Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Love Came Down at Christmas

christmas day has just passed, and we continue in the season of christmas.  we have sung the familiar words about shepherds and angels, about wise men, about a young man and woman traveling with a host of others to the village of bethlehem, of the birth of a baby in a manger.  we have contemplated the emotions of mary, an unwed mother, and of joseph, the man who is to become her husband.  for many of us, this is a beautiful story that reawakens the childhood joys that christmas brought and continues to bring but one that is not literally true.

on a much deeper level, the story of these events is quite real.  christmas is a reminder of transcendent love that permeates all of creation.  christmas is a reminder that in the darkest time of the year, there is a light shining through the darkness.  there is a promise of the awakening of that which is dormant.  there is the prospect of warm ground that nourishes new life, of crops that will be planted and grow, of flowers that will bloom, of the greening of the earth.  the most important of those crops and flowers and green grass is the renewal of love in our hearts.

it is not that christmas is a once-a-year occurrence.  rather christmas reminds us that our hearts can be filled with love every day, that each day can become a christmas if our hearts and minds will allow it.  every moment is new and can be filled with love if we make the right effort and have the right mindfulness.  love is there for the taking and the giving, and that is the real meaning of christmas.

may we embrace the love that is the message of the tiny baby in bethlehem.  may we remember that when we sing "o come to us, abide with us, our lord emmanuel" we are asking the love the baby embodies to be present in our hearts.  may every day renew the promise of christmas.  shalom

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

American Values?

much has been written about the senate report on torture at the hands of the american government's intelligence apparatus.  i doubt that i have anything to add to what others have written, but i feel compelled to have my say.  the account of what we have done is disturbing.  how can the united states have any credibility in the world if we are guilty of such heinous crimes?  how can we now condemn other regimes for human rights abuses when we have shown such disdain for the rights of others?  why aren't those who were involved being prosecuted?

equally troubling is the attitude of the american public to the actions described in the senate report.  almost half the population believe that torture is justified in the fight against terrorism.  this position is held despite learning from the report that many innocent people were subjected to torture and that little to no useful information was gained.  we discovered that some of those subjected to these horrible "enhanced interrogation techniques" implicated innocents in order to escape further "questioning."  where is the moral outrage among us that ought to accompany publication of the senate report?

the attorney general of the united states, alberto gonzales, who presided over the development of the legal doctrines used to justify the disqualification of these detainees from the provisions of international law and treaty, such as the geneva convention, is now the dean of the law school at belmont university, one of the most prestigious christian universities in the nation.  how can such a person attain such a position?  what does his employment at belmont say about the vaunted christian credentials of belmont?  why should one of those most involved in this sordid business be so honored?

are we so arrogant as a people that we actually believe that we have the right to engage in the most grievous abuses of human rights in order to combat terrorism?  where will such a belief lead us?  we are on very shaky moral ground when we permit such actions to be taken in the mistaken belief that these practices will keep us from harm.  may we disavow any future use of torture for any reason.  may we repent of our past actions, seek to make amends, and prosecute those who engaged in them.  may we decry in the strongest possible language what has been done under the guise of national security.  may we practice what we preach to the rest of the world.   shalom

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

May We Walk Hand in Hand

my thoughts keep returning to the great divisions in american society, to our inability to look at life through the eyes of another.  during the past week, i listened on public radio to a review of a book about the horrors of the slave trade.  i thought of how many americans defended the institution of slavery by citing passages from the bible.  i thought of recent comments by conservatives and neo-confederates suggesting that american slavery was a benign practice that actually benefited those who were enslaved.  i thought of how easy it is to assign those who are different from us into a category of "others," thereby relieving us of the necessity of viewing those "others" as completely human since they are unlike us.

i wonder, too, if it isn't too simplistic to see the police who have been involved in the slaying of unarmed african-americans and, by extension, all police as being a class of "others."  can we have compassion for those who commit acts that we view as immoral and try to see life through their eyes?  should we try to understand what motivated them to kill before trying others avenues to resolve the situations in which they found themselves?  i think we should.  how did we allow our society to become so fearful that we see persons whose skin is a different color from ours as being dangerous.  we must find out why we have become a "shoot-first-ask-questions-later" people.

we are so separated by economic status, by region, by ethnicity, by religion, by sexual orientation that we no longer see ourselves as "one country indivisible."  these thoughts about our alienation from one another caused me to think of jesus' words in the the seventeenth chapter of john's gospel.  in this prayer just before his arrest, jesus repeatedly refers to "oneness."  first jesus prays that the disciples would be one just as jesus and the Father are one.  next he prays that all those who become followers of jesus would also become one: "the glory that you have given me i have given them; so that they may be one, as we are one.  i in them and you in me, that they may become completely one."  finally jesus prays that "the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and i in them."

the only solution to our divisions is to see that we are all the same.  there is no jew or greek, no male or female, no black or yellow or white or brown, no straight or gay.  there are only sentient beings, and we are one.  may we change our thinking so that we will become not just one nation indivisible, but one world indivisible.  may we let go of the fear we have of one another.  may we stop condemning each other to categories that exist only in our wrong-thinking minds.  may we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be at peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Just Imagine

the protests against the killing of unarmed african-american men in the united states continue, becoming more widespread each day, it seems.  white americans often seem baffled by the strong emotions these killings have aroused in the african-american community.  no white person can claim to share the experiences of african-americans that lead to such a response.  regardless of how sensitive some of us wish to be, we white americans have not shared the years, the generations, of repression that has been the reality of our black brothers and sisters.  it seems that many anglos go out of their way to diminish the angst that those most affected by these senseless killings are feeling; this insensitivity seeks excuses, justifications for what amounts to legal murder.

this state of affairs must not continue.  we must not continue to imprison, discriminate against, and kill unarmed men of color.  we dare not perpetuate a predisposition to assume a person is dangerous or criminal because of the color of his skin and his gender.  conservative white americans in general, and the republican party in particular, have pandered to the racism that is endemic in our society.  it's time that we stop standing by and treating this thinly veiled racist political posturing as a legitimate expression of american values that should be treated as a reasonable point-of-view. 

every white american harbors some racist attitudes.  we are all guilty of failing to try to imagine what it must be like to be an african-american, no matter how liberal our politics.  white america needs to be quiet and to listen to the outpouring of rage that is coming from the african-american communities in feguson, in new york, in cleveland, and across the nation.  we must hear the angry voices and all of us must work together to end these attacks on black americans, especially on young black men.  It is time to face up to our shortcomings as a society.

may we have to courage to speak out against those who try to justify police who shoot first and ask questions later.  may we have the compassion to hear the cries of mothers whose sons are killed before a police officer looked for other alternatives to diffuse a situation.  may we understand that some of us assume guilt based on ethnicity and that whites in similar circumstances to the black men who have been killed would have been treated very differntly.  may we imagine what walking in the shoes of another is like.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

With Liberty and Justice for All?

one evening during the recent american thanksgiving holiday we sat with several relatives around our kitchen table.  somehow the conversation turned to the issue of prayers before high school football games.  one person said, "just because one atheist complains, all the rest of us have to give up pre-game prayers in the name of political correctness."  others agreed.  when my wife asked why there should be prayers before any athletic competition, another relative said, "we should pray that the players would escape injury."  i pointed out that these prayers didn't seem to work, since high school football players were always being injured, prayer or no prayer.  one couple felt that this "discrimination against christians" that is exemplified in banning public prayers at school athletic events was just an example of a societal prejudice against christians.  when my wife and i persisted in our position that the purpose of such prayers can only be to impose one religion's beliefs on everyone in attendance and should therefore not take place at a clearly secular activity, a tense silence prevailed for a few moments before someone introduced another topic.

as i reflect on this conversation, i am pained that the couple who played the "christian discrimination" card sincerely believe that the majority religion ought to be able to impose its will on the minority that follow other religions or no religion.  here in our part of the country, it's difficult for members of a religious minority to speak out against such a point-of-view, lest those who protest be ostracized or ridiculed.  the "one atheist" remark is typical of the attitude of many christians here; inherent in such a remark is the belief that non-believers are rare, and that the followers of religions other than christianity are not much different from those who follow no religion.  how must adherents of judaism, hinduism, buddhism, or islam feel when forced to be participants in christian prayers at activities where public prayer is inappropriate?  why do some christians believe that they have the right to turn secular events into opportunities to impose their religion on others against the will of those others?

may we embrace the multi-cultural, multi-religious society in which we live, a society that developed because children of the enlightenment struggled to create a system that prevents minorities from being tyrannized by the majority.  may we espouse tolerance and mutual respect for followers of all religions and for those who follow no religion, and may we acknowledge that none of us has the right to impose our beliefs on another.  shalom.