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.