Tuesday, April 29, 2014

We're in the Money!

we recently watched district 13, and its american remake, brick mansions.  both were about the violent reactions of their heroes to the control the powerful have over the powerless.  one may argue that the plots are formulaic, that the solutions provided are too simplistic, and that the makers of these movies are more concerned with providing vehicles for their action-figure stars that they are with dealing with real problems in a realistic way.  yet, these are stories that cause us to think about the evil that we see being perpetrated in society.

in these movies, we see how those imprisoned in the ghetto that is district 13 have been made the scapegoats for all that is wrong in western culture.  the same demonization is playing out in modern society when we hear those who have come here to escape persecution and economic deprivation in their own countries labeled as "illegal aliens," when we hear that these "illegals" are taking jobs away from "real americans."  we hear this in the language of politicians and their supporters who refuse to help the employed when they call them "lazy," "slackers," or "takers."  we see this in bills brought forward in congress that claim to be fiscally responsible while cutting gaping holes in the social safety net of the poor and disadvantaged.  the constant harping about "obamacare" by many of our leaders while they fail to propose a more satisfactory alternative boils down to a view that only those who can afford to pay for health care deserve it.

as the income gap between the rich and the rest of society--already far out-of-balance--becomes greater and greater, the power of the wealthiest americans over the lives of the rest of us increases.  recent supreme court rulings have all but turned our country into an oligarchy.  too many americans have been taken in by the rhetoric of scapegoating, and it is much easier to find powerless minorities to blame for the ills of society than it is to find cures for those ills.  we've seen where that sort of talk led in post-world-war-one germany.

may we see that there are real consequences for real people when the bottom line is made more important that worker safety and fair compensation.  may we understand that for our western democracies to succeed there must be a social compact that includes everyone in the prospering of our economies.  may we see that despite our differences in language, skin color, and economic position we are all the same, with the same desire to provide for ourselves and our families.  may we stop the madness that is tearing the fabric of our civilization apart.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In Our Doubt There Is Believing

each easter i struggle with feelings that are anything but celebratory.  i resent the hymns about victory over death.  i dislike the martial strains of these songs, and i want them silenced.  i am don't like the brass ensembles and loud organ music.  this is not how i, a christian, am supposed to feel about easter, but i do.  just two days before easter, jesus suffered an agonizing death and was buried.  christians have been observing the season of lent, and its abrupt end on easter is too sudden for me.

in contrast, christians observe the much briefer advent period in preparation for christmas, climaxed by the quiet joy that epitomizes the celebratin of jesus' birth.  i want to be able to capture something of the easter joy that was tempered by fear like the early christians.  in yesterday's easter service we read matthew's resurrection account.  twice we are told that the women who discover jesus' empty tomb are afraid, despite their joy in learning that jesus has risen from the dead.  i find nothing like the noisy celebration that we call easter in any of the gospel accounts.  instead, i find uncertainty about what has happened, an uneasiness that jesus' body has disappeared from the tomb.  i find inconsistency in the accounts, with none of the gospels agreeing about the details of the resurrection.  i find a spurious ending to the oldest gospel, that of mark, that may have been added to include sightings of the risen jesus like those found in the other gospels.

never in an easter service or sermon have i heard this ambiguous reaction of the early followers of jesus or the inconsistencies in the gospel accounts addressed.  for me, to ignore the uncertainty of jesus' closest followers is dishonest; to fail to acknowledge that the biographers on whose accounts we rely are unclear about the details surrounding the resurrection as we boisterously proclaim the joy christians are supposed to feel leaves a bad taste in my mouth.   this is what bother me about the christian observance of easter.

may we admit that many of us do not feel unadulterated joy in our celebration of easter, seeing that even those early followers of jesus were fearful, and may we see the life of jesus in its wholeness, rather than making this one event (about which even the biographers on whose accounts we rely fail to agree) the overshadowing occurrence in his life.  may we celebrate this time of reawakening reverently while admitting our uncertainties about its meaning.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All Along Life's Pilgrim Journey

when they reached the end of the day, she began reciting a long list of tasks that had been left undone, and, as she did, tears began to flow down her face.  he listened, resolving to dedicate the next day to her, so that together they could complete as many of those tasks as possible.  he gave her a hug and wished her a good night's sleep before falling asleep himself.

the next morning, he arose early and completed his work outside the home.  then he came home and completed the usual morning chore of feeding their six pets before preparing breakfast so that when she got out of bed they could eat and begin work.  he had already determined that she would make all the decisions that day; he would be the helper who followed her directions.

as they ate breakfast, he said, "what job would you like to tackle first?"  still overwhelmed by all that there was to do, she looked at him sadly and replied, "we'll never get everything done."  he encouraged her to name the most important task for her, and when she did, he told her that he'd clear away the breakfast dishes as she got dressed, and then they'd start.

soon they began work on that task.  when she chose to do something in a way that he thought he had a better idea for, he bit his lip and went along with her way of doing things.  they worked hard all morning and by noon the end of the job was in sight.  exhausted, they took a break for lunch, and, after they had rested a bit, they went back to work, completing the task in short order.

she was excited by what they had accomplished and moved on to the next job on her list with enthusiasm.  he continued as her helper and soon this next chore was finished.  when she announced that she had to go inside to rest, he volunteered to move on to a task that only he could do and left to buy the materials he needed.  upon his return, he worked for several hours on his project.  she came and inspected it, then said, "why don't you go inside and rest for awhile now, and i'll put everything away.  then we'll clean up and go out for dinner."

as he rested and she worked, his heart was full of gratitude for his wonderful wife.  he wondered why he didn't express his joyful appreciation of her by dedicating more days to her and resolved that in the future he'd do just that.

may we all be filled with such appreciation of those we love.  may we find joy in setting aside our list of tasks to help another with the tasks that weigh heavily on them.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To Love and Be Loved

christians often speak of "doing God's will."  this phrase means different things to different chrisitians.  for many there is a sense that God has a plan for each life, and for those whose personal theology subscribes to this point of view much thought and prayer is given to discovering that plan and seeking to follow it in every way possible.  if God has a plan for one's life, then there is a right person to love, a right school to attend, a right career to pursue, a right home to rent or purchase, a right car to drive, a right church to attend, a right circle of friends, and so on.  every decision of life, no matter how mundane, must be made with a conscious effort to discover whether one is living in accordance with God's plan.

from my perspective, that is a terrible way in which to live.  for me, "doing God's will" means being awake to the love that permeates all of creation, being a conduit for that love to envelop me and flow through me to others.  the source of that love is God, and God's will is for each of us to love God, love ourselves, and love God's creation.  that will is summarized in jesus' teaching that the greatest commandments are to "love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself" (luke 10:27).  in this version from luke, the pair of linked commandments (which actually come from the mosaic law) are spoken to jesus by another in a conversation between jesus and an "expert in the law."  jesus confirms to this "expert" that he has spoken correctly, and in response to the expert's question about who one's neighbor is, jesus goes on to tell the parable of the good samaritan.  the same pair of commandments is found in the other synoptic gospels as well; in matthew and mark it is jesus who gives the commandments.

if one lives according to these teachings of jesus, a constant struggle to live according to some imagined plan imposed by God is unnecessary.  further it is possible to live as God intends without believing in God at all.  every person is capable of living a life of love and compassion.  the atheist blogs i read are written by men and women who seem much nearer the "kingdom of God" about which jesus spoke than many of us christians.  it is not a theologically correct belief system or a perpetual effort to discover God's direction for every decision of life that makes one a follower of jesus.  instead, it is the living of a thoughtful, loving, and compassionate life that fulfills God's purpose.

may each of us rejoice in the freedom we have to choose between lives of guilt in which we can never fully discern some imaginary plan for us and lives of love that embrace the love of God inherent in all of creation, the love that is the essence of God.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Is the House That Jack Built

Most of us know the old nursery rhyme that is the title of this post.  If you don't, or if you've forgotten it, you can find in here.   I remember reading the story of Jack's house to my children and how they delighted in it.  Of course, such memory games are fun, but beyond the mental exercise there is a profound truth about the interconnection of all things.

The other morning as I meditated, I gave thanks for the floor on which my feet were resting.  This led me to think of all those who responsible for that floor being there.  The list was longer than all the things in Jack's story.  Everything we can think of is the beginning of such a list.  We have so many to whom we must be grateful.

That leads to the myth of "self."  We are the products of so many other "selves:" the myriad ancestors who created us, the influences in our environment (both human and non-human), the culture of which we are a part, the uncontrollable circumstances of our lives.  There can be no fixed self, because life around us changes moment by moment, and each of those changes impacts the "self" that we are in that unique moment.  So there is the constant flux which makes each of us unique and yet entirely dependent on events beyond our control.

Because of this there is no such thing as "self-reliance" either.  We are bound together with all of creation, a part of everything that is, just as all-that-is is a part of us.  We can never come to the end of the list of those to whom we should be grateful.  May we remember this fact when we begin to think of our "self," and may we wish all those selves and things that had and continue to have a role in creating the unique self that exists in this fleeting moment wellness, happiness, and peace.  shalom