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.