Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Ruler Once Came to Jesus by Night

when i was a child, i was taught that each person must have a direct encounter with God, a conversion experience, that would result in an abrupt change in the way one lived.  this "born-again" experience was to be the result of accepting certain beliefs as fact, not by any reasonable proof, but by faith.  in this system, all christians surrender control of their lives to God and accept jesus as the savior of the world and as "personal savior" without question or reservation.

for many years, i struggled with this sort of teaching, and, once i reached adulthood, i abandoned this kind of christianity completely.  this idea of accepting any teaching blindly leads to a closed off approach to the world, to a kind of narrowness that ignores the discoveries of science and the possibilities of a truth that is broader than any "faith-based" view of reality.  if one accepts a belief that cannot be proved, then many other beliefs follow, none of them reasonable or provable.  soon one lives in a world of fantasies, and the concept of what is true and untrue loses any meaning.

we see this in the willingness of evangelical christians to accept the wildest conspiracy theories as being possible.  already we are hearing suggestions that the tragedies in boston were the work of our own government, that the government is downplaying the possibility of a larger conspiracy because of the influence of the muslim brotherhood within our own government, or that what happened in boston is part of a larger plan by the government to stockpile ammunition for the coming declaration of martial law so that our citizens' guns can be seized and the christian religion suppressed.  it is no conincidence that those who can accept such ideas as being in the realm of possibility are the same who accept religious "truths" that can only be reached by blind faith.

we have minds.  let us use them!  a religion that teaches its followers to refuse to question, to deny the need for proof, and to accept beliefs that are unreasonable cannot be a true religion.  understanding comes gradually, not in a sudden conversion experience.  it takes patience and effort to gain true understanding, and the surrender of one's inteliigence in order to be "saved" is dangerous for oneself and all of society.

my prayer today is that each of us will use the mind we have to seek truth, that none of us will accept anything as truth that is unreasonable or unprovable, and that we will question more than we answer.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This Is a Day of New Beginnings

the past week has been a difficult one.  there were killings and injuries in boston that seem senseless.  there was the tragedy of the plant explosion in texas.  on a personal level, our precious dog is gravely ill.  today one of our ministers spoke of the stories of resurrections in the bible, and, especially, in the new testament.  she reminded us that in the midst of death, life continues.

as i thought about the events in boston, i focused on the suffering of so many.  those who lost loved ones suffer, those who were wounded by the bombing suffer, the family of the young men who committed these horrible deeds suffer, and the young men themselves suffer.  it is easy to think about revenge and the justice of the death of one bomber and the injuries to the remaining bomber.  “didn’t they get what they deserved for such a horrific crime?” we think.  “how dare the parents claim that their sons were framed when the evidence is clearly to the contrary!” our aggrieved minds assert.

does it do any good for us to focus on these negative emotions?  i think of how i would react if my child had been discovered to be a terrorist.  wouldn’t i want to believe that it’s a terrible mistake?  i think, too, of the deep hatred that must be destroying the hearts of the two young men who did such despicable acts and wonder if there isn’t the possibility of ultimate redemption for them—for one in a future life and for the still-living brother in this life.

i think of the anger that many in west, texas, must be feeling about their losses—anger at the possible negligence of the owners of the plant, anger at the injustice of having their lives destroyed by a random accident, anger at a God who would permit such a tragedy.  i wonder if those who are suffering there can see past the anger to a future that renounces anger in favor of appreciating the good that is in each moment.  how easy that is for one who hasn’t experienced this tragedy to say.

i think of the suffering of our little dog who was discovered to be in great pain just hours after running happily through the house seeking someone to toss his bone or pat his head.  does this little creature who is so loving deserve this?  certainly not, yet the reality of life is that he hurts, nonetheless.  if i must give him up to end his suffering, how do i cope with suffering his loss?  i remember that an innocent creature who epitomizes perfection will not be gone, but transformed, and, because he is so perfect, his transformation will be to something more wonderful than his current form.

life is change, and life is filled with suffering.  yet life is also filled with great moments to be enjoyed, moments that will also be gone all too soon.  my prayer is that in the midst of suffering we will rejoice in all that is good, that we will let go of transitory attachments and relish the underlying happiness that is at the heart of existence.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Teach Us to Care for People, for All Not Just for Some

this past weekend several hundred boy scouts from our area gathered in the park across the street from our home for the annual “scout-a-rama.”  as my wife and i walked in the park, i thought about the controversy over the admission of gay scouts and leaders to the boys scouts in the united states, as well as the scouts’ position on atheist and agnostic scouts and leaders.  it would be reasonable to believe that at least one of every ten scouts is gay.  what do the policies of this organization and the constant condemnation of gay people say to those closeted gay scouts?  how do children who are raised in non-believing homes feel when they see other boys enjoying membership in scouts while they are excluded?

perhaps the harm done to atheist/agnostic youngsters is not as great as that done to gay boys, because the former are prepared by their parents for the discrimination they will face.  young gays have no such support in most homes.  these boys learn early on that they must hide who they are and listen to jokes about “fags” from their peers.  they must keep secret their true selves while adults who are their leaders, and often their parents, talk about the “sin” of homosexuality and preach about the absurd idea that those who are gay are pedophiles or that they are bringing the wrath of God down on american society.

the difficulty of being a gay young person in our society was brought home to me as i watched these boys having fun at their event during my walk.  my heart went out to those among this group who carried with them the burden of having to keep the secret of their sexual orientation hidden in order to be included.  what a great weight it must be to be constantly reminded that something that is at the core of their very being is a source of ridicule and the most vile condemnation!

my prayer today is that our society will wake up to the great harm we are doing to thousands of young people by our unreasonable gay-bashing, that we will open our hearts to accept each person for who and what they are without judgment or persecution, and that each of us will do what we can in our daily lives to support those who are different from us, no matter what that difference may be.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

So When at Times the Mob Is Swayed

yesterday i read a review of susan cain's book, quiet, in arnie kozak's blog and followed his link to her ted talk.  it was gratifying to hear that i'm not alone in my need for solitude nor in sensing that american society is geared toward extroverts.  while i admire those gregarious folk who seem to be always at ease in crowds, who never meet a stranger, and who vigorously endorse the "team" concept, i have no desire to be such a person.  i abhor the compulsion of our society to form groups for every task, though i recognize the need to reach consensus in our decision-making.

today i watched a clip about richard gere and buddhism on youtube and plan to listen to all of the "everyman" videos that explore gere's beliefs.  i also watched an interview of judy dench that appeared on danny coleman's blog and which you can also find on youtube.  in both of these videos, i was impressed by the quiet, gentle approach of both actors.  as dench said of her quaker faith, and as gere implies of his buddhist faith, "it informs everything i do."

these videos came at the perfect time for me.  i have been immersed in the busy-ness of life, with the needs of others tugging at me constantly, what with houseguests from the local orchestra, houseguests from our church, my father undergoing surgery with me the only family member in a position to attend to his needs, in addition to the normal responsibilities of daily life.  it was good to have my need to have private time for myself affirmed and to be reminded that one is not wrong to step off the merry-go-round from time to time to carve out space for one's self.

my prayer for each of us is that we are true to our selves, accepting our introversion or extroversion, being accepting of others, and allowing ourselves the freedom to dream our own dreams and think our own thoughts.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

O Love That Casts Out Fear

during the easter service this past sunday, i began to wonder how the thought of crucifixion could have come into anyone's mind.  did the romans experiment with the most effective means for execution by crucifixion?  if so, how long did it take them to perfect the technique?  did crucifixion begin with the romans?  the thought of figuring out the "best practice" for crucifixion is deeply troubling.

these thoughts led me to think about the contrast between the "pax romana" and the jewish reforms instituted by jesus.  in some ways, the roman civilization was an enlightened civilization, but this "roman peace" was a peace undergirded by fear.  those who dared speak against or rebel against their roman rulers faced terrifying punishments, including crucifixion.  against this, jesus preached a way of life based on love for one's neighbor, whether that neighbor was greek, roman, jewish, samaritan, or arab.  the love jesus preached was a love that transcended the fear that was at the heart of roman might, a love that eschewed control in favor of cooperation, a love that served rather than conquering.

we still wait for the world to embrace that love, and we christians are often the least capable of showing love to those who are the "others" of this world.  we humans still are more concerned with exerting power over others through fear and intimidation than we are with becoming servants who would wash the feet of our neighbors, despite the example of the new pope, francis (and what a beautiful example he has set at the beginning of his papacy!).

my prayer this day is that we will see others as jesus saw others, as brother and sisters without regard to ethnicity or religious belief (or rejection of belief).  may we see that love is the most powerful and the only eternal force in the universe and be channels of love.  shalom.