Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

in our neighboring state of arkansas, the legislature is convening with an increased republican majority in its senate.  one of the signal accomplishments of the last legislative session was the adoption of the so-called "private option" that allowed medicaid expansion under the affordable care act.  through this compromise legislation, federal money paid for many more people to secure private health insurance as part of arkansas' medicaid program.  now many fear that this legislation will be repealed, leaving newly insured arkansans without insurance and throwing the state's budget into disarray.  (my own state of texas, like many other "red" states refused to consider allowing the federal government to insure the thousands of texans who are poor and uninsured.)

the prospect of depriving so many of the security that being insured brings seems heartless and short-sighted.  this attitude that it is somehow the fault of the poor that they are unable to provide even basic necessities for themselves and their families is largely an attitude that has developed among those who have never experienced poverty first-hand.  we continue to see income disparity in the the united states become more and more acute, as the wealthiest among us thrive while those at or near the bottom of the economic ladder continue to become poorer.

often we hear that the homeless are without shelter of their own by their own choosing.  while some of the homeless may choose such a life, and while some, perhaps many, of the homeless are at fault for being in such a state, the rest of us are not excused from helping them.  even those who are homeless because of drug or alcohol abuse deserve to eat and be protected from the elements.  it is not the place of the rest of society to judge them; it is our duty to care for them, regardless of the reasons for their homelessness.

as we consider the plight of the working poor, those who work at minimum wage jobs to try to provide for themselves and their families, no reasonable person could suggest that a minimum wage job could support even a single person, much less a family.  yet, there are those who now propose the abolition of the minimum wage, suggesting that such an action will allow business to grow and employ more people.  how can we continue to threaten those with the least power by withdrawing even this meager guarantee of a minimum salary?  instead, we should be insisting that all employers pay a living wage to their employees.

along the same lines, the same folks who suggest that health care shouldn't be a right of all americans, that the poor are poor because they are too lazy to earn a decent living, that the homeless are on the street because they've made poor life choices, insist that the long-term unemployed will not look for jobs as long as they are allowed to collect unemployment insurance.  such reasoning flies in the face of all evidence.  the vast majority of those who are unemployed want desperately to find work.  time and again thousands show up at job fairs and to apply for advertised jobs, knowing that only a few will be hired, and every economic report demonstrates that there just aren't enough jobs to go around.  yet those on the exreme right (and many who go along with them even though they know better) continue to suggest that unemployment compensation makes people lazy.

if the united states continues along the path we are following at the present, our economy will never improve, and a permanent caste system of the very wealthy controlling the lives of a uniformly poor majority will be the end result.  where is love and compassion in our current political discourse?  where are the political and business leaders who believe that it their duty to look first to the common good, putting aside personal gain in favor of what is best for society as a whole.

may we look back to that time when economic disparity was growing as it is now and remember what happened when greed caused our economy to collapse.  my prayer for each of us is that we will see our sameness, our connection to one another, our obligation to care for one another.  may our individual good and our common good be one and the same.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth . . .

christians often speak of the "kingdom of God," and the term has different meaning to individual christians.  many think of it as a synonym for heaven, the reward for those who have been "saved" once the earthly life has come to an end.  others think of it as the future earthly kingdom of the messiah when he comes again to rule the earth.  as christians pray the "lord's prayer,"  we say "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

i wonder if the kingdom of God is not an idealized picture of what life would be like if all negative states of being--hate, lust, envy, pride, greed--were replaced by lovingkindness and compassion.  in this sense, the kingdom of God is the perfect earth toward which we strive; our intention is to cause these negative states to diminish and positive states to increase.  in this way, we move closer to the way of life that was intended for us; the more we embrace lovingkindness and compassion, the closer we are to the kingdom of God.

may we each examine our intentions, making an effort each day to live more skillfully.  as we catch ourselves engaging in to negative ways of thinking, may we remind ourselves of our intention to let go of the suffering we cause ourselves and others and may we renew our efforts to see the path of love and compassion more clearly.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If Ye Have Love One to Another

concepts of who/how/what/if God is are so varied.  the rejection of God's existence altogether seems reasonable in the face of the myriad tries at defining such an indefinable being, if the term "being" is even an appropriate term.  one thinks of the god of judgment, so perfect that in comparison we poor humans stand condemned by our imperfection.  one thinks of the god of beneficence, that santa-claus-like figure who will give anything requested if faith is sufficient.  one thinks of the god of manipulation that predetermines the course of every life, moving people and nations around like chess pieces on a board.  one thinks of the god of indifferent observation, looking on our fumbling attempts with a smirk on the divine face.

none of these are satisfactory.  how does one accept a creator who allows horrible suffering, unless one rationalizes that the suffering is caused by humankind's inability to do the creator's will?  for me, that's not an acceptable explanation, either.  what does satisfy my heart and mind is the idea that God is unconditional love, unreasonable love, infinite love.  in that love, God does not control us, God simply is, and God suffers with us, just as God rejoices with us.  God is always present, our true home, calling us to experience and share love.  God is not the narrow rule-maker, the exclusive property of one dogma, the plotter pushing us toward an end of God's own making.

My prayer today is that we will become more mindful each day of the inexplicable depth of love that ties us all together, for this is the essence of who and what God is.  Shalom.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Be Still and Know

one of the favorite hymns in our tradition begins with these lines: "God himself is with us,/all within keep silence . . ."  in our new hymnal, the text reads, "God, reveal your presence; gladly we adore you . . ."  while this removes the exclusive language of the older translation, it also changes the meaning.  not knowing the original text, i don't know which is the better version of gerhard tersteegen's german text from 1729, but the assurance of God's presence in worship and the admonition to be silent in that presence addresses what many of us crave these days.

i was surprised when one of our ministers approached me about a theme which she and her co-pastor and husband hoped to emphasize in our church's life during 2014--that of the longing of many for periods in our lives when we are "unplugged," released from the tether of electronic devices and the busy chatter that bombards us nonstop from the time we awaken until we fall into bed stressed and worried about tasks that are not completed.  what a joy it was for me to hear that this will be an ongoing focus in our communal life!  for a couple of years, i have been saying in various settings in our church that i long for more silence in my life, for fewer meetings, for more contemplative periods of worship with others.

my habit of spending quiet time on my own is rewarding and extremely helpful, but i feel a need for this to be complemented by such times in the company of others.  our taizĂ© services are a good beginning, and i love the reading of the lessons without commentary, the simple music, and the lengthy periods of silence that are a part of those services.  yet i long for inclusion of quiet meditation in our more formal weekly service, in committee meetings, in other gatherinings in our church.  as i listened to our minister speak about this emphasis on reflection and meditative prayer, my first thought was, "i'm not the only one!" and i was glad to know that others in our society have this same longing.

my prayer for each of us today is that we are able to find times in our lives to "be still and know that God is God," to be mindful of the subtle sounds of life around us that we miss in our busyness and compulisive focus on moving on to the next task.  may silence be a welcome friend that we have missed for too long.  shalom