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.