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.