Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Stopping By Woods

my wife and i are traveling in new england for the next couple of weeks, so my posts will not return until the middle of october.  may all be well, may all be happy, may all be at peace.  shalom.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Don't Go Changing

it is a natural human inclination, i suppose, for each of us to want others to conform to our expectations of them.  we want to remake others into what we desire them to be.  if someone close to us keeps things to themselves, we may wish that person would be more open and willing to share with us.  acquaintances may be abrupt and surly, and we want to change them so that they are more pleasant.  a friend is easily angered or offended, unable to disagree without being disagreeable, so we fume about his propensity to take umbrage at every little thing.

as we go through life wishing that others were what we want them to be, we make ourselves miserable.  it is too easy to find fault in others while overlooking those in ourselves.  as jesus said in matthew 7, "why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"  all of us has our own quirks and foibles.  none of us is perfect in the eyes of another.  we all stumble and make mistakes.  why is it that we have so much difficulty loving another despite those traits that irritate or trouble us?  those things that we perceive as character flaws are a part of who that other person is, and we would be so much happier if we could accept what we perceive to be the bad along with the good.

i have a friend who constantly complains about her spouse.  everything she says about him is right.  he is thoughtless much of the time.  he does spend too much time on facebook.  he is content to sit while she does most of the work to keep the household running.  he does become angry too easily.  but he has many admirable qualities as well.  he can be generous.  he has a great sense of humor.  he is a wonderful musician.  he is a loyal friend and husband.  rather than work together to find common ground, both my friend and her husband pick at and find fault with one another, and the end result is that they are often  miserable.  i watch their misery and feel compassion for them.  truth be told, i want to remake them into the people i want them to be so they would be happier with one another.  i can't and shouldn't be able to do that.  my task is to love them despite the faults that are so readily apparent and to accept them just as they are, with the hope that they can accept and love me just as i am.

may we see others as complete human beings, not as the sum of their faults.  may we love in spite of, and sometimes because of, the unloveliness.  may our compassion extend to everyone, including ourselves.  may we see that we are all the same, with plenty of good and bad qualities to go around.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gladly I Follow

in the christian religion, and i suppose in most if not all other religions, we use some language that is archaic and has little meaning in the modern world.  indeed, some of it has negative connotations that were not part of the original sense of the words.  some of this arises from our lack of terms for referring to God, this nameless deity.  the ancients considered the name of God to be so holy that it was unutterable.  we continue this practice today, so we must capitalize the word that refers to this supreme being in order to distinguish that God from other gods that we regard as fictitious.

we use the word "lord" to talk to or about the "real" God or to talk about jesus.  what does "lord" mean?  there is that use of the word in the reference to a nobleman, an honorific that is meaningless in much of the world.  in our religious usage, we are talking about one who is our master, one who rules over us, but in our practice of the ideals arising from belief in equality of all persons, it is unnatural to refer to God or jesus as our lord.  when we do so, we are reverting to an old structure based on feudal understandings of the various ranks and worth of human beings, a caste system that is foreign to democratic ideology.

we speak of the "kingdom of God."  again we are going back to that hierarchy that places one person as the supreme head of state with absolute power over all others.  such terminology would have had great meaning in a world ruled over by a caesar or a king of an ancient empire but for our minds a "kingdom" is anathema.  if the "kingdom of God is at hand," then we have surrendered our right to think, to reason, to make our own decisions.  we are regarding jesus as our "lord," our "master," with God as the ruler who takes over our lives, leaving us powerless.

this language and the beliefs flowing from it are, i think, a stumbling block to practicing the christian religion in a modern, democratic world.  rather than a feudal worldview, we need religious language that sees jesus as our leader rather than our lord and that empowers us to think for ourselves.  we need language that imparts a sense of a God who is the embodiment of love, rather than a dictatorial and sometimes capricious ruler who is the pattern for earthly tyrants.  we christians are disciples of jesus, not his slaves.  we learn from jesus, we don't pledge him our fealty.  perhaps we should simply give God the name Love and realize that each time we commit an act of lovingkindness we are worshiping that source of love.

may we not become stuck in a mindset that is out of place in today's world.  may we realize that language is important and that, when words cease to serve our needs, we should search for better words to use.  may our worship be true worship rather than something based on a pattern that we have come to view as not just antiquated but immoral.  if we are christians, may our aim be to follow jesus and to be expressions of a divine Love.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Till All Our Strivings Cease

my wife and i have been watching the first season of the british detective show, unforgotten, in which the police are trying to discover the person who murdered a black teenager in the 1970s.  the young man's body has been discovered buried in the basement of an old building some forty years later.  in the process of the investigation, we are introduced to a number of people who are linked to the building and the neighborhood surrounding it.  as the series continues we learn how their actions four decades earlier have affected their lives and the lives of their families.  we meet an anglican priest who had a brief affair with a teenage girl shortly after his marriage to his current wife, a woman who was involved with a racist organization that made the lives of many non-white londoners miserable and who has spent the rest of her life trying to atone for her actions as a young woman while covering up her past life, an elderly wheelchair-bound man whose wife suffers from dementia but believes that her husband was responsible for some terrible crime years ago, the mother of the murdered young man who has grieved for him since he left home to escape an abusive father and who suddenly stopped communicating with her for reasons unknown to her, a woman who was the girlfriend of the murdered man, and a prominent businessman being considered for an important political appointment who has tried to cover up a career as a member of an organized crime family in his early adult life.

many of these characters try to deny their past lives, excusing the ways they've harmed others as past history that is now irrelevant.  others feel great remorse and beg the forgiveness of those who love them who are seeing their lives destroyed by the ongoing investigation.  the mother of the murdered boy feels a sense of closure as she learns of his death, visits the site of his burial, and follows the investigation that will ultimately lead to her son's killer and the reasons for his murder.  as i've watched, i've thought about how i, like everyone else i suppose, have done things in my past that i'd just as soon forget and that i hope others don't find out about.  these youthful indiscretions may have had profound effects on others that i know nothing about, just as the actions of the characters in this show have done.  i can't help but wonder if any of my earlier regrettable actions may come back to bite me at some point.  i hope that nothing i've done has caused anyone else great suffering or put someone on a destructive path.

i think about how our attitudes toward the role authority figures play in the lives of those over whom they have authority, especially over children.  when i was growing up, it wasn't unusual for male high school teachers to date and sometimes marry their female students.  somehow to us teenagers it seemed romantic that one of our classmates would fall in love with and marry a teacher that we looked up to.  today such a relationship is not just inappropriate but illegal.  as we've become more sensitive to the rights of women, we've seen how wrong the patriarchal attitudes of men towards women are, but not so many years ago actions that we would now call sexual harassment were viewed as matters of course in the natural relationship between men and women.  standards of conduct have changed for the better but it seems wrong to use today's standards to condemn past actions and to belittle others for what was, at the time, acceptable behavior.  that is not to say that crimes should be swept under the carpet and ignored.  sexual abuse ought to be prosecuted regardless of how many years have passed between the time of its occurrence and its discovery by the legal authorities.

what i'm trying to say is that i wish i had realized years ago how my actions may have affected others, not that i was ever guilty of abuse or anything illegal.  i certainly did things that caused hurt to others and failed to understand that as someone who was looked up to by young people i should have been more mindful of how my actions might influence them.  my thoughtless use of tobacco as a young teacher, for instance, may have led some of my young charges to take up the habit and become addicted.  my taking advantage of my authority to snap at a student for some violation of the rules or for making a mistake caused hurt and may have inspired cruelty in impressionable minds.  my use of coarse language and innuendo when among young male students may have caused them to think that such behavior is acceptable for young men, as indeed it was many years ago, though it certainly wasn't right--something that i knew and should have acted on.

cruelty and thoughtlessness are never justifiable.  what we do has an impact on those around us and may start a series of ripples that can touch lives that we never dreamed would be affected.  i can't change past actions, nor can i live my life dwelling on them.  i can remember and try to live with greater lovingkindness and mindfulness.  i can, as the formerly racist woman in the detective series did, try to make amends by the way in which i conduct myself in the present.  we can all try to forgive ourselves and reach out to those who we know may have been hurt by what we did in the past.

may we not dwell on past mistakes but learn from them.  may we take responsibility for the harm we've done.  may we live in each present moment with the knowledge that it will never come again, filling our hearts with love and showing that love towards all those whose lives we touch.  may we be ready to forgive ourselves and those who injure us.  may we be grateful for the opportunities life gives us and for the lessons it teaches us.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Come to Me, O Weary Traveler

i wonder what people in other countries think of the usa.  when i read or watch the news, i am ashamed of my country.  i think about the hope that i had as i watched the power of the ussr unravel, first in eastern europe and then within its own borders.  as communist dictatorships were overthrown and democratic governments were established, it seemed as if the power that was unleashed by the american revolution had come to full flower.  then there was the "arab spring" when it appeared that there was hope that all of the middle east would join the progressive wave that had earlier engulfed europe.

as i look back on that earlier promise, it seems impossible that now so much has changed.  hungary has turned into a neo-fascist state.  xenophobia flourishes in italy.  ultra-nationalism is rife in the united kingdom.  trumpism rules in the usa.  i want to be able to tell the world that all of us in this country are not like trump and his supporters.  my small voice is one of many here that decries everything trump stands for.

we watch in horror as the most desperate who are fleeing violence and poverty are thrown into virtual prisons where conditions approach those of concentration camps, where medical help is denied and children are ripped from the arms of their parents, where inedible and unhealthy food is provided, where private companies who operate these facilities make profit off the misery of others at the expense of the taxpayers.  how can we tolerate these deplorable conditions that those who have suffered so much are forced to live in?  we hear the hatred being spewed out at political rallies and the cheerleader-in-chief is our own president, a man who rules despite having lost the popular vote because of a peculiar quirk in our constitution which allows smaller states to have power that belies their population.  we recoil at the repeated horrors of mass shootings all over our country while the president and his party refuse to take steps to curb this violence, pointing to our constitution's words that give our citizens "the right to keep and bear arms."

at least in the united kingdom, there are those in the ruling party who refuse to be a part of the prime minister's rush to leave the european union and who denounce the prejudices that propelled the brexit movement into prominence.  here in this country, the members of the president's party who have dared defy him are few and far between and, for the most part, those few have been forced to retire from their positions.  even the weather reporting in this country has been politicized because those responsible for it dare not contradict the false and outlandish tweets of the president.  we stray further and further from our democratic ideals and the president's party abets the dictatorial power grab of trump.  we who oppose the current course of the country must hope that the next election will bring an end to this madness and that republican control of the senate and presidency will see its last days.

may we work so that all may live in a world where kindness and love towards one another is the rule, rather than cruelty and hatred.  may we build bridges between us, not walls.  may we resist the siren call of racial and religious divisions and see that we are all human beings first.  may we learn to disagree amicably while condemning in the strongest terms the hatreds which separate us into warring camps.  may we provide help and comfort to those who suffer regardless of the color of their skins or the language they speak.  shalom.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I Feel Pretty

one day last week i went to hobby lobby, a home decor store here in town, to pick up a candle my wife wanted.  i have mixed feelings about shopping at this store because it is part of the chain of stores owned by the family that went to court to keep from providing birth control as part of the employer-provided health care mandated by the affordable care act, or "obamacare" as its detractors call it.  this family also funds the museum of the bible in washington, d. c., which was called to task for stealing antiquities from iraq to add to its collection.  we shop there anyway, because we're not convinced that economic boycotts of businesses which are operated by people we disagree with is a good idea.  it seems to be another way of polarizing our society, and we generally don't participate in these sorts of boycotts as a way of expressing our opinion.

at any rate, that's a topic for another post.  what struck me as a i walked through the store were all the little cutesy signs that said things like "be grateful" or "family gathers here."  some people like to put these up in their homes, and that's okay if that's what you like.  one sign really bothered me, though.  it said, "a gurl [sic] is a bit of glitter wrapped up in a giggle," or something to that effect.  i immediately thought of the old nursery rhyme that goes, "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of; sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of."  i wondered if someone would buy such a sign and put it up in their home and if so, if that what they think of girls and women.  the thought sent chills through me.

one of the problems with evangelical christianity is its attitude toward women.  we have a large community of mennonites in our area.  while i think there is much that is admirable about the mennonite version of christianity, i am disturbed by its requirements that girls and women must wear little veil-like coverings on their heads, must dress in homemade clothing that usually looks like it came from the last century, and must go without make-up, while mennonite men dress in "store-bought" modern clothing and are indistinguishable in their appearance from non-mennonite males.  this whole approach that seems designed to keep "women in their place" and overtly assert male dominance is deeply disturbing.  my wife and i know many marriages where the wife, no matter how intelligent and well educated, always defers to her husband because they both believe that in a "good christian marriage" the husband is the final authority in the household.  they say, "that's what the bible teaches, so we believe that's the way it must be in order to be faithful christians."

when i think of the hard-fought battles that women have fought and continue to fight to gain equal status with men, i can't believe that any woman would settle for second-class status in marriage or relationships with men in general.  how could any man worth his salt want to be the ruler of the woman he loves?  i have to agree with my wife that marriage is a partnership between two equals, not a patriarchal bargain based on antiquated views of gender roles.  we've lived this way throughout our marriage and think that we've taught both our son and daughter to live their lives in the same way.  "gurls" are certainly much more than glitter and giggles, just as boys are more than snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails.  there's so much we don't understand about gender and identity related to gender, and i hope that our society is evolving into one that is broader than the stereotypical views of male and female that we once held.

may we think before assigning gender roles to ourselves and others.  may we see fellow humans as being more like us than different from us, regardless of their gender.  may we see that each of us is never wholly male or wholly female, that we all share common traits.  even when we disagree, may love and compassion win out.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

All Nature Sings

i'm using what i write today to "think out loud" about some things i can't come to any conclusions about.  i'll probably never be able to have any finality about these matters, first because i lack the necessary scientific knowledge and second because these questions have no real answers.  i suppose there are lots of things in life that fall into that second category.  what i wonder is how necessary human life is to the continuation of other life on this planet.  would there be any great loss to nature on the whole if human beings disappeared from the earth?

we think of ourselves as somehow above the rest of nature.  those who take the bible literally remember passages that tell us we are to "have dominion" over the natural world, or that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," or that we are created "a little lower than the angels."  christians think of jesus' words, "if that is how God clothes the grass of the field [speaking of the 'flowers of the field'], which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?," which suggest that human lives are superior to other natural lives.  but aren't we elevating ourselves because we have minds that do so?

if we think of ourselves as part of nature rather than something apart from it and slightly above it, we may not be so important in the overall scheme of things.  i wonder how dependent the rest of life is on us.  i think nature is much more necessary to us that we are to the rest of nature.  perhaps there are some organisms that wouldn't exist apart from us, bacteria, for instance, that are unique to human beings, but i don't know if that's the case.  on the whole, i don't see that we're all that essential to the remainder of nature.

certainly, there are some domesticated animals that would change radically, reverting back to their feral forms.  some food crops would disappear or evolve different characteristics because they are dependent on human cultivation in order to flourish in the way they do now.  we've developed new plants and animals that didn't exist in nature without our intervention by methods of hybridization.  we are now experimenting with manipulating genes in ways that were not possible in the past and have the ability to transplant genes from one form of life to another, thus changing the basic structure of dna.  we have the ability to clone and are not so removed from the horrors or huxley's brave new world.  but these "unnatural" creations are not necessary for the continuation of life on the planet.

our unique ability to think, to reason, to imagine sets us apart from other beings and causes us to believe that we are the only beings, that other life forms are inferior to us because they lack the intellectual powers that we possess.  the longer i live, the less i think that is the case.  i'm not so sure that many of the "lower apes" lack these mental capabilities.  when i look into the face of a dog that loves it master, i'm not so sure that this "inferior creature" is so inferior after all.  so many of the attributes we characterize as human may simply be mechanisms to insure the continuation of our species, such as our care in parenting our offspring or our ability to manipulate the natural world.  probably, we're not as special as we would like to believe.

may we not be afraid to ask "big" questions.  may we see ourselves as part of the natural order of things, and not such an important part at that.  may we show reverence for the natural world around us, not reveling in greediness that sees nature as ours for the taking.  may we honor nature in ways that insure our continuation as part of it, rather than destroying it because we think ourselves superior to it.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

In All Life Thou Livest

i've been thinking about the nature of God and what we mean when we use the word "god."  i wonder if we're trying to talk about and contemplate something that is so far beyond our comprehension that words are incapable of describing.  i wonder, too, if many of us who disagree about the existence of a god aren't really talking past each other because of the limitations of language.  are religious naturalists, adherents of various theistic and non-theistic religions, and even atheists and agnostics using terminology that ultimately means the same thing in their quest to understand life and our purpose in the grand scheme of things?

i struggle with how to refer to God.  when i pray, i usually being my prayers with the words, "o gracious God,"  but i could refer to God as the Great Mystery, Great Creator, Source of Being, First Cause, Divine Providence, Being Beyond All Knowing, or any number of similar appellations.  some avoid any name for God, using G-d, for instance.   but how does one verbalize g-d?  we can avoid thinking about how we came to be here and why.  we could choose not to think about such matters and live rewarding lives that are full of love and compassion.  for me, it is important to try to ken such things even if i can't get beyond the search for answers.

if that Great Intelligence did indeed create everything that is by causing that first creative impulse, perhaps whatever we mean by God, or whatever name we use, is a part of everything, every molecule, every atom, every fiber of every life.  perhaps all matter vibrates with the creative energy that we call God.  perhaps the collective consciousness of everything that exists, even those things that we don't think of as having "consciousness," is what makes up God.  perhaps God is a part of all things and all things taken together are God.  whenever we sense the presence of something greater than ourselves, perhaps that is God becoming known to us.  so many "perhapses."

may we seek truth, even though we are unable to fully comprehend it.  may we not be so eager to separate ourselves into our various clans and religions.  may we look for what we have in common rather than what divides us.  may we listen more than we speak.  may we value silence.  whatever we do, may we be filled with love and compassion.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Touch Me and Heal Me

a few days ago i read an article written by a man whose father, a devout christian scientist, had died in terrible agony because he refused to see a doctor for a condition that could easily have been cured by competent medical treatment.  i thought then that i would write about the absurdity of christian "scientist" teaching, but then i began to think of the issue more broadly.  we humans are easily persuaded to adopt the most bizarre beliefs, choosing superstition over science so often.  it's easy to ridicule another's religion without a thought to the farfetched beliefs that are part of our own faith.

christians point to the ridiculous basis of scientology, with its teaching that the "thetan" that is the embodiment of one's true self lives multiple lifetimes both on earth and extraterrestrial planets.  we make light of the central role of mohammed in islam and the reverence his followers have for the koran.  the buddhist teachings about reincarnation and enlightenment are condemned by christians.  yet, we don't stop and think about how outlandish many central christian beliefs seem to a non-christian.

is it possible that the creator of the universe would cause a virgin to become pregnant and give birth to a child that is the embodiment of that powerful creator?  would a loving god require that "his only son" suffer the agony of crucifixion in order to atone for the sins of humanity?  are we to believe that "the son" who died in that way rose from the dead three days later and subsequently ascended into heaven with his disciples as witnesses?  when we examine orthodox christian teaching in this way, our religion doesn't appear any less fanciful than many of the world's other religions.  our willingness as christians to only see what we want to see in our own and in other religions puts up barriers between us that don't have to exist.

i remember as a child watching faith healers like oral roberts on television.  there in black-and-white reality were these charlatans who laid their hands on the sick and prayed for or commanded their infirmities to disappear.  the "cured" walked away convinced that a miracle had occurred.  my family watched these so-called religious services in fascination and disbelief, but we were drawn to watch them again and again.  as i think back, i am certain that the emphasis on miraculous cures in the gospel accounts of the life of jesus have led to belief in faith healing with disastrous results for those who are desperate for cures that medical science can't always provide, and indeed those who are convinced that jesus really did cause the lame to walk and the blind to see are often willing to substitute "faith healing" for medical treatment even when scientific medical practice could cure, or at the very least, ease their dis-ease.

may we examine our own beliefs dispassionately.  may we stop substituting superstition for science.  may we be willing to admit that faith in the supernatural is no panacea for what ails is, both physically and as a society.  if we believe in a god, may our belief be in a god that encourages us to use our minds rather than accepting illogical teachings that have been passed down to us, a god of logic and love.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Family All Are We

in the wake of mass shootings in el paso and dayton coming on the heels of the recent shooting in california, it appears that racial animus is not only alive and well in our country but being encouraged by many of its leaders, particularly the president.  while the motives of the shooter in dayton remain unclear, the other shootings are hate crimes inspired by similar shootings elsewhere and by the perpetrators' hatred for non-white people.  some of the actions, or failure to act, on the part of the president and his supporters in congress include:

  • refusal to close loopholes in gun laws that allow the purchase of weapons without background checks
  • refusal to ban weapons that are designed to kill many people quickly, weapons that have no place in sport shooting
  • blaming mass shootings on everything but the availability of such weapons and the incitement to violence by politicians, citing video games, the "breakdown in the family," violence in movies, mental illness, and same-sex marriage, among others, as causes for such shootings
  •  making a joke out of calls to shoot immigrants at one of the president's political rallies
  • glorifying people, like colby covington, who engage in violent racist rhetoric while vilifying athletes like colin kaepernick and megan rapinoe who disagree with the president's policies and public statements
  • attacking elected people of color such as members of "the squad" and civil rights hero elijah cummings
  • using disparaging terms when referring to countries with majority black or brown populations
  • attacking the public media when it accurately reports racist statements by the president and others who support him
  • describing immigrants as criminals, rapists, and murderers
  • threatening to label members of the antifa movement as a terrorists while ignoring white supremacists
  • saying that "there are fine people on both sides" when talking about the violence perpetrated by white supremacists at a charlottesville, virginia, rally

the list could go on.  while a few republicans are beginning to speak out in opposition to the party's and trump's racist pronouncements and actions, most have either supported him and their party or remained silent.  there is little doubt that trump's language has given the most vile racists in the country courage to speak out rather than doing their dirty work under the radar as they once did.  the richard spencers of the world are emboldened by the president's speeches and tweets.  racist nationalism is on the rise in places like hungary, france, germany, russia, myanmar, and the united kingdom, and we are all endangered because of it.  those of us who believe that we must work to end the scourge of racism around the globe and particularly in the usa must speak out against this hateful philosophy.  we must look in our hearts for the racism there and work to end our own racist tendencies.  we must vote out those who encourage and promote such vile ideas out of conviction or for their own gain.

may we look within ourselves for the courage to admit our own complicity in racist ideology.  may we support those who promote solutions to ending racism.  may we see beyond the color of another's skin and the religion or lack thereof of another to view the person who is like us.  may we love even the most hateful while condemning their despicable philosophies.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

As I Go Walking That Freedom Highway

when i was quite young, probably nine or ten, my maternal grandmother gave me "the talk," a lecture that most white children of my generation who lived in the south of the usa heard at some point in their lives.  now, my "mamaw" was a kind, considerate person, in most respects a political liberal, a believer in the role of government in improving the lives of the people it served, but on one particular point she, like many, perhaps most, adults in this country held views that were inconsistent with her other ideals.  she was a racist who felt it her duty to pass her beliefs on matters of race on to her children and grandchildren.

i well remember her saying to me that, while one must always treat black people with courtesy and kindness, "colored" people were our inferiors, incapable of the same mental development as whites.  she cautioned me to always remember that when dealing with a person of color.  she and my grandfather ran a mom-and-pop grocery store on the edge of the "quarters," the area of her town where most black people lived.  most of her customers were black, and i watched her and my grandfather as they waited on them.  true to her word, she always behaved with courtesy and kindness to each one, engaging in an easy banter with them as if they were old and valued friends.  part of this was, no doubt, because her livelihood depended on them returning to her store for their groceries and paying their charge accounts at the beginning of each month, but it appeared to me that she had a genuine affection for them, many of whom had been her customers their entire lives.

later in life as i looked back on my beloved grandmother, i wondered if she really believed the words she had expressed about the inferiority of people whose only real difference from us was that their skins were darker.  like many of her peers, she was able to hold two opposing views on the matter of race simultaneously.  she would have been among the first to decry injustice against a person of color, and yet she would have insisted one could view another as a human being without believing that other to be one's equal.  this notion has become ingrained in our national psyche, making it incredibly difficult to rid ourselves of its insidious presence.  this awful inheritance of the evil of slavery colors much of our country's life and politics.  no white person here can imagine what it must be like to be black in the usa.  many of us have worked our entire lives to rid ourselves of the racist thinking that has been pervasive for so many generations, but no matter how hard we try, we still have no idea of the black experience in our nation.

i look back over my life and remember instances when i have used words fraught with racist undertones in the minds of black friends and acquaintances and puzzled over why those words were offensive.  they were perfectly innocuous to me and had a completely different meaning.  for instance, in a conversation with a person of color, i used the word "minority" in the sense of referring to the opposite of majority.  yet to her, that word was a reference to her race, and she took exception to what i said.  in her mind, i was talking about exclusion, while in my mind there was no racial connotation at all.  it was as if we were speaking different dialects of our common language.  in another instance, i remember with shame intervening in a fight between some boys from my neighborhood with other boys who were strangers to the neighborhood.  the neighborhood children were white, and their opponents were black.  as i stopped the fighting, i ordered the black children to "get out of our neighborhood."  they stopped and stared at me, before running away.  as soon as the words came out of my mouth, i realized that what i had said was racist, though it wasn't my intention.  in the minds of the boys, both black and white, i was saying that the black children didn't belong here in a "white neighborhood," that they needed to return to the "black part" of town.  that incident continues to haunt me as a reminder that no matter how hard i work to rid myself of racist thinking, those words of my grandmother from so long ago still inhabit a dark part of my mind.  any white person in this country who believes that racism has been banished from his or her mind is wrong.  it is inescapable and the ugly outpouring of it that the election of donald trump has unleashed  should convince any person that racist thinking continues to be something that we must struggle to overcome.

may we be honest with ourselves when we consider matters of race.  may we work to see all people as our equals, regardless of the color of their skins.  may we recognize our shortcomings and seek to make amends for them.  may we see that we are all human, with good and bad residing in all of us, and that the bad can only be overcome by honesty and lovingkindness.  shalom

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

When the Storms of Life Are Raging

last sunday in the church service one of the hymns described what i would call a "transactional god."  the words were based on second chronicles 7:14.  the hymn says that "if my people . . ." "then i (god) will . . . "  i suppose that the hymn was included because it was based on a scripture passage, and the thinking was "if it is in the bible, it must be true."  of course, the hymn doesn't include the context of the verse on which it was based.  in this portion of second chronicles, king solomon has just completed the construction of the temple, and god appears to him to tell him that god accepts the temple built to be the sacrificial center of worship for the people of israel.  god goes on to tells solomon that when natural calamities befall the people, they can come to the temple with humbled, repentant hearts and god will hear their prayers.  god promises that so long as solomon follows god's commands and honors god as his father david did, then he and his descendants will rule israel in perpetuity.

there is much in the passage that i find disturbing, particularly the idea that the natural disasters named in it are caused by god in retribution for the sins of the people, but the central idea of the particular verse on which the hymn is based is one that has been adopted by evangelical christians in this country to suggest that all the suffering in the usa is the result of the nation "turning away from god" by allowing such things as same-sex marriage and the separation of church and state.  their idea is that we can "make america great again" by turning by the clock to an imaginary time when all was right, everyone went to church, schools were filled with prayers and bible readings, people of color "knew their place," people of british descent controlled government and commerce, and english was the only language spoken.  all that is needed is for those of us who live here to humble our hearts, to pray, and to seek god's face, resulting in god hearing our prayers, pardoning our sins, and healing our land, so the trump crowd of evangelicals believe.

in contrast, the semon, based on luke 8: 26-39, told of jesus healing a man who was called "legion" because "many demons had entered him."  in his sermon, the minister emphasized that the man had done nothing to deserve the cure he received, and, in fact, had asked jesus to leave him alone.  when the man begged to stay with jesus, jesus told him to go tell others "how much God has done for you."  the minister pointed out that god's grace did not depend on the actions of the man but the freeing of legion from his mental illness was a gift that was entirely undeserved.  in introducing the story, the preacher pointed out that jesus had traveled across the sea of galilee to the region of the decapolis, an gentile area that would have been avoided by orthodox jews during the time of jesus, but according of matthew 4: 23-25 many of jesus' followers came from this region.  it seemed to me that the point of the sermon was to counter the "if you, then i . . ." message of the hymn that had just been sung and to insist that the religion of jesus was one of inclusion, not exclusion.

i may not believe that jesus was capable of curing a serious mental illness by speaking a sentence or that people can be possessed by demons, but i can believe in a god who loves us despite our failings, a god who cares about our suffering.  i cannot believe in a god who causes suffering to punish our shortcomings, but i can believe in a god that is present with us in our suffering, whatever the cause, and i can be a follower of a teacher who tells us about a god of love and compassion.

may we abandon belief in a god who is more about punishment and retribution.  may we not believe in a god whose actions are controlled by our own.  whatever our belief about the reality or unreality of god, may we seek to love and respect others, to include rather than exclude.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

In the midst of faults and failures

a few days ago, i read a post in a blog that i check in on each week.  the posts on this blog are written by various authors, all of whom have rejected belief in anything supernatural and abandoned the christian faith, some of them having served as christian ministers, some of them continuing to serve in parish ministry despite their unbelief.  i understand their points-of-view and agree with much of what they say, but the post that i write about today (the jesus nobody wants)was one that i found troubling.

in it, the writer describes a "jesus cult" and says that jesus "remains a stained-glass phantom and caricature."  his position is that christianity is a sham because of the apocalyptic emphases that we find throughout the new testament, and he includes a quote from another author who describes jesus as a "failed apocalyptic prophet," citing evidence by way of quotations from the new testament, particularly the gospels, to support this position.  later in the post, the writer says that "the gospels are all about the theologies of their authors, culminating in john’s egregiously egotistical jesus."  for me this is the key to coming to an understanding of who jesus was and what is essential in his teachings as we find them in the gospels.

to reject everything that jesus is supposed to have said because of the apocalyptic beliefs of some of his jewish followers and many other jews of his time is akin to the current mindset of many who insist that we must do away with anything that honors some of the leaders of the american revolution because they did things are offensive to us now or because those who interpreted their lives to us in writings and artworks wrote and painted images that we now find objectionable.  we have to ferret out the totality of jesus' life and teaching, just as we have to come to an understanding of a figure like washington as a human being with faults as well as virtues.  can we know whether jesus was really an apocalyptic teacher who expected that the end of time was imminent or were these beliefs imparted to him by the biographers whose writings became part of the canon?  if jesus did believe and teach that god was soon to intervene in the affairs of the world to create a new order, does that negate everything that he taught, making all of his teachings less than credible?

the blog author says that "there is no way to reconstruct the real Galilean peasant preacher—if there was one."  i'm not certain that's entirely true.  as we look at the contents of the synoptic gospels, i think that certain consistencies emerge, and those who are skilled linguists with knowledge of new-testament-era greek and those who are authorities on the culture of palestine during the period can tell us a great deal about this jewish "peasant preacher."  those of us who are less informed and who struggle to understand who jesus was and what his teachings mean to us today do well to suspend judgment about final conclusions as we seek to be disciples of the man many christians honor as their teacher.  our job is to do the best we can to examine the teachings of the jesus of the sermon on the mount and see if we can use them to make life better for ourselves and those around us.

may we weigh all the evidence as best we can.  may we never stop learning.  may we not ridicule those whose beliefs are different from ours.  may we learn to live with doubt and uncertainty.  may we be tolerant and respectful of and compassionate toward those with whom we disagree.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I'll Take You Just the Way You Are

my wife and i are friends with a couple that we often make short day trips with to eat out, shop, or attend concerts.  as a rule we enjoy being with them, but sometimes the husband in the other couple is difficult to be around.  while his wife is very agreeable and easygoing, he sometimes insists on having his own way despite what the rest of us want.  as an example, we had planned a trip to see a show and were on a tight schedule with him as the driver.  along the way, he decided he was hungry and had to stop at a fast food drive-through to get something to eat.  he could see that the line was quite long, and i told him that this restaurant had slow service at their drive-through.  nevertheless, he plowed ahead and even daydreamed in line, allowing another car to go ahead of us when it was our turn.  as a result we were late for our show, had to wait for a later show, and had to rearrange all of the rest of the day.  when we finally got to see our show and left for dinner, he drove us to a restaurant other than the one at which we had all agreed to eat when planning the trip because he didn't want to eat where we had planned, though he never voiced any objection when we planned our day together.

my wife and i were quite irritated at his behavior, and his wife was miffed as well.  we ended the day without voicing our frustration to him, but we fumed over it for several days.  as i thought about what had happened after getting over my anger, i tried to understand why this friend behaves the way he does.  this incident was  typical of a pattern of behavior that he has exhibited as long as we've known him.  this man was born when his parents were older and was doted on by his mother and his sister all the time he was growing up.  his sister was thirteen years his senior and regarded him as her child more than as a younger brother and still mothers him.  his wife, who would rather avoid confrontation than assert herself, has tolerated his selfishness, though she fumes about him in private.  his treatment of others is so ingrained that i'm certain he is unaware of the pain he causes.  he can be a kind and considerate person, but his needs and desires always come first.  if we didn't enjoy his wife so much, we would avoid being with him.

yesterday his wife called and asked us over to eat dinner today.  my wife told her we'd have to get back to her because my wife didn't want to commit while she was still angry with him.  after talking it over, we decided that the relationship with his wife was more important to us than avoiding him.  so my wife called back and told her we'd love to come to dinner.  i felt badly about letting this man get under my skin so much, but with enough distance between the last incident and now, i can be a little more objective about our relationship.  i'm able to see his manipulations for what they are and deal with them in order to maintain our friendship as couples.

we're all guilty of a certain amount of selfishness and can all be insensitive to the needs and desires of others.  what is important is that we don't allow our selfishness and insensitivity to become a pattern of behavior.  we need to put ourselves in the shoes of others as much as we can and try to look at life from their perspectives.  while our emotions often get in the way of making rational decisions, it's best to hold our tongues until we can get some distance between our initial emotional reactions to a situation and can deal with our frustrations in the most intelligent and compassionate way.

may we allow ourselves the space to become calm and to consider various possibilities.  may we discipline our tongues and our minds so that we don't speak before we think.  may we forgive without excusing behavior that is harmful.  may our hearts be filled with lovingkindness and compassion rather than anger and frustration.  shalom.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

i wrote last week about what it means when i say "i have a precious human life."  the sentence that follows in the opening of my morning meditation is "may i not waste it."  this past week i've been thinking about what that means.  how does one waste a precious human life?  there are so many answers!

the key to them all, i think, is found later in my meditation when i recite the four noble truths.  understanding that suffering is common to us all and that suffering is caused by our clinging and craving leads us to a path that makes our lives worthwhile.  as we become more aware of our clinging to things that are destined to change or disappear and craving that which we do not have, our journey through this life is directed toward a more rewarding and less wasteful road.

one doesn't find happiness by chasing after it.  it is there all the time if we stop to recognize our constant pursuit of it through our clinging to those things which we think make us happy but are subject to change just as everything is and our craving things that will make us happy but only lead to more craving once we possess them.  the very process of clinging and craving, of pursing happiness, is detrimental to that thing we desire most, lasting happiness and real purpose.  letting go is how we stop wasting our lives, i think.

ending our clinging and craving is difficult, perhaps impossible.  we always wish that life were different, that loved ones didn't get sick and die, that financial problems didn't arise, that things didn't break, that harsh words were never uttered.  yet all these things inevitably happen.  they are part of the fabric of life, and no amount of wishing will cause them to cease.  but wishing these realities away won't solve the problems arising from them, the suffering they cause us.  the only solution is to face them and deal with them as intelligently and with as much compassion as we can.  in the face of our suffering, recognition that clinging to a past before suffering arose and craving a different outcome than the one that is our reality helps us to accept the suffering and learn from it.  we change our path from wasting our energies on that which cannot be or cannot be again to one of accepting what is and coming to terms with it.

may we not waste our precious human lives by clinging to that which will change despite our clinging or by craving that which cannot satisfy us.  may we let happiness come to us as we let go of our pursuit of it.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

By This We Worship and Are Freed

every morning i give thanks for having "a precious human life."  what is it that makes my human life precious?  what is unique about being human?  that's been the object of my meditation for the past week.  i'm not sure i can say with any certainty what makes the human animal different from other animals but i want to write about some of the things that might be characteristics of our humanity.

first, we have the gift of language, of being able to communicate in complex ways through speech and writing with our fellows.  other animals have a limited capacity for a sort of language but it is our ability to articulate our thoughts by speaking to one another and by writing them down that makes us special.  as i type these words on my computer, i am acting in a way that no other animal can.  the fact that i am doing this is a demonstration of my humanity.  it is a precious gift.  but if i were to have a stroke that prevented me from speaking or writing, i would still be just as human.

so, while language is a part of our humanity, it is not the only demonstration of our uniqueness.  we are capable of a thought process that is different from other animals.  our thoughts are not confined to figuring out how to carry on our species and acquire food and shelter.  we can ponder what it all means, and our search for meaning leads to the development of much of our civilization and culture.  we form bonds that are beyond the demands of species survival.  we can ponder abstract concepts and relate those concepts to our daily lives.  indeed, our very ability to think in the abstract may have blunted some of the instincts that are manifest in other animals.  other animals do not seek out danger as humans often do, craving the rush that comes from the surge of adrenaline that results from risky behavior.  our curiosity leads us to new discoveries, we are filled with the desire to understand how things work and how it all fits together.

we are compelled to express ourselves by creating works of art, music that is carved from organizing sound in time, visual art works that organize materials in space, performance and written literature that captures the range of emotions, and combinations of these various creative pursuits.  these are not necessary for sustaining life, but human life would not be human without them.  the compulsion to create something that is beyond the basic needs of life is special to us.  our lives would be empty without our creative impulses and the art that results from them.

humans beings have choices that other animals do not have.  we can choose how we live, in what locality we reside, how to relate to one another and the environment of which we are a part, how to put bread on the table and a roof over our heads, what to believe.  we can train our minds or choose to live in ignorance.  we can choose what we eat and how often.  we can choose to be trim, obese, or something in between.  our range of choices is far beyond that of any other creature.

one of those choices is how we relate to one another.  when other animals are cruel, that cruelty is a survival mechanism.  they kill in order to sustain life.  we humans often choose to be cruel in a deliberate, calculating way, to get something we crave, something entirely unnecessary for our own survival.  we can be greedy and grasping, clawing our way past others in the most callous ways in a rush of blind ambition.  when other animals love, it is from an instinctual need to love in order to carry on their species.  perhaps much of human love is the same, but we can choose to love that which is unlovely.  we are capable to turning the other cheek, of responding to cruelty with forbearance, even with lovingkindness.  we are an odd mixture of deliberate cruelty and altruistic love.  when we are our best, love wins out.

certainly these few paragraphs don't exhaust what it means to have "a precious human life."  they just skim the surface, admittedly from a non-scientific approach and in a superficial way.  i will continue to ponder what makes up our humanity and perhaps write of it again.  i am grateful that i've been given this life and hope that i can make something worthwhile of that gift.

may we choose love over hatred, kindness over cruelty.  may we continue to search for meaning.  may we think reasonably, abandoning our clinging, craving tendencies.  may we train ourselves to use the gifts we've been given for the benefit of all sentient beings.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day

"i am fortunate to have awakened.  i am alive.  i have a precious human life."  this is how i begin each day's meditation.  i repeat these words but until a few days ago i didn't spend any time pondering their meaning.  "to have awakened" can have the meaning of having awakened in the sense of gaining enlightenment, but in this context it means that i have ended the night's period of sleep and begun a new day.  that may be a metaphor for abandoning an old life where one is mindlessly going through the motions of living and awakening to a new life of bringing the practice of mindfulness into every part of our lives, but my meditation on awakening had to do with the more basic meaning.

i thought of the gift of life which could come to an end at any moment.  during the night i might have taken my last breath and there would be no awakening, no life, no new day.  my time of having a "precious human life" would have come to a stop.  i thought of my younger brother who had unexpectedly taken his last breath one evening not long ago.  i thought of the fragility of life and what life might be like for those near to me if i was no more, or what my life might be like if i lost my beloved wife.  i thought of the countless others who had ceased breathing over the thousands of years human beings have walked the earth, of the animals who die every day, giving their lives so that another animal can have food.  i thought of how all of these deaths nourish the planet, so that even in death we can give life to those who follow us.

just as life is a gift, so is death.  few of us long to die.  there are more experiences we want to have, more love we want to share, more need for closure.  seldom do we have adequate time to prepare for death.  we put off thinking about it, hoping against hope that we will live until we feel that all our plans come to fruition.  perhaps those who have terminal illnesses are blessed because they have foreknowledge that death is coming on a more-or-less definite timetable and can prepare for their end of life.  i suspect that most often even those of us who know that we will die in the next few months spend most of our time fighting the inevitable, denying the diagnosis that tells us that we have little time left, seeking treatments that will effect a miraculous cure.

even in dying, we give back to those who remain, our bodies providing nutrients that the earth needs, living behind a treasure of memories for those who loved us.  if we've lived a good life, we've made the planet a better place for others.  we've encouraged others to life a better life, to live with compassion and kindness.  we've paid forward the gift of life we were given.

may we not leave thinking about our own deaths until it is too late.  may we do all we can to leave a legacy that will inspire others.  may we demonstrate our gratitude for having lived by filling each day with compassion and lovingkindness for ourselves and others.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Shining Frame, Their Great Original Proclaim

so, what is God?  we want to believe in a god who is focused on us, our needs, our desires, our problems.  when we look at the vastness of the universe and the small role we play in it, we cannot even fathom a god from whose mind everything sprang, much less expect such a god to be human-centric unless it is a god that we've created for ourselves.  God has to be so much more than that.  it is easier to say that there is no creator-god and to believe that everything that has come to be resulted from forces we don't yet fully understand.  it seems to me just as reasonable to believe that those forces are what God is, the source of the beginning of everything, the first cause.

perhaps the buddhist approach is best: we simply ignore the question of whether there is a creator-god or not and proceed to live our lives as best we can, seeking to understand ourselves and to relate to one another in the most compassionate way possible.  after all, that is the highest goal of most religions or at least of those worth following.  if a religion doesn't help us to get along with and help each other, of what use is it?  i suppose that is my basic approach to my christian religion.  i see in jesus someone who turned from traditions that made life less tolerable and espoused an ethic that taught us to love one another, to do good to one another, to reject prejudices that belittled women and those who were different from the dominant society, to choose nonviolence over violence and generosity over greed, someone who was worth following.

i don't worship jesus, i seek to be his disciple.  i worship God as the cause of all that is, the source of all goodness, the great mind that is beyond all imagining.  as joseph addison wrote in 1712  in an essay that introduced his poem, "the spacious firmament on high.": "The Supreme Being has made the best arguments for his own existence in the formation of the heavens and the earth, and these are arguments which a man of sense cannot forbear attending to who is out of the noise and hurry of human affairs,"

if we worship a god, may it be a God of reason and mystery, a God that is larger than our imagining, a God who inspires our own imagination.  may we express our worship through the way in which we treat God's creation, seeking to preserve the gifts of the natural world rather than exploiting them to satisfy our own greed.  may we see in each creature a reflection of the mind of God and seek to do good to all that lives and breathes.  shalom.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

And Spread the Truth from Pole to Pole

last sunday i filled in as substitute organist at a church in our town.  the sermon was delivered by a representative of the gideons organization.  this is a group that raises money to give away bibles, especially copies of the new testament and psalms in a little pocket-sized edition.  they work all over the world.  when i was a child they gave these little books to all the fifth graders in school every year.  now they are prevented by court order from doing so in public schools because of the freedom of religion clause of the constitution, but in many countries they continue to give bibles to school children.

the speaker had some interesting stories of people who were converted to christianity by bibles given out by the gideons.  of course, these conversions were attributed to god having placed the bible in the right person's hands at just the right time.  as he spoke, i thought about how easy it is to make a coincidence into a miraculous occurrence.  i can't believe that God is busy meddling in people's lives by causing a series of events to lead to a predetermined result.  belief in such miracles gives us hope that the unlikely can happen, and that such "miracles" are the work of god.  perhaps such faith is helpful when we are at a low point in our lives and are ready to give up.  if i were to come down with an incurable, life-threatening disease, i would want to believe that i might be miraculously cured, and if i were, i would be thankful for being free of the disease.  i don't think i would believe that God caused me to be healed but rather that i was one of the lucky ones that was cured by some unexplained cause.  i wouldn't think that god singled me out for a cure while letting others in the same circumstances suffer and die.  what sort of god would do that?

it is that sort of god that it is dangerous to worship.  blind faith in a god that chooses some to bless and some to curse without any reason is ludicrous.  life just happens.  sometimes we are the ones who are lucky, sometimes we are not.  we can choose paths that lead to happier, more fulfilled lives, and we can work to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in.  often, though, we find that in spite of our best efforts bad things happen to us.  those bad things are not the doing of a puppet-master god, just as the good things are not God's doing.  the miracle is the unfolding of life around us, the beauty of the world in which we live, the loved ones who support us, the gift of reasonable minds.  i can worship a God who sets such possibilities in motion, but i can't worship a god who orders every detail of the life i live and who constantly interferes to make "god's will" happen.

may we search for the answers to life's questions with honesty.  may we not be afraid to refuse to accept the pat solutions that require little thought.  if we believe in a god, may it be a God that is larger than the god of pettiness.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Plant the Tree of Peace

in thinking about the sort of god we've created, one of the most repulsive ideas, for me at least, is that of a bloodthirsty god who would require animal sacrifice for appeasement.  i had occasion to be in the choir room of a nearby church recently, and in the choir's folder was a piece called "at calvary love flowed red."  how can a god be worthy of worship when that god demands that jesus die a horrible death on a roman cross?  this belief in the "atoning death of jesus," that jesus died so that all of our sins could be forgiven, is ludicrous.  if god is all-powerful, the only requirement for forgiveness is repentance.

the concept of the atonement is incompatible with a loving God who wishes only that the creatures who worship God be happy and at peace with one another.  i believe that jesus died because he ran afoul of the religious authorities and because the roman rulers of palestine feared that his growing popularity would lead to a rebellion.  jesus knew that his death was inevitable, that what he taught was incompatible with the status quo that both the romans and the jewish authorities wished to maintain.  in the end, he goaded them to either take action against him or leave him to continue his teaching, realizing full well that they would likely take the former course.

nature is a brutal realm.  everywhere the strong prey on the weak.  we humans have the capacity to refuse to follow nature's example.  we can help the weak rather than taking advantage of their weakness.  if we must have a god to worship, why not worship a God who embodies the best in us, the impulse to have compassion for one another.  those who seek to explain God to us do us a disservice.  is God our collective consciousness, the ground of being, a distant observer who leaves us to sort things out for ourselves, or something else entirely?  we create a god of our own making because such a god is more understandable.  we identify with a god who is in many ways like the gods of ancient mythology: capricious, petty, eager to find fault with humankind, a sort of mad scientist/creator with us as the subjects of the experiment.

how does one worship a mystery?  as john greenleaf whittier, the great quaker poet says in his poem (o brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother), "to worship rightly is to love each other,/each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer."  whether or not God exists, treating one another with lovingkindness and respect and having compassion for each other is the best we can do, and a God of love will accept such worship.

may we not honor a god of vengeance and pettiness.  may we seek to understand the mystery of who and why we are rather than accepting easy answers that have been handed to us by those who would rather control us than encourage us to think.  may we not create a god who is more like us than like the divine mystery of creation.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sing A New Song

the passage of new anti-abortion laws in alabama and missouri caused me to think some more about the idea of a god whose nature would foreordain a child or woman to be raped in order for her to give birth to a baby for whom that god had some predetermined purpose.  i've listened to some commentators who have defended such laws, one suggesting that it is necessary for victims of rape or incest to be prevented by law from having abortions so that the resulting child would provide evidence against the perpetrators, another saying that allowing abortion to be a medical rather than a legal question is imposing the jewish religion on our "christian" nation, while a third defended these newest laws on the basis of carrying out "god's will" since a child resulting from rape or incest would not be possible unless god wished the child to be born.  all of these defenses are nonsense.  what sort of god would be so cruel as to impose such a burden on a woman?  is such a god worthy of worship?

if everything that happens is foreordained by god, a part of "god's plan," that would mean that this god wills that terrible diseases, birth defects, wars, natural disasters, hunger, poverty, and oppression of all sorts happen as necessary parts of that plan.  we often hear christians make statements like "we can't understand why this tragedy happened, but we have to trust god since it's all part of god's plan," or "god needed this dear one who died more than we did and that's why this one has been taken from us."  how can we believe in a loving god who would visit so many horrible things on those we say god loves and cares for?  how can we claim that "a mighty fortress is our god, a bulwark never failing" if god is the cause of every bad thing that happens?

we are the cause of most of the evil in the world, not "god's plan."  terrible events that are beyond our control are not caused by God but rather the result of the unfolding of life.  suffering comes to us all, not because God wills it, but because suffering simply is.  so where is God in the midst of this suffering?  i believe that God is here suffering with us, that God suffers just as we do.  God doesn't intervene to stop our suffering because it is our responsibility to figure out how to stop or prevent the suffering.  we have the resources to end most of the human-created suffering and the intelligence to find solutions for the prevention or alleviation of suffering that results from natural causes.

may we reject the god of plans that include great pain for so many.  may we let go of ideas that tell us we must worship such a god in order to avoid eternal damnation.  may we search for the mystery that is the God of creation and the source of love.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fill My Poor Heart

the christian religion teaches some strange ideas about God.  i often think that we invent a god that conforms to our own design rather than honoring a God who is beyond human understanding.  i suppose that is natural.  after all, if we can't fully understand God, we give God characteristics that make the mystery more comprehensible to our limited imaginations.

one of the things that bothers me about what we christians are taught about God is that God "has a plan" for our lives, that we are born with a purpose that is predestined so that our obligation is to discover "God's purpose for our lives" and then seek to fulfill that purpose.  if we subscribe to that belief, then abortion for any reason becomes immoral, since no one is conceived without God having developed a plan for that prospective being.  there is always a purpose for the fetus that has been conceived.  according to this line of thinking, even rape is purposeful, otherwise a child that is the result of a rape would not have been conceived.  i can't accept worshiping a god that foists such a situation on a humanity that God loves.  our only purpose, i believe, is to live the best lives we can, doing the most good and the least harm that we can, filling our hearts with as much compassion as we are capable of.  i can worship a God who smiles on me when i do the best i can and understands my struggle to avoid doing harm.

another belief that most christians subscribe to is the idea that God chose the jewish people as the "chosen people."  why would God do such a thing?  the standard answer is that God spoke to abraham in ancient times, and abraham listened as God promised that abraham's descendants would be singled out so long as he and his descendants obeyed God's commandments.  most of the old testament is the history of the jewish people's on-and-off-again relationship with God.  a great deal of evil has flowed from this idea.  being God's chosen made it the duty of the ancient israelites to conquer what is now israel/palestine and massacre its non-jewish inhabitants, according to the bible.  it made the religions that arose from this chosen-ness the exclusive means of saving humankind resulting in wars that continue to this day, so that christians had the responsibility of persecuting those jews who refused to convert to christianity, muslims, jews, and christians had the responsibility to fight each other for supremacy, and the followers of the abrahamic religions were responsible for converting every person on earth to each religion's particular interpretation of God's revelation to that religion.  surely, one shouldn't worship a god who would do such a thing, unleashing so much suffering on those God created in the name of religions that are supposed to reveal God to us.

in the next few posts, i hope to write about some of the other beliefs about God that are accepted by many (perhaps most) christians without much thought about their consequences.  my intention is not to offend anyone who is sincere about their faith, but i continue to be disturbed about what seem to me to be absurd ideas about God that i can't endorse in good conscience, no matter how widespread those ideas are.

may we stop accepting concepts that make little sense, simply because they are commonplace.  may we use the reasonable minds that we are given to examine our beliefs and the practices that flow from them.  may we be guided by what makes sense, not by blind faith.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Save Each One's Pride

recently my wife and i attended a play put on my a local theater group.  the play was a well known broadway musical, and it was somewhat risqué.  because of the era from which the play dates, women were depicted in an offensive way.  i found myself somewhat uncomfortable with the play, and the production did little to minimize my discomfort.  the costumes of the female characters were suggestive, and all of the female characters were prostitutes, save one who was married to a philanderer.  there were some amusing lines in the play but on the whole the overall impression was one of males belittling females.  we were the guests of another couple and had come with them in their car, so it would have been rude of us to leave.  my wife found the play far more disturbing than i did, and i thought she was over-reacting until we spoke about it in private later in the day.

as we began talking about the play, i discovered that my wife had been reminded of her father's treatment of her mother and his attitude toward women in general.  the offensive words, actions, and costuming had brought back a flood of painful memories for her, so she had been deeply wounded by what seemed to me to be a mildly offensive piece of dated theater.  as i reflect back now on how hurt she was in contrast to my philosophical objections to the play--objections that didn't affect me deeply--i am reminded about how we fail to see the pain that is caused all too often by our insensitivity to the past experiences of others.

we now live in a locale where there are few people of color, an area that has a reputation for long-standing racism.  one frequently sees depictions of the confederate battle flag, and we often drive past homes that are flying that flag.  if the issue of its offensiveness is raised, the standard reply is that honoring the confederacy is not about race but rather about "southern pride" or showing respect for one's heritage.  few of those who have lived here all their lives know one person of color or stop to think what the so-called stars and bars flag means to the descendants of american slaves.  some of those who fly the flag are racist in the meanest sense of the word; others are people who are insensitive to the real meaning of the emblem they honor and would perhaps have a different mindset if they had an honest conversation about the hurtful symbolism of the flag with a black person.

it is hard to walk in the shoes of another, but we are obligated to try.  something that is innocuous to us may be deeply hurtful to another, and we have a responsibility to try and see things from others' points-of-view.  may we make the effort to back away from that which causes hurt to another.  may we not downplay their feelings of injury as over-reaction or political correctness.  may we learn to respect the past experiences of others even when we have not shared those experiences.  may our love for others outweigh our own privilege.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Where I First Saw the Light

another palm sunday-holy week-easter has come and gone, and i must say i am relieved to have it past me.  i find the celebration of easter especially troubling.  because i reject the "jesus-died-for-me" sentiment of jesus' execution and the martial nature of the easter observance, this part of the christian calendar and of christian orthodoxy makes me want to renounce the religion altogether.  yet i continue calling myself a christian because i try to follow the teachings of jesus as they are expressed in the sermon on the mount and at other points in the gospel records.

our minister, a man i admire greatly, has been preaching on the sermon on the mount for the past nine months, with interruptions for christmas and the easter cycle.  i know that this so-called sermon probably wasn't preached on a mountain as it appears in matthew's gospel, but is rather a distillation of many of jesus' teachings over the course of his wandering ministry.  yesterday he picked up the series again, talking about matthew 7:13-14 where jesus briefly describes the "narrow gate" and the "easy road that leads to destruction."  he tied this to the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son from luke 15, emphasizing that the recovery of the sheep, the coin, and the son were causes for celebration.  his discussion noted that the word translated as "destruction" in the passage from matthew was the same word used to describe the missing sheep, coin, and son, meaning lacking life or separated from what is most desirable.

later in the day i read a post in one of my favorite blogs (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rationaldoubt).  the post (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rationaldoubt/2019/04/a-freethinker-climbs-the-cross) was written by chris highland and captured my feelings about the good friday-through-easter observance perfectly.  while his rejection of the whole easter narrative led highland to reject his christian faith, i'm not ready to go that far.  i still am a believer in the jesus that is partially revealed in the gospels, colored as they are by the overlay of emerging orthodoxy.  highland's post also made me think about some of the unexplained events surrounding jesus' death, though he didn't raise these questions in his essay.  why would the romans allow an executed rebel to be removed from the cross after his death rather than leaving his body there as a warning to others?  was their collusion between the jewish authorities and the romans that caused jesus to be buried or did a powerful secret follower of jesus call in a favor so that jesus could receive a proper burial?  was there a plot that enabled jesus' body to be spirited away so that there was a mystery about what happened to it that later evolved into the story of the resurrection?

i'm glad we can now move past the trappings of easter and return to trying to understand what jesus taught.  i look forward to more sermons based on matthew's summary of jesus' most important teachings.  i'll continue to challenge the orthodoxy that i belive obscures the real meaning of jesus' life.

may we seek truth and follow wherever it leads us.  may we never believe that we have all the answers.  may we be open to new insights and ideas.  may we weigh what we are told against what is reasonable and provable.  may we let our lives be guided by lovingkindness and compassion. shalom.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

For Those I've Loved Along the Way

my week is not nearly as hectic now as it was earlier.  thanks to two days of rain, i'm forced to take a day off from some chores that have been weighing on me.  i can leave them undone without feeling badly.  so today, i will spend most of the day doing things i love to do, leaving the crab grass to flourish in the spring rain and the lawn unmowed.

as i began moving around after getting out of bed, my thoughts went to a dear friend who lives several hours away.  i haven't heard from him in some time, and my voicemails, texts, emails, and messages on messenger have gone unanswered.  i believe that he is well from his posts on facebook, though i can tell he is extremely busy with work-related responsibilities.  it seems as if he has cut me out of his busy life, and i am hurt by it.  i know i've done the same to others in the past and feel deep remorse for having done so.  i supppose the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind," has a great deal of truth in it.  i know from experience that putting off keeping in contact with a distant friend can ultimately lead to being so embarrassed for our failure that we finally ignore that person.  i hope that isn't what has happened with my friend.

our hearts are tender things.  we are hurt to discover that we are not as important to another as that person is to us and to find that busy lives sometimes lead those dear to us to neglect us as pressing matters that are closer to home crowd us out.  being ignored in such a way causes deep suffering and often we want to cry out in anger at the person who is neglecting us.   as i reflected on this in the early morning, i realized that anger is not a good response, though it is a natural one.  a better response is to continue to love that one who has been an important part of my life even when he ignores me, to wish him well in his busy life, and to hope that, when things slow down, i'll hear from him.  even if he forgets me, i can hold him in my heart, recalling the many good times we had together in the past, good times we can't enjoy now because of the distance between us.

may we allow lovingkindness to overcome suffering.  may we keep anger at bay as we look for more positive alternatives.  may our hurts never cause us to stop striving to be compassionate.  shalom.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Too Little Time

at the beginning  of this week my schedule is very full, so i won't have time to write a post for tuesday, as i usually do.  i hope to find time later in the week to post something.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Simplest and the Best

this is holy week in the christian calendar.  the week began with palm sunday, or, in some churches, palm/passion sunday, when the entry of jesus into jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of his life is remembered.  i am always torn between the celebratory nature that the re-enactment of this procession takes on, with children marching through the church waving palm branches, their faces full of smiles as they giggle down the aisles, and the knowledge that this is the beginning of the end for jesus' life as an itinerant teacher.  there is a mystery about jesus' participation in this event, with his sending of some of his followers to secure the donkey he rides on which has obviously been planned in advance.  such a procession could hardly have escaped the watchful eyes of the roman occupiers, and it is amazing that jesus wasn't arrested in the midst of it for participating in an insurrection against roman rule.  yet it continued uninterrupted according to the gospel accounts, which makes one wonder if it really took place exactly as the writers told it.

perhaps the group welcoming jesus into the city wasn't as large as we imagine.  maybe it was only a small group of his followers.  matthew's gospel describes jesus as being greeted by a "very large crowd," while luke mentions "the whole multitude of disciples."  we have an image of something like a parade with people standing on either side of the road throwing their cloaks and palm branches on the ground ahead of the approaching donkey on which jesus rides inside the city, but the gospels say that this took place before jesus enters jerusalem, as he makes his way to the city.  we don't know how those who honored him knew that jesus was coming or had time to prepare to greet him unless word had been sent in advance, again suggesting that this event had some prior planning.

at any rate, we probably make too much of this "triumphal procession," since it heralds the coming crucifixion of jesus a few days later, when another crowd gathers to call for his death and to mock him as he is taken to the place of execution.  the celebratory nature of our observance of palm sunday is irksome, overshadowing the important teachings of jesus that come between it and the last passover that jesus and his disciples share, teachings which we largely ignore in our holy week devotions.  i would prefer that we do away with all the fuss associated with palms and concentrate on what jesus had to say once he entered in the city, as he condemned the desecration of the temple, denounced the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and taught through a series of parables.

may we not be so caught up in the beginning of holy week that we forget where it leads.  may we listen to what jesus taught, rather than focusing on this one event in his life that we recall on palm sunday.  may his message of a love which transcends the trappings of power be remembered every day of our lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Fast Falls the Eventide

a few days ago my younger brother passed away.  my sister's husband called early in the morning to let me know, and at first i couldn't believe what i was hearing.  he had been battling a number of health problems, the latest of which was some breathing difficulties.  apparently his doctors didn't think this difficulty was life threatening, and his death might have been from another cause.  he was severely underweight and had a heart attack a few months ago.  my sister had been staying with him for a couple of nights before his death and heard him gasping for air in the early hours of the morning.  by the time she got to him, he had died.

tomorrow, we'll travel to the town where he and my sister lived for a wake in his memory.  he has been cremated, and his son will take his ashes to be scattered at sea, because he had worked for many years on an ocean-going boat and had traveled all over the world.  my nephew plans to have a marker erected in the cemetery where my brother's wife is buried.  one of my jobs today is to call relatives to let them know of his death and the wake, though most of them will be unable to attend because of the distances involved in traveling to it.

while i am sad that my brother is no longer with us, i'm glad that his suffering is over.  he has struggled for so many years, most of them living alone and far from family.  his son lived about an hour from him, but he had a family of his own to care for and a long commute to work every day, making it difficult for him to see his father as often as he'd have liked.  it was a six-hour drive for me to reach him, and my sister lived seven hours from him.  he had moved to where my sister lived about three months ago, and they were enjoying each other's company most every day.  i'm so glad they had those few months to be with one another and that he had someone to share his problems with for that brief time.

his passing brought the fragility of our lives home to me.  i had told myself that he would outlive me, though i knew deep down that he couldn't hold out much longer, given the health battles he was fighting.  his death has forced me to think of my own mortality and to make better plans for what needs to be done for my family's benefit when i'm gone.  i'm thinking of the difficulties my nephew faces, since none of us expected his father to go so soon.  he has his dad's few possessions to dispose of, his dad's two dogs to find homes for, all his business affairs to sort out, knowing next to nothing about those affairs, all of this while accompanied by his wife and two small children and much of it having to be taken care of within a five day span before he and his family have to make the seven hour drive back home.  there's little anyone else can do to relieve him of those responsibilities, though my sister and her husband are there to help in any way they can.

may we do what we can to plan for our lives' end.  may we think not only of ourselves but of those we will leave behind, doing what we can to make things as easy on them as possible.  may we accept the inevitability of our mortality and live as though each moment might be our last.  may we find peace in both life and death.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

When You're Down and Troubled

we've been having some work done in our house, making it necessary to completely dismantle one room, moving every stick of furniture in the room, taking down every picture and decorative item, and unplugging every electrical device in that room.  consequently everything that had to be removed from the room had to find a temporary place in the rest of the house, the end result being that the entire house was disorganized and messy.  because my wife had several appointments that took her away from home during most of the work, i was forced to stay home all the time with the man doing the repairs, which, of course, took longer than anticipated.  by the time he finished, i was a nervous wreck, afflicted with cabin fever and irritated because everything in the house was topsy-turvy.

now we have to put everything back together, which is much more time consuming that taking everything apart.  we've managed to get all the furniture back in place and to return the items that were removed back to the room where the work was done, but all the little items like pictures and electronics have to be reinstalled.  our whole house was in need of cleaning, and that task took us a couple of days of hard work, but it's finally done so that we're not fighting dust and dirt everywhere.  this week both my wife and i have obligations that will take us away from home for much of the day every day, so that completion of putting the remaining items back where they belong will be slowed.  it seems as if we've been working on this one room of the house forever, and we're ready to have it done completely.

as i sit reflecting on this ordeal, i'm both angry and embarrassed.  i'm angry because i've been a slave to this room for more than two weeks and it's still not finished.  i'm embarrassed that i'm angry and frustrated, so unable to deal with what is really a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.  i'm not hungry, cold, or homeless.  i'm not poverty stricken.  i have a wonderful partner who is helping me with the work that has to be done.  yet, i have to be honest in recognizing my feelings and the mixed emotions i'm experiencing.  the room now looks so much better, and we will enjoy it for many years to come.  intellectually i know that it's a good thing that we had the work done, but in my heart i wish we'd never started.

i know that in time, these feelings of anger and frustration will go away.  in another month, i'll walk into our remodeled room and think, "wow!  this is so much better!"  right now, i feeling sorry for myself, as i try to finish up the last tasks that will complete the room and working on putting myself in a better frame of mind.  it's amazing that little disturbances in our daily lives can make us feel so lousy, that the calm and peace that we think we've achieved can disappear so easily.  just writing about it is helpful.  i already feel less stressed and better able to cope.  i suppose these few words have been the screams i wanted to let loose.

may we learn to put the petty annoyances of life into perspective.  may we find ways to give voice to our negative feelings in ways that are not harmful to others.  may we recognize that change is often painful, even though it is necessary and inevitable.  may we find the inner peace and strength to deal with the vagaries of life.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Bid Darkness Turn to Day

in christianity, the christian is asked to accept a great many things on faith.  one of these is acceptance of the bible as the revelation of God to humankind.  the orthodox view based on the bible is that God created the universe, intervened in human history, ultimately chose abraham and his descendants as the "chosen people," and from those people the savior of the world emerged: jesus, who was God incarnate.  this god-man, we are asked to believe, was born of a virgin, and at his birth miraculous events occurred.  during his brief itinerant ministry, he went about teaching and healing the sick before being crucified by the romans only to rise from the dead three days later and, after a brief period visiting and reassuring his followers, ascended into heaven.

the bible is filled with events, many of which have been proven to be factual, but it also contains much that is unprovable.  if we abandon the need to believe every word of the bible as part of a literal record, as a historical document that is without error as we've received it, then there is much in it that can be of benefit.  much of it, though, is contradictory and orthodox belief goes to great lengths to reconcile those contradictions.  how can a God who is love and light have ordered the massacre of thousands of innocent people, as the account of the israelites' conquest of palestine tells us?  why would God choose this small clan to be the repository of all knowledge of God and wait several thousand years before revealing through the teachings of jesus that all people could be part of the kingdom of God?  how could and why would God cause a woman to bear a child in a way that is biologically impossible?  the queries are interminable.

we have the ability to use our minds in a reasonable way.  it makes little sense to abandon reason when it comes to the most basic question of life:  what is the purpose of our existence.  if the existence of a creator who is the source of all that exists is reasonable, then we must ask about the nature of that creator and our relationship with the creator.  this is where religion enters, and we begin to make assertions based on faith rather than reason.  when those sorts of assertions are accepted without question and viewed as fact rather than possibility, religion becomes dangerous, the basis for wars and all sorts of inhuman acts.  why is it that we must insist on our own views as the correct ones, why can't we live with the ambiguity of not knowing for certain?

as i've gotten older, it's become easier for me to live with such doubts and uncertainties.  i don't have to know the final answers.  it is enough to ponder the questions and to try to live my life seeking to serve others, to see others as beings making their ways through life in much the same way as myself.  there are many so-called sacred writings that contain worthwhile information, but what makes them sacred is not the demand that we accept them as truth based on blind faith.  their sacredness comes from their ability to lead us to better relationships with one another.  when these writings teach us to hate or to view one group as superior to another, they cease to be useful, and we have no obligation to honor or obey those teachings that cause us to harm one another.  that is why it's easy for me to ignore much of what the bible says.  when the bible teaches us to love and care for one another, i can honor those teachings.  the rest i must refuse to accept.

may we never give up our quest for truth or our ability to use our minds to reason for ourselves.  may we refuse to accept anything on faith, always seeking proof as a basis for belief.  may lovingkindness and respect be the foundations of our lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

We'll Guard Each One's Dignity

a few days as we ate dinner with another couple, our male dining companion brought up the teachings in the new testament regarding the role of women in the church.  he was referring to i corinthians 14:33-35 and and the second chapter of i timothy.  in both women are instructed to remain silent during worship, deferring to their husbands.  the passage in the first letter to timothy also teaches that women are secondary creations, since adam was created first and then eve.  in the fifth chapter of ephesians, verses 22-24 say this: " wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the lord.  for the husband is the head of the wife, even as christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.  therefore as the church is subject unto christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."

both my wife and i strongly disagreed with these passages, and our companion, realizing he had touched a nerve, quickly interjected that he was not endorsing the content of the verses in questions, but merely pointing out what "the bible taught."  knowing he believed every word in the bible was literally correct, dictated directly by God to the writers of the canon, we were certain that he was letting us know that the practices of the church we all attended were antithetical to the teachings of the bible and therefore not acceptable to him.  in our congregation, and in the denomination as a whole, women serve as officers in the church, serve as ordained ministers, and are regarded as equals of men, a practice my wife and i support and believe to be consistent with the teachings of jesus, regardless of what the letters purported to be written by st. paul say.

this brings up the larger question of how one reconciles contradictory passages in the bible if one believes the bible is wholly inerrant and literally true from cover to cover, but i'll write about that another time.  what i am concerned with in this post is the idea that women are "subject" to men, that women are inferior creations who caused sin to enter the world by falling for the serpent's temptation in the garden of eden and leading the first man to disobey God.  for me, this concept is entirely without merit.  it is not reasonable for members of one gender to be considered superior to the other.  men and women are far more alike than they are different, and all of us are a blend of what we traditionally consider "male" and "female" traits, despite the differentiation that biology imposes on us.

to discriminate against women based on any teaching, including those of the bible, is wrong, having more to do with control and power than with logic.  in one of those contradictory bible passages, st. paul says in galations, "there is neither jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in christ jesus."  in the eyes of God we are all equal regardless of our backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or social status, and our behavior towards one another should reflect this equality.

may we see each first as humans beings.  may we not seek power over one another for any reason, including gender.  may we look for our commonalities and relish our differences without regarding those differences as making one person inferior to, or superior to, another.  shalom.