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.