Tuesday, May 24, 2016

In Our Joys and in Our Sorrows

i listened one evening as my friends, jack and jan (not their real names), talked about the day that had just passed.  jan said, "what a day! nothing went the way we had planned.". she continued, listing all the things that had "gone wrong."

 "I thought it was a lovely day.  even though it didn't go as planned, look at all the things we accomplished," jack replied, listing all the things that they had been able to do because of the changed circumstances of the day.

as I thought back on their conversation, it hit me that there are so many good, but not perfect, things in our lives.  jack had seen the day as a good one, though an imperfect one; jan had seen the day as a bad one because of its imperfections.  i was sitting in my chair--a good one but not a perfect one.  it was a bit too narrow, but it supported me well.  the back was at just the right angle to cradle my lower back that often hurts, and the seat was at the right height.  all in all, it was a good chair.  the floor on which my feet rested was beautiful, but it was easy to damage, and it showed every speck of dirt that settled on it--good, not perfect.  our house was a wonderful house, thoughtfully planned with many unusual, but beautiful and helpful, features.  after sixty-two years, things had to be repaired from time to time, and the plumbing, though functional, was a little quirky.  a good house, but not a perfect one.

i could list so many good-but-not-perfect things in my life, as we all could.  the point is that if we expect perfection we will always be disappointed.  if we expect each day to conform to our ideal, we'll never have a "good" day.  we are so much happier if we accept the circumstances of each day as it comes to us.  so what if the repairman who promised to come shows up today, two days later than he said he would, to make a needed repair.  at least he's here now, and you make the best of it.  or what's the great tragedy if you discover that the shirt you had planned to wear today is found to be in the laundry with a stain on the pocket?  you have other shirts that are just as nice.

life is full of these inconveniences.  we can either deal with them with acceptance or allow them to ruin our day.  may we choose the former.  may we embrace the day on its own terms, taking things as they come.  may we say at the end of the day, "it was a lovely day.  i am grateful for it." may we learn from the events that force us to change our best-laid plans and rejoice.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Matter What May Be the Test

a bad storm with heavy rain and high winds passed through our area a few days ago.  all over our county and the neighboring counties, trees were downed, and power outages were widespread.  we were fortunate that we suffered no damage or loss of power, but several of our neighbors had trees come crashing into their homes.  the day after the storm, our local newspaper had a front page story on the havoc caused by the storm, and one person whose home had suffered major damage was quoted as saying that god had been good to them, sparing them from any physical harm.  if "god" had protected them from harm, why hadn't "god" protected their home and the scores of other homes that had trees blown into them?  why had their home been hit, when most other homes were unharmed?  had they done something wrong that resulted in this god punishing them by causing the tree to fall on their home, while god spared them from injury?

i will never understand the worship of such a capricious god.  so much of life is governed by happenstance.  storms are ungovernable forces of nature.  trees fall in storms for many reasons--sometimes the tree is weakened by disease, or it is of a type that has shallow roots that are susceptible to being blown over in water-soaked ground, some just happen to be in a spot where the winds of the storm are strongest.  who knows?  many trees fall without doing harm to people and homes.  what does God have to do with any of this?  God didn't cause the storm.  God didn't direct the path of the wind.  God didn't protect some homes while causing damage to others.  If anyone or thing is to blame for this storm, it is us, who go about abusing our planet and increasing the likelihood of more and more violent storms.  The same storm that wreaked so much havoc also brought about needed rain--blessings and curses from the same source, but the source wasn't God.

i am sorry that several homes were harmed by the storm.  i am happy that ours was not among them.  if the next storm blows one of our trees into our home, it won't be because God is sending us a message, and, if we escape damage, it won't be because God is protecting us.  whatever the result of the next storm, that result will be caused by "that's just the way it is."  we may thank God for being present with us in our suffering or our rejoicing, but God deserves neither credit nor blame for the random circumstances of life.

may we not fall into the trap of seeing God as the cause of some or all of the events of our lives.  may we not look at what happens as some sort of signal from God.  may we be grateful that we can live our lives using the resources we've been given, and may we accept blame for the misuse of those resources, striving always to live more skillfully.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

When Upon Life's Billows

a few days ago, my friend brent got a call from his son sam, who was filled with excitement because he had been offered a job in a town about a thousand miles away.  sam's new job gives him the opportunity to use his talents and experience in ways that past jobs have not, and the location is ideal for his son, who loves to hike and camp.  the town to which he plans to move is in the high desert, with several national parks nearby and the rockies almost at the city limits.   it's no wonder that sam was elated about the possibilities when he called his dad.

i was startled when brent reacted in anger and hurt.  "why is he doing this to me?  there are lots of jobs near where i live.  why would he take a job so far away?" my friend asked.  i didn't know how to react.  a lecture on how brent should have felt wouldn't be helpful, and i could understand why brent wanted his son to live near him as he gets up in years.  i sympathized and suggested that this would give brent an opportunity to visit sam in what seemed to be a perfect location.  i reminded him that inexpensive flights to near sam's new home are often available.  "i'm not going.  he doesn't want to see me or he wouldn't move so far away," brent told me.

my heart aches for brent and for sam.  i know that sam is at a stage in his life and in his career that makes taking advantage of what he's been offered attractive to him.  i know that sam wants to venture off, since he's lived in the same area his whole life, and an offer like this may never come his way again.  right now, he has no children, and there are good job opportunities for his wife in this new town.  if they can get established there and prosper, then sam and his wife can begin their family, and brent will have the grandchildren he yearns for.

i wanted to say, "this is not about you, brent.  try to see this through sam's eyes, and be happy for him.  here is this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that sam would be crazy to pass up.  life has presented sam with a great job in an ideal location, and you should be excited for him and be thrilled that he called you immediately to share this joy with you."  i knew that lecturing brent wouldn't help him, though, and i hope that, as sam talks more with his father about his plans, brent will have a change of heart.  right now, all i can do is share brent's suffering and hope for a good outcome.

may we take upon ourselves a measure of the suffering of others, reacting to them with compassion, even when we believe they are wrong.  may we be present for others in their suffering, never presuming to tell them what they should be feeling.  may our love help others overcome their suffering as we share in their hurt and grief.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Are We "One in the Spirit?"

i am wary of "doctrinal statements," those strings of words that seek to define who is and who is not a christian.  my own congregation, through its elected officers, adopted a wedding policy that said that "for christians, marriage is between a man and a woman," a policy that tells me and others like me who believe in marriage equality that we are not christians.  another church in my denomination begins its statement of beliefs with "All Christians believe that there is but one God and that God is manifested in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  this statement says that anyone who rejects, or questions, the doctrine of the trinity is not a christian, since all christians are trinitarians.

such statements are attempts to place boundaries around the "true" christians, excluding those who have other beliefs and those who refuse to build fences to protect the flock and keep the apostate at bay.  many christians are so busy excluding gays, transgender persons, and other undesirables that they ignore the pattern jesus established in his ministry as he sought out those who were outside the fence of jewish religious practice, those who were excluded for whatever reason.  "don't question, don't doubt, accept our version of orthodoxy no matter how unreasonable," these boundary-makers say, and the area within their fences becomes smaller and smaller.

the capacity for compassion knows no such boundaries.  why would God have given us reasonable minds if God didn't want us to use them?  it's no wonder that the ranks of the "spiritual but not religious" continue to swell as the numbers of those who practice formal religion shrink.  our churches are too involved in making rules and establishing prerequisites that the needs of those outside the fence are ignored.  the ability to love and care for others has nothing to do with a catechism and everything to do with seeing that we are essentially the same no matter what our beliefs are.  we can't be one-in-the-spirit if we are wrapped up in building walls to protect ourselves from those dangerous "others."

may we stop thinking of ourselves as the protectors of the faith and start seeing ourselves as part of humanity, all of us searching for answers and seeking comfort from the vicissitudes of life.  may we love in such a way that no one need fear to doubt and question.  may we use our minds, never accepting any belief on blind faith.  may loving-kindness and compassion take precedence over belief.  shalom.