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  if we abandon the need to believe every word of the bible as part of a literal record, as a historical document that is without error as we've received it, then there is much in it that can be of benefit.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.