Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Beautiful Are the Messengers

when i looked at the front page of our local newspaper yesterday, one of the headlines announced that the legislature of a neighboring state was set to pass a bill allowing guns to be carried in houses of worship.  this state is one of a handfull that currently prohibits guns in churches, according to the newspaper.  on the same page, there was another article about a bill our district's representative has introduced in our state legislature allowing for "open" carrying of guns.  this bill would allow those who have concealed weapon permits to carry guns in exposed shoulder holsters.  in the same article, other gun bills introduced in the state legislature were discussed.  one would forbid the enforcement of any new federal laws restricting gun ownership, and another would reduce the number of hours of training needed to carry a gun.

my wife and i have watched in horror as the rash of killings in our country has caused a corresponding rash of public outcries against sensible gun laws.  a letter to the editor in our paper yesterday lambasted the president for suggesting any gun restrictions and called for the lifting of the inadequate regulations already in place.  the writer called for laws to be passed requiring all public school employees, including teachers, to be carry guns while at work.  we ask ourselves repeatedly if people in our country have gone mad, sentiments echoed by a canadian friend who has lived in this country for several years.

as we talked about the law relating to churches, i wondered how anyone considering such a law could fail to see the irony of allowing followers of the prince of peace to carry weapons into worship.  when a member of jesus' entourage struck one of those who had come to arrest jesus with a sword, jesus condemned the act and healed the injured man.  when the romans slaughtered thousands of christians, often making the killings part of entertainment in coliseums, these martyrs went to their deaths without raising their hands to defend themselves.  i thought of the contrast between the teacher who persuaded a gun-wielding student to surrender his weapon before more students were injured and the writer who called for teachers to be compelled to carry weapons into their classrooms.

how can the proponents of more and more guns fail to see that a crazed young man in new mexico was able to murder his family because guns were abundant in his home, or that a crazed young man in connecticut had easy access to guns because his mother collected them?  why is it legal for people to buy guns that have no reasonable use, guns that are clearly beyond any sporting of self-defense need?  why are individuals allowed to sell guns to other individuals with no limitations?  why are there no reasonable restrictions on sales at gun?  how can more and more guns be the answer to lessening incidents of gun violence in our country?

my prayer today is that we will pass sensible gun laws in our country and that we will say with isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace."  shalom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Whitewashed Tombs

a few days ago, my wife and i went to see the movie musical version of les misérables.  as i watched, i though about two themes in the story--the redemptive act of loving-kindness and the contrast between legalism and understanding.

in lying to the gendarmes, the bishop frees valjean to begin a new life, generously adding a pair of silver candlesticks to the other silver objects that valjean stole.  this one act had a ripple effect, prompting valjean to rescue fantine, cosette, fauchelevent, champmathieu, marius, and even his nemeses, javert,  at various stages of the novel.   valjean himself is redeemed through his efforts to prove that the bishop's faith in him was justified, demonstarting that simple kindnesses may have effects never imagined.

javert, who epitomizes legalism without understanding of the underlying intention of the law, relentlessly pursues valjean, discounting all his good deeds, seeing instead valjean's criminality in stealing bread to feed his sister's starving family and his failure to abide by the letter of the law after his release from the galleys.  valjean fakes javert's execution and sets the martinet free when the opporunity to take revenge on javert presents itself.    in the end, javert's very nature compels him to commit suicide when confronted with his own realization that his entire life has been spent in pursuit of one who deserved mercy rather than condemnation.

my prayer today is that this story of the redemptive power of kindness and mercy will be the story of all our lives.  may we remember that loving-kindness ripples through creation in a stream that never ends.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life Is a Banquet

on the sunday following christmas, one of our ministers preached a sermon based on the last part of luke 2, in which the twelve-year-old jesus goes with his parents to the temple in jerusalem.  jesus, unbeknownkst to mary and joseph, stays in the temple, while they continue back toward their home in nazareth.  when mary and joseph discover that jesus is not among the company with whom they are traveling, they return to jerusalem and find jesus.  mary questions jesus about why he has caused them such alarm, and jesus replies that she should have known that he "had to be in [my] Father’s house."

our minister treated this story as a "coming of age" story, positing that jesus was beginning to see his role as something larger than that of the son of simple carpenter in a small village in galilee.  this caused me to think of my vision of the world and my own "coming of age."  i grew up in a small farming community and hated the confinement of the popularity contest in our small high school.  i chomped at the bits to go off to college and to learn of a bigger world, not only of learning, but also of experience with other young people who had different backgrounds and therefore different viewpoints from my own.

my life has been about exploring that larger world, of not becoming bogged down in the day-to-day business of getting by, though tending to that business of helping provide for my family has certainly been necessary.  my favorite movie is "auntie mame"--the original version with rosalind russell, though i like the lucille ball musical version, too.  i love the closing scene where autie mame is planting in her great-nephew's head a vision of the big world after she has convinced his parents to let him travel with her on her next big adventure.

as i've helped my wife raise our children and as i've worked with young people as a teacher, my primary goal has been to nurture a desire to see the wonders of the world, to learn that people everywhere, no matter what their language or customs, are much like us.  i wanted the youngsters in my care to experience the rich variety of the world's cultures, while discovering that the world is full of generous, caring people, as well as a few scoundrels.  i wanted them, and me, to realize that "life is a banquet," as patrick dennis has auntie mame say, and that when we allow ourselves to become stuck in the workaday world we join the ranks of the "suckers [who] are starving to death," again auntie mame's words.

my prayer today is that we will all feast on the banquet of life, constantly planning and looking forward to new adventures that take us from our daily rut to experience the richness of the world we've been given.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Light of Light

over the christmas holidays, a young student friend stayed with us for a couple of nights.  after he left, my wife told me he had talked with her about his current girlfriend, who is roman catholic, though her family are not “practicing” catholics.  he and she have been worshiping in our presbyterian church for several months, and she enjoys our service, which is formal by presbyterian standards, but not “liturgical” in the roman catholic sense.

his problem is that his father is a conservative evangelical minister who believes that his son is endangering his “immortal soul” by dating a young roman catholic woman, and while our young friend disagrees with his father, he is disturbed that his romance is upsetting to his parents.  my wife wisely counseled him to respect his parents but to be true to his heart.  this young love may not last, and both our young friend and his romantic interest may go their separate ways in a few months, but in the meantime, he should follow where his heart leads him my wife gently advised.

as she and i discussed this young man’s dilemma, i began to think about how my views have evolved over the years.  when i was young, i was convinced that God had a “plan” for each and every life, that if one could discern what that plan was one would be in absolute harmony with “God’s will.”  i was a convinced calvinist and spent much time praying and worrying about making decisions that were consistent with “God’s will for my life.”  as my life has unfolded, i am less and less convinced of this philosophy.

here’s where i am now:  i AM convinced that God loves all of God’s creation, collectively and in it’s myriad parts.  i believe that God is always present in that creation, but i don’t believe that God has a “plan” for my life or any other, beyond loving me (and us) and desiring me (and us) to love others.  i don’t believe God causes disease or catastrophes, but rather, that God set the natural order in motion and things happen, sometimes because we interfere with the natural order and sometimes because things just happen.  when bad things happen, God is there to comfort and to suffer and grieve with us, just as God is there to celebrate the joys with us.  my most fundamental belief is that there is a God who loves and cares for us, that God is light and in God there is no darkness.  beyond that, God allows us to stumble through our lives, always calling us to love and care for one another, never giving up on us, always hoping that, in the midst of evil, greed, and the lust for power, there will be those among us who go on loving because God loves us.

my prayer for each of us this day is that we will continue to believe that “love conquers all,” that good eventually prevails, that on the whole life is joyful, and that we must each strive to hear the still, small voice within us that calls us back from the brink of the darkness to the light of loving-kindness that is eternal.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

God Bless Us, Every One!

during advent, my wife and i saw a musical production of "a christmas carol."  it was an excellent production with good singers and effective staging.  the sets were especially impressive.  the boy who played tiny tim had a lovely voice, but one of the songs that tiny tim sang troubled me.

this song suggested that tiny tim had been made lame so that people would see him and his positive outlook on life and be inspired to look at their own attitudes.  tiny tim's affliction, according to the song, was a gift that caused people to think, "if this boy with his physical limitations can be happy, then we, who have no such handicaps, should be happy, too."  i know that there are suggestions of this same attitude in the gospels.  in john 9, jesus is asked why a man has been made blind: was it his own sin or that of his parents?  jesus replies that his blindness has been caused so "that the works of God should be made manifest in him."

i won't try to explain away the words of jesus, but i don't believe that God would inflict blindness or make someone lame for any reason.  what kind of God would cause someone to endure years of darkness so jesus could cure that person to teach onlookers a lesson?  what kind of God would prevent a child from enjoying the normal play of childhood so that others could be taught what happiness is?  certainly not the God i worship.  if i believed that God would do such things, i would not believe in God at all.

bad things happen to people.  these things are not inflicted by God to teach them or us anything.  it is a part of life.  we lose loved ones, our jobs are taken from us, homes burn, innocent children are slaughtered by mad men.  God suffers with us through these tragedies, but God is not the cause of any of this.  we may learn from our own suffering or the suffering of others, but that suffering is not inflicted because God wills it.

my prayer for myself and you this day is that we accept that everything is imperanent, both our joys and our sorrows.  everything passes away except love, so let us cling to love through all the vagaries of life.  shalom.