Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We Are One in the Spirit

linda died this past sunday morning, and her memorial service is later today.  nina's memorial service was last saturday.  services in memory of glen and don were only a few weeks ago.  soon ted's cancer will take him away.  all around friends are dying, and, when one reaches a certain age, these losses are all too frequent and inevitable.

this morning i thought of carl, linda's husband, and of his deep feelings of grief.  i thought, too, of thich nhat hanh's idea of "interbeing."  we are all one, the same.  carl's grief is my own grief, linda's and nina's and glen's and don's deaths are my own death.  ted's suffering as cancer slowly destroys his bones is my own suffering.  decay, disease, death are all part of life.  without them, there is no life.  we suffer and die, the earth is replenished.  we live on through those whose lives we touched, and i believe we are reborn to experience life anew/a new life.  one of these days my end will come and i will (or will not) have confirmation of the truth of rebirth.

that confirmation is not what is important.  what is important is that we recognize that we all suffer, that our experience of life may differ in the details but suffering is common to all of us.  the oppressor and the oppressed suffer, the well and the sick suffer, the rich and the poor suffer.  joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin, as are life and death.

may we each celebrate the great cycle that binds us all together, that makes us one.  may we see clearly, letting go of the need to assert our own specialness, our own individualism, and may we recognize "the tie that binds."  shalom

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Alas and Did My Savior . . .

the sign in front of the small white church was impossible to miss, sitting near the shoulder of the highway.  on its stark white background a face of a man with caucasian features was outlined in black.  his eyes stared out at those who traveled along the road.  on his head was a black thorny crown and streams of black blood appeared to flow down the sides of his head.  at the bottom of the sign were these words: "this blood's for you."

as we drove past, i wondered what sort of a god would require a great teacher to die in such a horrible way.  i wondered if such a god was worthy of worship.  i wondered if the idea of such a blood-thirsty god didn't contradict the passage in micah that says, " what does the lord require of you?  to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  i wondered if this whole atonement idea wasn't a way to make sure that christians felt perpetually guilty, always reminding ourselves that the man whose life was the beginning of our faith had to be crucified to pay for our sins, otherwise we would be doomed for all eternity.

aside from resentment that the death of jesus was cheapened by adapting a beer slogan to proclaim a message about his crucifixion, i felt a deep sadness for those who had to see that sign each time they drove into their church's parking area or each time they drove down that highway.  the execution of jesus was a tragic end to a great life, tragic because it was unnecessary, tragic because it resulted from the lust for power on the part of religious leaders who should have heeded the teachings of jesus.  this business of "the atoning death of jesus" obscures the good that he did during his lifetime, the profound teachings about love, about true religion, that he proclaimed in an obscure middle eastern backwater of the roman empire.

may we focus on the wonder of jesus' life, rather than beating ourselves up over our own unworthiness in light of his death.  may we live so that the kingdom of god about which jesus spoke becomes a reality.  may we live lives of love, compassion, and forgiveness so that jesus lives on in us.  shalom

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We'll Guard Each One's Dignity

our local newspaper runs a column on the editorial page each friday in which a question is asked about a current issue, inviting responses from the public.  in the same column, some of the responses to the previous week's issue are printed.  the responses recently concerned the debate about raising the minimum wage in the usa.  to my astonishment, four of the five printed responses favored the abolition of the minimum wage altogether.  the responders sided entirely with employers and indicated no compassion for workers who were struggling to keep their heads above water financially.

as i read these comments, i wondered if these respondents had tried supporting themselves or a family on a full-time minimum wage job.  i also wondered if they knew the desperate struggle that had brought about the minimum wage.  were they aware of working conditions in this country in the 19th and early 20th centuries?  did they know that men and women had died trying to insure that american workers could live in dignity, put food on the tables for their families, and have safe working conditions?  had they read of how a wealthy elite lived in luxury, building opulent seaside "cottages" and palatial "hunting lodges," on the backs of workers who lived in abject poverty?  did they realize that many of these workers were children who labored in factories when they should have been attending school?

history repeats itself when we fail to learn from it.  we are forgetting what happens when unrestricted capitalism, the randian "objectivism" promoted by the radical right in our country, is the dominant philosphy.  workers who demand to be compensated fairly are labeled as "looters" or "takers," and corporate executives who are paid exorbitant salaries become the "heroes."

my prayer today is that we will turn from this philosophy that wealth when acquired by oppressing those who actually create it is virtuous, this philosophy that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are slackers who deserve whatever those at the top choose to "trickle down" to them.  may we honor those who are the true heroes, those whose labor is the true source of wealth.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Live Well Lived

dick was 95 when he died a few weeks ago.  he was active right up to the end.  though he had suffered a mild stroke about a month before his death, there seemed to be no impairment from the stroke.  within a matter of days after the stroke was diagnosed he was raking leaves around the house he had inherited from his father, the house in which he lived with his wife of 70+ years and his daughter who is a retired missionary-teacher.

dick went to his office in the engineering firm he had founded every day until the last couple of weeks before his death.  he was in church every sunday morning and wednesday evening.  we were so accustomed to seeing him in his usual spot that it is difficult to believe that we will never see him there again.  dick's life was an expression of his faith.  he was a civil rights leader in our community when racism was the norm, a way of thinking that most civic leaders embraced.  he championed the poor and the powerless.  because he only spoke when he had something worth saying, we knew that we should pay attention when dick rose to speak.

this quiet, strong man leaves a legacy that demonstrates how life continues even after the body has stopped functioning.  his ashes are buried in the family plot in the cemetery, but dick lives on.  just as his physical remains nourish the earth, his influence will be felt in all of us who knew him, calling out to us to stand up for what is important, to gently push and prod so that wrongs are righted.

maybe this is the truth of life after death, that a life well lived conquers death, enriching all with whom that well-lived life has come into contact.  may dick live on in those who knew him.  may each of us learn from his example.  may we all live so that the world is better because we lived so that death is not an end but a phase in the continuum that brings about the replacement of hate, greed, envy, lust, and all negative states of being with lovingkindness and compassion that is universal.  shalom.