Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I Am A Rock, I Am An Island

i am reading jack kornfield's book, a path with heart, and just finished a chapter that ends with a meditation on "who am i?"  as i began thinking about who i am, i came up with so many "i's" but i don't think i've gotten to the essence of who i am.  there are lots of i's but are any of them the "real" me?  is there a real me?  who i am changes from moment to moment, from day to day, for year to year, and over longer spans of time.  the roles i play aren't who i am.  in fulfilling the obligation to be a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, i am expressing a part of who i am, but that is not the core of me.

perhaps the point of the meditation is to help us see that we are many things but none of those things that we are expresses who we are in our entirety.  perhaps the intent is to peal away the layers of the roles that we play until we come to the core of our being, so maybe it takes longer that the fifteen minutes or so that the meditation calls for to reach that center of who we are.  maybe this is a process that must be repeated many times before we come to understand who we are.  i could write a hundred blog posts about the "me's" on my list without reaching the end of the list and i'm not sure any of them would reveal the entirety of who i am.

i suppose i am a collection of all those roles i play, of all the events, people, and ideas that have influenced my life, of the places i've lived, of everything that has happened in my 70+ years, perhaps of past lives lived.  so much complexity, yet so much simplicity in who i am.  i'm just me, the sum of all my parts, yet more than that and less.  i am the child crying in fear of the escalator that i must ride, i am the brave man who has faced loss and survived.  i am the doubter, the believer, the seeker, the wise man, the foolish man, all of those and none.

may we each reflect on who we are.  may those reflections lead us to a better understanding of who, what, why, how we are.  may we never stop seeking to become our true selves, living authentic, caring lives, loving ourselves and one another, honoring each person's progress along the path.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

God Mend Thine Every Flaw

it seems that in our country we are punishing those who have the most difficulties in life for having those very difficulties.  as someone wrote recently, "we waged a war on poverty and now we are punishing the poor."  more states are adopting policies that require those who receive government assistance in order to have health care to work, seek work, or take some sort of job training.  yet, we know that most of those who receive government support are already working.  the problem is that the only jobs they can find don't pay enough for them to be able to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families.  the myth that those who get help from the government are lazy and want to "live on the dole" persists despite all the evidence that contradicts this idea.  demagogues exploit this myth to hold onto the support of their base, and too many of us believe them.

we are doing the same thing to undocumented people in our country.  the president talks about the rapists and murderers who are streaming across our borders, but most of the people being deported are not violent criminals.  often the only crime they've committed is entering the country illegally.  we are returning vulnerable people to countries where they will endure the persecution they fled here to escape.  how can we send those who have served in our armed forces back to countries they left after they have defended our country, as we've done with military veterans?  they were good enough to risk their lives for us, but not good enough to live in our country!  how can we return people who befriended us in vietnam, cambodia, and laos because they committed some petty crime years ago?

our country is blaming the victims, and those of us who see it seem powerless to do anything about it.  once we believed in a "new deal" and "a great society."  now we seem to believe in hate and fear.  our highest elected official calls those who criticize him liars and "slimeballs," demands that his opponents be locked up, pays off those with whom he's had illicit affairs and those who know about them, appoints cabinet members who use their position to take expensive trips, and spends tax dollars on vacations in his own resorts.  is this what we've come to in what used to be "the land of the free and the home of the brave?"  woody guthrie sang "this land is my land, this land is your land" in protest to the greed and shortsightedness that created the great depression, and now we watch as those same policies are taking root in our country again.

may we reverse our course before it is too late.  may we stand up to the corruption, the greed, the lies that pour out of the seats of power.  may those who are in a position to stop this rush to madness stop it rather than sitting on their hands with their mouths closed because they belong to the same party as the would-be dictator who sits in the oval office.  may the underlying goodness of our country bring an end to these policies which punish those who have been left behind in our society and those who have come here to escape tyranny and poverty in other countries.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Land That I Love

in a few weeks, my wife and i will leave on a trip to scandinavia.  i am concerned about what people we encounter will think of people from the united states.  we are living in a time when i can't say that i'm proud to be a citizen of this country.  when we traveled to europe during the time when barack obama was our president, we found that europeans held us in high regard because they had great admiration for president obama.  we heard him quoted in sermons in church services, even when we understand little of the german preacher's other words.  we talked with a store clerk in italy who, upon learning where we were from the united states rather than canada, told us she loved our president and wished that her country had such a leader.  we saw posters in austria that honored president obama.  i don't expect to find that our country, our leader, and, as a result, we as americans will be admired as we were during president obama's tenure.

another concern is the gun culture that seems to have taken over our country.  mass killings are constantly in the news, and the ruling party's solution seems to be more guns in the hands of more people.  i read yesterday that some legislators in south carolina have introduced a bill that would have their state secede if there was any federal attempt to cease guns already in a person's possession.  other states have passed laws that provide for the temporary ceasure of firearms from anyone who has demonstrated a mental illness that might cause that person to act upon violent impulses toward others, and have acted on those laws.  i suppose that is the genesis for the proposed secession bill in south carolina.

i went in a health clinic with a relative recently.  there was a warning posted on the door that firearms were prohibited inside the clinic.  my relative's reaction was that the clinic was preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves if a "mad gunman" entered the building and began firing.  i hear of many more deaths from police and other "law-abiding citizens" shooting unarmed people because they were faced with a perceived threat, only to find afterwards that the gun they thought they saw wasn't there than i do of lives being saved because an armed bystander has shot a marauding mass murderer.  certainly mass killings are sometimes brought to an end by bullets fired by law enforcement, but only after a number of innocent people have been killed.  it seems that there would be fewer mass shootings if guns were kept from those who have demonstrated a propensity for violence.  the often-quoted cliché, "guns don't kill people, people do," may be true in a sense, but it's much more difficult to kill someone when you can't fire a gun at them than it is with a gun.

i wonder if the northern europeans we will meet on our trip will think that my wife and i are part of the insane american culture that promotes turning the united states into an armed camp.  i fear for, and am embarrassed by, my country and hope that we won't become so accustomed to mass shootings that we accept them as a fact of american life.  i am astounded at the ridicule and the hateful remarks directed at the young people who are leading the fight for sensible gun laws in this country.  these teens are our best hope for a sane future, and i pray that they will prevail where we adults have failed at reining in the national rifle association and their allies in government.

may we change the direction in which the united states seems to be heading.  may we disparage violence of all kinds rather than living an "eye-for-an-eye" sort of existence.  may we love others no matter the hue of their skin, the language they speak, or their national origin.  may we have reverence for life even when we are afraid.  may we work to create a country that we can love and be proud of because it is a refuge for those who have no other refuge.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Peace There Is That Knows No Measure

i've been reading jack kornfield's book, a path with heart, and was reminded of a congregation where i worked as a church musician several years ago.  many in the congregation, myself included, had participated in a weekend retreat experience, though not all of us on the same weekend.  in this retreat program, men and women attended separate retreats, and over the course of a couple of years a significant number of the church's members had participated in at least one weekend of retreat.

one of the outcomes was that several participants believed that sunday worship in our own congregation should be like the worship experiences in the retreat program.  this meant a radical departure from our usual form of worship, and many of us were not in favor of making such a change.  we believed that it was not realistic or healthy for the church to try to recreate the unique retreat experience every sunday in worship.  while the retreat was a wonderful program, it was not intended to take the place of our regular style of worship, that what made our participation in the weekend retreats meaningful was that it was a departure from the norm.  it was a "mountain-top experience" that energized our lives, but life is not meant to be a continuous series of exhilarating experiences, else such experiences become normative rather than special.

the push of some to change our church eventually split the church with some insisting on their own worship service created in the image of the retreat worship services, while others continued our usual pattern of worship at a separate service.  in the end, many people left the church.  the retreat and the response of many people to it left the church weakened, rather than strengthening it.  it was not the design of the retreat that was at fault but the response to it, when some failed to realize that the retreat's true purpose was to call us away for an intense period of worship and reflection so that our individual spiritual lives were strengthened to better serve one another when we returned to our day-to-day lives.  trying to maintain a continual retreat was an untenable and unhealthy goal, and our congregation paid for it when some attempted to realize such a goal.

so it is when we take something good and cling to it, grasping after fleeting moments of pleasure and trying to continually recreate them.  may we recognize both pleasure and pain as temporary passing sensations that are not the true meaning of life.  may we accept them as they come to us, enjoying the pleasure and enduring the pain, and letting them go as they pass away.  may we not flee pain any more than we try to prolong pleasure in an unhealthy way, but accept both as part of the stuff of life.  may peacefulness be our goal rather than avoiding pain or grasping after pleasure.  shalom.