Tuesday, December 29, 2015

There Is Room in My Heart for Thee

a few days ago, i read a post by james ford on his blog, monkey mind, that contrasts the "christmas jesus" with the "easter jesus."  i, too, have been troubled by these two images of jesus and wrote about them around easter of last year.  each christmas i am caught up in the magic of the season--the lights, the greenery, the benevolent and jolly elf who brings gifts to all the world's children, the constant reminders of our longing for peace and good will.  while we decry the commercialism of christmas, that doesn't bother me, because i love nothing more than looking for presents for those i hold dear.  i look forward to giving my end-of-year gifts to charities i find doing good works that are beyond my capacity to perform--enabling those with little to improve their lots, providing clean water where none would be available otherwise, broadcasting news that is fair and impartial and music that is lovely, promoting peace in far places, enabling youngsters in impoverished areas to get an education.

in short, i love christmas in a way i can never love easter.  christmas is about those things that are important.  it is not about triumph.  it's strains are not martial anthems full of words like "victory" or "conquer," but rather about humble people in humble places, in mangers and fields.  even when we sing "we three kings of orient are," the sense of the text is about the mystery of following a star to a lowly manger, not about the pomp of the "kings" themselves.  the only christmas image i find disturbing is that of ascribing kingship to the baby whose birth christmas celebrates.  i suppose that is why one of my favorite christmas hymns is "thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown," even though its last stanza speaks of "[jesus] coming to victory."  the refrain is what endears the song to me ("o come to my heart, lord jesus, there is room in my heart for thee) as it links the inability of mary and joseph to find sanctuary in bethlehem with making a space for what jesus represents in our hearts.

the christian winter celebration with all its non-christian overtones, is a uniting of all the longings of humankind through the ages, sharing so much with many ancient traditions that have nothing to do with the birth of a baby in bethlehem.  it is a symbol of our belief that light will overcome darkness, that the earth will be renewed, that kindness and generosity are better than selfishness and greed, that the meek will inherit the earth.

may this season bring you joy.  may each of us find peace and comfort in doing good for one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Somewhere in My Memory

when i came into our den this morning, the light outside had a beautiful and golden, perfectly suited to the memories running through my mind the past several days.  as christmas approaches, i think back to the christmases of my childhood, those perfect celebrations that the filter of the mind creates.  i see myself with my many cousins in the home of our grandparents.  wonderful smells float into the living room from the kitchen as the food is taken from the ovens and carried into the dining room.  my uncle has his amazing home movie camera out, with its blinding light bar that causes us little ones to giggle and the adults to beg him to put it away.  the tree is surrounded with presents, and the children want to hurry with the meal so we can begin unwrapping and playing with our new toys.

there is no hint of any unpleasantness in the memory of those glorious holidays of sixty or so years ago, but i know that those days were imperfect, just as our present celebrations are.  there was one branch of the family that refused to conform to my grandmother's schedule, and every year there was a contest between my grandmother and them about when dinner would be eaten.  the children whined about the delay in the dinner, because that meant a delay in the opening of presents.  the other adults complained because the nonconforming group never came on time, despite the fact that the late-comers told my grandmother every year to start dinner without them because their own family plans made it impossible for them to arrive as early as my grandmother wanted them to.  underlying every christmas of my childhood was this unnecessary animosity over who would control the christmas day schedule.  then there were the snarky behind-the-back comments that some of the aunts made about others of the aunts, the political debates between my grandfather, an unabashed liberal, and my great-grandmother, a feisty little woman who disagreed with everything he said just because he said it.

those perfect christmases of my childhood were far from perfect, and the desire to control manifested itself then just as it does now.  i am glad that my memory paints them in a golden glow, even though as an adult i  know the petty arguments and resentments that were as much a part of them as the great joy we small cousins experienced.  i hope that my family is creating happy memories for ourselves each christmas without the craving to control how the celebration happens.

may we remind ourselves that the perfect day never comes to pass, unless we give up the need to control each day.  may we accept the day as it comes, grateful that we are alive to experience it.  may we remember that our longing to impose our will, our insistence that events conform to our expectations, is a source of unneeded frustration.  may we rejoice in the great gift of life.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Love Is the Theme

how many expressions of religious practice are intended to control others!  of what use is a religion if its end result is to increase suffering in the world?  we turn the benevolent teachings of the world's great religions into a tool for dividing us, a means for imposing our own narrow views on those who do not share them.  so much human misery is a result of our so-called practice of religion.

as we look at the chaos in the middle east, the war being fought so that a cruel expression of islam can be forced on a population that wants to be left alone to live life on its own terms, as we listen to politicians invoking christianity as the reason that women must be deprived of control of their own bodies, we should ask ourselves if the world wouldn't be better off without religion.  the idea of a nation where the most controlling fear-mongers who claim the mantle of christianity hold power is a frightening one.

i go to church each week and long to hear words assuring me that the teachings of jesus are incompatible with what passes for christianity in many christian churches in the usa, but i never hear that.  there is no encouragement to live a life that says "neither do i condemn you."  little by little my connection to the church lessens, and i have reached the point of being tied to the church, not by religion, but by the many friends who are a part of our community.  perhaps that's what the church is at best, a means of being connected to others in caring for one another and the world.  i'm not hearing how this web that binds us together is the reason that christianity exists, in opposition to the christian bigots who preach fear and an us-against-them philosophy.  i need to hear that from the pulpit, in our scripture readings, in our music, and it is not happening.

what if our concept of God is wrong?  what if God is the sum of all that is good in creation?  what if God is the thread that ties all-that-is together?  if that were true, each time we cause suffering we would weaken that thread and God would suffer as well; every injury to the planet would be an injury to God.  God would be present in everything and everyone with whom we come in contact, and we would be best when we had reverence for all of life, for all of creation.  perhaps that is where i'm being led, and that doesn't seem like such a bad place to be headed.

may we abandon religions that cause suffering for ourselves and others.  may we see God in others, doing to the others as we would have done to ourselves.  may we live lives of generous acceptance rather than controlling condemnation.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

That Morn Shall Tearless Be

the president of a university tells students to arm themselves in a speech in which he said, "I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those muslims before they walked in…"  he urges them to enroll in a free course offered by the police department of the university that will allow them to earn a concealed weapons permit.  the student body of the university cheers.  "liberty university," what a name for an institution that preaches fear and bigotry, where the leader of the university refers to "those muslims" as if all muslims are terrorists and ignores the fact that most of the mass murderers in the use have been anglo citizens!  more guns, what a great solution to the problem of gun violence!

the president tells the nation that "freedom is more powerful than fear," but his words will fall on the deaf ears of those whose only solution for terrorist carnage is more carnage.  ted cruz urges us to bomb isis until the "sand glows in the dark," even though we've already dropped so many bombs that we are running short of them.  donald trump suggests that "with the terrorists, you have to take out their families."  marco rubio tells us that the idea that a person on the terrorist no-fly list would go into a local gun store and buy a gun is "absurd,"  though he knows that most of those who commit mass murders in this county do so with legally obtained weapons.

these folk who bloviate about our "christian" nation urge us to treat others in the most unchristian ways, to kill before we are killed, to fear those who are "different," to slaughter innocents who get in the way of our slaughter of the "bad guys."  they have decided that we are to be a people who must be free of gays, non-christians, political progressives, and free-thinkers.  i shudder when i imagine what our country will become if they are in control, and i cringe at the number of our citizens who are taken in by their hateful rhetoric.

my father, a veteran of the european theater in world war two, often remarked at how much he liked the german people he met at the war's end and how puzzled he was that such a cultured, seemingly kind people could have been taken in by hitler and his nazi bullies.  as i look at the reaction of so many to the likes of falwell, cruz, rubio, trump, huckabee, and carson i understand how fear and loss of hope led so many in germany to embrace the ideology of hate and demonization, the scapegoating of those who were vulnerable.  how easy it would be for the "cultured, kind" people of the usa to go down that road.

may we shun bigotry and intolerance.  may we stop the madness of more and more guns that will only lead to more and more killing.  may we realize that the problems of the middle east are largely of our making, that it is we who have created the terrorists we fear so much.  may we find solutions that ease the suffering of others rather than causing more suffering.  may we heed the words of president obama and embrace freedom rather than fear.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How Far Is It to Bethlehem?

christmas is fast approaching, and life seems to be way too hectic.  we've been decorating inside and outside our house for weeks now.  we started early hoping that december would be more relaxing.  despite the early start, that doesn't seem to be the case.  i have to admit, though, that the end of decorating is in sight.  we only have two more strings of lights to put outside, along with a few pieces of "yard art."

at the same time, this doesn't seem to be the season of peace on earth and good will to all that christmas is supposed to be.  the fighting continues in the middle east.  domestic terrorism in the usa seems to be a greater danger that ever, even while the demagogues rant about rounding up "illegals" and pinning green crescents, so to speak, on all muslims in the country.  where is the promise of christmas now?  for millions of people devastation, hunger, and persecution are the reality, while we "christians" are more concerned with taking advantage of the latest retail bargain.

we watch a video of a young black man being shot sixteen times by a chicago policeman as onlookers scream.  we learn that other policeman seem to have erased video that would have brought this tragedy to light much sooner.  we read of the police persecution of a large segment of our population, and many are angry when this persecution is brought to light.  a leading presidential candidate suggests that a protestor who dared speak of this at one of his rallies deserved to be "roughed up."  yet we are more worried about getting our home decorations just right.

may we recall the man and woman who sought a place to have their baby and found the humblest of rooms.  may we remember the man who reached out to the abandoned in his society while the pious collaborated with the oppressors.  may we recall his words that the first will be last and the last will be first.  in whatever small ways we can, may we do what we can to make christmas a reality, not merely a promise.  shalom.