Tuesday, September 19, 2017

All the Planets in Their Turn Confirm the Tidings

one of the things that i feel more deeply now as i know that most of my life is behind me is the interconnectedness of all things.  from the tiniest particle of matter to the tallest mountain, everything is a part of the vast universe, and that universe enters into all its component parts.  i don't dream of heaven but of returning to the earth to nourish and replenish it.  i hope i'm not entombed in some watertight container that keeps what remains of my body from contact with the soil that surrounds it.  rather, i want my body to be burned and scattered so that i live on in the soil that nourishes life.

the self that i have so long protected is a creation of my mind.  the "real me" is not the collection of thoughts and stories that run through my brain.  we are all parts of something much larger, of that creative consciousness from which everything arose and to which everything returns, continually arising and returning.  if there is a God, all of creation is a part of that great mind which inhabits all that is.  nothing is ever lost, only changed, transformed, as our bodies are in death.  we have always existed, only in different forms, parts of one another and the universe.

to return in another body, to try to get life right the next time around would be lovely.  second chances are wonderful gifts.  but if that's not how things work, to become part of the earth, to nourish new life, is lovely, too.  may we each find our place in the grand scheme of things.  may we see our connection to everything else.  may we be part of the environment, not set apart from it.  may we honor the majesty of creation by loving ourselves and others as part of the mystery of life.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

For the Beauty of Each Hour

my wife has gone with her sister to visit her sister's daughter and her family, leaving me at home alone.  this morning as i ate breakfast, i left the door leading onto the deck open so i could look out across the back yard at the trees with leaves that are already turning.  we've had an unusually mild summer, with lots of rain in june and the first half of july and cool temperatures in august and on into september.  as a rule, the colors of fall are not in evidence until late october in this part of the country but this year the maples and dogwoods are already changing color and losing their leaves.  the other trees haven't begun to turn but they can't be far behind.

looking out at the beauty of nature, i began to think of many things:  the controversy between God being in control of every detail, like when we have an early fall, and what is called "divine Providence," the idea that some unseen hand set nature and motion and left it to takes its often random course; the question of what we used to call "global warming" and now call "climate change" being the result of human abuse of the atmosphere or part of a natural cycle that is inevitable regardless of human action; whether or not our mild summer, early fall, and the destructive storms during this hurricane season are caused by climate change or random events unrelated to the larger question of our changing atmosphere; of how so many along the gulf of mexico are suffering as a result of these storms while we in our area are relishing the cool weather we've enjoyed over the past several months.

i wonder why we are wasting so much time debating the cause of warming temperatures on our planet.  even the climate change deniers can't question the temperature measurements that demonstrate that the earth is steadily warming.  we know that continuation of this warming will cause worldwide catastrophes.  the sea levels will rise and low-lying islands will disappear.  coastal cities will flood.  arctic and antarctic ice will melt, destroying the ecosystems of humans, plants, and animals.  the permafrost is disappearing, releasing huge amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, causing large swaths of frozen tundra to become unstable, and releasing disease-causing organisms that had been frozen into the atmosphere and ground water.  regardless of the cause of this warming, there are steps we can take to slow it, if not halt it altogether.  why not take those steps?

of course, the main reason for our failure to address the impending crises is economic.  more money can be made in the short term if we ignore the earth's warming.  we can continue to pour greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we can continue to blow the tops off mountains to extract the coal to burn in our power plants, we can continue clearing land to grow crops and to make the riches of the rain forests more accessible, and some will get richer in the process.  more concentrated wealth in the hands of a small number of people won't be worth much to them if their beach homes are washed away by the rising tides and they and their children are infected with diseases that were dormant until the melting arctic ice released them.  wealth won't do much good if the ecosystems that produce the food we eat are destroyed by flooding and drought and verdant farmlands become vast deserts.

whether one is a "God-is-in-control" fundamentalist, a "divine-Providence" deist, or a "we-have-to-figure-it-out-on-our-own" atheist, there are clear choices to be made.  either we take steps now to save our planet or our race will not survive on this planet.  the science fiction writers who saw visions of humankind lasting into the distant future only by abandoning a once-green earth will not be writers of fiction, but prophets.  i'm grateful for the pleasant summer and early fall.  i'm sorry that so many people are suffering from the hurricanes that have destroyed their homes and livelihoods.  the future is more important than my transient emotions.  it's time to put aside futile debates and take action.

may we do all we can to stop the destruction of our planet.  may we contribute to causes that protect our environment.  may we elect leaders who have the courage to address the causes of our present situation.  may we stop denying science in order to enrich ourselves.  may we do what we can in our individual lives to mitigate the causes of climate change, and may we do so with courage and compassion.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

As in Our Daily Life We Struggle to Be Human

i can be very arrogant.  too often i witness the actions of others and think, "how wrong, how mistaken, this person is.  if only this person would do things as i would do them, life would be easier for them."  i create little stories in my mind of the way other people should behave and long for control of their lives, as if i have the answers while they proceed in ignorance.  this is something i work on constantly, and i hope i'm having some success in understanding myself better.

when these thoughts pop into my mind, i'm trying to be aware of what's happening.  i can't just tell myself that i'm mistaken, because this attitude of mental superiority is ingrained in my psyche.  instead, i have a little conversation with myself, telling the "me" in my head that i'm doing it again, recognizing that i might be right about the wrong-headedness of others while reminding myself that they are not mine to control.  it might just be that i am wrong and they are right, that i can only live my own life, that i have no claim over the lives of others and the actions they take.

since i've begun to remind myself of my lack of control over others, indeed of the time i waste thinking about how others should live their lives, i've discovered that i'm much happier and have better relationships with those who have to put up with me on a daily basis.  it is enough to try to make right decisions about my own life and how to live more skillfully without trying to manage how others live their lives.  this is not to say that i won't intervene if others are doing harm to themselves or someone else, but i have to recognize the possibility that they could be right and i could be wrong.  maybe their decision is the best one for them, but it won't hurt to have a discussion about other courses of action as long as i admit my inability to control what others do and deal with my arrogance in thinking that i have the answers to their problems.

may we be honest with ourselves, recognizing our shortcomings.  may we deal with them in compassionate ways.  may we not condemn ourselves for our failings, rather may we be mindful of how to live more skillfully through awareness of the stories we tell ourselves and how those stories affect our relationships with others.  may mindfulness bring us peace and greater respect for others.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Life Will Be in Your Keeping

this past week my wife and i celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary.  as we reflected on our lives together, we realized that, unlike most of the couples we know, we are partners in most everything we do from grocery shopping to decorating our home.  for instance, when the mail arrives, we usually sit down together and go through it.  each night before we go to sleep, we set goals for the next day and plan what we can accomplish together and what tasks we need to complete independent of one another to get everything done.  we've never had gender roles in our marriage.  i enjoy taking care of the yard, so that's something i do on my own for the most part, but when i'm down in my back or pressed for time, my wife will help out with the edging and string trimming while i'm on the mower.  she loves lots of bric-a-brac, and i'm very clumsy around these little tchotchkes, so she's the duster and i'm the vacuumer when it comes to cleaning the house.  we both share cooking duties.

it's been a very satisfying way to live our lives together, and i think we are closer than most couples that we know.  it's awkward when we go to another couple's home for a meal, because we feel forced to conform to traditional gender roles, with my wife helping out with the kitchen chores while i sit relaxing in another room with the male of the couple.  we prefer to have other people at our house, because we feel comfortable sharing kitchen duties and visiting with the other couple as we prepare to put the meal on the table.  when we travel with another couple, we invariably find the men sitting in the front seats with the women in the back.  by the end of the trip, my wife and i are glad to be home so that we're not separated by sitting in our "assigned" seats.

my wife and i are not only partners in marriage, we are each other's best friend.  i can't imagine having lived all these years without her, and i think she feels the same way.  we haven't given up our individual identities, but there is a shared identity that is the result of being partners/best friends/lovers for so much of our lives.  i count myself fortunate to have shared this wonderful life with someone who cares for me so much and hope that we have many more years of enjoying each other's company.

may you find someone to share your lives with.  may each of us relish the loves and friendships that enrich our lives.  may those of us who have a life-partner never grow apart from that person and may we always put the well-being of that partner on a par with our own well-being.  may we love deeply, richly, and well.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

While the Coward Stands Aside

what is left to say about the events in charlottesville?  the actions of the white nationalists protestors and that of one of their number in killing a counter-protestor and injuring others are reprehensible.  every person, including president trump, should condemn these nazis, racists, white supremacists, members of the alt-right, or whatever label should be applied to them.  such views must be strenuously opposed by anyone who believes in human dignity and equality.

in a democracy such as ours it is difficult to balance the right to free speech for even the most repugnant points of view with the danger of allowing hate to fester and multiply.  the alienated and hopeless of a society are attracted to those who provide them with a scapegoat to blame for their problems.  it is too easy to blame those who are different from us in some way or other for our problems rather than looking for real solutions and recognizing that we are all in this together.  we look to our leaders to develop solutions but what we are getting with the current regime is a frightening attitude of blaming the victim, sometimes in veiled terms and, in the case of mr. trump, overt bigotry.

the issue of racism in this country is a difficult one.  in the south, we've been taught to revere people such as robert e. lee.  for those of my generation, he has been proclaimed as a reluctant leader of the confederate forces, a man whose loyalty to his place of birth superseded loyalty to the nation as a whole, an anti-slavery advocate who would have freed the slaves he owned through marriage to his wife had the civil war not erupted.  we were taught that stonewall jackson and others like him were heroic defenders of their homes, rather than traitors to their country.  this myth of southern heritage runs deep in the confederate south, covering up the enslavement of a millions of people who toiled to enrich a land-owning aristocracy that lived in ease--an inhuman system that endured far too long in a country that proclaimed itself the bastion of freedom.

we look at jefferson, washington, madison, monroe, and other "founding fathers" who advocated noble ideals and served honorably in the early years of our republic, while participating in the "peculiar institution" even during their presidencies.  we honor them and at the same time abhor their complicity in the scourge of slavery.  many of us who have deep roots in the south have ancestors who owned slaves.  my great-great-great-grandfather and his son from whom i am descended were slave-owners.  are we to disavow them because of this immoral practice?  how do we live with our families' role in such evil?  does the depraved ownership of other human beings negate the good things our ancestors accomplished?

many more generations must pass before the corruption wrought by slavery can be ameliorated.  in the meantime, we must resist the calls of those who would divide us into black versus white, native-born versus immigrant, english-speakers versus spanish speakers, or any other artificial boundary marker.  we must be one people, one common humanity.  we must speak out against the hate-mongers and those who use hate for their own purposes of controlling others and enriching themselves.  people like donald trump have no place in our government, and the sooner he and his ilk are gone from positions of power the safer our republic will be.

may we never pretend the great cancer of slavery was excised at the end of the civil war.  may we work to eliminate the lingering effects of slavery.  may we not fall into the trap of blaming scapegoats for the problems that exist.  may we fight demagogues whenever and wherever they appear.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

All We Like Sheep

one of my favorite television shows is granchester on pbs's masterpiece mystery.  i find its exploration of the conflict between organized religion and the struggles of its characters to be much like the conflict many of us deal with in our daily lives.  the three characters i find most fascinating are sidney, leonard, and geordie.  sidney, the male lead, contends with the disconnect between his love for amanda, who is in the process of divorcing her husband, and his role as an anglican priest.  leonard, sidney's curate, is trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his priestly duties.   geordie, a police detective and sidney's friend and partner in solving the crimes that are the focus of each episode, is an athiest with a large family and is involved in an affair with a clerical worker in his police station.

sidney finds it increasingly difficult to continue his clerical responsibilities.  he feels that he is asking of his parishioners a perfection that he himself is unable to fulfill and condemning himself and those who worship in his church to lives filled with guilt and unhappiness.  on the other hand, he understands that, as a priest, he can show the compassion that he believes the church ought to embody to his congregants in ways that he could not if he abandons the priesthood to marry amanda.

leonard tries to follow the archdeacon's advice and becomes engaged to a woman he has befriended in the period when she is caring for her dying father.  he feels a deep love for her and wants to deny his true sexuality.  leonard realizes that sidney is right in advising leonard that the engagement and approaching marriage would be unfair to both leonard and the woman he plans to marry, and she she senses that he is filled with conflict about his sexuality and breaks off the engagement.  in his anguish over the end of his engagement, leonard turns to the local photographer with whom he had a prior relationship.

in one scene that i love geordie talks with sidney about his love for his wife and children as he ends the affair with his fellow employee.  geordie is filled with remorse and longs to return to his family.  sidney assures his that god forgives him, but geordie will have none of the talk about god.  geordie is concerned with the harm his affair has done to all those he loves, including sidney, realizing that he has put sidney in a difficult position as sidney maintains their friendship while showing compassion for geordie's wife and children.  at the end of the scene, when geordie has repeatedly said that god's forgiveness is meaningless in the face of his unbelief, sidney says, "then i forgive you."  geordie's stoic facade breaks down as he bursts into tears and lays his head on sidney's shoulder.

in the face of the trials each of these characters face is the embodiment of the church in the persons of the archdeacon, who tries to maintain priestly discipline in sidney and leonard, and their housekeeper, mrs. maguire, who struggles with her own strict orthodoxy and her longing to express herself as a person and as a woman locked into a conventional life.  this is the struggle many of us face:  we see an institutional church that places adherence to rules that are inhuman above compassion for the hurts that are part and parcel of being human.  in the face of everything we've learned about sexuality, we see a church that treats those who cannot conform to traditional male/female gender rules as sinners who must be shamed into conformity.  we see a church that uses guilt to beat its adherents into submission.  we see a church that is more concerned with maintaining its traditions, buildings, and status than it is with suffering.  we see a church that denies the very message that jesus preached to his early followers.

may we, like sidney, see that showing compassion for those who are in pain is more important than maintaining orthodoxy.  may we accept our humanity and that of those around us and stop seeking a perfection that cannot be attained.  may we stop judging and start loving.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

To Love, To Laugh, To Cry

yesterday some dear friends celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  i suppose "celebrated" is the wrong word, because they spent much of the day cleaning out their garage and the rest of it moving furniture.  it was also the husband's 74th birthday.  my wife and i helped them with the furniture, and they in turn helped us swap the positions of a couple of large pieces of furniture in our house.  they exchanged gifts with one another and received cards from several family members, as well as getting a congratulatory call from a relative.  my wife and i were amazed, and a little troubled, that such significant milestones in their lives were observed with so little fanfare, but this was their wish, apparently.  the husband did comment once that this was some way to recognize their anniversary and his birthday, but the wife had the attitude that "it is what it is."

as i reflect on the non-event that was their anniversary/birthday, perhaps this is the way it should be: a perfunctory recognition of events many years ago and then carrying on with life as it comes to us.  we are cooking dinner for them and two of their family members, and that's the most party they'll get.  it is part of our nature to create special days commemorating significant events in our own lives and those of others--birthdays, anniversaries, national and religious holidays--and i suppose we should call to mind these events and honor their significance.  we crave such celebrations and invent occasions like mother's and father's days, chocolate day, hot dog day, secretary's day, bosses' day, and the like to satisfy our desire for things to celebrate.

 maybe just celebrating life each day ought to be enough.  every day is a day to be honored and recognized.  the continuing ability to awaken, to take the next breath, to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, the joy of just being alive is a cause for celebration, one that we often fail to observe.  so today is the first "joyful living day" that i'll try to remember each day that i continue in this life.  after all, at a few months past seventy, there are fewer days left to embrace the joy of life, and i need to celebrate every one i'm allowed.

 may each of us rejoice in life, in the mundane and the extraordinary, in the sickness and the health, in the noisy and the quiet, in every facet of life.  may we be grateful for life's trials that make us stronger and help us to deal with adversity, just as we are grateful for those moments that are free of challenge.  may we see that every day is a gift, that each day we awaken we are fortunate to be alive.  may we be filled with joy.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Then Shall All Shackles Fall

the other day, i was sitting at our kitchen table visiting with my wife and another couple.  i was talking about my difficulties in dealing with the social security administration to have our new address change entered into the ssa system and having our ssa checks depositied into our new bank account.  the husband of the other couple compared this to the problem they had a couple of years ago when the state revenue department questioned their tax return.  "every time we called we got some black person--and i'm not being racist--who could not understand our explanation of our tax return" he said.  "we didn't get it resolved until we finally reached a white person who knew what we were talking about."  i bit my tongue as i listened to his comments about black versus white people, despite his disclaimer, so that i wouldn't lash out in anger.

as i thought about that conversation, i realized how often i am guilty of associating "otherness" with incompetence, as if having a skin color or some other physical attribute that is different has anything to do with competence.  i am just as guilty of such prejudice as my friend.  i remember how, after the 9-11 attacks, i was quick to condemn muslims in general because i didn't hear news reports of vociferous condemnations of these acts of terrorism by prominent muslim leaders.  in a conversation about this lack of outcry immediately following the attacks, a friend reminded me that these were acts committed for political reasons rather than religious ones, comparing these terrorists to the attacks of ira terrorists on the united kingdom.  he pointed out that "you would not have condemned christian leaders for failing to condemn those terrorists because the terrorists were christians; you would have recognized that these were political acts, not religious ones."

after this conversation regarding the 9-11 conspirators, i saw that i was ready to attack an entire religion because of the acts of a few misguided adherents of that faith.  muslims in general were no more guilty in that instance than were roman catholics in general because of the terrorist acts of some ira fanatics.  why is that we have a propensity for lumping people in groups because of their ethnicity, religion, or some other common trait or belief?  there is no muslim population, no gay population, no christian population, no black, white, red, or yellow population; there are only people, all different, all individual.  when we think and act as mobs who are quick to attack others because they are part of some vague "other," we forget that we are all so much more alike that we are different.  we all are pursuing happiness for ourselves and those we love, we all crave the necessities of life, we all struggle to find the right path, we are one human race.

may we recognize the log in our own eye rather than seeking to remove the speck in the eye of another.  may we see ourselves and others for who we are: fellow creatures stumbling along the path.  may we look beyond physical, religious, or lifestyle traits to see the person like ourselves.  may we love without condition.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

To Love Them As We Find Them

a few days ago we went to a concert in a nearby town.  the performers were excellent, and i was impressed by their talent and skill.  in the course of the concert, they performed a few sacred pieces with obvious sincerity.  they were not a "wear-your-religion-on-your-sleeve" sort of group, but from the sacred pieces they performed and a couple of comments during the concert, one could tell that their religious beliefs were central to their lives.

i caught myself thinking smugly that these performers were gullible to be taken in by orthodox fundamentalist christianity.  "how could musicians who were so classically well-trained espouse such nonsense," i thought, as the concert proceeded to its conclusion.  later in the evening, when i had some time to reflect on my reaction, i was ashamed of myself.  who was i to belittle, even mentally, anyone else's beliefs?  though i don't agree with their implied beliefs, there is no reason for me to look down my nose at others because they believe differently from me or because they are not shy about communicating their faith to others.

i've rejected much of christian orthodoxy and think that christian fundamentalism is a harmful influence on our country, but there are many good, bright people who espouse orthodox, fundamentalist christianity.  i have no monopoly on the truth, and i have to right to condemn others unless the practice of their beliefs results in harm to me or anyone else who disagrees with them.  the performers i heard didn't rail against any political or ethnic group; they didn't belittle anyone else's lifestyle.  they expressed their faith sincerely without any attempt to convert members of the audience and without ridiculing anyone.  from their public persona, it appeared that they were the sorts of folks with whom one could have a polite discussion of opposing positions, rather than the rabid, angry fundamentalists that are ready to send those who disagree with them to eternal damnation.

may i not be so ready to put down those who hold beliefs that i've come to view as superstitions.  may i look beyond someone else's faith that seems naive to me and see the person who is often kind, gentle, and generous.  may i love those who disagree with me.  may i abandon smugness and feelings of superiority towards those who embrace beliefs that i see as unreasonable.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Your Dreams Are on Their Way

i realized as i awakened from last night's sleep that our lives are settling into familiar patterns.  our house is more in order.  my wife worked hard last week to straighten up two small rooms that have been piled high with boxes and small items that we hadn't figured out a place for, and now they are lovely rooms that we're not embarrassed to have guests go in.  there are still lots of unfinished tasks, but the house looks nice and we are no longer reminded of how much is left to do as we look around it.  that garage is still a mess, but we have storage cabinets coming that will allow us to unpack the remaining boxes and store their contents in good order.

we're having our family who live here over for lunch, and my wife has cooked a great meal from scratch for us to enjoy.  this is the second "from scratch" meal she has cooked in our new kitchen; last week the two of us had a meal of delicious vegetables and pork chops.  i've worked out a system for getting the yard mowed and the weed-eating done that doesn't leave me completely exhausted after it's all done.  so life begins to feel more normal.  we've even planned a trip that will last almost two weeks for late october and early november, our first pleasure trip since we put our former home on the market in late january.

the long journey from the home we lived in for thirty years to a new home several hours away and 250 miles north now feels like it has come to an end.  our fatigue at the end of each day is not so hard to bear because an end to the days of unpacking, sorting, and placing the contents of several hundred boxes is in sight.  what felt like someone else's home that we had taken over begins to feel like it belongs to us, as we look around at familiar objects arranged the way we like them.  the second house guests from our old locale will arrive later today for a couple of nights' visit, and it's good to be welcoming old friends into what has become "our" home.

this transition has taken a lot out of us, but as i look back on the difficulties i am convinced that it was worth it.  being able to feel at peace here and to look off the deck at the beauty of nature--the mountains, the forest, the sky--makes the move worth it.  breaking free of our old routine and establishing a new "normal" here has reinvigorated us, despite the aches and pains.  as i think back on what we've been through and the journey to where we are now, i am inspired to examine my interior life and question the old routines i've brought here with me.  perhaps it's time for a re-examination of those stale patterns and the development of new ones to animate my heart, mind, and spirit.  more about that later!

may each of us find ways to renew our lives, to cast off old ways that no longer serve us well.  may we see that the pains that are a part of big changes are worth it in the end.  may we be grateful for the strength to carry on despite the pain, and may we embrace the pain as a necessary part of realizing our goals and dreams.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

All That Have Life and Breath

as we've worked through the chores of moving--packing, loading, unloading, unpacking, lifting, tugging, reaching--i've been reminded of the process of my own aging.  i hurt, from the bottoms of my feet to my facial muscles i hurt.  the aches and pains that used to be relieved by a couple of good nights' sleep don't go away so easily.  those aches and pains remind me that the end of my life is not so many years away, that most of my life is in the past.

i think of the frailty of life and how life can be snatched from us when we least expect it.  a young woman we knew in our former town was found dead recently in the home of a friend for whom she was house-sitting.  she was expecting a baby, and both she and the child she was carrying died instantly when she fainted and hit her head, snapping her neck.  she had been filled with excitement about life, as she looked forward to the birth of her child and had just moved into a new, larger apartment so she would have room for a nursery.  now she's gone, and the life she had imagined with her baby was taken from her in a flash.

here i sit at age seventy, having lived a full, rich life.  i've seen so many things as i've traveled all over the world.  i have two wonderful children.  i've spent almost 49 years with a wife that i adore.  i've had a rewarding career.  though there's much i want to do before my life ends, if it ended right now, i would die happy and fulfilled.  every day we wake up is a gift that needs to be appreciated.

may we relish each moment we have breath.  may our lives be filled with gratitude for the amazing gift of lives filled with rich experiences.  may we pay attention to the small joys that are ours throughout each day.  may we live each day as if it were our last.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Our People Drift and Die

i have been so focused on the difficulties of our move that i have largely ignored what is happening in our government and the difficult issues that confront us.  now that my wife and i can begin to see an end to the unpacking and organizing of our belongings in our new home and as we celebrate the anniversary of our country's beginning, i'm becoming engaged with politics and governance once more.  two things have captured my attention.

the first is our president's continuing attacks on the press and particularly his latest tweets on msnbc commentators joe scarborough and mika brzezinski.  mr. trump's cruel remarks about brzezinski's appearance and intelligence, his belittling of their show, and the name-calling ("crazy joe," "crazy mika," "psycho joe") are unworthy of the office of president.  his pattern of attacking those who criticize his policies in the most personal, and often untruthful, ways is contemptible.  moreover, they are dangerous to our democracy.  mr. trump encourages those who choose reportage that reinforces their own preconceived beliefs and who refuse to examine facts that are presented to them in an unbiased way, labeling any news that contradicts their point of view as "fake."  without a free and vigorous press, our democratic values cannot survive.

the second issue that is worrying to me is the ongoing push to repeal the affordable care act and replace it with legislation that will be harmful to millions of people, including those with serious medical conditions, the poor, children, and the elderly.  the callous posturing of the leaders of the republican majority in congress who have relentlessly portrayed the aca as a complete failure and their indifference to the suffering their replacement legislation will cause demonstrates their lack of concern for ordinary americans and their desire to further enrich those at the top of the economic ladder at the expense of everyone else.  we are fortunate to have several republicans who have opposed their efforts and refused to go along with the legislation put forward in the senate.  now mr. trump and some republican legislators have suggested that the aca be repealed with no replacement adopted in its place, a move that would throw health care in the usa into a panic that will cause further suffering.  the republicans have painted themselves into a corner with their constant campaigning to repeal "obamacare" and are incapable of taking the more reasonable and compassionate route of tweaking the existing legislation to make it work better.

one can only hope that those who voted for the present regime will regret what they have done and take a different course in the mid-term elections and the next presidential election.  may we resist those in power who threaten our institutions like the free press.  may we vote for a more compassionate and reasonable government when we have the opportunity.  may we condemn rhetoric from those in power that belittles and insults those who question their policies and actions.  may we return to civil discourse that respects opposing points of view.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Still There Is Hope When the Doors Are Closed

this morning as i sit to write, my body aches from lifting many, many boxes and moving many, many pieces of furniture.  i have bruises and cuts on my legs, arms, and torso.  around me in the kitchen bowls and dishes are piled on the counter tops.  but slowly, things are being put in their proper places.  the stacks of boxes in the garage are getting smaller.  two of the three cats have adjusted well to their new home and are now residing on the back deck instead of in the garage--we're not certain when the last cat will make the transition.  the three bedrooms are in good order, and we can sit in the den without boxes surrounding us.

it's amazing how things are beginning to shape up.  for a while, we were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of unpacking thirty years worth of accumulated precious things, but, as we've bitten off little pieces each day, the end of what seemed impossible is now in sight.  we can even begin to think of getting outside and working to bring the overgrown shrubbery back under control and ridding the beds of the vines and other weeds that have begun to take over.

life is full of seemingly impossible goals that can only be accomplished by hacking away at the work to realize them steadily, a bit at a time.  we can't make world hunger disappear but we can help feed a few of the hungry in our own communities.  we can't eliminate poverty everywhere all at once, but we can contribute to organizations that are enabling poor families to support themselves.  we can't house all the displaced people in the world, but we can promote efforts to open our country, state, and town to refugees of war, famine, and persecution.  if each of us does a little, a lot will be accomplished.  we must not give up because the needs are so great.

may we do our part each day to make life better for others.  may we not be so absorbed in our own lives that we forget that others are suffering just as we are.  in loving ourselves, may we also share love with others.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills

from the windows of the kitchen in our new home where i sit each morning for my daily meditation i can see the mountains in the distance.  each day they have a different appearance.  one morning the clouds were dark and flowed over them rapidly in our direction; another morning the pink glow of the new day peeked over them, bathing them in a beautiful light.  this morning the peaks of some have disappeared in a mist, while others are barely visible.  i am amazed that each day a new picture presents itself from the kitchen windows.  the mountains are unchanged, yet their appearance is always different.  how fortunate i and all others who look in the direction of the mountains are!

when i consider the beauty that presents itself each day, i am enveloped in a great peace.  the mystery of nature's wonders is the deepest sort of religious experience.  in the face of such an experience, all things seem possible:  the elimination of poverty, hunger, and homelessness, the cessation of our inhumanity to one another, the end of prejudices and the persecution that flows from them, protection of our planet from the ravages of our greedy ill treatment.  one wonders how our race can allow so many evils to continue when it is within our power to change.  what is our motivation to harm others and the planet on which we live?

it seems to me that we are presented with two opposing visions of our purpose here.  one vision promotes competition between us to control more and more, a constant striving to enrich oneself at the expense of others.  the other sees us all in the same boat, needing to paddle in the same direction without any one of us striving for control of another's paddle as we all move in the same direction in a spirit of mutual cooperation.  we have the ability to end the suffering caused by hatred, war, greed, and pride, to stop craving that which we do not need and to stop clinging to that which is not necessary for our existence.  will we give up the quest for power and control and work together to end as much suffering as we can, or will we continue along the path that pits us against one another?

for me, the mountains are a silent testimony to the right course of action.  the mountains make no deals, they do not strive for more and more.  they simply are, gracing us with beauty that is fresh each morning.  we can be like the mountains, content to be, new each moment yet somehow always the same.  we can let go of our clinging and craving and, in so doing, allow suffering to dissipate for ourselves and others.

may we see our common humanity.  may we let go of those things which cause suffering for ourselves and for others.  may the struggle for power and control cease, as we embrace loving kindness and compassion.  shalom.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rest Comes Sure and Soon

we continue to unpack boxes and spend much of our time looking for things we've unpacked and put away in places that are unfamiliar to us.  yesterday, though, we spent the day traveling to, attending, and returning from my uncle's funeral.  he was the last in our family of the generation that preceded ours.   our parents and all their siblings are now gone.  my dad's brother celebrated his 100th birthday last february and was in good health then.  in may he came down with the flu, then with pneumonia, and he didn't have the strength to recover.  his passing marked the end of an era, making my generation the elders of the family.

his funeral was held in the cemetery where he is to be buried beside his wife and son.  as we set in the covered pavilion open on all sides to the beautiful trees in the cemetery, i thought about how fitting the site was.  my uncle loved the outdoors.  he had carried on the family tradition of operating a sawmill and was an expert on every kind of tree that is native to this part of the country.  the views of the leaves rustling in the gentle breeze reminded me of how he had lived his life, as had my dad, his father, and his father's father and generations before them.

as the minister spoke the usual words of comfort, assuring those present that my uncle was now reunited with loved ones that have gone before, i wondered whether those words are true.  i'm not content to take scattered passages of the bible about life after death and resurrection as literal truth.  it doesn't worry me that i may not spend eternity with my parents and grandparents wandering around a city with gold-paved streets after passing through gates made of pearl.  i can't accept that anyone can speak with authority about what happens after our bodies take their last breaths.  i'm content to wait for whatever may happen.

i want to believe that there is something for us after this life is over, but i'm more concerned with what happens now.  what's important is how i live my life in the present; the future can take care of itself.  i hope that i get a chance to improve on the failings of my present life, but my greatest hope is that i will live a good life in the here and now, a life filled with loving-kindness and compassion.  i hope that each day i will live more skillfully than i did the day before.  i hope that when i pass i will leave a legacy of having made life better for those my life touched.  i hope that i will live on in the memories of others and that those memories will be good ones, just as my memories of my uncle are.

may each of us live fully in the present, unconcerned about what happens after this life is over.  may our hearts be open to all of life's experiences and may we rejoice in the gift of each breath we take.  may our troubles be transient, tinged with the joy of living mindfully.  may we love and be loved.  shalom.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My Song Is Love Unknown

during the past several days, we have been in the process of moving and getting settled in our new home.  now that most of the furniture is in place, the task of unpacking and finding room for everything that we spent many weeks packing up is well underway.  last night, it dawned on me that i had not posted anything in my blog last tuesday, and this catch-up post will be short.  i have been able to revive my meditation practice but other parts of my daily routine will have to wait until more order emerges from the chaos of boxes and packing materials.

as i type, one of the three "outdoor" cats that we moved with us is rubbing his small head against mine.  we rescued him after a friend found him abandoned in the park near our former home and was unsuccessful in adopting him.  he lived in a large bed of bushes and flowers at the park entrance but could be coaxed out by bowls of food and water.  it took several attempts before we persuaded him to move into our yard.  now he trusts us and is the most loving cat anyone could wish to share life with.  somehow he injured his neck in the storage room that was to be his temporary shelter, along with our other two cats until they were acclimated to a new place, and he has moved into the master bedroom while he recuperates.  his transformation from an alienated, wary creature to a loving pet and friend is gratifying and reminds me that all of us are alone in this vast and often difficult world until we are adopted by others who share their love with us.

may each of us find a family that loves us without condition and may we return that love.  may we appreciate that even the most unlovely among us deserves love.  may we embrace the transformative power of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Walls of Gold Entomb Us

the presidency of donald trump continues to amaze and trouble.  the world watched as he bragged about the sale of billions of dollars worth of armaments to one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, describing the sale as a boon to american workers, as he shoved aside the prime minister of another country at a photo-op, and as he alienated our closest allies.  all the while, the revelations about his campaign's connections to the russian government continue to play out here in the usa.  his proposed budget guts the social safety net for the poor and for family farmers, crippling environmental protections.  the good news on the budget front is that leading republicans said that the this budget was "dead on arrival."

it is difficult to have compassion for bullies like mr. trump.  his continuing rallies where he reinforces the prejudices of his base are too reminiscent of rallies of another bully who was masterful in exploiting the longing for a scapegoat among the german people.  one can only hope that the country will wake up to the danger in which this presidency places it and that leaders of his own party will disavow the man who now heads their party.  the 2018 mid-term elections should signal whether the american people are ready to turn away from the path on which mr. trump's election placed us.

it is apparent that mr. trump is out of touch with the lives of ordinary people and that he has no experience with the difficulties faced by those at the bottom of the economic ladder.  he sees the world as being made up of "winners" and "losers," the losers being those who haven't managed to enrich themselves at the expense of others and the winners those who have.  his rhetoric is close to the randian view of producers struggling against looters, moochers, and parasites.  during his campaign, he promised to leave social security, medicare, and medicaid untouched, yet his first budget contains drastic reductions in social security disability and medicaid funding.  those who are his strongest supporters are among those who will be most harmed by the implementation of his policies, but the effect of those policies has not hit home yet.  pronouncements at his rallies and those of his surrogates like mr. pence distract the loyal followers by reinforcing his base's view of an "us versus them" society.

may we find ways during this 100th anniversary year of the birth of john f kennedy to return to the ideals of his presidency.  may we who are citizens of the usa renew the spirit of mutuality that embodies our highest ideals.  may our government serve all its people, not just those in power and those at the top of the economic ladder.  may we see that, as citizens of the world, we are more alike than we are different and that we have a responsibility to care for one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Charm from the Skies Seems to Hallow Us There

our house is full of boxes, even after we've hauled almost 500 boxes of various sizes to storage in our new home town.  all the decorative items that made our house "ours" are packed away, as are the souvenirs of trips we've made and things that remind us of our life as a family here.  we can begin to picture another family living here, and our minds have shifted from thinking of this as "our" house to realizing that soon someone else will occupy it.

despite the depersonalization of this home, it is still warm and protective, a safe haven, as it has been for us for the past thirty years.  i recall our first look at our home when the realtor unlocked the door for us.  when we walked through that front door, we knew immediately that this was "our" home.  everything about it welcomed us, and we knew our search for a house was over.

as i sit thinking about this wonderful piece of architecture, my mind goes to the new owners and what i would say to them about how much this home has meant to us.  it has embraced us, it has made us better people.  the architect and the first owners who worked together more than fifty years ago to create this place must have "gotten" each other, and the spirit of their collaboration lives on in the home they created.  we are the third family that has called this "home", and in a couple of weeks a fourth family will move in.

i hope that the new family will find the joy in living here that my wife and i and our two children found.  i hope that they will sense the warmth that their new home generates.  i hope that they will look forward to coming into this home at the end of each work day and feel that it their refuge, as it has been ours.  we will be sad to leave, but we know that it is time for others to enjoy this house as we have.  we looked at many, many houses in our new home town before we found one that spoke to us as this house spoke to us thirty years ago when we walked through the door that first time.  we are excited to find such a home there, and, as with this home, we knew as soon as we walked in that it was the right home for us.

may everyone find such a place to live, a home that embraces them and comforts them, a home that protects them--not only from the elements but also from the vagaries of life in this world.  may those who have no place to live find shelter and peace.  may we all work until there are no homeless, no hungry, no poor, until all people find a place to belong.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

our planning for our big move continues, and a myriad of details swirl in my mind.  there's so much to be done when undertaking such a move--bank accounts to be closed and new ones opened, addresses changed, business affairs put in order, all the arrangements for movers, closing out of professional and personal relationships--the list goes on and on.  on top of all this is the packing, the acquisition of boxes to pack in, the sorting and thinning out of possessions.  in addition, my wife is suffering from some health problems that we have to attend to, many of them brought on by the stress of the move.

amidst all the chaos, i began to feel overwhelmed a few days ago.  i am normally a very optimistic person, but some of our relatives who have been here helping us with our packing are very negative.  their pessimism dragged my wife down, and in my efforts to keep her spirits up, i suddenly felt completely exhausted, drained of the energy it takes to move forward with the joy and excitement which is my usual persona.  after our relatives left, my wife suffered a severe episode with her health issues, and i went to bed that night filled with anxiety.  the next morning, i sat for my daily meditation, focusing on my feelings of helplessness in the face of all the chores and decisions ahead of us.  as i sat, i explored my emotions and how my angst expressed itself in my body.  at the end of my meditation, i realized that all this was a passing phenomenon, one that i could deal with and come out happy and whole at the end of it.

i was able to admit that i'm no super-person who never experiences worry or depression, but i am a resilient person who can deal with these temporary problems.  i can be strong for my wife when she needs me, and i can see beyond the negativity of those well-intentioned folks who tend to see only the worst possibilities as they attempt to help us.  as i honestly owned my feelings, i was able to accept them as natural under the circumstances, that as the circumstances change my feelings will change, too.  my feelings are not me, but a transient reaction to transient events.

may we each live into our inadequacies and shortcomings, accepting our imperfections, while opening ourselves to the deep strength within us.  may we not confuse the stories we tell ourselves with the reality of who we are.  may profound joy and peace undergird us as we deal with the vagaries of our daily lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Love to the Loveless Shown

my wife and i are busily packing for our move.  we've begun the process of buying a home in our new town and must be out of our present home in about three weeks.  one of my wife's sisters who lives in the town where we're moving came to help us pack, and her two other sisters decided to drive up to help us.  one of them is controlling and is very free with her advice as to how we should live our lives.  she had not been in the door thirty minutes before i had to stifle the temptation to tell her to mind her own business three times.

when this sister is around, my wife is very ill at ease.  i soon realized that her fear that i would blurt out something in anger at her sister's meddling and my wife's  desire to do the same was causing my wife a great deal of stress, and i resolved to shrug off her sister's unwelcome advice so as not to compound my wife's trepidations.  we made it through the evening without any angry outbursts, and the tension headache my wife was suffering from had subsided by bedtime.  as i thought about the grief this sister causes those around her, i tried to think about how she must be suffering.  she pushes all those who want to be close to her away by her insistence that all things be done her way, and she has no friends.  her only daughter cannot get along with her, and her grandchildren spend time with her reluctantly.  in her loneliness she reaches out in the one way she believes that she can, by sharing her life experience to tell others how to conduct their lives, and in the process further alienates those she is trying to help.

over the course of that first evening with her, i resolved to look for ways to have compassion for her and to recognize that her bossiness was a symptom of her deep suffering.  it costs me nothing to refrain from angry rebuttals to her unwanted advice and benefits all those around us when i hold my tongue.  today, my goal is to look for all the good in her that i can and to remember the source of her need to help in the only way she is able, unwelcome though that help may be.  i hope to remember that she didn't have to travel 250 miles to help us pack and go another 250 miles to deliver as many of our belongings as her vehicle can carry to our new home.  i hope to respond in gratitude for her generous help and to shrug off the comments that so often cause me to become angry.

may each of us find ways to show compassion for those who cause us suffering.  may we be grateful for the opportunity to live more skillfully that they afford us.  may we love the most unlovely.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Give Thee Back the Life I Owe

last week i wrote about a situation in our church that was causing my wife and me a great deal of anxiety.  that situation is moving toward a resolution, not the one we had hoped for, but a resolution nevertheless.  the aggrieved staff member is actively seeking employment elsewhere and, in the meantime, is making the best of a difficult working environment.  he hopes to stay on until he can complete some projects that will benefit the children and youth with whom he has been working, but it may be that a new job will present itself before he can do that.  i fear that his departure will make an already bad state of affairs in our church worse, but when he leaves he and we will know that we have done all we could to minimize the damage that has been done by other parties.

our moving plans continue, and their pace is picking up.  our children were home this weekend to help us load a rental truck with all the boxes we have packed so that we can move them to our new hometown where we will store them in a rental space until we can find a new home.  while we're there, we hope to make an offer on a house so that we can complete our move by the end of next month when the buyers of our current home will take possession.  we are anxious about not having a home to move into and hope that anxiety will be ended by the time we return from our trip to deliver our packed boxes.  if that is the case, we can move forward with confidence in packing up the last remaining odds and ends in our present home, a house that has been our refuge for the past thirty years.

we realized as our son and daughter worked with us to move what seemed to be hundreds of boxes, though the number was certainly not as large as it felt to us from our aching muscles at the end of the day, how fortunate we are to have two wonderful children.  as my wife and i talked last night just before falling asleep, we marveled at their willingness to work so intensely without complaint and at their comments that this was the least they could do for us after all we had done for them.  they worked together so well, treating each other with great kindness, and we are so delighted that, though they are separated in age by ten years, they have such great affection for one another.  to have such children is a great blessing to us in our advancing years.

amidst all the changes that are coming in our lives, the great constant is the abiding love that we feel for one another and the close family ties that bind us, our children, and their spouses together.  as we look back on our lives and all the difficulties we've faced, it is gratifying that kindness and compassion for one another overrides any differences and obstacles, that we are united in love.

may each of us find such connections to other human beings.  may we recognize the power of love to heal the wounds and suffering of life.  may the love we feel for those close to us expand to include all that we come in contact with, and may we see each sentient being as our kin.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By Schisms Rent Asunder

some big changes are coming in our lives, my wife and me.  our home has been on the market for about three months, and this weekend it sold.  we are planning to move about 250  miles north of here to where we have relatives that we enjoy spending time with in an area that has great scenic beauty, an area where we've always wanted to live.  all of our close family here is gone, either through death or from moving away, and we want to enjoy our last years near relatives we hold dear.

during the past week, we have been preoccupied with a difficulty in our church which has taken precedence over our big move.  the relationship between our minister and another member of the staff has taken an ugly turn, and the head of the personnel committee of the church has taken the minister's side in this very personal conflict.  the staff member under attack is a kind and gracious person who is much beloved in our church, and the situation has become critical enough that a large number of us have felt that we must intervene on his behalf.  Trying to find a solution to this conflict and protecting his job has been at the center of our lives even with the upcoming major change in our lives.

now we are fearful that the divisions created by this crisis will be the death knell of our congregation.  this morning i am using this post as a meditation on what steps we might take to help heal those divisions before i go later in the week to meet with the minister to make some parting suggestions before we leave for our new home.  there have been an increasing number of participants in our church who oppose the minister, and she seems to have been unwilling to reach out to those who oppose her.  the first thing that must happen is that the hurts and acrimony caused by her attempt to remove another member of the staff have to be put aside.  she and the church secretary who has become her ally against him must go to him and ask his forgiveness and his assistance in leading a "save our church" campaign, honestly admitting that past differences have increased already-deep divisions in the church.

the lay leaders of our church must adopt policies that allow for greater input from the members-at-large in the decision making process, holding their monthly business meetings in a location that is large enough to accommodate more people and encouraging members to come to those meetings with their suggestions and comments, even if the meetings last longer and conducting business is slowed down.

a committee that is not made up of the official leadership must be formed, though one respected elected leader should chair it, someone who is viewed as being on neither side of the pro- and anti-minister factions.  this committee needs to focus on reaching out to those who have stopped attending and stopped contributing to the church.  one of the few ways our members can express their disapproval of the actions of the minister and leadership is to withhold their presence and their financial support, since most matters are decided by the elected leadership, rather than by the whole membership of the church voting on important decisions beyond the election of the leadership.  in reaching out to the congregation, the members of the committee need to listen rather than trying to convince the disaffected that they are wrong.

the church leaders need to look for ways to reduce the church's expenses without placing essential programs in jeopardy, and they must ask the congregation for suggestions as to how to do this.  we are on track to run a deficit of $100,000 or more for the year, and the depletion of the church's reserves is on everyone's minds, regardless of which faction one is a part of.  knowing that the church is undertaking a major belt-tightening program would go a long way towards convincing those who now withholding their contributions that the leaders are serious in addressing the problems we face, particularly if more of the general membership is given the opportunity of make suggestions.

more than anything else, the leaders and staff, particularly the minister, must begin to listen in a non-judgmental way.  much of the anti-minister sentiment has been created because people don't feel that their objections are heard or their view valued.  there is a sense, largely justified, that those in power have run roughshod over those who disagree with them because they could, so those who haven't been heard feel that they've been ignored and marginalized.  in a recent congregational meeting intended to convey information about the minister's contract with the church, one member rose to ask questions about the finances of the church and was told that, since her concerns were not pertinent to the purpose of the meeting, she was out of order.  she hasn't been back to church, and who can blame her.

the chief process for input from the congregation to the leadership is a system of advisory committees that deal with various aspects of the church's life.  the leaders need to make certain that those committee's are made up of congregants who are not elected leaders, with an elected leader chairing each committee to be an intermediary between the committee and the leadership.  as the committees are now constituted, one particular elected leader serves on four of the seven church committees, chairing one of them, and is also the church's treasurer.  this is too much power for one person to have.  the personnel committee is made up of four of the elected leaders, with only two members-at-large serving on the committee, leaving little opportunity for congregational input or a diversity of views.  these practices reinforce the sense of being ignored that many who are not in positions of leadership feel.

it pains my wife and me to think that we will soon leave this church where we have found so many friends, so many loving people who, like us, feel adrift in the midst of the controversy.  some have stopped attending because it is upsetting to them to walk into the strife every time they go through the church doors.  we understand their feelings and often have to force ourselves to be present, knowing that this undercurrent of animosity runs through the church.  we have little to lose by offering our suggestions, in view of our imminent departure, even if those suggestions are unwelcome.  we can then leave knowing that we have done what we could to end the church's divisions and move it toward healing.

may we learn to listen, to seek common ground, and to demonstrate genuine concern for the well-being of others.  may we not view questions about our decisions as attacks on them.  may we seek to step into the other person's shoes and look at things from another's point-of-view.  may we see differences of opinion as opportunities to learn rather than as threats.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

To Be a Friend

Last week i wrote about the "flame of care," and this week i find that the demands of my life are keeping me from posting this morning as i usually do.  i hope to find time to complete a post for my blog later in the week, but the needs of a friend for support are more important right now.  i hope those who read my blog regularly will check back in a few days and find that i've found the time to post.  if that time doesn't present itself, i plan to get back on schedule next tuesday.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Who Will Light the Flame of Care?

there are days when the responsibilities of life seem to close around us and weigh us down.  i had such a day yesterday, and i am hoping that this day won't be a continuation of it.  my wife and i have decided to make a move so that we can be near some of our family--all of the family that we moved to the place where we now live some thirty years ago are gone, either having died or moved away.  after so long in one place, living in the same wonderful house that has brought us so much joy and that is filled with wonderful memories, it is hard to leave.  yet we know that we will enjoy being near loved ones that we've longed to spend more time with, and we are excited about the prospect of beginning another chapter in our lives.

we've found that, since we've retired, we are called on to do a great deal of volunteer work.  it's difficult to say no because we know that the work we're asked to do is worthwhile, and we feel strongly that we should do our part to make our community a better place.  now we've reached a point where the work we are doing for others is consuming an inordinate amount of our time, so that we have little time left to take care of our personal responsibilities.  we struggle to make time for our household duties--washing, cleaning, making repairs, shopping for and preparing meals, tending to the yard--and have to sit down and prepare a weekly schedule to fit it all in.  yesterday, when we made our list for the week, we saw that there didn't appear to be time left for our own enjoyment of life; our obligations to various organizations and to keeping our home running would consume almost every waking minute.

i went to bed feeling overwhelmed, and, as i sit and write in the dark of the early morning, i'm not certain how we will fit everything in this week.  i know that it will all fall into place if we take one day at a time, but, from the perspective of looking at this week's list, the challenges of the week ahead are daunting.  this, coupled with our anxiety about selling our home and controversies in our church that don't seem to be moving toward any satisfactory resolution, makes me want to throw up my hands and declare myself no longer responsible for the commitments i've made.  i won't do that, though, because i'll let too many people down.

in the back of my mind, i know that the frustration i feel at this moment is temporary.  as i check items off the list, the sense of being buried under too many chores and not enough time will dissipate.  my normal sense of optimism will assert itself more and more each day.  at the end of the week, i'll look back with satisfaction at all that was accomplished and wonder how i allowed myself to feel discouraged.  even as i write these words, some of the burden is lifted, and i look forward to tackling some of the items on our list.  i can't solve everyone's problems, i can't force our realtor to go out and find a buyer for our home, i can't fix everything that's wrong in the world or even in my little corner of it, i can't step into the breach every time some job needs doing.  all i can do is keep plugging away, doing my part, helping where and when i can, leaving those things i don't have time for until another day.

may i recognize my limitations.  may i look beyond the mundane tasks to the good that results from doing them.  may i accomplish what i can each day and fall into bed exhausted with a sense of satisfaction at having done my best.  may we all find balance in our lives and reserve time to take care of ourselves in the process of caring for others.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

E’er Since by Faith I Saw the Stream

one of the things that draws me to buddhism is the teaching of the buddha that one should not accept anything that is contrary to reason or that is not beneficial to all.   this is in contrast to the emphasis on blind faith in many christian traditions.  one often hears something like "God's ways are not our ways, so we must have faith and believe that God has a purpose in allowing, or causing, [something] to happen."  as christians, we are often told that we must place our faith in the bible as the word of God and accept the most absurd claims that it contains, seeking convoluted explanations to reconcile its contradictory teachings.  we are told that we should suspend reason and believe that, since God's mind is so much greater than ours, we must accept what seems unreasonable on faith.

if i had my way, i think i'd throw out all of the bible except the gospel of mark and the epistle of james as the bases for the christian life; the rest would be considered outside the canon.  certainly, there are helpful passages throughout the bible, but there are many books that are helpful to us, like the writings of ralph waldo emerson, but those other "uninspired" books can be taken for what they're worth, while christians are taught that we must uncritically accept every word of the bible as being the inspired word of God.

in buddhism one finds the founder of the religion encouraging a scientific approach to how to live.  gautama suggest that one examine any proposition critically, rejecting that which is unreasonable and not beneficial, and accepting that which proves to be reasonable and beneficial.  he teaches that we should accept nothing, no matter how sacred we are taught that it is, on blind faith.  because something is often repeated and believed by many, because something is found in a sacred book, because something is commonly taught by respected teachers, or because something is a part of long-held tradition is no reason to incorporate that something into our lives and beliefs, the buddha says.  instead, we must carefully observe the effects of a practice and analyze its reasonableness to see if that practice is a valid one.

there are many christian teachings that are incorporated into the tradition of which i am a part that fail to measure up to the buddha's standard, but the one i find most troubling in my advancing years is the teaching that humankind is inherently evil and worthy of God's wrath, that it is only by placing one's faith in the "saving blood" of jesus that one can be spared that wrath.  it seems to me that immeasurable harm has been done by this belief, including using it as justification for the most terrible child abuse, as a reason for terrible wars and persecution, and as grounds for unwarranted discrimination.  yet, i continue as a dissenting member of the tradition, because i find so many loving and lovable people in my community.  there may come a time when those who use the bible and the teachings they arbitrarily deem valid as weapons to so dominate our tradition that i can no longer remain a part of it, a time when i can no longer be a christian with buddhist leanings.  when that time comes, i will become a buddhist raised in a christian tradition, a buddhist who reveres the teachings of jesus rather than a christian who reveres the teachings of the buddha.

may we use our minds to reason and analyze.  may we not be afraid to reject that which is unreasonable and not beneficial.  may we go where the truth leads us.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not All the Blood of Beasts . . . Could Wash Away the Stain

the idea of sacrificial killing to assuage an angry god or gods seems to be implanted deep in our psyche.  we look at the vagaries of life, and we seek a reason for the good and bad things that happen to us.  the unexplained causes of drought, of catastrophic weather, of debilitating or terminal illnesses beg for underlying reasons.  we can see that our ancient ancestors who had no scientific understanding of natural phenomena that seemed senseless and threatening turned to supernatural explanations: the flood which drowned our kinsmen or the strong wind that destroyed our homes and crops must have come because the gods are angry with us, so we must make sacrifices to make amends.  the spilling of blood as a mark of repentance and reverence for the gods is common to many cultures, a way of pushing back the darkness of inexplicable mysteries.  the impulse to do something to ward off misfortune is natural to our species.

we persist in confirming the ancient myth when we affirm the necessity of an atoning death to "wash away our sins."  many of us who call ourselves christians perpetuate the belief that an angry god required the sacrifice of jesus to allow our sins to be forgiven.  during this season of lent we are constantly reminded of the intense suffering of jesus during his crucifixion.  we hear the scriptures which speak of an innocent lamb being sacrificed on our behalf, of the suffering servant, of one who was despised and rejected, and hear the beautiful choruses from messiah which tell us that "surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him," and "with his stripes we are healed," quoting the words of isaiah 53:4-5.

we are reminded that jesus and that angry god that required the death of jesus to atone for all of humanity are one, so that it was god who died on the cross in roman palestine.  we are told that this horrible death was necessary so that we could see how much God loves us.  yet, isn't this a continuation of the age-old story of unfathomable deities who afflict us with random acts of violence and destruction in order to explain away that which seems impossible to understand, gods who require blood to be spilled to quell their anger, when we have to invent reasons for that anger and methods to alleviate it?

wouldn't it be simpler to believe that bad things often happen randomly or because we have interfered with the natural order of things, that floods come because we have destroyed the vegetation that slowed the flow of the waters over the land or because we have built dams in the wrong places, that our abuse of the environment has created storms of increasing frequency and intensity?  we repent of the wrongs we have done by taking steps to undo the harm we have done.  we accept that sometimes bad, or good, things happen for no reason, and we seek the tools to deal with them.  if we believe in a loving God, that God doesn't require the spilling of blood by way of atonement, rather God requires us to share the love that is poured out on us.

may we cease participating in a myth rooted in our ancestors' inability to explain that which happened to them.  may we embrace a God of love, if we embrace any God.  may we accept that bad things happen for no reason.  may we support one another when those bad things come.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Earthly Rulers Falter

during the past several days donald trump has continued to claim that he was spied on by president obama during the last presidential campaign.  the director of the fbi and other security officials past and present have denied this took place, and members of mr. trump's own party are convinced that this spying never happened.  next mr. trump's press secretary repeated a report from fox news that the british government tapped mr. trump's phones at president obama's behest, an action vehemently denied by the british.  when meeting with angela merkel, mr. trump said that one thing the two had in common was that their phones had been tapped by president obama, repeating his false claim.

these falsehoods are the latest in a long series of lies that mr. trump has repeatedly put forward.  he claimed that president obama's presidency was illegitimate because the president was not "native born," and repeated this lie over and over.  he claimed that he had not supported the invasion of iraq, even though he did so publicly and his taped words were played back ad nauseum.  he repeatedly insisted that the crowd for his inauguration was the largest ever, though live coverage of the event proved otherwise.  after claiming that the electoral system was rigged against him, donald trump was the winner of the election, only to claim that the reason he lost the popular vote was that millions of "illegals" voted for hilliary clinton, an unsubstantiated claim denied by members of his own party and for which he could offer no proof.

mr. trump has a skewed view of the world because of his reliance on news sources that are biased in the direction he favors and is ready to accept as fact any preposterous conspiracy theory these sources put forward.  he relies on advisors who have been a part of the "alt right" rumor mill and has the former head of breitbart news installed in an influential position.  his lies have damaged and continue to damage the credibility of the united states in the world, and his willingness to repeat absurd claims put forward by unreliable news media and propagandists makes the country an object of ridicule on the world stage.  one wonders how long the congress can allow this state of affairs to continue.  how can other governments trust what he says when lies fall so easily and readily from his tongue?  His disingenuousness in making false statements and then saying that he's not claiming to believe them, but only quoting other sources, make him all the more culpable in perpetuating lies because it is the president of the united states who is bringing them to the attention of a wider audience.

he claimed to be on the side of working people in the united states, but the cabinet appointments he has made belie that claim.  he promised a new health insurance law that would provide coverage for everyone, but he is promoting a plan that will actually decrease the number of people who have insurance.  he has proposed a budget that will harm the most vulnerable segments of the population in order to increase spending on the military and security, taking food out of the mouths of the elderly to build instruments of war.

may we call donald trump what he is: a liar and a charlatan.  may we have compassion for him, but may we oppose his policies in every lawful way we can.  may we acknowledge that only someone with great suffering at the core of his being can be so insensitive and callous and wish that his suffering would be assuaged, while at the same time working to prevent his harmful policies from coming to fruition and to counter his lies with truth.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Justice Lingers into Love

i've been trying to imagine what it would be like to be an undocumented immigrant in the usa now.  i read of a young woman in mississippi who came here as a child, a mother in chicago, a father in arizona, and think what it might be like to be in their shoes.  the young woman grew up in the usa and is one of the "dreamers" protected from deportation under the deferred action program instituted under president obama.  the mother is married to an american citizen and her children are american citizens, and the father's children are american citizens.  i read, too, of another father who was taken into custody as he walked his daughter to school.  to be undocumented and to live in constant fear that one will be ripped from one's family, from all that is familiar, must be terrible.  to put a face with these fears, that of the young woman in mississippi, daniela vargas, makes the terror much more real.  she watched as other members of her family were taken into custody while she was left.  only after she spoke publicly of her plight was she apprehended by immigration control and enforcement and sent to a detention facility.  she has since been released, but it is unclear why or if she will be deported at some point in the future.

i am trying, too, to put myself in the place of those who are apprehending undocumented immigrants and beginning the process of deportation.  i find this especially difficult to do.  i know that these government employees have families that love them and, like most americans, they are doing what they can to support themselves and those they love.  what does one feel when one's job is to arrest fathers, mothers, and young adults whose only "crime" is to have entered the country illegally, when one is responsible for taking parents away from their children?  certainly, it's easier to apprehend those who are known criminals and take part in their deportation.  but do the "ice police" have difficulty taking into custody those who are living normal lives, free of criminal activity, caring for and supporting their families, being good neighbors, doing honest work?  could i convince myself as one of those "immigration enforcers" that the work i did benefited the country or anyone in it?

on the one hand, we say that undocumented immigrants are in the country illegally and are therefore criminals, they have broken the laws of the usa simply by being here.  on the other hand, we see that the vast majority of these "lawbreakers" are living productive lives and have come here to help their families.  they are contributing members of society, often doing jobs that many native-born citizens don't want to do.  perhaps one's attitude toward these "illegals" is driven by one's worldview, whether one sees the world in blacks and whites with no gray shading: "the law is the law, and, if we don't enforce it, society breaks down."  or whether one sees the law as the servant of a just and merciful society that looks out for those who are disadvantaged and judges each case on its own merits, considering all the mitigating circumstances.

i think of draconian laws in the past that made criminals of those who stole food to feed themselves and their starving families, that sent those who could not pay their debts to prison, that sent the poor and orphans to live in squalid "workhouses," that put the children of those who could not support those children on "orphan trains" to be sent to other parts of the country to meet an uncertain fate, that seized the land of native americans and sent those natives to live on reservations.  history is rife with instances of laws that blamed the weakest members of society for their situations and that took advantage of the powerless.  just because something is "the law" doesn't make it right, nor does failure to abide by unjust laws make one a criminal, except to those who hold "law" to be more important than humanity.

in the name of securing our safety, we are treating others inhumanely, making criminals of those whose greatest concern is the well-being of their loved ones.  one has to ask if such a course truly makes us safer, or are we creating enemies that did not exist before.  the surest way to create terrorists is to corner the helpless so that their only choices are to give up or to lash out.

may we see the humanity in every person.  may we never see a great mass of criminal "others," but may we see each individual as worthy of our compassion and respect regardless of where each was born.  may our laws protect the helpless and the powerless, and may justice always be tempered by mercy.  may the law of love be our highest law.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Height and Depth Beyond Description

this past sunday, we sang this hymn by new zealander shirley erena murray in church.  the hymn begins with the words, "loving spirit, loving spirit, you have chosen me to be," and goes on to describe God as "mother, father, friend, and lover" in its five stanzas.  i was struck by the imagery in the hymn and by the fact that the word "god" is not used once in the hymn.  i love the lines about God, as a father, hoisting me onto his shoulder so i can see from God's perspective.  in so many ways the hymn captures my thoughts about the nature of God as an all-pervasive Spirit that is a part of everything that exists, the very ground of our being, the essence of the universe itself.  we are each a "sign" of that Spirit/God, called into being by that which is beyond being.

we create our own gods that are like us, imagining gods that exist separate from us, gods who manipulate history so that a pre-determined outcome comes to pass.  we christians often reduce God to a great rule-maker and record-keeper in heaven making marks on a score sheet that will be tallied at the ends of our lives to determine the winners who get into heaven and the losers who do not, or we envision God as the great santa claus who gives us everything we ask for and constantly says to us, who see ourselves as perpetual sinners, "it's ok, i forgive you, i know you can't help yourself because you were born in sin."  we reduce God to what we want God to be, a God that we can blame when tragedy strikes--"i don't know why this happened, it must be God's will"--or an "american" God who is on the side of the usa: a white, protestant, heterosexual god for a white, protestant, heterosexual united states.

but God is much more than our narrow image of God.  God is the essence of good, the origin of compassion and lovingkindness, the presence that vibrates in each particle of matter, beyond knowing and comprehending, yet a part of each of us.  may we not reduce God to what we want God to be.  may we not attempt to use the god of our own creation against those with whom we disagree.  may we not set boundaries on God by trying to contain God in a "sacred" book.  may we worship God by our actions toward ourselves and our fellow creatures, sharing compassion and lovingkindness as the sign of God-in-us.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sweet Bonds That Unite All the Children of Peace

this morning as i sit to write, many thoughts run through my mind.  i find it difficult to quiet the busy chatter in my head.  i flit from thoughts of the fear that many who fear apprehension and deportation must feel to thoughts of the attacks on journalists that are coming from our present administration in washington to the meditation class i'm taking now.  as my fingers move over the keyboard, i am hoping that the act of typing this post helps to calm and focus my mind.

i feel my breath slowing and deepening and look at the black letters beginning to fill the blank white space in front of me.  i focus on the benefits of meditation, on how turning my attention to my breath stills my mind and allows me to sense the place where i am.   i feel the support of my favorite chair and the touch of my upper arm to the arm of the chair.  i feel the weight of my right ankle as it crosses over my left with my left foot resting on the floor in front of the chair.  from the corner of my eye i see our little dog resting in his bed in front of the fireplace.  i hear the roar of the fan on the heat pump as warm air flows into the room.  to my left is my glass of water on the end table and to my right my reading light glows, the only light in the room right now.  in sensing the present, my mind calms and the apprehension about the policies of donald trump fade, though just the thought of his name revives a sense of dread about the future of our country and the pain many are feeling because of what may be in store for them.

i embrace the feeling of anxiety, recognizing that it is a part of the present moment just as the calm that concentration on my breathing is.  the two exist together.  i know that the tension i feel rises from compassion for those whose suffering is increased by mr. trump's policies, and i know, too, that the tension motivates me to actively oppose those policies.  i am filled with hope as i see the protests taking place across the country, the demand that our elected representatives examine the havoc that their policies will wreak on people's lives as anxious citizens fill town hall meetings across the country.  i am filled with hope as i hear of those willing to take risks to shelter those who fear deportation and as law enforcement authorities refuse to cooperate with the federal authorities in apprehending those who are undocumented.  i am filled with hope as those in the "intelligence community" speak out against policies that make our country less safe in the face of double-speak that claims those same policies are intended to make us more safe.

in many ways, we see the unfolding of orwell's novel in the political language we hear.  as federal regulations that protect our environment--our water, our air, the plants and animals that are essential to our well-being--are dismantled we are told it is for our own good, since we will be more prosperous as a result.  our health is less important than our wealth we are told, but the wealth will flow to those who are already wealthy as the great mass of us become poorer and sicker.  targeting those coming into the country because they are from certain "terrorist" countries will make us safer, though no evidence exists that such a policy will do so.  detaining those whose skin is the "wrong" color, whose first name is "suspicious," whose religion is suspect is a prudent exercise of authority we are told, as a british teacher is refused entry and sent back to the united kingdom, as a french academic is held in the airport for hours and is afraid that he will be escorted onto a plane back to france in shackles, as the son of a great american sports hero is held despite ample evidence that he is who he claims to be.  we are supposed to believe that these actions are the acts of a just government, a rightful exercise of authority, examples of the application of the rule of law.

as i write of these unconscionable actions, more indicative of a fascist dictatorship than a free country, the tension level rises and i return to my breath.  my anger is a good thing.  it reminds me that we cannot allow these policies to go unchallenged.  the calm that focusing on my breath and this present moment brings is a good thing, too, helping me to see that this anger, though justifiable, is not who i am, just as mr. trump's policies are not who we are as citizens of the usa.  the anger has to be channeled into constructive courses, it must be tempered by reason and compassion, focusing on helping those who are harmed by what has happened as a result of the last election.

may we who are citizens of this country see that, in order to help ourselves, we must stand up for the values on which our country was founded--that all are created equal with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  may we not tolerate a country where so many live in fear, where the rich become richer at the expense of the poor, where support for the weakest among us is withdrawn in order to build more weapons and train more soldiers, where people are belittled because of their race, religion, physical appearance, or sexual orientation.  may we breathe deeply, behave rationally, and exercise our right to protest the wrongs we see taking place around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

So Much to Be Thankful For

this has been a difficult couple of weeks for my wife and me.  we have worked hard to make some repairs in our home and to do some decluttering.  none of the repairs were major but they required some diligent labor, and my body aches from them.  as we look around the house, we are pleased with what we've accomplished.  this morning, my mind turns to the sense of gratification one feels after the completion of a series of goals and the gratitude one feels for having the strength and perseverance to see a job through to its end.

gratitude is an important attribute, one that i often overlook.  there is much to be grateful for--health, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, an abundance of food, more than adequate income, freedom to think-say-write-believe without fear of arrest or persecution, loving family and friends, a nice home--the list could go on and on.  i think of the many who are unable to make such a list, those who are hungry, homeless, poverty stricken, afflicted by disease, those who live in fear, the lonely, through no fault of their own.  they were born in the wrong place or to the wrong family.

why?  why was i so fortunate and they so unfortunate?  i did nothing to deserve the wonderful life i enjoy.  sure, i've worked hard, but without the luck to have been born in this country to a loving family and to have grown up not knowing real want, in many ways to have life handed to me, if not on a silver platter, at least on a pewter one.  without the advantages of my birth and the opportunities that came to me unmerited, my hard work would not have led me to the life i've enjoyed.  it is too easy to condemn those who don't enjoy the privileges that i enjoy, to say that they didn't work hard enough, that their culture is deficient, that their circumstances are of their own making, and sometimes that may be true.  but, too often, those of us who live lives of privilege forget to be grateful and to realize that our privilege results in large measure from blind luck.

so this morning, i think of all that i am grateful for, so little of it earned by my hard work, and i suffer because of those who work just as hard and see so little reward for their labor.  may i never think that i deserve this privileged life that i lead.  may i gratefully acknowledge the fortunate circumstances that have been mine and mourn that all beings have not had such good fortune.  may i do what i can to extend the benefits i've enjoyed to more and more beings, thus living out my gratitude for the blessings i enjoy.  may all be well, may all be happy, may all live in peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grant Us Wisdom, Grant Us Courage

i am becoming increasingly aware that the focus of our church's approach to life is unhealthy and misguided.  in every lesson that is taught at wednesday evening bible study, every sermon that is preached, and every prayer of confession in corporate worship, we are told how unworthy we are as human beings.  the calvinist doctrine of the total depravity of humans is a recurring theme that we hear each time we enter the church for study or worship.  i am sure our minister is unaware of how her emphasis of human frailty when compared to God's greatness beats us down as a congregation.

i long to hear words of encouragement and to be reminded that we are created in God's image.  i want to hear joyful words that celebrate the richness and beauty of creation.  i need to feel loved, valued, and comforted inside the doors of the church.  we spend too little time studying the teachings of jesus and too much time on the failings of the ancient hebrews and paul's criticisms of the early christians.

in the background there is constant sniping and bickering between those who believe our minister should leave and those who are loyal to her.  behind the scenes there is a struggle for power in the church and a demand that other staff members demonstrate absolute loyalty to the minister.  it has come to the point that those who continue to have personal relationships with the critics of our minister are on the "naughty list" of the minister and her allies in the church leadership.  my wife and i have tried not to engage in this infighting, as have many of our friends, but it becomes increasingly difficult to stay above the fray when it is suggested that a staff member may be fired if he talks to members of the wrong faction.

this is not what church is supposed to be.  our participation in church should bring us joy and renewal.  the church should support us as we seek to follow the teachings of jesus.  the church should be honest rather than teaching old myths as fact, while ignoring the valuable lessons that those myths preserve.  we should see each others as sisters and brothers in the family of God, not as members of one faction or another.  as more and more of our members flee this atmosphere, i fear for our congregation's survival as a church.  i don't want to be one of those who abandons the church, but something must change soon or my wife and i will no longer feel welcome.

our minister is a good person at heart.  she wants our church to flourish, but i fear that her inability to reach out to those whom she has hurt and offended stands in the way of healing our divisions.  those who have befriended and been most supportive of her have engendered an attitude of intolerance toward her critics, many of whom have valid points.  bullying of those who dissent by some lay leaders will not bring us together.  it is heart-wrenching to witness the upheaval and bitterness and to be told at every turn that we are unworthy of God's love, that God's grace is all that keeps us from damnation, that we have no redeeming virtues.  where are the words of love that jesus taught?  where is the good shepherd who cares for the sheep?  where is the call of jesus to come to him to find rest, to carry the yoke of his easy burden and bear his light load?

may we who are christians stop dividing one another into sheep and goats.  may we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  may we worship a God of love rather than a god of wrath.  may we abandon petty squabbles and power struggles and embrace one another as members of a family.  may we regard all those who seek to do good and to love others as part of our family regardless of their religion or lack of religion.  may we acknowledge that all suffer and long for love, compassion, and respect.  shalom.