Monday, September 30, 2019

Don't Go Changing

it is a natural human inclination, i suppose, for each of us to want others to conform to our expectations of them.  we want to remake others into what we desire them to be.  if someone close to us keeps things to themselves, we may wish that person would be more open and willing to share with us.  acquaintances may be abrupt and surly, and we want to change them so that they are more pleasant.  a friend is easily angered or offended, unable to disagree without being disagreeable, so we fume about his propensity to take umbrage at every little thing.

as we go through life wishing that others were what we want them to be, we make ourselves miserable.  it is too easy to find fault in others while overlooking those in ourselves.  as jesus said in matthew 7, "why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"  all of us has our own quirks and foibles.  none of us is perfect in the eyes of another.  we all stumble and make mistakes.  why is it that we have so much difficulty loving another despite those traits that irritate or trouble us?  those things that we perceive as character flaws are a part of who that other person is, and we would be so much happier if we could accept what we perceive to be the bad along with the good.

i have a friend who constantly complains about her spouse.  everything she says about him is right.  he is thoughtless much of the time.  he does spend too much time on facebook.  he is content to sit while she does most of the work to keep the household running.  he does become angry too easily.  but he has many admirable qualities as well.  he can be generous.  he has a great sense of humor.  he is a wonderful musician.  he is a loyal friend and husband.  rather than work together to find common ground, both my friend and her husband pick at and find fault with one another, and the end result is that they are often  miserable.  i watch their misery and feel compassion for them.  truth be told, i want to remake them into the people i want them to be so they would be happier with one another.  i can't and shouldn't be able to do that.  my task is to love them despite the faults that are so readily apparent and to accept them just as they are, with the hope that they can accept and love me just as i am.

may we see others as complete human beings, not as the sum of their faults.  may we love in spite of, and sometimes because of, the unloveliness.  may our compassion extend to everyone, including ourselves.  may we see that we are all the same, with plenty of good and bad qualities to go around.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gladly I Follow

in the christian religion, and i suppose in most if not all other religions, we use some language that is archaic and has little meaning in the modern world.  indeed, some of it has negative connotations that were not part of the original sense of the words.  some of this arises from our lack of terms for referring to God, this nameless deity.  the ancients considered the name of God to be so holy that it was unutterable.  we continue this practice today, so we must capitalize the word that refers to this supreme being in order to distinguish that God from other gods that we regard as fictitious.

we use the word "lord" to talk to or about the "real" God or to talk about jesus.  what does "lord" mean?  there is that use of the word in the reference to a nobleman, an honorific that is meaningless in much of the world.  in our religious usage, we are talking about one who is our master, one who rules over us, but in our practice of the ideals arising from belief in equality of all persons, it is unnatural to refer to God or jesus as our lord.  when we do so, we are reverting to an old structure based on feudal understandings of the various ranks and worth of human beings, a caste system that is foreign to democratic ideology.

we speak of the "kingdom of God."  again we are going back to that hierarchy that places one person as the supreme head of state with absolute power over all others.  such terminology would have had great meaning in a world ruled over by a caesar or a king of an ancient empire but for our minds a "kingdom" is anathema.  if the "kingdom of God is at hand," then we have surrendered our right to think, to reason, to make our own decisions.  we are regarding jesus as our "lord," our "master," with God as the ruler who takes over our lives, leaving us powerless.

this language and the beliefs flowing from it are, i think, a stumbling block to practicing the christian religion in a modern, democratic world.  rather than a feudal worldview, we need religious language that sees jesus as our leader rather than our lord and that empowers us to think for ourselves.  we need language that imparts a sense of a God who is the embodiment of love, rather than a dictatorial and sometimes capricious ruler who is the pattern for earthly tyrants.  we christians are disciples of jesus, not his slaves.  we learn from jesus, we don't pledge him our fealty.  perhaps we should simply give God the name Love and realize that each time we commit an act of lovingkindness we are worshiping that source of love.

may we not become stuck in a mindset that is out of place in today's world.  may we realize that language is important and that, when words cease to serve our needs, we should search for better words to use.  may our worship be true worship rather than something based on a pattern that we have come to view as not just antiquated but immoral.  if we are christians, may our aim be to follow jesus and to be expressions of a divine Love.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Till All Our Strivings Cease

my wife and i have been watching the first season of the british detective show, unforgotten, in which the police are trying to discover the person who murdered a black teenager in the 1970s.  the young man's body has been discovered buried in the basement of an old building some forty years later.  in the process of the investigation, we are introduced to a number of people who are linked to the building and the neighborhood surrounding it.  as the series continues we learn how their actions four decades earlier have affected their lives and the lives of their families.  we meet an anglican priest who had a brief affair with a teenage girl shortly after his marriage to his current wife, a woman who was involved with a racist organization that made the lives of many non-white londoners miserable and who has spent the rest of her life trying to atone for her actions as a young woman while covering up her past life, an elderly wheelchair-bound man whose wife suffers from dementia but believes that her husband was responsible for some terrible crime years ago, the mother of the murdered young man who has grieved for him since he left home to escape an abusive father and who suddenly stopped communicating with her for reasons unknown to her, a woman who was the girlfriend of the murdered man, and a prominent businessman being considered for an important political appointment who has tried to cover up a career as a member of an organized crime family in his early adult life.

many of these characters try to deny their past lives, excusing the ways they've harmed others as past history that is now irrelevant.  others feel great remorse and beg the forgiveness of those who love them who are seeing their lives destroyed by the ongoing investigation.  the mother of the murdered boy feels a sense of closure as she learns of his death, visits the site of his burial, and follows the investigation that will ultimately lead to her son's killer and the reasons for his murder.  as i've watched, i've thought about how i, like everyone else i suppose, have done things in my past that i'd just as soon forget and that i hope others don't find out about.  these youthful indiscretions may have had profound effects on others that i know nothing about, just as the actions of the characters in this show have done.  i can't help but wonder if any of my earlier regrettable actions may come back to bite me at some point.  i hope that nothing i've done has caused anyone else great suffering or put someone on a destructive path.

i think about how our attitudes toward the role authority figures play in the lives of those over whom they have authority, especially over children.  when i was growing up, it wasn't unusual for male high school teachers to date and sometimes marry their female students.  somehow to us teenagers it seemed romantic that one of our classmates would fall in love with and marry a teacher that we looked up to.  today such a relationship is not just inappropriate but illegal.  as we've become more sensitive to the rights of women, we've seen how wrong the patriarchal attitudes of men towards women are, but not so many years ago actions that we would now call sexual harassment were viewed as matters of course in the natural relationship between men and women.  standards of conduct have changed for the better but it seems wrong to use today's standards to condemn past actions and to belittle others for what was, at the time, acceptable behavior.  that is not to say that crimes should be swept under the carpet and ignored.  sexual abuse ought to be prosecuted regardless of how many years have passed between the time of its occurrence and its discovery by the legal authorities.

what i'm trying to say is that i wish i had realized years ago how my actions may have affected others, not that i was ever guilty of abuse or anything illegal.  i certainly did things that caused hurt to others and failed to understand that as someone who was looked up to by young people i should have been more mindful of how my actions might influence them.  my thoughtless use of tobacco as a young teacher, for instance, may have led some of my young charges to take up the habit and become addicted.  my taking advantage of my authority to snap at a student for some violation of the rules or for making a mistake caused hurt and may have inspired cruelty in impressionable minds.  my use of coarse language and innuendo when among young male students may have caused them to think that such behavior is acceptable for young men, as indeed it was many years ago, though it certainly wasn't right--something that i knew and should have acted on.

cruelty and thoughtlessness are never justifiable.  what we do has an impact on those around us and may start a series of ripples that can touch lives that we never dreamed would be affected.  i can't change past actions, nor can i live my life dwelling on them.  i can remember and try to live with greater lovingkindness and mindfulness.  i can, as the formerly racist woman in the detective series did, try to make amends by the way in which i conduct myself in the present.  we can all try to forgive ourselves and reach out to those who we know may have been hurt by what we did in the past.

may we not dwell on past mistakes but learn from them.  may we take responsibility for the harm we've done.  may we live in each present moment with the knowledge that it will never come again, filling our hearts with love and showing that love towards all those whose lives we touch.  may we be ready to forgive ourselves and those who injure us.  may we be grateful for the opportunities life gives us and for the lessons it teaches us.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Come to Me, O Weary Traveler

i wonder what people in other countries think of the usa.  when i read or watch the news, i am ashamed of my country.  i think about the hope that i had as i watched the power of the ussr unravel, first in eastern europe and then within its own borders.  as communist dictatorships were overthrown and democratic governments were established, it seemed as if the power that was unleashed by the american revolution had come to full flower.  then there was the "arab spring" when it appeared that there was hope that all of the middle east would join the progressive wave that had earlier engulfed europe.

as i look back on that earlier promise, it seems impossible that now so much has changed.  hungary has turned into a neo-fascist state.  xenophobia flourishes in italy.  ultra-nationalism is rife in the united kingdom.  trumpism rules in the usa.  i want to be able to tell the world that all of us in this country are not like trump and his supporters.  my small voice is one of many here that decries everything trump stands for.

we watch in horror as the most desperate who are fleeing violence and poverty are thrown into virtual prisons where conditions approach those of concentration camps, where medical help is denied and children are ripped from the arms of their parents, where inedible and unhealthy food is provided, where private companies who operate these facilities make profit off the misery of others at the expense of the taxpayers.  how can we tolerate these deplorable conditions that those who have suffered so much are forced to live in?  we hear the hatred being spewed out at political rallies and the cheerleader-in-chief is our own president, a man who rules despite having lost the popular vote because of a peculiar quirk in our constitution which allows smaller states to have power that belies their population.  we recoil at the repeated horrors of mass shootings all over our country while the president and his party refuse to take steps to curb this violence, pointing to our constitution's words that give our citizens "the right to keep and bear arms."

at least in the united kingdom, there are those in the ruling party who refuse to be a part of the prime minister's rush to leave the european union and who denounce the prejudices that propelled the brexit movement into prominence.  here in this country, the members of the president's party who have dared defy him are few and far between and, for the most part, those few have been forced to retire from their positions.  even the weather reporting in this country has been politicized because those responsible for it dare not contradict the false and outlandish tweets of the president.  we stray further and further from our democratic ideals and the president's party abets the dictatorial power grab of trump.  we who oppose the current course of the country must hope that the next election will bring an end to this madness and that republican control of the senate and presidency will see its last days.

may we work so that all may live in a world where kindness and love towards one another is the rule, rather than cruelty and hatred.  may we build bridges between us, not walls.  may we resist the siren call of racial and religious divisions and see that we are all human beings first.  may we learn to disagree amicably while condemning in the strongest terms the hatreds which separate us into warring camps.  may we provide help and comfort to those who suffer regardless of the color of their skins or the language they speak.  shalom.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I Feel Pretty

one day last week i went to hobby lobby, a home decor store here in town, to pick up a candle my wife wanted.  i have mixed feelings about shopping at this store because it is part of the chain of stores owned by the family that went to court to keep from providing birth control as part of the employer-provided health care mandated by the affordable care act, or "obamacare" as its detractors call it.  this family also funds the museum of the bible in washington, d. c., which was called to task for stealing antiquities from iraq to add to its collection.  we shop there anyway, because we're not convinced that economic boycotts of businesses which are operated by people we disagree with is a good idea.  it seems to be another way of polarizing our society, and we generally don't participate in these sorts of boycotts as a way of expressing our opinion.

at any rate, that's a topic for another post.  what struck me as a i walked through the store were all the little cutesy signs that said things like "be grateful" or "family gathers here."  some people like to put these up in their homes, and that's okay if that's what you like.  one sign really bothered me, though.  it said, "a gurl [sic] is a bit of glitter wrapped up in a giggle," or something to that effect.  i immediately thought of the old nursery rhyme that goes, "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of; sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of."  i wondered if someone would buy such a sign and put it up in their home and if so, if that what they think of girls and women.  the thought sent chills through me.

one of the problems with evangelical christianity is its attitude toward women.  we have a large community of mennonites in our area.  while i think there is much that is admirable about the mennonite version of christianity, i am disturbed by its requirements that girls and women must wear little veil-like coverings on their heads, must dress in homemade clothing that usually looks like it came from the last century, and must go without make-up, while mennonite men dress in "store-bought" modern clothing and are indistinguishable in their appearance from non-mennonite males.  this whole approach that seems designed to keep "women in their place" and overtly assert male dominance is deeply disturbing.  my wife and i know many marriages where the wife, no matter how intelligent and well educated, always defers to her husband because they both believe that in a "good christian marriage" the husband is the final authority in the household.  they say, "that's what the bible teaches, so we believe that's the way it must be in order to be faithful christians."

when i think of the hard-fought battles that women have fought and continue to fight to gain equal status with men, i can't believe that any woman would settle for second-class status in marriage or relationships with men in general.  how could any man worth his salt want to be the ruler of the woman he loves?  i have to agree with my wife that marriage is a partnership between two equals, not a patriarchal bargain based on antiquated views of gender roles.  we've lived this way throughout our marriage and think that we've taught both our son and daughter to live their lives in the same way.  "gurls" are certainly much more than glitter and giggles, just as boys are more than snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails.  there's so much we don't understand about gender and identity related to gender, and i hope that our society is evolving into one that is broader than the stereotypical views of male and female that we once held.

may we think before assigning gender roles to ourselves and others.  may we see fellow humans as being more like us than different from us, regardless of their gender.  may we see that each of us is never wholly male or wholly female, that we all share common traits.  even when we disagree, may love and compassion win out.  shalom.