Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Each Smile A Hymn

upon our return from our recent trip, we've had to deal with the usual "coming back to reality" issues of day-to-day life: our central air unit has to be replaced, our 13-year-old lawn mower has decided to retire, we have a roof leak, the house has to be cleaned, and so it goes.  as we try to deal with these issues, we've reflected back on our trip, remembering the wonderful sights we've seen, the new locales we've experienced, and the kind people we've encountered.

when we travel we discover that people everywhere are much the same.  there are a few impatient, rude, selfish folks, but most are gracious and kind.  the lovely irish lady from whom we rented our first apartment left us fresh baked bread and staples for breakfast.  the young irish student that set beside us on the train from waterford delighted us with stories of her life and curiosity about ours in the states.  the manager of the spar store/petrol station in newtonmore, scotland, treated us with such courtesy as he gave us advice on sights to see and routes to take, and we looked forward to the necessity of stopping to see him several times during our travels.  the pharmacist who came out from behind the counter in edinburgh to look at the cuts i got when i fell and to find the right cream to help me heal quickly made us feel that we were long-time customers instead of tourists he would see only once.  the scottish couple we chatted with as we traveled on the train from mallaig to fort william seemed like life-long friends.  as we waited to board the ferry to return to dublin from wales, i struck up a conversation with a young english man, and he became our companion on the ferry ride across the irish sea, as we talked about the national health service in the united kingdom--the subject of his post-graduate studies--and our complex and expensive health system in the usa.

everywhere we go, we find wonderful people, strangers who become our friends for a few fleeting moments but who seem to have so much in common with us that they could easily be members of our family.  this trip, like each one we take, convinces me that we are all much more alike than we are different.  we may speak different languages or the same language with different accents.  we may be young or old.  we may have different sexual orientations.  we may practice different, or no, religions.  at our core, we long for connections with others, for a peaceful life, and for every person to be free from want.

may we remember that a little kindness to a stranger goes a long way toward making life happy.  may we see that our similarities are more important than our differences.  may we live lives that set aside the cultural barriers that separate us and see our common humanity.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light

while we were traveling, our church took two actions that have left me puzzled.  first, the church marriage policy was updated, stating the "for christians, marriage is between a man and a woman."  second, the church accepted a transgender person into church membership.  the decision on the marriage policy saddens me, though i am not surprised.  i disagree strongly with the church's decision limiting marriage, and i find the phrase "for christians" especially disturbing.  does the church mean that if one acknowledges same-gender marriage as being legitimate, one is no longer a christian?

i was relieved that the church did not turn away the transgender person who applied for membership.  many in the church strongly disagree with the church's decision, and i have learned that attendance was quite sparse on the sunday she was formally received into the church.  those who were there attributed the low attendance as a protest against the church's decision.

our church's membership is weighted heavily toward those who are 50+, and we live in a very conservative community in a very conservative area of the country, so it is not surprising that most oppose same-gender marriage and deny the existence of transgender persons.  old ways of thinking die hard, and, even when these points-of-view are wrong, they won't change quickly.  that doesn't mean that they have to be accepted, and i am troubled that the clergy leadership of the church is not engaging us in discussions of both these issues.

we have committed gay couples who are members of our church.  we have gay individuals who have been elected to positions of leadership.  we have a gay staff member who is in a committed relationship and plans to marry his partner.  in the face of these realities, we have to deal with the issue of homosexuality and same-gender marriage more honestly.  the church can't make a pronouncement about the definition of marriage, flatly stating that those who disagree are not christians, and think that the issue has been addressed.

can we tell a gay member that she is qualified to be an officer in the church but the church can't honor her commitment to her partner?  can we tell our gay staff member that we're willing to honor his service and pay his salary, but we won't acknowledge his husband?

some of the most conservative members are pushing for our church to leave our denomination for one that flatly condemns same-gender marriage and refuses admission to transgender persons.  one person has already withdrawn her membership because she is unwilling for the church to take time to struggle with these issues and has left to search for a church that condemns same-gender marriage in more emphatic language and refuses membership to transgender persons.

like her, i struggle with whether to remain a member of my congregation; unlike her, my reason is its refusal to recognize that the church has no business telling people whom they should love and to whom they should make a permanent commitment.  at the very least, the church should acknowledge that one can find same-gender marriage acceptable and still remain a christian.  for now, i'm willing to wait for attitudes to change as our clergy and leaders examine this issue, but i'm not willing to leave our denomination because the national church has decided that a congregation can honor same-gender marriage.  in the coming weeks, i will speak with our leaders and ask that they reconsider the decision they've made and the language used to express that decision.  once i have a sense of the rigidity of their position, i'll have some guidance in making my own decision.

may we acknowledge that change often comes slowly and that there are times when that is a good thing.  may we stand up for what we believe to be right, even when we're in the minority, and may we do so while respecting those with whom we disagree and without attacking them personally.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When Hatred and Division Give Way to Love and Peace

may i understand, o God of mystery.
may i be at peace with myself and others, o God of peace.
may i be fully present in this and every moment, o God of the cosmos.
may i be filled with loving-kindness, o God of love.
may i be patient, o God of eternity.
may i see my suffering and that of others, o God of healing.
may i be generous, o God of all good gifts.
may i forgive any wrong done to me, o God of mercy.
may i make amends for any wrong done by me, o God of justice.
may i think clearly and logically, o God of reason.
may i see no "others," o God of unity.
may i not cling to that which is impermanent, o God of the ever-changing universe.