Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guard Each One's Dignity?

a few evenings ago i sat in the choir loft during our church's maundy thursday service and thought about forgiveness.  i had just witnessed another choir member speak unkindly to my wife during our rehearsal for the service.  a few moments later, this person tried to make amends, and i wondered if my wife was able to let go of the hurt that curt words had caused.  i thought, too, of the strife in our church, with some seeking control by withholding financial support to protest various disagreements with the church:  dislike of the minister, the national church's position on various issues, sundry hurts like the one my wife had just suffered.

and here we sat in a service where we meditated on jesus taking the role of a servant as he washed the feet of his disciples, of jesus blessing bread and wine knowing that one of those closest to him was in the process of betraying him, of jesus going out to pray in the face of the torment he knew was coming soon, of jesus being abandoned by those he had nurtured and taught over the past months.  i thought of jesus saying,  "forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing," as he hung on the cross.

on another evening, my wife and i watched an episode of the pbs series, "grantchester."  this episode revolved around the murder of a gay man in a public restroom where he had gone for a liaison with another man.    in the closing scene the young gay man who was to have been the partner of the victim tells sidney, the anglican priest who is the series' central character, that, while sidney's argument in favor of one's right to privacy is admirable, the real need is for society to acknowledge that everyone has the right to be who they truly are, that none should have to hide behind the right to privacy to find their place in society.

the maundy thursday service and this episode of one my favorite shows highlight the human tendency to want to control.  the religious authorities wanted to control the practice of the jewish religion, to stop jesus from teaching views that threatened the accommodation they had made with the roman authorities.  the radical teachings of jesus were leading people to a view of the religion that diminished the power of the priests in the temple, and jesus had to be eliminated so that control over the people could be maintained.  english society believed it necessary to control the accepted pattern of relationships, limiting conjugal relations to those between a man and a woman.  same-sex attraction could be tolerated so long as sexual encounters between two men or two women remained discreet and hidden--don't ask, don't tell.  once these encounters became public, they had to be quashed.

we are quick to condemn religion for the suffering it causes, but i wonder if religion is the true cause of the suffering for which it is blamed.  perhaps religion is an excuse for our propensity to seek control over others and over events.  we cloak the fiction of control in a mantle of morality to hide our ugly motives.  we pretend that those who threaten the status quo are dangerous, threats to the established order that must be dealt with.  we rail against deviation from what we consider normal, rather than seeking to understand those whose desire for love and to love seems to be unlike our own.  yet when we put aside our fear of that which is different, we find that at our core we are very much alike.  we proclaim that we know the will of god when all we are doing is projecting our own ignorance by creating a god of our own making.

may we let go of the pretense of control and replace that impossibility with acceptance.  may we recognize our inability to force others to adopt our narrow views.  may we love without judgment, seeing ourselves in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Let Us with a Gladsome Mind

From time to time, it seems helpful to restate what i believe, so yesterday morning i made this list.  it's certainly not a final list, but it's where i am right now.  i have moved away from belief that depends on any "sacred" text or a systematic theology, and i am happy with the direction i am going.  

1. there is a first cause, a creator, who caused all things to come into being.
2. control over events and other beings is an impossible illusion.
3. we live in the garden of eden with a mind that makes it possible to solve every problem by using our own reason.
4. our response to the god who created all things should be one of gratitude for giving us what we need to solve our problems.
5. it is unreasonable to expect god to solve our problems for us.
6. everything-that-is vibrates with the energy of god's love.
7. religions that cause suffering for ourselves and for others should be abandoned in favor of the religion of kindness.
8. all things are interconnected.
9. we are related to every other human being, and, beyond superficial differences, we are all the same.
10. letting go of the belief that we are in control and forsaking the belief that we can control others is the source of happiness.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Through Days of Toil

there are times when i long to be away from my everyday life, to hop in the car and flee, to abandon the responsibilities that tie me to one place.  i don't know that that's a bad thing to do.  we become bogged down in the day-to-day routines, and pushing them aside allows us to see our lives from a different perspective.  breaking away from the norm often helps us to focus on what's important and to assess if we've allowed things that are not essential to crowd out what is truly important.

yet, one can't live a life devoid of responsibility.  getting away requires much preparation.  someone has to see that the animals are fed.  the bills have to be taken care of.  those who depend on us must be notified that we won't be available so that they can make other arrangements.

soon my wife and i will take off on a series of trips.  first, we'll go to spend some time with relatives/friends who live a couple of hundred miles from us.  after that, we'll make a trip to new york and washington.  shortly after we return from that trip, we'll make another trip of two hundred or so miles to be with family.  by the time all that is done, i'm sure we'll be longing for time back at home with the luggage stored for awhile, and i expect we will be happy to assume those cares which now weigh us down.  our time away from them may allow us to discover ways to trim down those cares and to strip away some burdens that we see are unnecessary.  that's the great reward of escaping for awhile, along with the new experiences of the journey.

still, without a deep joy in life, these escapes are nothing more than momentary distractions, pleasures that soon dissipate.  cares arise, needs must be addressed.  they are a part of life.  we cannot escape them.  we can only push them away for a short while.  if we use our time away from them to imagine that life can be carefree, we fool ourselves, imagining an unreal life that is impossible to achieve.  it is far better to employ our retreat to assess how to streamline our lives, how to sift the essential from the nonessential.  life is not what happens between the escapes from it.  the escapes must be a part of life, too, means to achieve better balance.

may we see that life flows on, sometimes in a torrent, sometimes tranquilly, but nevertheless it flows on.  may fleeting joys and cares be seen as ripples on the surface that don't disturb the deep waters of happiness.  may we take time to differentiate between the ripples and the underlying current.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Blind (Un)belief Is Sure to Err

last week during the midweek bible study at our church, the minister read a passage from exodus popularly known as the "song of moses and miriam."  this song is purported to have been sung just after the hebrew people crossed the dry bed of the red sea after god had parted the waters for them and as they watched pharoah's army being swallowed up as the sea returned to its original state.  when she reached verse three, she stopped.  in her translation, the first line of that verse read, "the lord is a man of war."  she asked if that troubled any of us as it did her.  she said it was difficult for her to envision God as a "man of war."  i spoke up to say that the "man" part of the verse was troubling to me, and before i could elaborate, she said, "that troubles you, not the entire 'man of war' phrase?"  i said, "well, that too, but it is the 'man' part that is most troubling for me."

she didn't want to involve us in a conversation about my reservations and went on to explain why we should understand that God is both a God of war and a God of peace, before continuing with her lesson that covered several other biblical passages.  i left the bible study deeply troubled.  for the first time, i was forced to accept that in our church we are not free to discuss the problem with taking the bible literally.  i feel certain that our minister knows that the story of the hebrews' escape from egypt under the leadership of moses is not true, but she did not even allude to that in her lesson.  i wonder how she can go on supporting the understanding that many of our congregation have by failing to seek deeper meaning in the myths of the bible while dwelling on superficial readings of it that disguise the truth behind the myths.

her lesson was concerned with the bible's ideas of praising God through various old and new testament passages, but how can we adopt ideas that praise a god that is created in our image rather than the other way around?  why did jesus say that "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth" (john 4:24) if "God is a man of war?"   how can we tiptoe around the inconsistencies and the mythic qualities of the bible to avoid confronting the danger of taking it as a history book?  i suspect that if our minister were to begin teaching that there was no exodus, no enslavement of the hebrews in egypt, no moses, and no conquest of the promised land by the jewish people under joshua's leadership she would find herself out of a job.  i can understand her unwillingness to destroy or cause feelings of doubt in many of her parishioners, but i can't accept being silenced when i begin to raise these questions.  i know that i am not alone among our congregation in my views about the bible; there are others of "liberal" theological persuasion.

i want to be accepted in our church without having to remain silent about my views that are not in accord with what the majority believe.  if we are so narrow in our views that we cannot tolerate any dissent from orthodoxy, we leave no room for discovery of many important truths.  questioning is important, and those who push against the boundaries of an easy acceptance, those who refuse to adopt a faith that is unreasonable, are necessary to keep us from falling into the trap of empty ritual and blind acceptance.  God gave us reasoning minds, and i can't believe in a God that expects me to silently accept that which seems unreasonable.

may we never settle into an easy faith.  may we seek truth and go where our seeking leads us, even when the path is dangerous.  may we be thorns in the side of orthodoxy.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Heart Awaking Cries

as i sat in my den this morning, there seemed to be absolute quiet.  the sky was dark, and the rest of the world slept.  then i heard the gas hissing in the fireplace as the gas logs warmed the room.  the metal of the firebox popped and creaked as it warmed up.  the floor clock across the room ticked steadily.  my little dog made shuffling, scuffing sounds as he rolled and moved about on the floor.  the gray cat made his endearing sounds as he explored.  on the distant interstate, traffic hummed, and. from time to time, a car drove past on the street behind our house.  outside, a bird chirped, and a stray tomcat howled.  so many noises in the "sleeping" world!

i felt the slight ache in my neck and shoulder as they limbered up.  my arms rubbed against my chair's arms, and the fabric of my shirt collar rubbed against my neck.  my fingers lightly touched in my lap.  i could feel the coarseness of my jeans on the sides of my hands.  my right foot rested lightly across the ankle of my left foot, and i felt the knitted texture of my socks against my feet and ankles.  my leather chair embraced me as i rested comfortably against it.  so many tactile sensations!

my stomach rose and fell as i breathed in and out.  as i inhaled through my nostrils, the tip of my tongue rose and touched the roof of my mouth.  on each exhale, my tongue relaxed and the slow breath passed my lips.   in-out:  the steady rhythm persisted through those moments when all was still, yet much was taking place.  in the stillness of the morning, i sensed the vibrancy of life, all those sounds and sensations that are going on around us as we live our lives oblivious to them.  outside the mind, life goes on, and, as we focus on the thoughts bubbling up--the endless plans and stories--we miss the energy that persists despite our mind's efforts to shut it out.

may we be part of the environment that surrounds and inhabits us, not a self that is detached from it.  may mindfulness awaken us to all that is, not just the pretense of a separation that our mind creates.  shalom.