Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And When Like Wand'ring Sheep We Strayed

a young man who has been home-schooled, who has lived much of his life as a star of a reality television show about his family that includes 18 siblings, is discovered to have been guilty of fondling girls, including some of his sisters, during his early teen years.  it's too easy to ridicule josh duggar for his fall from his right-wing pedestal and to shake our fingers at him for his and his family's pompous pronouncements about how gay rights endanger children.  they've engaged in hypocritical and ill-informed statements about how marriage equality and laws prohibiting discrimination against the lgbt community harm children.

maybe we should consider what led this young man to this point.  he was denied the opportunity to have social interactions outside his family that most kids have growing up.  how was he to learn what is appropriate or to have the chance to experiment and discover how to express his sexuality during those formative years when hormones are raging?  he was brainwashed with a one-sided view of the world and denied experiencing the diversity of opinions and lifestyles that kids outside the home-schooling community learn to deal with.  when he made these terrible choices as a young teen, he wasn't allowed to access qualified counseling services; his mistakes were treated as "sins" that are forgivable and which can therefore be swept under the rug, so to speak, rather than as cries for help in dealing with something he was unable to comprehend on his own.

how many others are trapped in this narrow-minded mindset during those critical years when they should be learning to deal with the world at large?  we are so quick to point our fingers in delight when self-proclaimed paragons of "family values" are discovered to be just as human as the rest of us.  a conservative senator from a southern state is outed for his dalliances with a prostitute and we gleefully condemn him rather that feeling empathy for his family and the pain he and they must be experiencing.  a "family-values" representative is exposed for his attempts to seduce a page of the same sex, and we are so quick to condemn him.  an anti-gay pastor is discovered with a social media account on a gay app on which he seeks liasons with gay men, and we chortle with delight at his discomfort and "fall from grace."

sure, the hypocrisy of their public persona which hides a hurting psyche that is at odds with what they publicly proclaim makes us angry, and we are thrilled to be able to condemn such two-facedness.  while we do this, we forget that we are all human, we all fail, we all engage in hypocrisy at times.  perhaps we would do better simply to remind ourselves and the world at large that these failings of prominent conservatives demonstrate that they, too, have feet of clay like the rest of us.  while we learn from the dangers of narrow-minded gay-bashing, "sin"-condemning self-righteousness that characterize these proponents of "family values," we should see that they are human like the rest of us.

may we not use the shortcomings of others to place ourselves on a pedestal of tolerant virtue.  may we speak out against wrong but still see the humanity in the failures of others and ourselves.  may we be quicker to empathize and slower to take joy in castigation.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Womb of Life and Source of Being

gracious God--that is how i begin my morning meditation, with a prayer that addresses a God that i will never fully understand.  it would be easy for me to be an atheist, except i can't get past the idea that a long series of unlikely events had to occur in order for life on this earth to exist.  how is it that in this small corner of the universe life evolved on this tiny planet?  there must be a beginning, a primal cause, and for me, God is the most satisfactory explanation.

i reject the idea that God is a "personal" God, a great santa claus in the sky, or a vengeful rule-maker with a notebook, keeping a record of how good we are at following mandates recorded in an ancient collection of writings.  God is not my buddy.  God is not jesus.  God is not the cause of all the terrible things that happen in this world.

i don't know what God's role in the world is.  i believe that God cares for all that God created, that all life is sacred, that all of creation should be honored and cared for.  i don't believe that God intervenes in human history or that there is a "will of God" to be discerned.  i believe that the only commandment, the only will of God, is that we love one another and in so doing we love God.  there is no "right" religion, and as we explore the role of organized religion in history, it appears that religion has done more harm than good.  we fight one another in the name of religion.  we seek to convert one another by any means possible, including force.  we commit the worst sorts of atrocities in the name of God, and it is little wonder that many come to the conclusion that there is no God.

two verses from the first epistle of john are for me the most true sentences about God: the one who doesn't love, doesn't know God, for God is love (1 john 4:8) and God is light and in God there is no darkness (1 john 1:5).  this is the essence of religion, not the layers of complexity that have been heaped upon us by religious authorities.  God is not the christian God, not the islamic God, not the hindu God.  God is.  for me, that's enough.  love is the key that unlocks the mystery of God.  if we seek to live a life that is filled with love, we come to know God, even if we don't believe that God exists.

may we love, not in the name of any religion, but simply because that's the best way to live.  may we honor all that is around us, caring for the planet that is our home.  may we cast aside the differences that religion imposes on us and embrace one another as human beings without any need to control each other.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Work, for the Night Is Coming

each morning he awoke with a sense of urgency, remembering all the tasks that should have been completed yesterday.  today there were those tasks, plus the new ones that had to be done before this day came to an end.  he made lists of all that must be accomplished in order for today to be considered a success.  he carried his day planner with him everywhere, lest he forget some important appointment.  once he began one of the listed jobs, he saw more all around him that needed to be done.  how could he possibly cram all this work into one day?  yet he had to; the lists told him so, and now there were new items that he had just noticed on the lists.  at the end of the day he collapsed, exhausted and frustrated that everything had not been completed and some items on his lists had to be carried over into tomorrow.  what a lousy day it had been, and the next day would be much the same.

each morning he awoke, looking forward to the new day.  he thought about the most important task that he could accomplish on this day.  as he considered the several tasks that might engage him, he prioritized his mental list.  some jobs were more urgent than others; those were the ones that would engage him first.  the others could be deferred to another day if need be.  he checked his appointments for the day so that he could organize his work around them and made certain that the day would have a flow that left him time to relax between jobs and meetings, and he began this day, as he did each day, with some quiet time for reflection and meditation.  at the end of the day, he took stock of what had been accomplished and gave thanks for the good day he had enjoyed.  he knew that tomorrow would take care of itself and looked forward to moving on to some of the work he had put off on this day.

these are the stories of two friends of mine, one whose life is filled with frustration and suffering, the other who is happy and at peace with himself and the world.  i've learned much from both of them, and it's obvious which i try to emulate.  why do we fall into the "if-only" trap: if only i could get all this done, i could be happy, if only there weren't so much that had to be done, i could be happy, if only there were more hours in the day, i could be happy.  let's forget if only.  let's rejoice that there is fulfilling work to do and be happy in that work.  let's complete the most important work and then give ourselves a pat on the back because it's been done before moving on to the next job on our list.  let's give ourselves time for gratitude throughout each day.  let's remember that peaceful rest is as important--maybe more important--than keeping our noses to the grindstone.

may we all figure out what our priorities are and put first things first.  may each day be regarded as a blessing that might not have come to us.  may we find reward in our work and be grateful for what we're able to accomplish.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We Will Walk Side by Side

a man dies while in police custody in baltimore.  two men attempt an attack on a gathering in garland, texas, and are killed by an off-duty policeman who is serving as a security guard.  there seems to be no end to these incidents in my country.  how could someone have died while being transported to the police station after a simple arrest?  why would two men plan an attack on a group that was attacking their religious sensibilities?  us against them, over and over and over.

now the right-wing media rails against the baltimore protestors.  there is no pretense of trying to understand the intense anger over the senseless killing of a black man in one of baltimore's poorest neighborhoods.  there is no indignation directed at those who killed a man whose only crime appeared to be fleeing the police, who the police only pursued because he ran from them.  none on the right are asking why those living in this area of baltimore live in poverty and why the drug trade seems to be the chief source of income.  none of these pundits are asking why someone would flee from the police for no apparent reason.  instead, there is only condemnation for those who take to the streets in anger and frustration and vilification of the victim.

in garland a gathering of bigots who are intent on offending devout muslims comes under attack.  certainly, the attackers were not justified and left the policeman who shot them no choice.  but what would be the reaction had a group of middle-eastern immigrants held a rally that featured a competition for cartoons depicting jesus?  would armed gunmen from the christian right have appeared outside such a rally?  most likely, given the prevailing belief in texas that everyone should have the right to carry weapons anywhere and to carry them openly.  those who assembled in garland wanted to offend and provoke.  in the name of american nationalism, those who came to garland contradicted the ideals of tolerance and of respect for the beliefs of others inherent in the declaration of independence and the u.s. constitution, as did those who came to kill them.

may we turn from extremism in every form.  may we refuse to engage in the "us against them" philosophy that is anathema to the common good.  may we look for the causes of anger which spill over into violent confrontations in the streets of our cities.  may we stop and think before we so blithely assume the worst in others.  shalom.