Tuesday, October 25, 2016

On the Road Again

this week my wife and i are traveling in the mountains of tennessee and north carolina, and i plan to write about our experiences in the next couple of posts, but, for now, i'm taking the week off.  may we all have safe and enjoyable travels wherever we happen to be.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Prayer Is the Soul's Sincere Desire

what do we hope to accomplish when we pray?  our pastor suggested in her sermon yesterday that God desires our prayers because God wants to establish a relationship with us, just as a parent might not give something to a child until the child asks.  perhaps she's right.  it seems to me that prayer doesn't cause God to change, but rather prayer changes the one who prays.  when we pray to be spared from a hurricane, does that mean that we won't prepare for the destruction a hurricane brings?  would we ask for deliverance from the hurricane and then sit in our homes assuming that God will direct the hurricane elsewhere, or would we realize that our best hope is to make whatever preparations we can to protect our property and remove ourselves from the path of the storm?

how often have many of us misplaced some precious object and prayed that we would find it, only to discover it after we've prayed?  i can't believe that we received some message from God that directed us to the lost object.  instead, our prayer triggered a memory in our subconscious that reminded us where to look.  as i've written before, i have serious doubts about the efficacy of intercessory prayer and tend to believe that such attempts to manipulate God border on blasphemy.  so should we pray at all, and, if we do, what should our prayer be?

i think prayers of gratitude are the most important prayers we can make: gratitude for God as a presence that supports, encourages, comforts, and cares for us, gratitude for God as the creator of all things and the source of all good, gratitude for life itself, gratitude for the gifts of reasonable minds and the resources to solve our problems.  i think it's appropriate to express our anguish and pain in the face of the trials of life, not because God will remove that suffering, but because in doing so we acknowledge God's presence and we accept that our suffering is a natural response to events in our lives rather than a weakness to be suppressed.  i think it's ok to confess our failings when we pray, not to seek forgiveness for them, but to express our humanity and to enable us to move beyond them through giving voice to them when we can share them with no other person.

so, i continue to pray, but most often i pray that i will be changed rather than asking God to change things for my benefit.  most of my posts end with a series of prayers: may i take responsibility for the way in which i live my life.  may i look to my own potential to solve my problems, even if i ask God for wisdom and strength to find the solutions.  may i be grateful for all that i am and have, for the gift of life itself.  may i be a better person today than i was yesterday, and, if i'm not, may i forgive myself and figure out what i need to do to be a better person.  may we all live lives of gratitude, kindness, and compassion.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bound to All in Bonds of Love

as i write on this sunday morning before the second presidential debate, i think of the words of donald trump from the tape of his conversation with billy bush that have been played and commented upon incessantly over the past couple of days.  trump has been condemned for what he said and for the thoughts and actions he describes and rightly so.  soon after this recording came to light, damning recordings of his appearances on the howard stern show were discovered and replayed.  the sum of these past words of the republican nominee paint a picture of a man who seems compelled to objectify women and to brag about his sexual prowess in the crudest terms.  his critics have been quick to say that such a man is not fit to be president of the united states, and they are right.  many of his former allies have abandoned him, and the pundits have decided that hillary clinton has already won the election.  one wonders how trump will conduct himself in the debate and how secretary clinton will respond if he attacks her for the past actions of her husband.

i was as disturbed by the trump recordings as any of those whose condemnations were reported in the media and agree that such a person is a poor choice for president.  but as i think back on my life, i remember many words that i regret, immature comments that should never have been made, crude remarks that would have led those who heard them to think less of me.  i dare say most people have similar memories.  donald trump is not unique in this respect.  his roles as both a media personality and a prominent businessman given to frequent public pronouncements mean that what he says is often recorded, creating a permanent archive of comments that would remain private for most of us.  the fact that he knew his comments on the howard stern shows were being broadcast live and would be recorded for posterity demonstrates that he was unconcerned about how he would be perceived and that he believed at least some of his listeners would admire him for what he said on topics that are usually regarded as private.

while one can't support mr. trump or anyone like him for public office, it's hypocritical for most to castigate him for his remarks without admitting that we, too, have been guilty of similar lapses.  one hopes that trump has matured and changed his philosophy, though the evidence suggests otherwise, just as i hope that i am not the same person that made regrettable and inappropriate comments in my youth.  as one sage i respect commented, such remarks would not be so damnable if they were uttered by a youngster who lacked the maturity to know better, but the fact that trump said these things when he was in his mid-fifties leads one to conclude that he was past the age when his personality was still being formed and makes him culpable for them.

may we be forgiving without endorsing either words such as those spoken by mr. trump or the actions those words describe.  may we not try to remove a splinter from another's eye while there is a log in our own.  may we not forget that each of us has said and done things we regret before castigating another for past misdeeds.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In Halls of Wealth and Power

as my wife and i watched the first debate between donald trump and hillary clinton, we hoped that secretary clinton would do well and demonstrate her mastery of both domestic and foreign policy.  at the same time, we hoped the debate would allow a larger audience to see the donald trump that has attracted the angry, racist supporters that one sees in clips of his rallies.  both of those hopes were realized, but in the course of the debate, i began to feel compassion for mr. trump.

as he interrupted secretary clinton, lambasted rosie o'donnell, denied well-documented statements he has made in the past, and praised his own temperament while criticizing that of his opponent, i thought about how much he must suffer.  his need for self-aggrandizement and his insistence that he is always right, that he has never failed at anything made me certain that his inner life is filled with turmoil.  his mind must be filled with a constant stream of chatter and distractions that prevent any semblance of self-examination or contemplation of ideas beyond those which will increase his own wealth and importance.

he appears to be devoid of basic notions of compassion, as he refers to "miss piggy," "crooked hillary," "little mario," and "lying ted," ridicules a handicapped reporter, makes fun of secretary clinton's stumble caused by her bout with pneumonia, and holds everyone who criticizes or disagrees with him in contempt.  as evidence comes to light of his dealings with those he employs, his cheating of private contractors, his use of the income tax code to avoid paying taxes while at the same time criticizing those whose poverty excuses them from paying income tax, his apparent manipulation of the charity that bears his name for purposes that are anything but charitable, one sees a portrait of a man who has become the embodiment of the worst of exploitative capitalism, a man like the fictional "citizen kane" that one might expect to utter "rosebud," on his death bed.

beyond his unsuitability to be president of the united states, mr. trump is a reminder that wealth and power are not the sources of happiness, and in fact may interfere with the human capacity for happiness, compassion, and kindness.  in him and his most ardent supporters, one sees an anger that dehumanizes their opponents, thus justifying the ridicule and venom directed at all who disagree with or oppose them.

may we have compassion for those filled with anger and hatred.  may we oppose their policies and tactics without losing sight of their humanity and hoping that they will see the source of their own suffering.  may we remember that the lust for wealth and power is the great enemy of happiness.  shalom.