Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To Question Is the Answer

lately my schedule seems to make me later than i'd like to be in writing new posts, so today i'm composing this post much later than i had planned. if there are those who check my blog for a new post earlier on tuesday morning, my apologies. today, i write about faith.

i'm serving on a search committee in our church, and yesterday we received a resume from a new applicant. part of the applicant's submission was a statement of faith that enumerated several very specific, concrete beliefs. i found this to be troubling, and perhaps that is a commentary on the weakness of my own faith. as i told the other committee members, the rigid, doctrinaire quality of the statement of faith was both troubling and frightening to me.

this morning during my prayer and meditation time, i gave some thought to my attitudes towards this applicant's statement of faith and asked God for guidance. why did i find the applicant's sincere faith statement so troublesome? i am always suspicious of those who are so convinced of the rightness of their beliefs, of those who are certain that what they believe is correct. God is so complex, and to reduce our understanding of God to a set of articles of faith or a concrete creedal statement seems to me to be an attempt to place God in a box so that we create the illusion that we fully understand who God is and how we relate to God.

God is beyond human understanding, and when we remove the mystery of a Being who can create life simply by thinking, we make God less than God truly is. Simple, pat explanations may be helpful to us on a very rudimentary level, but as we grow in understanding, we learn how difficult the mystery of God is; the more we learn, the more questions arise.

now i find myself judging another because of that other's certainty about faith, a certainty which i don't share and which i find suspect. should i feel this way? should i find another's absolute faith in orthodox doctrines about the christian faith disturbing to the point that i find it hard to trust such a person? probably not, but God will lead me to the understanding that is consistent with the light God gives me. until that time, i'm afraid i will remain a skeptical of the beliefs of those who have absolute certainty about the details of the faith.

my prayer today is that we all continue to search for the truth, seeking God's leading to greater and greater understanding of the deep mysteries of God, never settling for easy explanations or orthodox formulas that oversimplify that which may ultimately be unknowable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Teach Me the Patience of [Answered and] Unanswered Prayer

i don't post about anger very often because it is an emotion i seldom experience. that may be good or not so good; sometimes i wonder, but on the whole i believe that the less we can keep from anger, the healthier and happier we are. when i went to my morning meditation, though, i was angry, so i prayed that i could set aside anger at first and concentrate on the characteristics of love, the noble eightfold path, and the four noble truths. after that part of my meditation, i returned to my anger and sought to examine it objectively. first, i realized that i was angry with the actions and speech of a friend that, while directed at me, had little to do with me. next, i thought and prayed about ways that i could replace my anger with loving actions. finally, god led me to the perspective that it's not my role to effect change in another; that's something i have to leave to god.

i have a close friend who had a terrible childhoold. the friend's father was physically and emotionally abusive, and the friend learned that the safest path was to withdraw from emotional attachment to parents, to try to stay "in the background," and to behave in ways that were least likely to arrouse anger from the father. all the while, this friend's mother, though a kind and loving person, was not the friend's protector and was ineffective in standing up for my friend's well-being.

my friend is usually a considerate and loyal ally, but from time to time old childhood resentments and angers surface, and my friend lashes out at those closest, like me. most of the time, i am able to react with understanding because i know the source of this behavior, but sometimes the remarks are so consistently cruel and belittling, that i become angry with my friend and want to return my friend's actions in kind. it was this anger that i took to my meditation, and i left that time with greater understanding, though not with freedom from my anger.

i encountered this friend shortly afterwards and had little to say, all the while listening to god saying to me that i should let god work as i waited. that was what i did. our exchanges were perfunctory--polite but cool. after about fifteen minutes, my friend walked over to me and embraced me, thanking me for being a friend and telling me of my friend's love for me. it was as if a great joy replaced my anger, and i was deeply grateful that god had given me the restraint to wait quietly rather than intervening myself in a difficult and painful situation.

as i sit writing this post, there are tears in my eyes, because a valued friendship is restored, and a prayer was answered. my prayers for each of us this day are that we remember that life is not ours to control, that to give up the desire for control is to let life happen as it should, and that the first characteristic of love is patience. prayers are not answered in our time but in the proper time. shalom.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

each day during lent i spent some time meditating on the characteristics of love that are listed in the thirteenth chapter of first corinthians. in my own words, i compiled this list: (1) love is patient, (2) love is kind, (3) love is not envious, (4) love is not boastful, (5) love is not arrogant, (6) love is not proud, (7) love does not keep a list of wrongs, (8) love does not insist on one's own way, (9) love is not irritable, (10) love is not resentful, (11) love doesn't rejoice in wrongdoing, (12) love rejoices in the truth, (13) love bears all things, (14) love believes all things, (15) love hopes all things, (16) love endures all things, (17) love never ends. i suppose i should say this is a list of the things that love is and the things love is not. perhaps i should write a post on each of these items, but my intention was to try incorporate each item on the list in my thinking every day. when i found myself becoming angry or frustrated, i tried to call to mind some of these characteristics to compare to my attitude, hoping to become a more loving person by applying the qualities of love to my own present feelings. on the whole, it was a positive way to change my mental point of view, and a way of thinking that i hope i can make a habit.

part of my lenten meditations led me to the realization that God is more than an empathetic God. the God of creation is a God that truly feels our emotions along with us. God hurts along with every abused child, God grieves along with every person who loses a loved one, God's heart breaks along with everyone whose heart is broken by betrayal, God rejoices along with every person who finds true love, God celebrates with every parent who brings a new life into the world. it amazed me to realize that God is one with God's creation, that each of us is united with God because God is part of each of us. how great is a God who caused all things to be and continues to participate in creation by the most intimate connection with what was and is being created.

i feel humbled to say that i believe that God is leading me to a greater truth about the interconnectedness of all things and the presence of God in God's creation. it is not that God is a puppetmaster pulling the strings of our lives, but rather that God who dwells in us is mysteriously present for us, making our joys more joyful and our pains more bearable if we only allow ourselves to participate in that Presence.

my prayer for myself and for you is that we open our hearts to the love that is God and allow ourselves to love without fear, celebrating together the joy that this season symbolizes. shalom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Forgive, O Lord, Our Severing Ways

once more i'm going to write about politics in the us, then i'll leave the topic for a while. i often wonder what people in other countries make of our political campaigns in this country, especially the current one for the republican presidential nomination. probably most don't follow the intricacies of us politics at all. for those who do, i feel that i must apoligize for the bigoted and intolerant pronouncements of conservatives who are taking all sorts of extreme positions to curry favor with the religious right.

today, i want to address the underlying racism of this campaign for the republican nomination. since president obama was elected, republicans have been angry, vowing publicly to do whatever is necessary to insure that he is a one-term president. this is not so much because of his policies. president obama has done more to reach out to republicans and to bridge the ideological gap between the american left and right than any democratic president in this century. at every turn, republicans have slapped his extended hand and have painted the president as a radical socialist, an enemy of the christian religion, an outsider who is not a true native-born american. no person who investigates the president's political positions, religious statements, or family history can fail to see the prejudices that are at the root of the accusations republicans have made against the president.

for many years, republicans worked diligently to woe the white majority in the south. they have done this through thinly veiled appeals to bigotry, endorsing the harshest positions on "illegal" immigrants, advocating laws whose purpose is to disenfranchise minority voters, drawing congressional district boundaries to insure republican majorities in state legislatures are perpetuated as the voting power of hispancis increases. white southerners never forgave the democrats for advocating racial equality, passing the voting rights act, promoting quotas that help ease the under-representation of minorities in education and the workplace, and similar measures to redress the wrongs of the first two centuries of american history. many of these wrongs were instituionalized in the south and written into state laws.

by appealing to the white southern fear of societal upheaval as the great civil rights leaders and their followers, with the support of most democrats in the national arena, became increasingly assertive, republicans split the voting block of poor southern whites and blacks that franklin roosevelt had built and weakened the southern democratic party. many southern democratic office holders abandoned their party to "convert" to a republican party that used code phrases like "states rights" and "traditional values" to signal its allegiance to the continuation of white control at the expense of the black minority.

when the first black president was elected, the gloves came off and the ugly political fight began. clearly, republicans will stop at nothing to regain power, appealing to the basest racism, as they demonize the president, immigrants, organized labor, gays, proponents of health care as a right for all, those who support a woman's right to control her own life, and those of us who believe that the us should be a pluralistic, tolerant society.

my prayer today is that when we americans go to the polls next november, we will vote with, and for, compassion, turning from bigotry to work together for the common good. may we live our national life as we should live our private lives, making love the central.