Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Instrument of Your Peace

those of us who profess to be christians spend so much time trying to understand our religion.  over the centuries we have debated, fought wars over, and struggled with what a genuine christian religion is or ought to be.  we've fractured into countless expressions of christianity, in the process alienating ourselves from one another and the adherents of other religions and the non-religious.  i'm not sure any of our attempts have moved us any closer to what jesus was teaching over two thousand years ago.

i wish i had a definitive, complete, and true answer to the questions of who jesus was and what he intended the practices of his followers to be. i believe i know some of the things he didn't intend for christians to do or become.  i am certain that he didn't intend for us to live in separate compounds from those who were different from us or to force them to live in their own separate compounds.  i am certain that he didn't intend for us to live in luxury while those around us were in desperate circumstances, in need of food or shelter.  i am certain he didn't intend for us to solve our differences by making war against one another.  i am certain that he didn't intend for us to enrich ourselves by cheating and taking from others.  i am certain that he didn't intend for us to follow a religion of rules that teaches that everyone who doesn't follow our rules is bound for an eternity of torment.  i am certain that he didn't intend for us to preach that our narrow system of beliefs is the only correct system of beliefs while all other systems are wrong and those who fail to adopt our system are doomed.

maybe what we need to do is follow the idea of jesus, rather than the physical person who lived so long ago.  maybe jesus is the concept that true religion is to replace hate with love.  maybe we should stop trying to convert everyone else to our own version of christianity and simply do good in the world.  maybe we ought to do whatever we can to clothe, feed, and shelter those who need care.  maybe we ought to stop taking from the earth without thought of the damage we are doing to ourselves and future generations.  maybe we should make health care available to all.  maybe we ought to stop seeing "others" and accept that we are all in this together.  maybe we ought to stop arguing about religion and start helping one another.  maybe we ought to be content with what we have rather than constantly striving for more that we don't need.  maybe we are all brothers and sisters, parents and children.  maybe we ought to throw away the rule book about which we've spent eons debating and fighting and just care for each other.

maybe this is what great teachers throughout history have been trying to get us to choose.  love over hate.  generosity over grasping.  peace over war.  kinship over enmity.  embracing over pulling apart.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Work, for the Night Is Coming

last sunday, our minister preached on the collection of aid from the church in antioch for the church in jerusalem, mentioned in acts 11.  she suggested that the jerusalem church was in need because those who were part of the church sold their possessions and the proceeds were then distributed as needs arose.  this practice, she said, resulted from the belief that the second coming of jesus was imminent, so there was no need to plan for the future.  she cited the words of jesus in matthew 16, where jesus is quoted as saying that "there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom," a saying of jesus found in the other synoptic gospels as well, as the basis for this belief among the christians in jerusalem.

she went on to say that this was a misinterpretation of the teaching of jesus; because the return of jesus did not take place during the lifetime of his hearers, she said jesus clearly meant something else when he made this statement.  i found this disturbing.  jesus' statement seems clear.  if he indeed said this, he believed what he said would happen and intended for his followers to believe it also.  perhaps this passage came into the canon because many of his followers believed that jesus would soon return to establish his kingdom and the saying was added to the received teachings of jesus to support this view.  it seems standard practice that, when a prophecy is not fulfilled, those who gave credence to the prophecy find a way to reinterpret it so that it still has the possibility of being true.

i found the suggestion that the cause of the need in the church in jerusalem was their practice of sharing their resources in support of one another troubling, as well.  it is well established that there was a famine in judea in the mid-first century ce, and from the passage in acts the offering was clearly intended to offer relief to hardships resulting from this famine.  the verses in acts say that the offering was collected on the basis of a prophecy by a visiting prophet, agabus, from jerusalem before the famine had taken hold.  how convenient it was that this prophet came to antioch so that a collection could be made in anticipation of the coming famine!  one wonders if the prophecy was not added to this passage in order to strengthen belief in the power of such prophecies.

the twisting of biblical passages to support one's own political beliefs is all too common in the church, as it probably has been through the ages.  if all biblical scripture is unerring and divinely inspired, how could an entire generation of the first christians have been so wrong in interpreting the clear teaching of jesus regarding his return to establish his kingdom?  how could the first christians in jerusalem, led as they were by jesus' very disciples, have been so mistaken when they sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds equitably among themselves?  wouldn't it be more honest to admit that jesus, or some ancient collector of his teachings, was mistaken about jesus coming back in the near future?  why try to find some political justification for the hardship of the christians in jerusalem when the well-established judean famine is the simplest explanation?

may we stop trying to explain away the contradictions and errors in the "sacred" text and accept that human beings created that text.  may we use our minds to interpret what has been written without fear, abandoning the notion that the bible cannot be examined critically.  may we stop worshiping a book and using it for our own ends.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Land of the Noble Free

in considering the direction of this year's election is the united states, i am astounded at the level of hatred and bigotry that's been unleashed.  the racism and fear that many feel free to express is surprising to me, and it seems that, while much of it is directed at and prompted by the evil playing out in iraq and syria, our home-grown anti-democratic and intolerant outbursts are much like those expressed by the "islamic state" and the syrian dictator's forces.  the desire to "make america great again" by turning back the clock to a time when anglos ruled without challenge, women "knew their place," and poverty and oppression of racial minorities were standard practices is not unlike the intolerant practices of the forces of repression in the middle east.

the hatred directed at undocumented immigrants, muslims, and the lbgt community during the election and the tacit (and sometimes vocal) approval of it by the republican nominee has shown an ugly side of our country that many of us thought had been left in the past.  the party of the right has played to the undercurrent of racism in the country for many years, and the rise of donald trump and his disaffected followers has let the genie escape from the bottle.  watching trump rallies is too reminiscent of the nazi party rallies that brought hitler to power, and one begins to understand how a man like adolf hitler could have gained control in a country like germany, the same country that gave rise to many of the giants of philosophy, music, and literature.

we think of our democracy as being secure, but one wonders about it when mr. trump praises vladimir putin and his "control" over russia, and many elected republican leaders remain silent.  when both the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the republican party laud putin's "strength" and decry our own president's "weakness," and other republicans fail to call them out for making such statements, we have to ask if those on the right are committed to the principles on which our system is based.  when we see trump's followers attacking those who protest against trump and calling for the democratic candidate's imprisonment, we have to ask if our cherished democratic values are endangered.  when hateful rhetoric and braggadocio take precedence over civil discourse and substantive policy debate, something is very wrong in this election and in this country.

may we decry the hate, bigotry, and intolerance which have given rise to donald trump's nomination.  may we embrace the values of equality, mutual respect, and freedom of thought on which our country was founded.  may the remainder of the election be devoted to serious discussion of the problems facing us and how to solve those problems.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Children of Creative Purpose

my wife and i toured a house designed by frank lloyd wright a few days ago.  it was one of many such houses we've visited, and each leaves me marveling at his genius.  the guide for this tour was especially knowledgable, pointing out details that worked together to create the total effect of the house.  he demonstrated how wright had considered the placement of each concrete block, each support beam, each vertical support member, and the floor grid, so that all the elements of the house's "bones" were complimentary.  the impact of the horizontal elements, from the raking of the mortar in the joints to the placement of the built-in shelving to the flat roof, caused the eyes of the home's viewer to be drawn to the "rootedness" of the home in the earth.  the wall of windows across the rear elevation of the house and the continuation of the floor grid, color, and material from the interior to the exterior made one feel at one with the natural world outside the home.

as we walked inside and around the exterior of this beautiful creation, i tried to imagine what it would be like to live in such a home.   i marveled at how wright's careful planning would have changed the inhabitants' character and world-view.  because wright's philosophy of organic architecture and the subtle impact of his design undoubtedly had an effect on those who lived there, he made its inhabitants better people and the world a better place.

here is a model for our existence in the world, insignificant as we are in the universe.  we create the environment in which we live and are a part of what we create.  are we attentive to the details of our lives?  do we consider how the elements of our lives, the moment-by-moment decisions we make, affect ourselves and others?  do we live deliberately, or are we going through life thoughtlessly, without consideration of the effect of our actions or lack of action?  do the details of our lives work together to create a unified whole, or do we live willy-nilly?

may each of us create a life that makes us and the world around us better.  may we take responsibility for our own plans or lack of planning.  may we be fully aware of the beauty around us and be one with that beauty.  may each moment lead to the next with purpose and awareness.  shalom.