Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild

i'm writing this post on christmas eve, though i won't post it until christmas day.  as i write, i'm thinking of the cruelty of the current administration that contradicts what i believe are the best reasons for celebrating christmas.  there can be no peace on earth or good will towards others when the watchwords of the president are pettiness and retaliation.  as he espouses policies that create mayhem in the economy, he looks for a culprit to blame his failures on and finds one in the head of the federal reserve.  in order to divert attention from his own shortcomings, he attacks our closest allies, like canada, asserting that imports from those countries are the reasons for the decline of american industry.  blaming someone else is the hallmark of donald trump, and critical self-examination is a skill unknown to him.

"illegals," other governments that are taking unfair advantage of us, and prior u.s. administrations (particularly that of barack obama), are the causes of any problems that confront mr. trump, he tells us.  those who disagree with him are belittled as corrupt and inept.  lies roll from his tongue and appear on his twitter feed so easily and frequently that is difficult to keep track of them.  suggestions that he, his presidential campaign, and his administration have engaged in illegal activity are part of a witch hunt.  "no collusion" (with trump's peculiar pronunciation of the "u" vowel) is heard and seen so often that one feels certain that there must be "collusion," else why would he need to remind us so frequently of its purported non-existence.

one wonders how much longer the country can survive with trump at the helm.  he says we need to spend five billion dollars immediately on a barrier at the border to keep out all the criminals who are trying to get into the country, but we don't have billions to spend on health care for our own citizens.  those who can't afford to pay for their own health insurance refuse to work and earn the necessary income so we must impose work requirements on the poor before we spend government funds to help them, we are told.  we can afford an unneeded "space force" but we can't afford housing for those who are homeless.  as we see the consequences of climate change all around us, we are assured that this climate change is natural, rather than caused by human actions, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, and government must encourage the increasing use of fossil fuels in order to bolster and economy.

many of us in the country want to cry out to the rest of the world that trump and his supporters are not the face of the u.s.a., but the unfortunate truth is that there is a face, one among many, that is as ugly as the one that the trump fans present.  the twin scourges of racism and isolationism are part and parcel of the american identity, just as love for freedom of expression and the ideal of all people being created equal are.  it is the conflict between the ideals of the enlightenment that fostered the birth of the nation and the fear of the "other" whose skin and language are different from that of the majority that continues to haunt us.  right now, the disfigured visage of all that is bad about the country is ascendant.  there is some evidence that the tide is turning back to more noble traits, and one can only hope that this tide continues and becomes the dominant one again.

may we think of the good that christmas engenders--love for one another, peace and good will, reverence and compassion for the "have-nots" of society--as we celebrate this special day.  may we see the star over the manger as a symbol of the light of our best ideals in the darkness of this winter of ugliness in the american psyche.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Now to the Loveless World Be Shown

christmas draws nearer, and i am caught up in the magic of it.  the little child born so far away calls to me, and i go in wonder.  i am drawn to him and to the idea that an innocent baby could exert such a pull on so many.  the fictions that surround his birth are irrelevant.  he is the epitome of the rebirth that propels life onward on this planet, a son of impoverished parents living in an occupied land, destined, it would appear, to be just another of the oppressed many that surround him.  yet he is so much more, growing to be one of the great moral teachers of all time, a man who many believe is the savior of the world and who others, like me, believe is worthy of being followed because his teachings run contrary to the greed, lust, hatred, bigotry, and corruption that characterize much of human existence.

this little one, lying among the farm animals in the most humble setting, calls to us to give, to gather with our loved ones in the light of a tree around the warmth of a fire in the coldest time of the year, to put aside the busyness of the world and to be still as the deep of night is still, to let go of pettiness, to be our best selves.  it seems as if for a few moments on the day of his birth that there is hope that all the wrongs that beat us about the head can be righted.  we rejoice in a time of giving to those we hold most dear and in receiving from them, and we ask ourselves why every day can't be like this one special day of the year.  it doesn't matter if we are christians, if we believe the fairy tales that have been layered on his birth.  what matters is a child who calls us to stop for a moment and take time to appreciate the mysteries of life and love.

may the joy of christmas be yours no matter your circumstances or beliefs.  may there be this day that calls you to be filled with lovingkindness and compassion.  may this day propel you and me into a new year filled with possibilities for a better life on this planet, a life where caring for one another takes precedence of acquiring more and more, a life that stops blaming those "others" for the problems we face, a life that puts the welfare of our planet over the acquisition of wealth.  may we not see a king in the manger in bethlehem, but a child who calls us to love all humankind.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

That Old Time Religion

having been raised a christian and hearing repeatedly how some things just have to be accepted on faith colors how i think of so much in life.  it's easy for me to see how people get trapped in the fundamentalist sort of religion, whether that religion is christianity, islam, or some other belief system.  if we believe certain things without requiring any proof of their existence, it's not hard to move on to deeper and deeper commitments to other unprovable beliefs.  for instance, if one insists that the virgin birth is essential to being a christian, then those who call themselves christians and yet think that the virgin birth is a myth can't be true christians.  believing in the virgin birth leads to believing other things about jesus: that he is divine, that God violates the rules of nature by becoming a human being, that the purpose of jesus' brief life was to be the ultimate blood sacrifice for humanity's sins and to then come back to life, that jesus could read minds and cure the sick, that jesus could walk on water and perform other impossible feats.

the more committed a believer becomes to these unbelievable characteristics of jesus, the more intolerant that "person of faith" becomes of those who refuse to assent to the jesus-born-of-a-virgin.  as i sat in church yesterday and listened to what was being said, i wondered if i should even be there.  i didn't subscribe to much of what was proclaimed from the pulpit, primarily by lay leaders who were tasked with bringing devotional messages at certain points in the service.  the minister's sermon was easier for me accept as he talked about the inclusion of the magi in the christmas story as a symbol for inclusivity in our own lives, of being accepting of those who were "foreign" to us, just as the writer of matthew's gospel included the "wise men from the east" who were probably astrologers who looked for portents in the night sky.

as i looked around the congregation, i wondered how many others were like me, skeptics of the mythology that passes for truth in christianity.  i saw so many kind, caring, generous people, people that it's easy to love, and i knew that many of them accepted the myths without questioning the philosophy that "if it's in the bible, it must be true."  few of them are fundamentalists, because the whole reason for the denomination of which this congregation is a part is tolerance for diverse beliefs and a refusal to insist that members of the church accept any specific interpretation of christian orthodoxy.  in a conversation with a member of the church not long ago, she recounted how she couldn't accept ideas like the virgin birth and remain true to herself.  it was like a breath of fresh air to know that i'm not alone in this group of christians, even though many, probably most, members of the church do accept the tenets of orthodox christianity.  the wonderful thing is that people like her and like me can be accepted and our ideas respected even if they are different from what the majority of the others in the church believe.

the disturbing thing is that congregations like this are in the minority in christianity.  in most churches, there is no room for those who doubt the literal truth of the bible, no room for those who question, no room for those who don't subscribe to a particular set of orthodox beliefs, no room for those who can't throw logic out the window and accept ideas "on faith."  this is the dangerous aspect of christianity, that intolerance is assumed to be the "godly" way to live, and such close-mindedness is what leads to the twisted reasoning that requiring equal rights before the law for gay people is a violation of someone's religious freedom or mandating that all employees have access to birth control infringes on an employer's liberty.  fundamentalism and intolerance go hand in hand, regardless of what religion practices the intolerance.  islamic fundamentalism and christian fundamentalism are both equally abhorrent.

may we respect widely divergent views, remembering that respect and acceptance are very different things.  may we be able to express our own views without fear.  may we love those with whom we disagree without allowing dangerous ideas to go unchallenged.  may civil discourse lead to greater understanding of and respect for those who believe and live differently from us.  shalom.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Part of the Main

there are many types of hunger, thirst, and poverty.  in jesus' teachings, we are taught that those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" will be filled, that the "poor in spirit" will receive the kingdom of heaven, that those who give food and water to those who hunger and thirst are caring for jesus himself.  during his lifetime, jesus spent most of his time with those who lived in poverty and with those who were condemned by "devout" society.

in reaching out to people who,  like matthew and zaccheus, were shunned by most of their contemporaries because they had allied themselves with the romans as tax collectors, jesus recognized that, though these two men were "rich" in the sense that most people define the word, they were poor in spirit.  both matthew and zaccheus were aware of their own spiritual poverty and became followers of jesus, abandoning their old ways of living and embracing the good news that jesus preached.

jesus saw the suffering of common people who bore the multiple burdens of roman occupation and taxation, oppression by the jewish allies of the romans who enriched themselves by taking advantage of those who could not pay the roman taxes, and perversion of the jewish religion to protect the positions of the religious leaders so that the religion became a curse to ordinary people rather than a blessing.  with all these forces working against them, those to whom jesus reached out were hungry and thirsty for righteousness, as well as being physically hungry and thirsty.  in following jesus and his teachings, these disadvantaged people saw hope that they would be filled, as they looked beyond their own needs to the needs of others.  jesus showed them that by serving others they were filled themselves.

just as those ancient followers were filled and their spiritual lives were enriched, we are reminded of the core of the good news that jesus delivered: to love our neighbors as ourselves.  during the christmas season, we see love made manifest in the birth of a child in an obscure judean village to poor parents.  this child is the personification of love, demonstrating that we, too, can be filled with a love that seems foolish to much of the world--a love that embraces people of all races and genders, a love that demands that we "love [our] enemies and pray for those who mistreat [us]."

may we seek this sort of love in our lives, not just during this season but in all seasons.  may we feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty.  may we reach out to those who live in literal and spiritual poverty.  may the truth that is in each of us be expressed by transcending the narrow bounds of religion to its universal manifestation in caring for one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Long Time Ago in Bethlehem

this is the time of year when we hear phrases like "jesus is the reason for the season" or "keep christ in christmas" or "it's ok to say 'merry christmas.' "  this obsession with christmas as a religious holiday is offensive.  there are millions for whom jesus is not the reason for the season and for whom "happy holidays" is a far more appropriate sentiment than "merry christmas."  even most christians don't really celebrate christmas as a religious holiday.  if they did, they'd avoid the commercialism that is the season's most striking feature, they'd eschew decorating their homes weeks or even days before christmas eve, and christmas would be celebrated until the day of ephiphany, rather than ending abruptly on december 26.

as far as i'm concerned, the christmas season has become, and ought to be, a time that is primarily secular.  i can't subscribe to the mythology that is part and parcel of observing christmas as a religious holiday.  it's likely that the historical jesus was not born in december.  the vision of angels in the sky proclaiming good news and extending wishes of peace to judean shepherds is lovely, but unlikely.  wise men traveling from the east as they follow a star to a barn where a holy child lies in a manger is fun to sing about, but that's probably a fiction as well.  that a virgin could give birth to a member of the godhead is a myth appended to the story to elevate jesus from a man to a god.

we can try to " honour Christmas in [our] heart[s], and try to keep it all the year" as dickens has scrooge saying in a christmas carol.  "peace on earth and goodwill to men" is an admirable wish that we would do well to recall during this season and throughout our lives.  reverence for the poor, as the holy family certainly was, is a worthy lesson to take away from the scene in the cattle stall, and the elevation of the status of a young jewish woman can serve as a call to address the ill treatment of women everywhere.  there is much to learn from the christmas story, but to insist that the story in the bible is literally true diminishes the larger truths that are the reasons for the story.

christmas is a universal holiday, not just a christian one.  it is a part of the traditions found in many faiths in many parts of the world that look to the light in the darkest time of the year.  these celebrations of light are a sign that the human race has hope that darkness is a temporary state, that the light will return, that the cold will be replaced by warmth that nourishes life, that love will triumph over hate, and that, as martin luther king said (paraphrasing theordore parker), "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  this, for me, is the message of christmas, rather than the narrowly christian view that the season belongs only to christians who espouse orthodox theological beliefs.

may we keep christmas in our hearts, as dickens would have us do.  may we not worry about how to properly celebrate the season, but rather may we take joy in the prospect of peace on earth and goodwill to all.  may we not worry about whether jesus is the reason for the season or about keeping christ in christmas.  may we instead kindle the spirit of the loving jesus in our hearts and extend that love to all.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On the Road Again

my wife and i will be traveling for the next couple of days and will not have internet access.  i will try to post later in the week when we return from our trip.  until then, may we all have a happy thanksgiving.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Let Every Heart Rejoice

what is happiness?  lately, some events have occurred that caused me to feel sad and hurt.  yet beyond the sadness and the pain, i've been surprised that i'm still a happy person.  i can address the suffering without the underlying sense of well being in my life going away.  at the end of each day, i go to bed glad that i'm alive and filled with a sense of joy and accomplishment and looking forward to the new day that i hope will come.  i can't account for this happiness, because it's something that's relatively new, something that has happened over the last two or three years.

my wife and i have been through some difficult times: making a move that was physically and emotionally draining, having to adjust to a new locale where people have different customs and points-of-view and where the climate and topography are not what we're accustomed to, separating ourselves from old friends and our church, living farther from our daughter and her husband.  despite the pain of these adjustments, i've still been happy.  it's hasn't been nearly as hard to give up so much that is familiar as i thought it would be.  our lives are filled with so much natural beauty, and many of things we enjoy most, like a variety of good restaurants and wonderful shows and concerts, are easily accessible.  as we looked at our calendar for the coming weeks last night, it was filled with day trips to places we love and events we look forward to participating in.

but my happiness is more than these superficial activities, more that the busy-ness of every day life.  i can't describe it, but i know that it is something that is different within me that i wish i had experienced throughout my life.  part of it is, i suppose, an awareness that passing joys and pains are just that--passing.  they are not the core of who i am.  while i may enjoy a concert of beautiful music as it happens and have fond memories of it far into the future, the joy that it brought and continues to bring is not the source of happiness.  my happiness is far deeper and much more a part of the "me" that i am.  it's something i don't fear losing, because i know that it can't be taken away by external events.

as i go forward, i hope that this sense of happiness deepens and that i can share it with others.  may each of us find such happiness.  may others be made happier by our own happiness.  may we see fleeting joys and sufferings as passing moments in our lives that leave our basic happiness intact.  may lovingkindness and respect flow from us because we are filled with lovingkindness and respect for ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven

it is that time of year when the trees are covered in leaves of red, yellow, and gold just before they fall to the ground.  here in the mountains, fall has been especially colorful this year, and, as we drive through the countryside or look from our deck, we see displays of nature at its most beautiful.  we've had our first frost of the season and the first freeze is predicted for later in the week.  the pilot on the gas logs has been lit.  the flames have danced in it for several evenings already.  the hvac system has been switched from cooling to heating.  daylight saving time has ended, and all the clocks in the house have been reset to "real" time.  we're already a week into november.  before we know it, thanksgiving and christmas will be over.  2018 will soon end.

there's something magical about autumn.  you breathe it in as the crisp, clean air enters your body.  the cycle of change that occurs each year takes precedence over the humdrum of everyday life.  i'm reminded that there are large arcs that govern our existence.  the changing seasons are a part of these patterns.  like the regular rhythm of nature, our lives have a rhythm.  we move from the dependency of infancy to the increasing independence of childhood and adolescence to young adulthood, then middle age, followed by becoming elderly, and finally our lives end as surely as the year comes to an end as december becomes january.

i've reach the next-to-last stage in my life's cycle.  like the characteristics of the seasons of the year, each phase of life has its own beauty.  i must say that old age has been a wonderful time of life for me.  i have the luxury of planning my days without being governed by a clock.  i can rise when i please and go to bed when i please.  i can eat when i'm hungry, rather than eating to conform to someone else's schedule that is imposed on me.  i can plan my days around what i want to accomplish rather than what an employer tells me i must accomplish, and, if i want to be lazy, i don't have to accomplish anything at all.  i have a freedom that i've never had before.

sure, there are aches and pains.  i don't move as fast as i used to.  i take more pills.  i tire more easily.  in spite of all that, life is good.  it is as if i spent my whole life preparing for this time, and i'm enjoying being in the last chapter of life before death puts a period at the end of the last sentence.  last night, my wife and i pulled out our calendars and began noting the dates when we are going to concerts and going to visit family during the upcoming holiday season.  we got excited about the future that is ahead of us.  it's so wonderful to know that our lives are not bound by the requirements of getting up at a certain time to do the work that someone else has decided that we must do.  instead, we go when and where we want to go.

may each of us look forward to a life filled with expectations of good things to come, and may we have memories of happy times past.  may we appreciate each season of the year and of our lives.  may we celebrate the changes that life brings.  may we relish the living of every moment.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

My Tears Fell Like Rain

recently, two people that my wife and i care for deeply have said things to us that were very hurtful.  one of those who said these things was voicing some longstanding grievances he had with us, grievances that we didn't understand and that he couldn't explain to us.  i thanked him for making us aware of his feelings and committed to make an effort to avoid doing anything that would cause further damage to our relationship.  the other person who hurt us spoke out of anger, that anger ostensibly arising from a remark my wife had made as we were playing a game.  in truth, he didn't really want to play and was irritated because his wife, my wife, and i had persuaded him to play so we would have a foursome, so his mind wasn't really on what we were doing together.  my wife's reaction was one of hurt, and his outburst pretty much shut down any further conversation for the rest of the evening.

my wife and i have very different reactions when someone says hurtful things to us.  i look beyond the words and try to figure out what the person's motivation was in saying words that injure.  that doesn't excuse their behavior, but it does generate a sense of kindness towards them that make my wound less painful.  my wife, on the other hand, becomes angry and wants to avoid contact with the other person as much as possible.  after a period of time, her anger subsides, and she is able to kindle a spirit of forgiveness and move on.  she has difficulty understanding how i react as i do, seeing my failure to be angry as agreement with the hurtful words that have been said, and i am troubled by what is, to me, an unnecessary anger that seems to make the hurt even more painful.

i think there is validity in both our approaches.  i tend to ignore my own feelings or to examine my behavior that prompted hurtful words directed at me.  this leaves me with a guarded relationship with the person who has injured me that doesn't go away until that person and i have a discussion about the incident and reach a mutual understanding.  my wife's initial anger and her re-examination of the incident that causes her hurt fails to put her in the other person's shoes, so to speak, and is focused entirely on her own hurt, but once she gets past her first response and a period of avoidance and cooling down, she can put the incident in the past and come to a deeper relationship with the person who caused her anger, often after a conversation with them that gets both parties' feelings out in the open.

i suppose the key to resolution for both my wife and me is having a conversation with the person who hurt us, a conversation that occurs after we have time to reflect on the initial experience.  in the heat of the moment, neither my seemingly passive reaction or my wife's intense anger is helpful in having a constructive dialogue.  it is only when we get past that initial reaction and are able to address the situation with some air of detachment, to express ourselves with some objectivity, that we are able to move in the direction of healing a broken relationship.  when the person who caused us pain refuses to look at things from our point-of-view or to accept any culpability in causing our hurt, we know that is a person who is isn't healthy for us to continue to have a relationship with, but more often, we are able to see fault on both sides and to move forward in the relationship.

may we each think before we speak words that cause hurt.  may we learn to express ourselves honestly but without the intention of causing harm to another.  may we learn to forgive without accepting blame when no cause for blame exists.  may our hearts heal through the power of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Mid Toil and Tribulation

a few days ago i heard a news report about a woman who had miscarried.  her doctor had prescribed a medication that would enable her to abort the fetus without having a surgical procedure that used to be required in such instances.  when she went to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription, the pharmacist refused to fill it on religious grounds, even after she explained that the fetus was no longer viable.  in addition, the pharmacist refused to pass the prescription to any other pharmacist in the pharmacy.  the woman had to contact her doctor and have another prescription sent to a different pharmacy so she could take the medication.  as she explained on the news report, she was already distressed because of the loss of her anticipated child, and the ordeal of getting the prescribed medication exacerbated her grief.

as my wife and i were discussing this situation with another couple, the husband, who had been listening with less than full attention, immediately said that he would have refused to fill the prescription just as the pharmacist had.  his wife was furious with him, because she had had a miscarriage and was forced to have a d and c.  she told her husband that he was ignorant and had never had to go through what was, for her, an experience that was difficult emotionally and physically.   she went on to say that no male should be in a position to make such a decision for a woman.  the discussion highlighted one of the great issues in our society, when governmental bodies are deciding what women can and cannot do with their own bodies.  legislatures where men are in the overwhelming majority at the state and national levels are restricting women's rights to make their own health care decisions.  the men who make up these majorities can't experience what women deal with as the bearers of children and should not be imposing their own wills on women, even based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

this is another example of what happens when religion is allowed to control the decisions made by the government, when the wall that separates church and state is knocked down.  we now have a supreme court where a majority, again a male majority, is in a position to overturn precedents which protected the rights of women and other groups in our society.  the current republican majorities in the national house and senate have already shown themselves to be ready to pass legislation that would further restrict women's rights.  the religious right sees nothing wrong with imposing its beliefs on all citizens of the usa with regard to women, the lbgtq community, ethnic minorities, and other groups that it wishes to control.  giving these zealots control of all branches of government would be a serious setback for human rights in this country, and i hope that the midterm elections will help to put the brakes on the forward momentum of those who would impose their religious beliefs on everyone.

may we embrace tolerance on a personal and national level.  may we respect the rights of all people to control their own bodies.  may love rule rather than religious zealotry.  may the freedom to practice religion not become the freedom to impose one's own religion on others.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Where There Is Injury, Pardon

last week i became quite angry with a person who is in charge of an organization to which i belong.  after being out of town for almost three weeks, i felt that i should make a point to attend a meeting of this group.  i had missed several meetings while i was away, and i looked forward to seeing my friends who were also members, as well as participating in the organization's work.  when i showed up at the meeting place at the appointed time, i was greeted by a leader of the group who told me that the meeting had been cancelled because the paid head of the organization was out of town taking care of personal business.  a few other members had shown up, but most of the members had been informed either by email or in person that the meeting would not be taking place.

i was livid that i had wasted my time preparing for the meeting and traveling across town to attend, having arranged my day so that i would be free to attend, even though i had many other tasks that needed to be done at home.  i let the person who greeted me know how angry i was.   i reminded her that the paid employee who is in charge of this organization is often absent for personal reasons and frequently cancels meetings with little or no notice.  i said that i was tired of working in the organization when the paid staff member didn't seem to care whether the organization succeeded or failed, and i would not be returning to this group's meetings or continue my membership in the group.

i returned home and was angry for the rest of the evening.  when i awoke the next morning, i was upset with myself for giving in to anger and frustration and taking it out on another person, who simply was the messenger who told me about the meeting's cancellation.  i knew that i owed her an apology and as soon as it was late enough in the morning, i called her to apologize.  she was very gracious and said she understood how i felt.  she said she frequently felt the same way about the paid head of the organization, but she had known how this person conducted her business before taking the role she played in the group's leadership and had resigned herself to the salaried employee's frequent absences.  she told me that she hoped i would reconsider my decision to resign from the organization but understood if i persisted in my decision.

as i've thought about my outburst, i have been filled with regret for having allowed myself the luxury of becoming angry and taking my anger out on an innocent bystander, "shooting the messenger" so to speak.  as i've said the words of my morning meditation, i've been reminded of how i failed to put the words into practice.  each morning, i pledge myself not to become angry or speak badly of another, not to be rude, but in this instance i didn't live up to my words.  much of what i said and my action in resigning my membership in the organization is justified because of the leader's failure to take her paid position seriously and lead effectively, but the way in which i went about expressing myself was not justified.  i've done what i could to make amends, and i've renewed my determination to turn from anger and the actions that flow from it.  when i have the opportunity, i hope that i can express myself reasonably, dispassionately, and with kindness, while still conveying my reasons for leaving the group with honesty.

may we forgive ourselves when we fail to live up to our ideals.  may we realize that we all make mistakes.  may we learn from those mistakes and use them to reinforce the pledges we make to live ethically and with lovingkindness and compassion.  may our failings point us to a future in which we are less prone to anger and one that is not filled with regrets for expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

We Fly Just Like Birds of a Feather

yesterday a cousin and her husband came to visit.  they live about five hours away and were in the area to visit one of his relatives as well.  this cousin and i were close as children.  she is about a year older than i am and grew up in the same town where my maternal grandparents lived, so when i went to visit my grandparents every summer, we spent lots of time together.  we would play canasta and monopoly with her friends, go swimming, and to the movie.  as we got older, we naturally grew apart.  though she was only a year older than me, she was two grades ahead of me in school, and in high school two grades is a lot.

she married when she was in her late teens, and after that i didn't see much of her.  she and her husband moved away and our times together as children became distant memories.  her husband began drinking and, after a few years of marriage, they divorced.  some time after that, she married her current husband.  still, i only saw her during family holiday celebrations and at funerals.  when her father, my mother's brother, became ill, i saw more of her as she came to visit her parents to help her mother with her father.  by that time we had moved to the town where her parents lived, the same town in which i had played with her as a child and where my mother and her brothers had grown up.

i was with her father in the hospital when he died.  my cousin and her mother had left for a few minutes to grab some lunch, and they were so thankful that i had been there so my uncle didn't die alone.  no one expected him to go so soon, though we all knew that he wouldn't leave the hospital this time.  for several years after that, my wife and i spent lots of time with my cousin's mother, since we lived in the same town and saw much more of my cousin, since she came with greater frequency to check on her mother.  because of seeing each other more often and because my wife and i had become such close friends with my aunt, my childhood friendship with my cousin was rekindled.

when we traveled, we often went through the town where she lives now, and we would stop by to visit as we passed through.  we've stayed in close contact, and now when we're together we love to reminisce about our time together as children and about our large extended family.  we had great christmas get-togethers at the home of my grandparents when all our aunts, uncles, and cousins would be there, and the three of us who are the oldest of the cousins have stayed in close contact over the past several years.

it amazes me that we still feel bound together by our shared memories and long for those times long ago when we were carefree children who spent long hours playing board games and pretend games, building tents under card tables and building forts in our grandparents' back yard.  we remember taking turns sitting on the ice cream freezer on a hot summer afternoon while our parents took turns cranking the freezer or gorging ourselves with watermelon while the juice ran down our chins and over our shirts or running through the sprinklers to cool off in those days before air conditioning.  in those days we all lived either in the same town or near enough for frequent visits.  i wouldn't take anything for these wonderful memories and the friendships i share with my cousin who visited us yesterday and the other cousin with whom we stay in contact, though we don't see him very often because he lives about 800 miles away from us.

seeing my cousin reminds me of the importance of family, and the lessons we learned as children about caring for one another within the family.  may we each value those special bonds that tie us together, bonds that stretch across generations and distances.  may we remember that we are tied to every living thing in much the same way, that all of us are part of a great family.  may we nurture those who surround us, whether related to them by blood or not.  may we see every person as our father, mother, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle, and cousin, seeking to love each as if we had grown up together in a family relationship.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Once I Built A Tower to the Sun

while with my brother to address his health issues, i went out to visit some relatives in their new home in the retirement community where they now live.  while there, they took me on a tour of the housing development in which they live and of the small town of which it is a part.  the contrast between their area and the town itself was stark.  the "city-within-a-city" that is now their home is filled with beautiful homes with manicured lawns, walking and bike trails, an elaborate community center with indoor and outdoor pools and tennis courts.  once we left their area and went into the town proper, we saw a large county courthouse, a huge county jail, more bail bondsmen than i ever saw in one location, a few pretty historic buildings, a huge library (more about that later), and what seemed to be hundreds of squalid homes packed together on neglected streets.

as we drove past the homes of people who obviously lived in extreme poverty,  the husband of the couple that took me on the tour commented that "there were probably ten illegals living in every one of them" and later said, "you can see where all our tax money goes."  i was appalled that, rather than seeing the injustice that had consigned the town's original residents to such deplorable living conditions, he saw moochers living off government welfare and criminals who had entered the country by clandestine means, even though i had not seen a single hispanic person in the area.  his comments echo the thinking of so many in our country now: "i'm well off because i worked hard and am reaping the benefits of my hard work, while those who live in poverty choose to do so in order to collect money from the government--money they don't deserve."

the reality of the area that has produced this poverty is that this was a former cotton farming area, dominated by large plantations on which the ancestors of those who live in the town labored for low pay in order to enrich large landholders.  most likely, there was a large slave population before the civil war that fared little better after the war freed them.  the beautiful huge library was funded by and named after one of these wealthy families, as is a catholic community center in the poor part of town.  this family continues to hold much of the land surrounding the town, but they and others like them appear to have done little else to improve the living conditions that they created for most of the town's residents.

there is obviously a high rate of crime, given the size of the county jail and the plethora of bail bondsmen that surround it.  this is typical of many areas of our country, and those of us who live in more affluent areas forget that such situations still exist.  it is the product of our roots in condoning the vile practice of slavery that continues to stain our culture and our propensity for blaming the victims of our social system rather than recognizing the forces that made them victims.  we continue to ignore the growing income equality here at our peril.  a day of reckoning will come unless we take steps to address the situation soon, and i hope that we use the power of the ballot box to put people in office who see a vision of our nation as one in which all people should have the opportunity to pursue happiness and where none go hungry or live without proper shelter and medical care.

may we see our own culpability in the creation of the current state of affairs.  may we do what we can to set things right and to help those who are powerless.  may all of our people have access to the resources that are now controlled by a few.  may we treat all people with compassion and respect, recognizing that there are many of us who live well because others have been impoverished.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Great Fellowship of Love

this week i am away from home because my brother had a serious health setback at the end of last week and needed my sister and me to come help him.  i am staying at the home of another relative who is out of town this week, while my sister stays with my brother in his apartment.  both my sister and brother have had life-threatening, debilitating health issues over the past few years, but my sister has largely recovered, while the problems seem to keep piling on for my brother.

as i sit this morning, i think about the suffering my brother is experiencing.  at the time in his life when he should be able to relax in his retirement and enjoy life, he is fighting to keep going.  financial and health issues cause him constant suffering.  each time he seems to be emerging from one crisis, another occurs.  he finds obstacle after obstacle in his path, and there seems to be no way forward.  he is a good person, a kind person, a lover of animals, a rescuer of abandoned dogs.   what life has handed him is undeserved, but he perseveres, though he is sometimes overwhelmed as he was when struck by this latest series of difficulties.

perhaps the presence of my sister and i will help him in his struggle.  i know that my sister is a calming, stabilizing influence, and i know that his son, who has been working with all his might to maintain his work schedule, care for his own family, and help his father as much as possible is glad that he has some help for a couple of weeks.  having some assistance in negotiating the complications of the medical system, in doing some planning for his care, and in finding some solutions to the financial problems that major medical issues can bring may give my brother some hope that life will not always be this way for him.

it is hard to think rationally when there is so much irrationality in life.  to detach oneself from the emotional responses to situations like what my brother is facing so that one can establish priorities, tackle the pieces of the puzzle one at a time, and figure out what will work requires an approach that isn't easy to come by, but such detachment is necessary.  so as my sister deals with the emotions involved in these difficulties that my brother faces, perhaps his son and i can work to find a way forward that addresses the physical and financial parts of the situation with logic so that the end result is a better life for him.

after we've railed at the injustices of life, may we also see its beauty.  may we remember that suffering is our universal experience, but so is joy.  may we bond together to help each other, because we can't go it alone.  may we know that life was meant to be a communal experience, each of us helping those around us along the path.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Find the Frame Where We Are Freed

after thinking about the essentials of having confidence and taking refuge in the teachings of jesus in my last post, i've tried to think about the teachings of the buddha that are essential for me.  i'm reluctant to write about buddhist teachings because i have so much less experience with them, but what i've learned about siddhartha gautama and the teachings that grew from his life and practice have had great meaning for me over the past few years.  here is a brief summary of those teachings:

  • change is the only constant in life.
  • suffering is the universal experience of all persons.
  • the root causes of our suffering are our penchant for craving that which we do not have and clinging to that which we do have, believing that having more will bring greater happiness.  this belief is false.
  • compassion and lovingkindness are the source of true happiness.
  • we are all essentially the same.
  • we are not our thoughts.
  • we have the capacity to become more aware and to grow spiritually and intellectually.
  • life happens in the present, not in rationalization of the past or by imagining a perfect future.
  • the daily practice of meditation, of quieting the mind and focusing on the present, is essential for spiritual growth.
  • increasing our mindful attention to the present leads to a peaceful, happy, and purposeful life.

it is difficult to reduce any belief system to a few essentials, but these above and the summary of jesus' teachings that i made last week are the core of what is essential for me as i live my day-to-day life.  they are what i remind myself of at the start of each day and try to remember and practice throughout each day.

may each of us think deeply about what our most basic beliefs.  may our lives demonstrate our beliefs.  may we remember that love and acceptance of the impermanence of life are the keys to happiness.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

All That Is Not True

each day in my morning meditation, i say the phrase, "may i take refuge and place my trust in the teachings of jesus and the buddha."  part of my meditation for the past several days has been on just what the essential teachings of jesus are in which i should put my trust.  so today i will try to summarize those teachings.  i don't believe that jesus is God or even a supernatural being, but i do believe that he and the buddha are the two wisest men who have ever lived.  my thinking about jesus evolves, and the greatest mystery about him for me is his relationship to God.  as a christian, born into a christian family in a culture that is predominantly christian (though becoming less so), identifying as a christian is part of my identity.  i recognize that many christians wouldn't consider me one of their own because of my unorthodox beliefs, but i do consider myself to be a disciple of jesus and know of nothing else to call myself except "christian."

here are the teachings of jesus in which i take refuge and place my trust:

  • God is a god of love, not a god of punishment and vengeance.
  • all people are worthy of love, regardless of their race, religion, gender, and status in society.
  • our calling is to serve others.
  • we are charged with examining our own motives, not with judging the motives of others.
  • we must love without condition.
  • we should forgive easily and not harbor grudges.
  • how we live is more important than having faith in any supernatural being or subscribing to any religion.
  • the living of life in the here and now is what is essential, rather than following a set of rules to insure a happy life in a vague hereafter.
  • the needs of others are more important than a complicated system of beliefs.

this pretty much summarizes my thinking about jesus and the way i aspire to live.  no complex theology is needed, no creed must be subscribed to.  may i take refuge in and trust those teachings.  may each of us find our way to a life of service and lovingkindness.  may we live mindfully, examining our thoughts and the actions that flow from them in the light of their effect on others.  may we use our gift of reason, never accepting any teaching without putting it to the test.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Walking Along the Eightfold Path

on two recent occasions, i've made remarks to my wife that she took exception to, and she's reminded me of them several times since.  i didn't mean the remarks in a hurtful way.  one comment was made in jest, the other out of frustration with myself.  as i've thought about what i said, i've been reminded of how easily words slip out of our mouths with little thought beforehand.  when i spoke, i never considered how what i said might be taken by another person.  i meant no offense or harm, yet i caused both.  it would be easy to shift the fault to my wife, blaming her for taking umbrage needlessly.  yet it is i who is at fault for speaking without mindfulness.

we have a relative who seems to always be mindful when she speaks.  every word is weighed before it is uttered, but it is quite difficult to carry on a conversation with her.  she looks for implied meanings in every sentence she hears, then chooses her words carefully in reply.  this is mindful speech taken to an extreme, and it is painful to her partners in conversation, and, in fact, conversation with her is all but impossible.

how does one speak mindfully without becoming like our relative?  i think the basis for the right speech is to have a right heart.  before one reaches the third step in the eightfold path, there are first right view (or understanding) and next right intention.  from these two qualities, flows right speech, that speech which is never intended to cause harm and which takes into consideration the perception of the object of the speech.  it is the last of these that i failed to consider.  i was not thinking of how my remarks might be perceived by my wife when i spoke.  i know that the harm that i caused will be forgiven and forgotten, because my wife knows that it would be out of character for me to cause harm by my speech, but for the present the hurt is there, though unintended.

this is the wonderful thing about love, especially a love that has matured over more than fifty years.  we know the hearts of one another and have learned to tolerate, even appreciate, the irritating quirks of each other.  we have each ceased trying to control the other and learned to accept each other just as we are.  my wife knows that i would never intentionally harm her, and i know that i would never wish to cause her pain.  words once spoken can never be taken back, one can only apologize and feel remorse for the suffering they cause another.

may we speak mindfully, remembering that there are consequences that arise from our words.  may we know that the old saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," is patently false.  may we be aware that words can wound us deeply, and the hurt they cause can take longer to heal than a physical wound.  may our words arise from a heart filled with lovingkindness.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Till selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free!

over the past week, we've witnessed the unraveling of donald trump's presidency.  the revelations by michael cohen in court and the conviction of paul manafort on multiple counts would have been enough to bring about the forced resignation of former presidents, and yet trump continues in office, insisting that he is blameless.  amazingly, most elected officials in his party have either defended him or taken a wait-and-see position.  the mueller investigation continues, and trump continues to wage war against it and his own attorney general.

the rest of us wait for the next shoe to drop.  will donald trump, jr., be indicted?  will weisselberg, the trump organization's chief financial officer, reveal involvement in russian business dealings that undercut trump's assertion that he is not beholden to any russians?  will trump pardon manafort?  will the republican red wall that supports trump hold?  when trump became the party's nominee, a republican friend of mine asked in disbelief, "surely, he won't be elected?"  i told him that i feared that he might but would be amazed if he remained in office for all of his term.  like many, i hope that my prediction is correct, though i don't think vice-president pence will be any better as far as policy issues are concerned.  in a pence presidency we will see the continuation of the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants, including those who have spent most of their lives here, the isolationist trade and diplomatic policy, the racism, and the inflicting of draconian measures directed at the poorest members of our society.

one can only hope that the mid-term elections will send a clear signal that the majority of americans reject the direction that the country has headed under trump and displeasure with him as president.  if the election results are mixed or supportive of trump, i fear we are doomed for many years to come and will go our own way in defiance of the rest of the world and at the expense of the most vulnerable within our borders.

may we repudiate trump and his policies.  may we elect new representative and senators who put the well being of the country ahead of partisan politics and their own desire to continue in office.  may those who serve have the courage to denounce wrong, even if the denunciation is at the expense of their own chances of re-election.  may every american vote for candidates who will serve all the people, not just the wealthy.  may this country be a "sweet land of liberty" once more.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When You and I Were Young

in a few days, my wife and i will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.  on that day in 1968, we were both twenty-one years old and had just graduated from college.  i had begun my first teaching job.  my wife had just completed a summer of working as a "temp" in houston while living with one of her sisters there.  we were excited to begin our lives as adults, establishing our first home in a tiny three-room apartment, where you had to go through the bathroom to get from the living room to the kitchen.  the apartment was in the basement of a house built into the side of a hill overlooking a ravine, and our windows were just above ground level.  both of our jobs were miserable, but we were happy together there, learning how to cook and how to put up with each other's little irritating mannerisms.

over the years we've lived in six different towns, as we've followed jobs and college degrees from place to place.  our last move took us to a place where we lived for thirty years, the longest time we stayed in the same house.  when we made our move to our home here at the age of seventy, that was our most difficult move.  it was hard to leave the house that had nurtured our lives together for so long and to haul the accumulated belongings that we had collected over so many years together for the 250 miles or so from our old home to the new one, but we survived it.

we've learned, i think, how to care for one another, to help each other heal old wounds from our childhoods.  we've learned to work together, each giving up our desires to control how the other lives and thinks.  we've learned to make decisions together, neither insisting on having it one way or the other.  all-in-all we've had a wonderful life together, a far happier life that either would have had alone.  neither of us can imagine a life without the other, though some day we may have to experience that reality.  we hope that day is far in the future.

we've raised two wonderful children, children who can't believe that their parents are growing old and won't be the same as they've always been.  as i look back, i see that i thought my dad would always be there, and i thought the same of my mother until her illness ended her life when she was just a couple of years older than i am now.  i never thought about my dad's aging or the difficulties he faced trying to keep his home and yard going on his own after my mother died.  now i understand how hard it was for him, as my wife and i try to figure out how to reduce the demands of yard work and house work, how to make do with less.

it would be wonderful to have another fifty years together, but that's unlikely.  at best, we might have another twenty or so.  we can hope that the years remaining will be healthy ones, that neither of us has to leave the other to live in a nursing home.  we can hope to live independently, caring for our home and each other, but we never know what life may bring, as my dad discovered when my mother became ill and soon was gone.

may we each have the strength to face the challenges that life throws at us.  may we relish each day filled with joy and good health, each day we get to spend with the person or persons we love most.  may we live with gratitude and with good will for all those around us.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

That's What Life Is All Ablout

we are friends with a couple that we've known for many years.  we enjoy going on trips with them, frequently go out to eat together, play cards with each other, and generally love spending time together.  both the husband and wife are considerate, kind people, but in their interactions with one another they are not so kind and considerate.  the wife complains about her husband frequently, and he persists in actions that he knows annoy his wife and cause extra work for her.  she does not have a college degree, and he does, and he often speaks to her dismissively, suggesting in both the content of his speech and the tone of his voice that her opinion is unworthy of consideration.  their son, who lives with them, speaks to his mother in the same manner, no doubt taking his cue from his father without realizing what he is doing.

it pains us to see how they treat each other.  my wife is constantly telling her female friend that she doesn't understand why the couple can't just talk with each other about the things that pit them against one another and resolve these ongoing conflicts.  they've been married for over fifty years, and i suppose the dynamic of their relationship has taken that long to develop and can't be changed without great effort on both their parts, something that neither husband nor wife has the inclination to do.  watching them together has made my wife and i more conscious of how we treat one another, and i think we are more considerate of each other because we see how inconsiderate our friends are in their dealings with their partner.

i catch myself being curt with my wife from time to time, and i am reminded of my own imperfections and the ease with which each of us can slip into treating the person we love most with an unkindness that we would never visit on anyone else.  the object of much of my meditation time lately has been becoming more mindful of how i speak to my spouse and stopping myself before i speak to her in an inconsiderate manner.  we both find that, the more we treat each other with kindness and respect, the more that treatment is returned to us.  i've heard it said that one can tell the true measure of a person by observing how that person behaves towards those who are dearest, and i think there's a great deal of truth in that.  why is it easier to be kind to strangers and friends than it is to those we love the most?  i suppose we assume that our loved ones will find forgive us more readily and tolerate our foibles more than those who know us less well.

may we work to make lovingkindness and respect the hallmarks of our interactions with every person, including those we love most.  may we treat one another as we wish to be treated.  may we never stop developing care for those around us, realizing that each of us can become more kind and considerate no matter how long we live.  may our actions demonstrate that we love one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

When I Come to Die

in some ways those who have been diagnosed with an incurable disease and know with some precision when to expect death are fortunate.  they can make preparations: get their affairs in order, say goodbye to family and friends, make amends where needed, and make peace with themselves.  for most of us, death comes unexpectedly, bringing an abrupt end to our existence.  i suppose the lesson in this is that we should always be prepared for death.

as i've aged, i know that the end is much closer.  i jokingly tell myself and others that i plan to live to be at least 125, but the likelihood of that happening becomes more and more remote with each passing day.  so death is on my mind much more that it was in my younger days.  my wife and i have told our children what we want to happen upon our death--no funeral service, to be cremated and our ashes scattered in a beautiful location, a marker placed on the grave plot of my parents who were also cremated.  we've told them a little about our finances, but we haven't made written notes for them, something that we need to do in the near future.

i think of what may happen after this life is over.  i'm okay with becoming a part of the earth, of living on in the life that my remains nourish and in the memories of those who knew me.  i'm hoping that reincarnation is more than a superstition, that i'll have more chances to grow toward enlightenment.  i have serious doubts about the christian idea that when we die, if we believe the right things, we'll go to spend eternity in some paradise.  that seems the most unlikely scenario of what happens upon death, though it would be great if true.  i won't spend any time worrying about whether i'm "right with God" in order to be whisked away to eternal bliss in a golden city to play my harp in perpetuity.

change is our only constant.  nothing is as it was a millisecond before.  i'm learning to accept the changes in my body and in the world around me.  i know that everything comes to an end and is replaced by something different.  this body that has served me so well, the house where i live, the town in which i live, this country--nothing is forever.  one day, those in whose memories i live on will be gone along with those memories.  but even then, i'll live on in the good or ill i've inspired in others.  i'm fortunate to be able to say that my children are good people, kind, thoughtful, caring, spreading good will around them among their coworkers and friends.  they are full of love for others and for life, and, while i can't take all the credit for that, i know that i've played a role in what they have become and are becoming.  i am gratified that through them my influence for good, if not the memory of my life, is being carried on through countless lives.

may we be grateful for the chance to make the world a better place in large or small ways.  may we remember that there is great joy in life and great relief in death and prepare ourselves for both.  may we live lives filled with gratitude for all the opportunities life affords us.  may we meet our end knowing that we did what we could to make the most of the days we had.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

To Do the Truth in Love

i've been filling in as organist at one of our local churches while they search for a new musician.  friends who are familiar with the congregation have warned me that, as long as i am willing to help them out, the church won't seriously try to find a permanent player.  i know that's probably true, so last week i went in to talk with the pastor.  i told him that i had already retired twice as a church staff member, and i don't intend to make this a third time to retire, and i gave him a deadline of sorts for when i would go back to what i considered my "home" church so that they would need to have found someone by that time.

i pointed out several factors in their situation that would make it difficult to find a new organist.  the instrument needs major repairs, there seems to be little planning beyond week-to-week, and the pay is far below the going rate, especially if an organist has to drive in from another town.  i explained, as he probably already knew, that one reason trained church musicians are so scarce is that churches don't pay a living wage to musicians, so why would someone invest years to train and pay for expensive lessons for a pauper's wage.

the minister is new to the church, and i'm sure he has his hands full trying to figure out how to mend serious divisions within the church, make his own plans for how best to serve the church, get to know those who attend there, and find his way around the community.  yet, the lack of an organist is a serious problem for the church, and there seems to be no one else in the community who is not already committed to playing at a church.  the one sunday that i had to be gone during the past month, they had no one to play, and people noted the hole that having to sing with guitar accompaniment and to sing unaccompanied left in the service.  several commented on how much they missed the organ and how much they loved hearing its sound in leading worship.

i feel a bit guilty that i may be put in the position of leaving them in the lurch with no one to play for worship.  i love playing and enjoy having the opportunity to play, but i don't enjoy being tied down every weekend and having to take time away from my life with my wife and from my responsibilities at home to go practice every day.  as i've thought about this situation, i've realized that, if the folks in this church love the organ music as much as they say, they would figure out a way to hire someone for a decent wage, do a better job of planning, and repair a deficient instrument.  it's not a poor congregation, and they have money to pay for three other full-time employees.  they have lots of children in the church, but no children's choir.  they have a good many teens, but no musical activities for them.  they have handbells and an excellent handbell music library but no handbell choir.  they have a nice choral music library, but use photocopies of second-rate anthems for a choir of only eight or so singers.  when i look at all these resources and the potential for a vibrant music program, my guilt eases.  the situation leads me to think that their words about their love for music are not sincere enough to do what's needed to not only hire an organist but to employ a full-time music director/organist who could enrich the life of the church in so many ways.

time will tell whether they will bite the bullet and do what needs to be done and whether i will leave them to fend for themselves musically.  i suspect that when the deadline i've given them arrives, i'll stay a bit longer, but eventually the call to return to my life of retirement will be stronger that the call to play every sunday.  in the meantime, i will hope for the best for them and for me.

may we not allow the needs of others to keep us from meeting our own needs.  may we see that neediness can be a way of manipulating others to do what we ought to do for ourselves.  may we see that jesus' call to serve others was not a call to ignore the needs in our own lives and remember that he called us to love others as we love ourselves.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Standing in the Living Present

last sunday i played for a church service in one of the churches in our town, filling in while the congregation searches for a new organist.  the minister preached on the doctrine of the trinity, and the hymns were all based on that theme.  the first hymn was "come, thou almighty king."   among the stanzas were these words: "father, all glorious, o'er all victorious, come and reign over us; gird on thy mighty sword; give thy word success; thou who almighty art; thy sov'reign majesty may we in glory see."  now, such language is not all that unusual in christian hymns, but i find it troubling.  the image of god on a throne ruling over humankind, enlisting followers in an army to conquer sin and, by implication, those who refuse to submit to the christian religion, is one that we ought to abandon.  this idea of God as an absolute ruler with all of us as subjects is archaic and contrary to the teachings of jesus.  what does a loving father need with a "mighty sword?"

we sing such words thoughtlessly because we've heard them all our lives, and their familiarity makes them attractive to us.  but words have meaning, and we need to examine them to see if we believe them to be true.  "onward, christian soldiers" is a fun hymn to sing, with a catchy tune by sir arthur sullivan of gilbert-and-sullivan fame, but it's so chockfull of imperialist imagery that most recent hymnals do not include it.  another such hymn that is still in many modern hymnals is "lead on, o king eternal," which is filled with martial and monarchial imagery, though the second stanza makes it clear that the armament of the christian is "deeds of love and mercy," rather than "swords loud clashing."  a favorite of mine that has been abandoned by most newer hymanls is "not alone for mighty empire."  this is a hymn with a wonderful tune that shifts from minor to major in the middle and is quite stirring.  the tune, "geneva" by george henry day, has been retained in many hymnals with other texts, and it is that tune that makes the older hymn memorable, rather than the words.

i'm glad that the editors of hymnals are more sensitive to the texts that are included than we who sing from them often are.  i hope that the trend toward abandoning hymn texts with militaristic, imperialistic, undemocratic, and racist language continues, so that eventually we will no longer reinforce such language by using it in our worship.  even when we mindlessly sing these words, the ideas creep into our minds and we proclaim them as heartfelt beliefs to those who hear and read them.

 may we be mindful that words do, indeed, have meaning, and we ought not to use them carelessly.  words can hurt others deeply and are often harder to heal from than physical wounds.  we use them as weapons even when we don't mean to.  may we choose the words we use with care and lovingkindness.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bright As The Sun, Ever It Glows

a few days ago, as i was reading jack kornfield's book, "a path with heart," i came across these words that were purportedly spoken by the buddha:
hatred never ceases by hatred,
but by love alone is cured.
this is an ancient and eternal law.

they made me think about our current social climate in this country and my own personal approach to life.  how do we go about loving those whose hearts seem to be filled with hate?  can i really cure the hatred that is running rampant here by loving those who spew hate?  how does one even go about loving those who are hateful to others?  in one of my subsequent meditations, i tried to imagine what life is like for donald trump and for those around him.  could i put myself in their place?  could i see into his heart and touch the suffering in that heart that causes him to lash out at others and to call other human beings vermin, rapists, or criminals because they have come here to seek better lives for themselves and the ones they love?

i meditated, too, on how my practice has changed me over the 600+ days i have spent meditating.  i know that i am more thoughtful.  i am less stressed.  i am able to set aside my preconceived notions of how each day should go and accept the inevitable changes that life forces me to make.  i believe i am more loving to my wife and others in my circle of family and friends.  i don't become impatient easily.  i'm less concerned about doing something because it pleases someone else and less concerned about what others think of me and more conscious of how to resist being manipulated by others.  i'm less impulsive and more willing to take time to think things through before i act or speak.  i'm less likely to lash out when someone says something hurtful to me.  in short, i am much happier and more content with myself and my life.

i am so delighted that i came to my study of buddhism and the way it has influenced me at this stage in my life.  now that the end of my life is in sight, i can accept that my time here is finite, and i can approach death with a heart that is peaceful and filled with love.  i can see that the changes in my own heart and mind have influenced changes in others around me, and that makes me believe that the quote at the beginning of this post is probably the most profound truth that one can adopt into one's life.  hatred can be cured by love and only by love.  this is true in our individual lives and in society.

 may we love our enemies and "pray for them who despitefully use [us]" (luke 6:28).  may we meet hatred with love.  may we seek to see the humanity in everyone, even those who refuse to see the humanity in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Here At Our Sea-washed, Sunset Gates Shall Stand

i remember as a child going with my family on vacation in a neighboring state.  as we crossed the border, all vehicles with out-of-state license plates were instructed to pull off the highway where the driver would be questioned by state police about what the purpose of the visit to the state was, how long they would be staying, and whether there were any agricultural products in the vehicle, all these being asked as the officer or officers looked inside the vehicle at the contents and the other occupants.  it was a frightening introduction to the state, especially for a young child.

i am reminded of these interrogations each time i pass through a customs checkpoint when returning to this country, where the agents are often rude and demeaning.  i often wonder if they are as discourteous to non-citizens coming into the country on business or vacation.  i hope not.  my experience with border crossings into most other countries has always been pleasant, and i have felt welcomed.  the only exception was on our recent trip to russia, where we spent a couple of days.  the passport control officers there were brusque and, while they were stiffly polite, we didn't feel that they wanted us in their country.

as i read of people's encounters with border control agents in this country at the checkpoints they have set up in states like new hampshire, i can imagine the reaction of those who are stopped on the highway and asked about their citizenship status.  though the courts have ruled that these agents have the right to stop people and ask such questions, it seems an invasion of privacy to have one's progress on the highway miles away from any international border interrupted solely for the purpose of determining whether the traveler is a citizen of the usa.  at these checkpoints, there is no pretense at having cause to stop every vehicle as it travels down the road.  the checkpoints are there for only one reason:  to try and apprehend undocumented aliens.  one person i heard interviewed recently was a native-born new hampshire citizen who refused to answer the question about his citizenship status.  he was held by border control for several hours, though it was obvious that he was a legal resident with a new hampshire car tag and driver's license, and his residency could easily be verified by accessing his driving record and car registration.

in our government's zeal for finding, arresting, and deporting those who are here illegally, our country is being turned into a police state.  by recalling the checkpoint that my family went though as we travelled to another state, i can get a small sense of the fear that the undocumented who have lived here for years, contributed to our economy, built lives for themselves and their families must feel, knowing that at any moment their lives may be destroyed by one simple question:  "are you a citizen or legal resident of this country?"  the racial discrimination that those who skins are a little too brown or who speak english with a slight "foreign" accent must endure because someone suspects that these traits signal the likelihood that these "different" people are illegals is abhorrent.

we read of many instances where people of color are attacked or challenged by other citizens because they are in places where their attackers don't believe they should be.  for instance, a black resident of a neighborhood was confronted by a white resident at the community swimming pool, which required a keycard that signified residence in the neighborhood for entrance, despite the woman's possession of such a keycard.  the police were called, and they confirmed that the woman had every right as a resident of the neighborhood to be there.  her attacker was forced to resign his position with the community home owner's association, but in the meantime, this woman had been humiliated simply because she was a member of a racial minority who resided in a predominately white neighborhood.  such incidents are becoming all too frequent in our society, and the current climate of suspecting those who are somehow different from the majority and the permission to act in a openly racist manner that our president and his administration have given to our citizenry are erasing years of progress toward becoming an open and free society.  racism is alive and well in the usa, and our fervor for expelling those who have come here to escape violence, poverty, and oppression because they don't have the right papers in their possession contributes to repression of those who aren't "white" enough or who don't speak with a "real" american accent.

may we defend those who have too few defenders in the current climate of bigotry in this country.  may we embrace those who appear or sound different from the majority.  may we have compassion for those whose only hope is to reach this country and establish new lives for themselves here.  may we again become a beacon of freedom for the world, rather than the promoters of the worst sorts of racism.  may we say with emma lazarus, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  shalom.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

We Struggle To Be Human

last week was a very busy week, and i never found time to sit down and write a blog post.  this week is a little less hectic.  today i want to write about anxiety, the sort of anxiety that we call "anxiety attacks."  i've never experienced one of these, but i have a close friend who experienced two recently, and i felt helpless in the face of her distress.  i tried to comfort her, speaking to her of the need to confront the situations which brought on her discomfort.  my words were of little help, but she held herself together until the anxiety passed after several hours.

as i thought about her experience, i recalled others i know well who also experience this intense anxiety.  one is another friend who lives far away, the others are relatives.  all of these take medication which seems to diminish the intensity of their anxiety.  the friend who brought this to mind refuses to take anything to ease her fears because she has these attacks so rarely.  she is afraid that ,if she uses medicine for relief, she will become dependent on it and the attacks will become more frequent.  that seems to be the case of those others i mentioned, or perhaps their attacks are so frequent that, without medicine, they would not be able to function in their daily lives.

it is hard for me to understand this deep trauma, never having experienced it.  the feeling of helplessness while another is suffering is difficult.  i wish that i could find words that would ease my friend's pain, but this seems to be something which she must deal with on her own.  i am hopeful that my presence and reassurances make her pain more bearable.  there seems to be little else i can offer.

may we be there for those who are suffering.  when we can do nothing else, may we hold the hands of those who need our help.  may we express our love and compassion by staying with those who are hurting.  may we hold them in our hearts without judging them or seeking to impose our own solutions on them.  may our lovingkindness be undergirded with understanding.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

No Angel Visitant, No Opening Skies

i am amazed at how gullible we humans are.  we are conditioned to believe certain things by the cultures in which we grew up, by our families, by our educational backgrounds.  we accept things without questioning, ignoring reason and evidence.  we engage in all sorts of wishful thinking, placing our faith in that which gives us hope, even when logic tells us we shouldn't.  we look for explanations of what we don't understand, often relying on pseudo-science because it tells us what we wish were true.  a case in point is the anti-vaccination movement, which tells us that childhoods vaccines against what used to be common childhood diseases is the cause of autism, despite all the evidence disproving this theory.  the result is outbreaks of illnesses which could easily have been prevented.

we have a relative who has placed her trust in the "applied kinesiology" branch of quackery that is an offshoot of chiropractic.  practitioners of this fake science tell their patients that weakness in certain muscles is connected to ailments in corresponding vital organs, and they diagnose based on this belief.  our relative now is on a non-dairy, gluten-free diet because the "doctor" she trusts has convinced her that both she and her youngest son have numerous health problems because of their allergies to dairy products and breads that only a highly restrictive diet can cure.  she believes that her son's dyslexia results from his intolerance for these foods.  she has not consulted an allergist or any other traditional medical doctor, but is living her life based on what her "kinesiologist" has told her.  a few years ago, she placed her family on a diet in which they the only milk they consumed was unpasteurized because someone had convinced her that this was much healthier, despite many years of evidence that this is an unhealthy practice.

yesterday another relative recounted his experience with a door-to-door salesman who convinced him that changing to the cable tv plan that the salesman was peddling would save him sixty dollars a month.  no written materials were provided to him, and the salesman required that a personal check to begin the service had to be made out to the salesman rather than to the provider of this service.  in the back of my relative's mind, he knew that this was a scam, and it took the threat of calling the police to persuade the salesman to return my relative's check, once my relative came to his senses.  this same relative invested several hundred dollars in a seat cushion containing magnets that was supposed to cure all sorts of health problems.  he knew that this was a doubtful claim, and even when the salesman offering this product tried to convince my relative that an additional investment of a few more hundred dollars for more magnets for his new cushion would result in even better results, my relative didn't balk at buying the cushion, though he did decline the extra magnets.  the cushion is now packed away because the promised benefits didn't occur.

we all fall for such frauds from time to time, because we want easy solutions to difficult problems.  we want to believe that a change in diet will cure whatever ails us, even when we are eating a healthy diet to begin with.  we want to believe that the evils in the world are caused by some supernatural being called the devil.  we want to believe that praying a magical prayer or investing in magnetized seat cushions will cure diseases.  we want to believe that we can get something for next to nothing, all the while knowing that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn't true.

may we stop and weigh the evidence before we accept as truth something that is unproven.  if we believe in a God, may we not believe in one that doesn't allow us to question and search for evidence.  may we counter our gullibility with logic, taking time to think before we act.  may we realize that just because someone is "nice" doesn't mean that someone is honest.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pardon, Peace, and Joy Are Found

this past sunday, the minister of the church we attend preached on a passage from luke in which jesus and his disciples are accused of breaking the sabbath.  first, as the disciples and jesus walk through a field of grain, the disciples pick and eat some of the grain, and the pharisees question jesus about his allowing this to happen.  later, jesus heals a man with a deformed hand in the synagogue on the sabbath, deliberately challenging the religious rules about what is allowed on the sabbath.

in his explanation of the strictures regarding sabbath-keeping among the jews of jesus' time, practices maintained by some observant jews to this day, the minister quoted numbers 15: 32-36.  this passage describes an incident as the israelites were making their way to the promised land when a man was found gathering wood on the sabbath, brought before moses, and condemned to death, a sentence carried out by the community taking the man outside the camp and stoning him, " just as the Lord had commanded moses."  no further explanation of this passage was offered, and i was disturbed that the idea that God would require such a punishment for a rather insignificant violation of the religious laws, one that was no more egregious than the actions of jesus' disciples.

the content of the rest of the sermon showed a great understanding of the human spirit, reminding us that the thrust of jesus' teachings and life pointed us to a God of mercy, love, and forgiveness, in contrast to the ritualistic and rule-bound god of the religious establishment of the time.  yet, i can't understand why the stark contrast between jesus' teachings and the god of the ancient israelites was not addressed.  it is this refusal to admit in most christian churches that there are contradictions and inaccuracies in the bible that drives people from the christian faith.  we are dishonest as we insist that the bible must be accepted in toto, glossing over passages like the one in numbers and failing to address these different understandings of God head-on.  we leave our services questioning whether or not we ought to claim to be christians if we can't accept this vision of a god of vengeance, who condones putting people to death for petty infractions of religious laws.

may we be honest in admitting many passages in the bible are contradictory, that in order for one passage to be true another must be false.  may we examine what we read and hear and not be afraid to reject that which is patently wrong.  may we worship a God of love, embracing "that of God" that is love in our hearts.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Be It Ever So Humble

we are finally back from our trip.  we saw so many beautiful things--churches, government buildings, palaces, museums filled with art, mountains, rivers, fjords, far too many to list.  we returned exhausted and happy to be in our own home among things that are familiar to us.  as always when we travel, we were amazed at the kindness of strangers: the man who showed us the best butter in the grocery store, the woman who gave us directions, the family that made sure we got off at the right stop on the s-tog, the young lady who insisted that i take her deck chair on the boat.  i hope that we showed others the same kindness that they extended to us and that the danes, norwegians, russians, finns, germans, swedes, and estonians that we encountered saw the basic goodness of americans in our behavior towards them.  that is, i suppose, the main goal of travel, to remind ourselves that we are all basically the same, all human beings with intrinsic dignity and good will for one another.  sure, we found some people that were thoughtless, mainly other travelers who were more interested in being at the head of the line, first off the boat or train, willing to do whatever it took to insure their own convenience, but those were the minority.  their rudeness and selfishness were easily dismissed when compared to the vast majority of kind-hearted, considerate people we met.

now that we are back home we face familiar problems--getting the yard back in shape, washing the clothes, charging the car battery that has run down, restocking the larder, catching up on the news from family and friends.  it's good to deal with the mundane again, just as it was good to escape it for a few weeks.  the national news is pretty much the same--hearing lies from a leader who should embody the best ideals of our country, listening to hateful rhetoric directed at those who don't deserve it, blaming the victims for their own victimization, looking for scapegoats for the ills that confront us.  many of our country's leaders embody and embolden hatreds that were long buried in our national psyche, and americans of good will wonder how to end these old prejudices and bring our government back to serving, rather than harming, the people who live here.

we must discern the best way forward.  the hatreds given legitimacy by the last election are part of our culture that have been suppressed rather than dealt with.  now they are exposed, and we see that what we thought had ceased to exist was only hidden.  how do we teach people to love rather than hate?  is confrontation the best way?  is treating others as we wish to be treated the solution?  perhaps, it is a combination of the two.  we can't let vicious words and actions go unchallenged, but we can't end hate by more hate.  we can't call people "deplorables," but we can condemn deplorable actions and rhetoric.  we have to find the underlying humanity of those who seem to be filled with hate, and we must try to understand the root causes of the hate that seems to have found a home in their hearts.  the great stain of slavery has long been a curse that disfigures our national fabric, and we must recognize it and work to cleanse that fabric so we can enjoy the many beautiful hues that are woven into it.  our country is like a coat of many colors, all lovely when we can see their beauty.  we are a song in many tongues that can only be sung if we embrace its diversity and treasure its great richness.

may we see the intrinsic greatness of our experiment in the rule of law that embodies the principle that all "are created equal."  may we encourage all our people, no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak, to join together in mutual kindness and respect.  may our daily lives exemplify those ideals which have always made our country great, rather than spreading hate in the name of "making it great again."  shalom.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Buddhist Blessing

may we be filled with loving-kindness and compassion.
may we be well.
may we be peaceful and at ease.
may we be happy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Along the Eightfold Path

may i have the complete view, intention, speech, action, and livelihood.  may i make the complete effort.  may i have the complete mindfulness and concentration.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A Prayer on Love

may i be constant.  may i be kind.  may i not be envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude.  may i not insist on my own way.  may i not be irritable or resentful, keeping a count of wrongs.  may i rejoice when right is done, and may i be forgiving when wrong is done.  may i endure in love, may i trust in love, may i hope in love, may i persist in love, remembering that love is unending.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Prayer Upon Awakening

today i am fortunate to have awakened.  i am alive, i have a precious human life.  may i not waste it.  may i expend all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to seek enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.  may i think kindly of others.  may i not become angry or think badly of others.  may i develop loving-kindness, compassion, joyful appreciation, and even-minded calm.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

And Crown Thy Good with Brotherhood

our home has been filled with guests the past several days as my wife and i prepare for our trip to scandinavia.  finally today, there is time for me to sit and write, and so i begin.  as we travel it will be difficult for me to post on my blog, so i will prepare several posts that will appear during the time we are gone.  these posts will consist of the series of prayers and meditations that i repeat each morning as i begin my day.

today i am filled with a mixture of joy, excitement, and sadness:  joy and excitement because we are about to embark on an adventure in celebration of our fiftieth wedding annivesary, sadness because of the course our country seems to be taking during the presidency of donald trump.   i have written about this before and will probably write about it again.  it weighs heavily on me.  i am disturbed that, on the whole, the leaders of mr. trump's party do not condemn his words and actions, though i know that many of them must be troubled by what is happening.  a few who place  the welfare of the country ahead of partisanship have spoken out, people like comey, mccain, and corker, but most have stayed silent, giving implicit consent to mr. trump and his regime.

let me list some of the things that sadden me and make me fearful for our country:
* freedom of the press is under attack, as those journalists who bring to light facts that are inconvenient to the president and his policies are condemned as purveyors of "fake news," when it is the repeated demonstrable lies of the president that is truly fake news.
* those who dare to speak out against the president face a barrage of the most insulting, vile vitriol.  they are attacked in the most vicious ways in an attempt to silence and discredit them, and in so doing, the dignity and prestige of the institution of the presidency is diminished.
* while he courts the support of the evangelical community, mr. trump flouts the basic moral code of that community by engaging in affairs with women while married to one of his wives, lying without shame, and spreading hate and racism in a manner never before seen from an occupant of the white house.
* the hardworking immigrant population has been made scapegoats for the economic inequality in the country, even as mr. trump and his party pursue policies that exacerbate that inequality.  according to mr. trump's philosophy, those of us whose ancestors immigrated here first have the right and duty to push out those who came later, no matter how much they are contributing to our society.
* muslims have been condemned in the most prejudiced manner, painted as monstrous terrorists because of the actions of a few radicals who have perverted the teachings of islam.  xenophobia is the norm of the current administration and undermines our long-standing practice of being a society that is devoted to freedom to practice any religion or none at all and to keeping our civic institutions free of religious endorsements of any kind.
* while promising to bring "the best" people to serve in his administration, mr. trump has appointed some who lack a basic understanding of the function of the departments they head, others who are using their high office to buy expensive furnishings for their offices and take expensive trips, and others who are running their departments on the advice of the leaders of the very businesses their departments are supposed to regulate.  he even appointed one cabinet member to head a department that the appointee had proposed dismantling.

our nation is in grave danger, and one can only hope that, as more and more people see what is happening with this presidency, legal remedies for bringing it to an end will be embraced.  we can only speculate where the investigation of special counsel will lead, but there is hope that the investigation will shine light on the corruption that is rampant in this administration and the revulsion that mr. trump holds for the rule of law.

may we who are able continue to speak out against mr. trump and his policies.  may this blight on our country soon come to an end.  may those who are endangered by mr. trump and his policies be rescued before it is too late for them.  may our country be one in which "thy liberty in law" is more than a line in a song but is instead a motto that reminds us that the principles which define us as a nation are enshrined in our constitution and the laws that have flowed from it so that no one, even the president, is above the law.  shalom.