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.