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.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Evil That Men Do

often when i meditate, things that i regret pop up in my mind.  the memories of past mistakes and of hurts i have caused others appear, and i find myself wanting to go back and undo the past.  the last time this happened, i countered these unhappy thoughts by reminding myself of the good that i have done.  later as i reflected on this, i wondered why it is that when we are in the middle of meditation or in the night when we are trying to go to sleep, it is the bad that we recall.  why are our minds like this?  or is it just my mind?

i think our evolutionary past has trained us to be wary creatures, always on guard against danger that may lurk in the dark or around the next corner, fearful of the attack of some wild animal that may make us its next meal.  by nature, we are worriers.  perhaps this accounts for the penchant for recalling bad things rather than good.  we fear the consequences of our wrongs long after they have occurred and worry that something we have done has had a lasting effect on another.  we have to make ourselves recall the good that we have done.  its memory to doesn't come to us naturally.

even when we begin with the intention of recalling a good memory, it often leads us to bad events that are associated with it.  for instance, if i begin to think of my mother who died many years ago and to remember the wonderful person that she was, soon i'll be thinking of the one event in my life when i felt betrayed by her or of her suffering during her last days as she struggled with pancreatic cancer.  in order to move from those bad memories, i have to make myself remember the many happy events and kindnesses that she brought to my life.  i suppose that we have to accept our past as a whole, a fabric of good and bad.  all of it had a part in making us the person we are now.

thank goodness there are good recollections that counter the bad ones.  when we spend time thinking about how our minds work, the good is by far in the preponderance.  but it is the present that is far more important.  we can't undo the past nor should we let regret for past mistakes immobilize us.  life is a process of moving forward, of freeing ourselves to live as fully as possible in this present moment.  if we want to free ourselves of the past, we learn from our mistakes so that we try not to make them again but we don't waste time wishing we could undo what we did.

may we recall the good along with the bad.  may we learn and grow.  may the present bring us joy, not recriminations for past misdeeds.  shalom.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

If I Didn't Care

i've been reading some of the dalai lama's teachings about anger.  as i read, i thought of a close relative who is filled with anger.  as a child, she and her siblings were abused by their father.  all of the children were subjected to severe beatings, and they could never tell what might set their father off.  their mother was a kind person but too weak to intervene on their behalf.  this relative still seethes with anger at the treatment she and her sisters received and lives much of her life in that painful past.  she blames her mother for not protecting her and for staying with a man who was so abusive.  she blames her younger siblings because she feels as the oldest child she was treated the worse than they.  all four sisters bear the mental scars of their childhood, but the others seem to have come to terms with their suffering, while this one sister can't let go of the anger she feels.

as i read what the dalai lama had to say about the harm frequent fits of anger do to us, i thought of my relative.  how miserable her life is!  like her father, one never knows what may set off an angry outburst.  her only daughter keeps her distance, and, as a teenager, she left her mother to go live with her father.  though they have a better relationship now that the daughter has made a life for herself and has grown children of her own, there is a wariness between them.  this wounded spirit is with her second husband, and when she talks much of the conversation is about how terrible her husband is.  there is a litany of how inconsiderate, how clumsy, how stupid, how stingy, how uncaring he is, and one is always on pins and needles around them because visitors are often witness to bitter arguments and acrimony between them.

there was a time when i believed that giving vent to one's anger and expressing it with little control was healthy.  while i was never an "angry" person like my relative, i sometimes allowed myself the luxury of mean outbursts directed at others, thinking that was healthier than silently quashing my anger.  over time, i've learned that there are ways of confronting one's anger that are much better for me.  as i've disciplined myself to recognize my anger and deal with it without lashing out at others, i've found that i seldom become angry.  it's been several months since i've been angry about anything, and i must say that living a life that is almost anger-free feels much better than allowing myself to express anger in hurtful ways.

may each of us learn to deal with our anger in ways that are healthy for ourselves and others.  may we not allow anger to fester and spoil our lives.  may we counter anger with compassion and lovingkindness.  may we look at the objects of our anger from a new perspective and imagine living life in another's shoes.  may we care for one another.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Imagine All the People Living for Today

"what if" . . . these can be deadly words that cause us to live in fear.  what if i lose my job, what if my partner abandons me, what if my house catches fire, what if, what if, what if.  when we dwell on what might happen if catastrophe occurs, we live in dread of the future and can be paralyzed in the present.  an insurance company in town has an electronic sign that constantly displays the message "life is uncertain, plan for it."  we can't plan for the uncertainty of life.  sure, we can insure ourselves up to a point so financial ruin doesn't result from a catastrophe that harms or destroys our home or a car wreck that results in loss or injury.  but life is a chance. we don't know what tomorrow or even the next moment may bring.  we have no guarantees, so all we can do is our best each moment as that moment comes to us.

some other deadly words are "if only."  if only i could lose twenty pounds, i would be more attractive.  if only i could finish this task, i could enjoy life.  if only my spouse didn't make so many demands of me, i could do what i want to do.  an "if only" life isn't much of a life.  what we're doing during those if-only moments is life.  when we feel that our lives are interrupted by such moments, we need to abandon the if-only task or find a way to accept the if-only times as essential parts of our lives.  our happiness doesn't have to be delayed by if-onlies.  instead, we need to enjoy the present moment, even when it's not what we wished for, and forget what the future that is delayed by our present situation might be "if only . . ."

our minds are tricky things.  we imagine a perfect future and are disappointed when the present interferes.  when the future arrives, it's usually not what we anticipated.  or we imagine the future with dread, wondering about the what-ifs that might occur.  when we do this, we can't enjoy the present.  i have an acquaintance who lives in dread of tornadoes, which are not infrequent in this part of the country.  every time there is a chance of rain, she has to go stay with someone who has a basement in case the possible rainstorms might bring a tornado her way.  she can never be amazed by the patter of rain, the majesty of lightning, or the rumble of thunder because she is thinking "what if this storm spawns a tornado and that tornado comes at me."  we all have such fears, but some of us have never learned to stop those fears from spoiling our enjoyment of what's happening in the present.

may we let go of what-if and if-only and live our lives rejoicing in what the present brings.  may we not let fear and dread spoil our happiness.  may we live with gratitude for what we have and live skillfully with impermanence.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"Others," Let This My Motto Be

last sunday in the church service, we watched a short film explaining a special offering that is taken up each year for the needs of the world.  in the lead-up to the film, a member of the congregation mentioned the millions of refugees throughout the world and compared their lives to the lives we lead here in our small community where most of us have comfortable homes, nutritious food, and are protected by the rule of law while being surrounded by the beauty of nature.  he urged us, who have so much, to think of the plight of those who have so little.

as he spoke and as i watched the film, i thought about how his words squared up with the hatred we hear being spewed from the white house and from many members of congress and with the cruel chants of "build the wall" we hear at trump rallies.  here in the community the speaker described, the vast majority of people voted for donald trump.  yet, as i visit with them, i don't sense the bigotry and hatred that they voted for.  we forget sometimes that our votes have consequences that we never intended, and, once having voted for a candidate with whom we come to disagree, it's hard to admit that we voted for the wrong person.  at times, we vote against a candidate rather than in favor of the person for whom we voted.  that tactic, too, often yields unintended consequences.

whatever the motives people had for electing mr. trump, he is the face of our country that the rest of the world sees.  i wonder if he ever thinks of the incredible courage and sacrifice those coming to our southern border seeking asylum had to have.  to leave one's home, the country of one's birth, and the comfort of everything familiar to trek hundreds of miles to escape the violence there and to seek a better life for oneself and one's family shows a degree of desperation that most of us never experience.  i wonder if he thinks of those who fled the violence of isis and the syrian civil war and their desperate struggle to reach safety as they headed toward shelter in europe.  the contrast between the compassion of many european countries and their people and the bigotry of our own government and its supporters is stark and embarrassing.

we need open arms, not walls.  jesus taught us to love, not hate, and to pray for our enemies.  there is no equivocation in his words.  he inserted no qualification that we put ourselves first and in fact, told us that whoever would be great must become a servant.  if we follow jesus, we don't put america first, we don't accuse those who come to us in want of being murderers and rapists, we don't refuse to help those who desperately need what we can provide.

may we have empathy for those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.  may we try to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine their great sacrifice and struggle in coming to our borders.  may we not blame them for being in need of our help, but welcome them with the realization that we who have so much are called to share what we have with those who have little.  may our hearts be filled with compassion, not fear and hatred.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

When Liberty's Form Stands in View

my wife and i watched mr. trump's state of the union address to congress with interest.  we hoped that we would hear words that sought to unify the country and conciliatory words for his political opponents, and we did hear some of those.  on the whole, though, we heard a message that vilified those who were coming to our borders suffering and that used half-truths and outright lies to try and frighten the american people.  we heard a man who bragged about the so-called accomplishments of his administration, exaggerating economic figures, refusing to give credit to the past administration for the recovery that was well under way before trump took office.  there certainly was no mention of the scandals that have plagued his presidency, of the wrongdoing that has forced several of his cabinet appointees to resign, of the resignations of competent members of the executive branch that were prompted by his arrogance in matters of foreign policy.

he did address the investigations that swirl around him with a sophomoric rhyme that sought to tie war, peace, and successful legislative progress to the ending of those investigations.  it seemed that we were seeing a man who sees the walls closing in around him, one who knows that, despite his bluster, the skirting of the law by him and his associates is about to catch up with him.  the image of nixon in the final months of his presidency pop into one's mind, the primary difference between trump's regime and nixon's is the so-far unwavering support of the majority of republicans in congress.  it will be interesting to see if that support continues as the evidence against trump and his cronies accumulates.  the desire of republicans to cling to power by supporting someone as corrupt and inept as trump is frightening.

as i listened to his speech, i tried to summon some compassion for the man, and i continue in that effort.  how sad it must be to be the captive of a heart filled with so much hate, to have so little respect for those who disagree with your position, to see the world as being filled with those who are either friends of this country or its enemies with none in between.  what is there to redeem a man who puts his own personal wealth ahead of the well-being of the country he was elected to lead and who bases his decisions on his own ill-informed instincts?  one wonders if there will be a day of reckoning for mr. trump that will bring the change of heart that we have seen in his former lawyer, mr. cohen, and if we will see others who served trump blindly turn against him as they come to realize the harm their loyalty to him has done to their own lives and to the country.

may we soon see an end to the charade of the trump presidency and to the policies of that presidency.  may we be a country that honors the rule of law and that engages in civil discourse with those with whom we disagree.  may we have compassion for those who reach our borders hungering for safety and freedom.  may we once again look to the statue of liberty in new york harbor as our emblem, not to a giant fence on our southern boundary.  may compassion, lovingkindness, and respect for others rule the day again.  shalom.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Show Us What We Yet May Do

we've been on a long trip, so i was unable to post to my blog.   we've been back at home for almost a week and have rested up from our trip.

a few days after returning from our trip, my wife and i went with another couple to a nearby town that we had not visited before just to look around and to eat at a restaurant that has gotten rave reviews.  as we stopped at various points in the town, all of us were curious about what we would find as we stepped from the car, except for the husband of the other couple.  each time he remained in the car fiddling with his cell phone as the rest of us explored.  we had a great meal at the restaurant which all four of us enjoyed and each of us seemed to find the drive over and back worthwhile, as we gazed at the beautiful rolling hills outside our car windows.

when my wife and i returned to our own home, we were both struck by our male traveling companion's lack of curiosity.  while we were excited to leave the car and explore, he had no interest in what was beyond what could be seen from his seat.  the only time he left the car was to go into the restaurant to eat.  otherwise, he was pleasant company and had no objection to any of the stops we made, never complaining about how long he was left sitting alone.  i am puzzled that he is content to view the world from a distance.  if his solitary exploration of what he finds on his phone makes him happy, who am i to criticize?  yet, there seems to be something lacking when one finds little pleasure in sharing discoveries with others with whom we are in company.

i follow a good many blogs written by solo travelers, extolling the joys of exploring alone, and i sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to see new sights as a lone traveler.  it seems less pleasurable than having my favorite companion, my wife, with me and being able to share what we find together.  when we return from a trip, we love talking about what we found and our reactions to the experiences we had with one another.  i can't believe that i would have as much fun alone as i would with a congenial companion.

while i find times of solitude like the one i'm experiencing now as i sit and write necessary to my well-being, i'm equally dependent on spending time with others to round out my life.  what is life if one cannot share it with others, especially those we love?  i don't want to be with other people all the time.  in fact, i become quite stressed if i can't get enough time alone, but the opportunity to share life's experiences with others is as essential as my time to myself.  i'm curious about the world around me and the people who are a part of it.  traveling and seeing how other people live helps me to understand that, while our languages, cultures, ethnicities, and religions may be different, we are all very much alike.  being able to explore with a companion with whom i can share my reactions and discoveries makes the trip all the more worthwhile.

may we each find balance in our lives, taking time to be with the person we know best: ourselves.  may we find amiable companions to share our lives with.  may we understand our kinship to each other and relish those relationships.  may we be curious and eager to explore what we don't know or understand.  may we be filled with lovingkindness and respect for each person we encounter.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll

for the past several days, my wife and i have both had upper respiratory problems.  we are coughing, sniffling, and are achy and lethargic.  most likely, the cause is allergies, but the persistence of our symptoms has been aggravating.  it has been a long time since i have had such problems, but my wife has had the same sort of illness several times since we've moved here.  those who have lived here for many years tells us that what we're experiencing isn't unusual and that these allergies will go away after we've adjusted to the climate and vegetation here.  i hope they're right!

our difficulties in recovering and returning to our usual good health has gotten me to thinking about the process of aging.  aches and pains are our normal sensations now.  we're not able to work as hard or for as long as we used to.  it's harder for us to bounce back when we are sick.  on the one hand, i don't want to give in to being an older person.  my inclination is to deny my age and all that goes along with me and to pretend that i'm "only as young as i feel" so i must act as if i feel young.  on the other hand, it's not healthy to resist this natural process of growing old.  there are more years behind me than there are ahead, and it is wrong to refuse to accept my aging.

i've earned the wrinkles in my brow and the gray hairs on my head.  i worked hard when i was younger so that i wouldn't have to work hard in my retirement years.  i look back over a life filled with wonderful adventures, and, even in my advanced years, i still am healthy enough to have more of them.  despite this latest setback, i probably have many more years left, but i have to accept the fact that the end of life is inevitable.  it may come sooner than i would wish for.  one of my responsibilities now is to be prepared for the inevitable whenever it comes and to come to terms with the certainty that death comes to us all.  i can choose whether i continue blindly through life, ignoring that certainty and living as if i will go on forever, or i can face what is certain to come and be prepared for it.  i can live with gratitude for all that i have enjoyed in this life and for each new day that comes to me or i can pretend that, unlike others, i will never experience the suffering of aging and dying.

it's far better to face the suffering that old age brings and to meditate on that suffering than it is to act as if it doesn't exist.  on the whole, my life has been a wonderful one, and, if the grim reaper comes knocking at my door today or tomorrow, i leave a legacy of good memories behind in the minds and hearts of those dearest to me.  i've known far less suffering than many and can count myself fortunate to have lived where i've lived in the midst of a loving family and with the resources i need for a pleasant life.  while there are some regrets--things i could have handled better, lessons i wish i had learned earlier in life--there are far more joys in my memory.  yes, i am very grateful to have been given this life, and i hope that rebirth is a possibility.  i would be happy to have another chance to make a better life in another body.  i'll have to see what's on the other side of the curtain when the time comes.

may each of find our hearts filled with gratitude.  may we face our sufferings rather than pretending that they're not there.  may we see that suffering is the common lot of us all and that it's far better to come to terms with suffering than to try to deaden ourselves to suffering in one way or another.  may we count our blessings, along with our hurts.  may we find peace in our hearts and minds.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Not Like Kingdoms of the World

jesus speaks of "the kingdom of God."  referring to God as "king" suggests that God is an absolute ruler, a dictator who controls our lives and everything in the universe, perhaps a benevolent despot, but a despot none the less.  in jesus' world, the idea of such a ruler wouldn't be thought of as remarkable.  all lives were in the hands of such a monarch, so why would it be different for the greatest of kings, the one who created everything and continues to rule over creation.

yet, to our modern eyes, seeing God as a king and those who believe in God as subjects is not a comfortable point-of-view.  if we have faith in democracy, we think that the combined wisdom of all is preferable to the vision of one person to which everyone else must conform.  in referring to the kingdom of God, perhaps jesus had no other terminology that would be understandable to those who heard him.  jesus might have been painting a picture of a different sort of kingdom, one in which the ruler's only concern was the well-being of that ruler's subjects, one in which unconditional love was extended to all.  this was a marked contrast to the earthly kings that those who heard jesus knew.  their kings and the distant emperor in rome weighed them down with taxes and were more concerned with maintaining their own power and wealth than with the good of their subjects.  in the kingdom of which jesus spoke, things were quite different.  in this kingdom, the greatest served the least, those who were first became last, and the teacher washed the feet of the pupils.

jesus refers to God in a different way, too: as a father.  this heavenly father is kind to his children just as a good earthly parents are kind to their children.  this is not the god of the past, the vengeful god who orders the destruction of towns and everyone in them so that his "chosen people" can take possession of the promised land, but a loving God who wishes only good for all humankind and for all of creation.  this is no tyrant but a God who is the source of all that is good, not a God who acts on whim but one who calls his creation to be filled with lovingkindness and to act responsibly toward all of creation.  not a king but a father, not a kingdom but a community--this is the teaching of jesus about God and God's relationship to creation.

may we love without condition.  may we see each person as being like us in the most fundamental ways.  may we care for creation as if our lives depended on it.  may we consider ourselves as part of a larger family where each member depends on the others.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Right Prevail

a few days ago my brother was given a facebook portal by his son.   he was excited to try it out and texted me to see if he, my sister, and i could visit with each other using it.  i was out on an errand at the time, so the next day we decided to try engaging in a video chat.  i was reluctant to participate because i dislike video calls, but he was so excited about his new toy that i didn't want to disappoint him.  being unfamiliar with the technology, we were not successful and had a conventional visit on the telephone.  later, his son told us what was needed on my end of the potential video visit, and i suppose we'll try it again soon.

as i thought about the portal and similar technologies, like amazon's and google's personal assistants, i was reminded of the telescreen of orwell's 1984.  we have so little privacy in our lives anymore, and these new devices seem to have the potential to diminish our privacy still further.  we are tracked everywhere we go on the internet unless we take steps to mask our wanderings, and, even then, the means we use to insure our anonymity are not secure should government or business want to exert their power to discover our use of the technology.  i have friends who keep the cameras on their computers covered and refuse to use search engines like google because of security concerns, and i've always thought these tactics a bit extreme.  as i ponder the increasing invasion of our privacy i'm not so sure anymore.

given the power of a government with donald trump at its head, i'm wary of the potential for abuse of our individual rights.  when the head of government is convinced that he alone can solve our problems and that he is an expert in most every field, from finance to military strategy, and when most others members of his party seem to be willing to give him carte blanche, it would be all too easy to use these new devices to spy on those who oppose him and his policies.  orwell's vision doesn't seem so farfetched anymore.  one thinks of nixon's enemies list on steroids in the hands of someone like trump.

i used to wonder how someone like hitler could have come to power and think that could never happen in the usa.  as i've watched trump's rise, i can see how a free society can allow someone so obviously evil and corrupt to assume the mantle of power.  when his own party wants power so much that its members refuse to speak out against his abuses and lies and are willing to go along for the sake of maintaining their hold on the reins of government, there are few ways to stop someone of trump's ilk in the short term.  one fears that too much damage will be done before the next election has the potential to vote someone like trump and his supporters out of office.  as we see the restriction of voting rights and the gerrymandering of legislative districts at the hands of republican state legislatures, the willingness of these elected bodies to thwart the will of the people in states like michigan and wisconsin,  and the makeover of the judiciary into a more right-wing institution, even the power of the ballot has less likelihood of success.

perhaps the results of the last election that sent a majority of democrats to the house of representatives is a harbinger of things to come in 2020.  one can only hope that the country can hold on until this next election and that the voters will see the grave peril we are in if trump and his supporters are not stopped.  we have a great responsibility to protect our constitutional rights and to become a champion of freedom and of the rule of law to the rest of the world once more.  i'm not sure we can restore our position with our allies now that the world has seen the damage that one person like trump can do and our willingness to allow him to take the helm of our government but we must try.

may we not be complacent in these perilous times.  may we work to rid our government of trump and his ilk in any legitimate way we can.  may we return to our core values and may the arc of the moral universe bend in the direction of justice.  may lovingkindness triumph over hatred, fear, and the desire for revenge.  shalom.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

That's What Living Is For

another year on the calendar has passed.  yet that doesn't seem as significant as it once did.  january 1 is just another day, a day to be lived as fully as possible, just as each day calls us to live more fully.  though it is a cliché, each day is a gift.  as i say at the beginning of each day, "today i am fortunate to have awakened, i have a precious human life, may i not waste it."  so, the question is: how do i avoid wasting this precious human life.  what are the things that i can do to make my life more productive, more mindful, more meaningful?

i have a wonderful partner who works hard to create a home that is pleasant and beautiful.  one of the things that i can do, and try to do, each day is be a help to her.  often i don't want to engage in one of her projects to keep our home running in an orderly, beneficial way, but i remind myself that being helpful is not always fun.  in the end helping her benefits me as well.  once i get going with my part of the project, i discover that it's more enjoyable than sitting in my easy chair surfing the web or watching tv.  the sense of accomplishment that we both feel in the evening as we look back on the day that has passed is worth the effort that we spent together.

the time i spend in meditation each morning sets me up for a day that is full of new insights and heightened awareness of what's going on around me.  it is gratifying to sense the happiness that being alive brings me, and i wish that i had begun my practice years ago.  my life would have been lived quite differently had this been the case.  i would have been a better husband, a better father, a better teacher, a better person, but i am thankful that a little book filled with insights from the dalai lama--the art of happiness by the dalai lama and howard cutler-- changed the way i think of life and how i live it.

the abandonment of religious superstition has helped me see the core values of the religion in which i was raised.  the conflation of the essential teachings of jesus with the folderol of fairy tales about him obscured what he was about for so long.  that realization has helped me to live more fully.  not worrying about heaven and hell or feeling compelled to take part in meaningless rituals lifted a great weight from my shoulders, freeing me to experience life without the encumbrances of a religion that is far from the truths that jesus taught.  reminding myself of what is important and what is not enables me to live in a new and more vibrant way.

may each of our lives be filled with joy.  may we remind ourselves that each new day is a gift to be experienced as fully as we can.  may we know that in serving others we benefit ourselves as much as we benefit those we serve.  may we accept nothing mindlessly.  may our happiness be deep and abiding, beyond the incidental trials that life brings.  shalom.