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.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Clear the Chaos and the Clutter

this past week i stayed home most of the week.  i attended two rehearsals, but other than that i had no commitments to any group or organization.  i had no appointments.  i ran few errands.  instead, i accomplished some major projects in my home and yard, and i feel a great sense of satisfaction.  i had forgotten what it's like to live several days in a row without the call of obligations to church, civic organizations, and volunteer duties interrupting my daily routine.  it was wonderful to get up and know that i had the entire day to do what needed to be done at home.

i realize that i've allowed the needs of the community to overwhelm my life.  i suppose it's the desire to be needed by the larger world that has caused me to become so involved in organizations that make great demands on my time.  because so many others have no trouble saying no when called on to help, i always say yes, and that's not a good thing.  in the process of being the one that others can always count on, it's too easy to lose one's way.  this week of pretty much withdrawing from the world has been good for me, and i'll try to discipline myself to do more of it.

i've checked my calendar for the coming week, and there is one civic organization meeting and two musical rehearsals on it.  i have one big outside project at home that i want to attend to, so i'll build my week around that project.  if it works out that these outside responsibilities interfere, i'll skip some or all of them.  it's time i reclaimed my life!  the little voice inside my head that tells me that i'm being selfish is mistaken.  the organization and the musical groups will go on if i'm absent this one time, but the big task i have to accomplish at home won't get done without me.  that job needs to be done now while i have a few warm days to work outside during february, which is often the coldest month of the year here.

perhaps these simple decisions are trivial ones.  they don't address the destructive policies of donald trump and the republicans in congress.  they don't alleviate hunger or homelessness.  they don't reverse the increasing income equality in this country, promote peace and understanding in the world, or help with the myriad of other problems that are larger than my day-to-day schedule.  yet i feel good about my decisions.  maybe focusing on my little corner of civilization for a couple of weeks will give me a better perspective on how i can use my time wisely for the benefit of myself and others.

may each of us take time to evaluate the effectiveness of our busy lives.  may we step off the merry-go-round of meetings and the constant demands of volunteerism once in a while and focus on what is and isn't important to us.  may we set priorities and boundaries that enable us to be at peace with ourselves and the world around us.  shalom.