings, to know that if i fall ill, they will be concerned for my recovery, that if a loved one dies, they will be there to comfort me, that when i return after being away for awhile, they will rejoice that i am back.  while i've moved away from many of the beliefs of my church, i still need, yearn for, the feeling of being part of something that connects me and them by something other than familial ties.

as in any group, there are those who need to control, cliques and individuals who want things to be done as they want them done.  right now, there are some in our congregation agitating for the dissolution of our connections to the national body of which our congregation is a part, and this desire to pull away is difficult to watch.  there are always those who cannot tolerate other points-of-view, who want to act as the inquisitors who enforce orthodoxy, and we have those among us.  yet, on the whole, those who are my friends in our church are lovely people, folks who are there because they treasure our connections with one another and who are more concerned about showing compassion than about controlling the institutional apparatus.

as my beliefs have transformed and as i've watched our congregation taking official positions which i find painful and lacking in love, i've thought about severing my ties with the church.  it may become necessary to do that if those who are most power-hungry get their way.  the problem is that there is no other group in our community to turn to if i turn away from this group, none that can come close to satisfying my need to belong unless i'm willing to accept impossible terms.

as i sit here on this sunday morning, i look forward to seeing these friends again, to making music with them, to repeating familiar words with them, to greeting them and inquiring about the week gone by and their health.  if this were gone, i would feel very sad on sunday mornings, and i think that sadness would carry over into the days that follow.  i watch and wait, hoping for the best, preparing myself for what may come, enjoying these friendships as long as i can.

may each of us find a place to belong, a group filled with camaraderie and compassion.  may we be true to ourselves and learn the futility of believing that we can control the lives of others or the events that are a part of our daily lives.  may we seek truth and follow it wherever it leads us.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger

my wife and i have returned from our travels to washington and new york with many fond memories, lots of laundry, and tons of pictures to be sorted through.  as we inevitably do when we travel, we found kind strangers who helped us along the way.    i'll write about three of them in today's post.

the first was a young man we sat with on the subway as we returned to our apartment late at night from the opera.  since my wife and i are obviously senior citizens, two old folks out at that hour piqued his curiosity, so he asked where we had been so late at night.  learning that we had been to see madam butterfly, he told us how much he enjoyed opera, though he wasn't able to go on a regular basis.  as we talked, we learned that his parents were in spain, that in a few minutes when midnight struck he would turn twenty-five, that he was a dominican-american, and that his grandfather had been the dominican ambassador to the united states.  he was on his way uptown to the stop before ours to join some friends to celebrate his birthday.  we had a wonderful conversation with him, and he was happy to have found an older couple to wish him a "happy birthday" since his parents were not there to do so in person.  as he left us to go to his birthday party, we were amazed at how this stranger had taken us into his life and had been genuinely interested in ours.

later in our trip, my wife sat next to man in the subway who struck up a conversation with her.  we were obviously tourists with our camera bags, and he asked where we were from.  upon learning that we came from arkansas and texas, he began asking us about what we had seen and planned to see while we were in new york.  after my wife shared our trip experiences and plans with him, he began to list other new york attractions that might interest us.  as he talked about the wonders of new york, my wife questioned him for more details about his suggestions.  before we realized it, we were at the stop where he and we left the subway for our apartments.  as he walked away in the opposite direction, he wished us well and encouraged us to come back to new york because there was no way we could see everything he and my wife had discussed in one trip.

after going out to eat in mid-town, we got on the subway, and i wound up standing next to a lady holding a small suitcase in front of her.  i spoke to her and asked her how she was.  she was amazed that this stranger had greeted her and asked, "what did you say?"  i repeated myself, and she responded.  she turned to my wife, who was seated on the other side of her, and said, "what a nice husband you have."  they began to talk, and from my vantage point, i could hear little of what they said.  as soon as a seat was available, i sat across from them and watched their conversation, still unable to hear them.  they talked animatedly until she left the train one stop before us.  when we got back to our apartment, i asked my wife about their conversation.  she said that they had talked like old friends about the presidential campaign, the folk-dancing class the lady was on her way to, our trip, and their daily lives.  we both remarked that it only took a simple greeting for this lovely lady to open up and share a bit of her life with a stranger on the subway.

one often hears about the rudeness or, at best, the indifference of new yorkers, but that has never been our experience.  there were many others who showed us kindness--the young woman who, in the process of giving us directions on the subway platform, dropped her phone down beside the track; the man who saw her plight and jumped off the platform to recover her phone for her; the waitress who treated us with kindness that went far beyond the requirements of her job, the kind private bus driver who gave us a lift to the entrance to The Cloisters when we asked him for directions, just to mention a few.  wherever we go, we find that most people want to help and to make human contact with others, even perfect strangers.  we humans are alike once you get past the superficial differences that we allow to separate us, and we find that kindness is far more prevalent that indifference or cruelty.

may we remember that there are no real strangers, that every person is our father, our mother, our sister, our brother, our child.  may we know that when we treat another with kindness, we are expressing that-of-god within us.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Off the Grid

My wife and I are traveling, so I will not post again until mid-April most likely.  Shalom.