Tuesday, February 23, 2016

There's a Time for Heart to Care

the first characteristic of love that st. paul lists in the thirteenth chapter of first corinthians is patience.  there's a lot to be said for and about patience and why it should be listed first in such a list, even before kindness.  I find as I think about life--the life I've lived and the continuation of that life--one thing I possess in greater quantity now than I did when I was younger is this very quality: patience.  I hope that means I am more loving.  I find that I'm not in such a hurry as i was even a few years ago.  i don't have to get from point a to point b as quickly as possible, i can take my time getting there.  queues are a welcome occurrence, they give me time to stop and notice and to think.  people don't have to conform to my expectations, i am more apt to accept them as they are rather than as I want them to be.

all that is not to say that i never become impatient.  deadlines make me anxious.  i want to get places early so i don't have to worry about being late, and in doing so i cause stress for others who are with me.  minor frustrations are often built up into something much larger than they ought to be, i become impatient with petty annoyances that shouldn't annoy me at all.  the difference now is that i can stop myself and realize that the emotion i'm feeling for what it is: lack of patience.  once I realize the irritation has to do more with my expectation that life should conform to my preconceived notions rather than just being life, I can let go of the impatience.

how often do our unrealistic ideas about how things should be cause suffering for ourselves and those around us?  if i must wait a few extra moments because a companion is not quite ready to leave for an appointment, there's no reason to become impatient; it won't matter that much if we arrive two minutes early rather than ten minutes early.  it probably won't be a big deal if we walk in five minutes late!  if another talks on and on about some personal matter when all i want to do is get on with my business, most of the time it does me no harm to listen with attention to what that other is saying and let my needs wait a bit.  if the fast food place mixes up my take out order and i don't discover it until i get home, it's not that big a deal that my fries got left off, I can easily pick up the phone and explain my problem and receive an accommodation or just let go of my craving for something that's not very good for me anyhow.  what's the loss of an order of fries in the big scheme of things?

love can't be kind without being patient.  the two go hand-in-hand.  may we examine our impatience, our desire to have life conform to our ideal.  may we come to realize that by being impatient we double the suffering.  may we see the petty and not-so-petty irritations of life as opportunities to develop a quality all of us could use more of.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Enter God's Presence with Thanks and a Song!

last sunday was our male co-pastor's last Sunday to serve as one of our ministers, and he preached a sermon that spoke to me on many levels.  he spoke of zacchaeus and his encounter with jesus that changed his life from one of greed and indifference to the suffering of others to one of compassion and generosity, of how it was jesus' calling zacchaeus down from his perch that transformed what would have been a good story for zacchaeus to tell others about his having seen jesus to a story of a life altered beyond anything zacchaeus could have imagined.

one of the illustrations in his sermon troubled me, though.  it was a story about a father who came to his son's aid at a time when the son was struggling.  the father and son formed a bond which enabled the son to succeed when he would otherwise have failed.  the point of the story, of course, was that this is how God acts in our lives, providing a metaphorical shoulder for us to lean on and supporting us in times of crisis.  i'm uncomfortable with this image of God, this idea that God is a personal God that jumps in to save us when we are failing.  if God acts in this way, why does God help some and ignore others?  the implication is that God ignores those whose faith is insufficient, and it is therefore their own fault that God doesn't help them.  if it is one's own lack of faith that prevents God from acting, why did those who had enabling faith experience struggle in the first place?  why didn't the god in which they had faith simply intervene to change their circumstances, acting on their behalf before they began to experience failure?

our minister referred to God as "daddy" repeatedly, and i had great difficulty with this image.  this seems an affront to the concept of the great Creator who is the first cause of all things.  in our opening hymn, we sang of God's creation of the mountains and the depths of the sea, and it seems incongruous to think of such a One as "daddy."  this "daddy god" seems to be a god who is created in our image, rather than the source of all, the Being in whose image we are created.  there are too many "daddies" who are unspeakably cruel for this concept of God to be acceptable to me.

if we acknowledge the existence of a Creator God, may we do so in reverence and respect, with gratitude that we have the opportunity to live as part of the magnificence of creation.  may we not revile those who fail as lacking sufficient faith to win a capricious god's favor, and may we understand that we have an obligation to be the source of help for those who need our assistance, not waiting on a "heavenly daddy" to come to their aid.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

He Speaks the Drooping Heart to Cheer

a few days ago, a friend's ninety-four-year-old mother fell and broke her hip.  that same night at our church potluck dinner, we prayed for my friend's mother, a member of our congregation who is having surgery to remove a malignant tumor, and another member who had just had back surgery.  the leader prayed for healing for all these who were suffering, and i found myself uncomfortable with his prayer.  another member of our congregation passed away a couple of weeks ago after a protracted battle with cancer.  many among us had prayed that he would be cured, but i wasn't one of the many--not that i didn't want him to get well, but i don't believe that's how life works.

when we pray for healing for a specific person, what are we asking for?  are we saying that we believe that person won't recover unless we pray for his or her recovery?  what do we believe about the source of the injury or disease?  did "God" will it?  if so, why?  if God is all-knowing, doesn't God already know about the problem, and, if so, why would God need us to pray for intervention?  does God intervene in a person's life to affect a cure for a disease or injury that an all-powerful personal God could have prevented in the first place?

i simply can't believe in this sort of God anymore.  life just happens, and it has nothing to do with God.  God is not willing people to hurt so that God can teach them or their loved ones some lesson or to demonstrate God's power through a miraculous healing.  God doesn't cause people to die because God wants them to come home to heaven.  elderly folks fall and break bones.  people are afflicted with terrible diseases.  none of this is caused by the will of God.

so, what is God's role in our suffering?  my belief is that God is there suffering along with us.  deep in our core, we can know that we are not alone.  still, it's our job to deal with the suffering, to accept life on its own terms, to find solutions if there are solutions, and to admit that life is what it is with all its difficulties and pleasures.  it is wrong to ask a God who could have prevented the suffering in the first place to now fix what God allowed or, in the view of some, caused to happen.  what sort of a God is that?  the only answer is that such a god is cruel and vindictive, a god who pulls our strings like puppets in some divine play.

may we not ask God to solve our problems.  may we draw strength from knowing we are not alone, while using the resources we've been given to deal with whatever life throws at us and being grateful that we have those resources.  may we support one another as we muddle through.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Planned Each Charted Course

a few days ago, one of our co-pastors announced his intention to resign as our minister.  his announcement came as a surprise, though in retrospect i can see he has been moving in this direction for awhile now.  about a year ago, he asked to have his work load with the church reduced so he could work part-time for a time management company with which he had become involved as a consumer of its products, and the church consented.  now the same company has offered him a full-time job that he is excited to accept.  his wife, our other co-pastor, will continue as our full-time minister if the church approves the arrangement; as co-pastors, their employment paid each a three-quarter's salary.

i will be sad to see the male member of the team leave his position with our church, though the savings in salary and benefits will help us financially, and he will continue to be active in the church as a layman.  he and i have our differences, but i love him as a person who is a child at heart in many ways.  he has managed to carry the joy of discovery and play into his adult life as few have, and he has a zest for life that is energizing.  now that both of their college-age children are no longer living at home, it will be easier for the wife to be our full-time pastor.  it will be a challenge for her to do what is essentially the job of one-and-a-half people, taking on her husband's duties while continuing with her own.  i suspect she will enjoy her work more and the church will function with greater efficiency because there won't be the constant negotiation of who is in charge of what, though the two of them worked together quite well.

i'm suspicious of the concept of "time management," and have never been one to keep a day planner.  i wonder if this whole idea of managing time is not a ploy to sell products--fancy calendars, self-help books, consulting services, and the like.  maybe for some, this approach is helpful, if one is overwhelmed by the responsibilities of life and unable to prioritize the tasks one faces and organize one's time to enable that which is most essential to get done.  that's never been a problem for me, so i don't understand how it is a problem for others.  our soon-to-be former co-pastor believes that he has discovered a method that has improved his life and feels that his new job will allow him to help others in the same way.  i wish him well in his new pursuit, but i won't be using his company's services.

may we all find adventure in living, realizing that each moment is precious and fleeting, never to return again.  may we make wise decisions along the path, seeking new ways of serving others and having the courage to follow our dreams.  shalom.