Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Am Alive

last week i began my post with a title that was borrowed from the dalai lama.  this quotation is part of a longer affirmation that begins my daily meditation. this week i want to write about the next phrase in that affirmation: "i am alive; i have a precious human life."  as i grow older the preciousness of my life becomes both more and less important.  i know that the majority of my life is behind me, so each experience is all the more significant.  i have come to the realization that my life may end at any moment and so each moment is valuable.  when my father died a few weeks ago, it suddenly struck me that, just as both my parents' lives eneded, mine would also come to an end, perhaps sooner rather than later.

facing the prospect of the end of life, there is much i still want to experience.  there are places i want to see, foods i want to eat, grandchildren i want to hold, gifts i want to give.  in this way, i am not ready for my life to come to an end.  yet, i have had a wonderful life.  i am surrounded my loving children, a partner who is my best friend, beautiful objects, and dear friends.  i live a life of privilege in a country where even the poorest of us is better off that most of the world's population as regards the physical necessities of life.  in this sense, i look toward death without fear or craving for more years.  yesterday my wife and i jokingly looked forward to the year 2050.  my wife was certain that neither of us would be alive, and i reminded her of a recent newspaper article about a man in our town who had just celebrated his 105th birthday.  while such a long life is rare, it is becoming less rare, and it is possible that we, too, might live that long, which would take us to the year 2051.

so, when i mindfully breathe, i am aware that this is one more breath of life, and that this breath could be my last.  this present breath is precious, as is the next if i am here to take it in.  the next phrase in the dalai lama's (and my) affirmation is, "may i not waste it," a subject for another post.  i am alive to new breaths, new experiences, new opportunities, and, as my life moves toward the magic year of 2050, life is precious.  may i, and you if you're so moved, relish life, living in such a way that when that last breath is taken we will take it with hearts full of joy and peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Am Fortunate to Have Woken Up

a few days ago, i went for a bike ride.  i'd just gotten my bike out of the shop the preceding day and hadn't been on a ride for some time.  after several weeks off the bike, i loved the experience of riding again.  i pedaled along, enjoying the feel of the muscles and joints in my legs working together to propel the bike forward.  it was a cool morning, and the refreshing breeze that blew across me as i rode was a welcome friend, one that hadn't brushed across me for awhile.  sailing down the hills, letting the bike be pulled along by gravity and inertia, thrilled me.  the ride was both relaxing and exhilarating--relaxing because i had no deadlines, no appointments, no goal; exhilarating because it felt so good to use those muscles again, to experience the effort of pedaling uphill in order to fly back down as fast as i dared with others also using the path.

as i sat down to write, i wondered why all of life can't be like that bike ride:  simply existing on its own, being just "to be," without measuring its worth against some arbitrary standard, not wondering whether fast was fast enough or effort expended was maximal.  ideally, i suppose that's what one should allow life to be, but i, and i expect most of us, aren't content to live our lives that way.  the little compartments of our minds busily churn out rules, goals, judgements.  after all, that's the way we've been programmed from an early age.  "you've got to swing that bat with the right form;" "watch that follow-through;" "come on, you can do better than that;" "pay attention, stop daydreaming."  how many times do we hear those expressions or something like them as we develop?  how many times have we said the same things to young people in our charge?  we think we always have to improve--"don't just rest on your laurels, get back out there and do even better."

can we let all that go?  i'm going to continue to try.  may i (and you, too, if you're so inclined) let life be on its own terms, accepting what it brings with gratitude.  may there be joy just in the fact that "i am alive.  i have a precious human life," as the dalai lama said.  may i make space for lovingkindness and compassion, not allowing those little mind gremlins to steal that space from me.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Pray That All Unity May One Day Be Restored

as we live our lives, we often wonder what purpose there is in living.  is there an underlying motivation for our actions?  why do we do the things that we do?  is there something larger than our day-to-day routine?  when i awakened this morning, i was surprised to find myself thinking of the idea that all we do, all we think, all we are expresses our underlying motivation.  we may live as if this concept we call "self" is the most important reason for being, leading to a life of selfishness that revolves around distractions that are intended to make us happy and yet never seem to do so.  or one may live as though service to others is the supreme purpose for life, always placing the needs of others ahead of one's own needs, and this purpose in the end seems to lead to frustration and unhappiness.

rather, it seems that the idea of living one's life as an expression of worship so that each action and each thought expresses a desire to participate in the love that flows through all of creation is the highest purpose for life.  this embrace of that which is larger than oneself, that includes all that is, leads one to see that we are all a part of one another, we are each part of the stuff of the universe, we vibrate with the energy of something eternal.  we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves, and sacrifice which denies oneself is ultimately unfulfilling.  rather, serving others is a way of serving onself, not a denial of onself but an expression of the force that binds us all together.

we are not doctors, lawyers, teachers, or whatever our vocation is, but we are beings who make our living through our work.  the work is not who we are.  we are human beings that are bound together by the same longings for peace, for happiness, and for connection to others.  we can express our humanity, our need to give and receive love, through our work, but the work must flow from our basic human longings rather than the work being our reason for existence.

with each breath, may we sense our common bonds.  may we give and receive love and forgiveness.  may we see ourselves in others, remembering that inside even the most seemingly cruel person beats a heart full of hurt and the desire to love and be loved.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Love Your Enemies

how does one confront the violence in the world?  as we look at the evil that is prepetrated by an organization like isis, can we defeat such an army without resorting to the use of force?  were we wrong to confront the murderous regime of hitler by going to war against germany and its allies?  had we followed the teaching of jesus and adopted a policy of non-violence, what would have been the result?  should we have refused to intervene during the war in the balkans as the serbian army massacred muslims in bosnia?

i search for answers but do not find them.  as i reflect on the life of jesus, especially on his final hours as he surrendered to the power of the religious authorities and the romans, walking without protest to his agonizing death, i see a man who faced that death with quiet dignity, supreme bravery, and unflinching confidence that something noble would arise from his crucifixion.  even as he was arrested, he taught that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and healed an injury caused by one of his followers.  was it only his own belief in his resurrection that propelled him on the path of surrender to his enemies, or did he have confidence that his martyrdom would inspire his followers to spread his teachings of peace, good will to all, and love for one's enemies throughout the known world?

if we live by his teachings as we face the violence of armies of zealots who are so convinced of the rightness of their causes that they murder all those who refuse to yield to them and to embrace their ideology, can such ideologies be defeated by the power of love?  when ethnic and religious minorities are executed by those with whom they disagree, can non-violence ultimately triumph?  there are those who point to the proliferation of christianity in the roman world as evidence that pacifism can overcome, but one wonders if chrisitanity would ultimately have been replaced by some other religion if it had not been adopted as the state religion of the roman empire, thus transforming what had been a peaceful religion to the religion under whose banner the armies of constantine marched.

i want to believe that turning the other cheek would work on a global scale, but i'm not so sure that arms in the hands of organized groups of fanatics can be overcome by the power of a loving pacifism.  or can love conquer all?  may we look in our hearts for the answer to the question of how to confront movements like isis and al-qaeda.  may we not use force thoughtlessly.  may we live as people of peace in a world that turns to violence all too easily.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men

the events unfolding in the world--the killing of a young black man in a suburb of st. louis and the ensuing turbulence, the fighting in syria, iraq, and ukraine, the war between the israeli government and hamas, the civil unrest in thailand--have amazed and troubled me of late.  it is easy to sit in my comfortable chair, smugly congratulating myself like the pharisee in jesus' story that i am not like other men: i am rational and compassionate, i would never embrace a religion and lifestyle of intolerance that participates in the execution of those who disagree with me, i would never shoot an unarmed teenager.  or would i?

how much does the culture in which we were brought up and continue to live influence us?  when i am honest with myself i know that i am a christian because i was born a christian and live in a society in which christianity is the dominant religion.  that i am a "progressive" christian rather than a partisan of the religious right probably has as much to do with my upbringing and education as it does with convictions arrived at through thought and inquiry.  had i been born in most parts of the middle east, chances are i would have been a muslim and, had i been exposed from an early age to radical expressions of islam, chances are i would have been as radical as the fighters of isis.  had i been born in thailand or burma, i would be a buddhist most likely.  had i been born in india, i probably would be hindu.

so i wonder if the way to end senseless violence and racism is to convince others that my religion is the true one, as many christians suggest.  is my version of christianity or some other's version the solution to all the world's problems?  is believing that the religion of another is the source of evil and clinging to our own as the true or favored way a valid path out of the quagmire?   or is the answer to work together to eliminate the poverty and lack of education that provide a fertile ground for hate to flourish?  should we not meet those who look and believe differently from us with respect and tolerance, rather than seeking to impose our own culture and beliefs on them?  would we be as concerned for those under the control of the islamic state in syria and iraq if only shiite muslims were being persecuted, rather than all religious minorities including christians?

i can't know what is in the heart of another, but i can know what is in my own heart.  i must ask myself if i am harboring racism and intolerance within me and confront the prejudices i find.  as i think about how to view the world and the actions of others, i must be honest about the cultural biases that filter my view and use my intellect to push aside those biases.  may each of us see the humanity in every person, including the policeman who shot an unarmed young man in ferguson, the fighters who kill those with whom they disagree, the religious zealots who would have us persecute others because of their sexual orientation, the hamas fighters who bomb innocent israelis, and the israeli soldiers that kill hundreds of innocent palestians in gaza.  may each of us learn to see past the influences of background, culture, and education that makes us appear different and see the suffering person that is not so different from us.  shalom