Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Love Shall Tread Out the Baleful Fire of Anger

where to begin?  with the tragic events in bamako, beirut, and paris?  with the venomous rantings of the xenophobes?  tragedies often bring out the best and the worst in us.  as we watched in horror as misguided terrorists wreaked havoc in three cities, our first impulse was often revenge for the killings of innocents.  an eye for an eye, or even many eyes for an eye, seemed a reasonable response at first.  as we watched a blindfolded muslim man embraced by many on the streets of paris, that first vengeful impulse faded for many of us.

for others, the acts of few extremists brought out extreme views in the name of protecting ourselves from such acts of random violence.  in the usa we had proposals from serious presidential candidates for registering all muslims so that they could be tracked by the government, calls for abandoning plans to bring a small number of the syrians who are in need of sanctuary to our country, a plan to admit only christian refugees,    suggestions for the forced closure of mosques, and comparisons of those in need of sanctuary to rabid dogs or a bunch of grapes of which a few are poisoned.  governors across the country vowed to keep syrian refugees out of their states.

at the same time laws to prevent those on the terror watch list from legally buying guns were condemned by conservative lawmakers and the gun lobby.  the house of representatives rushed to pass legislation to prevent syrian asylum seekers from entering the country.  a large number of democrats joined all but two of the republicans in the house to create a veto-proof majority, though the new law probably won't make it through the senate.

our fear has overshadowed our empathy for the families of those who were killed or injured by the terrorists in mali, lebanon, and france.  many have become blinded to the terrible suffering of the victims of islamic state and the civil war in syria.  we have resorted to the hateful rhetoric which greeted other waves of immigrants--the irish, the italians, and lately those from south of our border.  we are afraid of those who are different, those whom some say don't share our culture or our values.

but these "foreigners" are our sisters, our brothers, our parents, our children.  they are us with different languages and sometimes different religions.  they want peace and safety.  they want to have the necessities of life for themselves and their families.  they want their children to have an opportunity to prosper, to live without fear, to have enough to eat.  how can we turn our backs on them, thereby creating more hate and radicalism in the world?

may reason prevail.  may we find our better selves.  may compassion conquer fear.  may our country and all the world see that hatred and suspicion feed the forces of hate and ignorance.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lord of All Being, Throned Afar

a few days ago i read a post by adam lee on his blog, daylight atheism, which was linked to an article of his that appeared in theguardian about those who profess belief in God.  his point was that, while the latest research by the pew research center which found 89% of people in the u.s. believe in a divine power, that figure is misleading because of the wide diversity of belief regarding the nature of that divine power.  simply to say an overwhelming majority of us believe in God suggests that we believers have much in common with regard to our belief, while the reality is our theism leads us in many different directions.  our "gods" are quite diverse, just as we are.

perhaps it is more accurate to say that our perceptions of God are diverse.  because there is a wide variance from theist to theist regarding the nature of God, doesn't mean that we don't believe in the same God.  just as each person may see something different in an abstract painting or find a different meaning in a poem, those differences in perception don't mean we are looking at different paintings or reading different poems; the painting is the painting and the poem is the poem.  it is our interpretations, our perceptions, that are different.

this doesn't diminish the validity of adam's point, because our perception of God influences the way we perceive life and our relationships with those around us and the environment of which we are a part.  the "clockmaker" God of the deist, the "interventionist" God of the evangelical, the "ground of all being" God of the philosopher, or the "pantheist" God of those who believe God is the personification of nature lead those of us who perceive God in any of those or myriad other ways to live our lives very differently, while those who believe there is no God see life through still different eyes.  to lump all theists together in the 89% majority is misleading.

i find myself somewhere between the "clockmaker" and the "ground of all being" theists, denying the idea that God is constantly monitoring every move i make to see if i am conforming to a "divine" plan that was laid out for me before my birth.  yet my faith is such that i believe in a God that cares for me as an individual and as a part of the vast universe, a God who rejoices and suffers with me without making marks in a giant book, marks that will be tallied at some judgment day in the future.  the God in which i believe understands our human foibles and loves us in spite of them, leading us to love one another and to recognize that we are all more alike than we are different.

what we believe about God is important.  that belief colors our thinking about every aspect of life.  the absence of belief also leads one along a different path from the disparate paths of belief.  may we love and respect each other despite our differences in belief or lack of belief.  may we take time to consider the nature of our belief/non-belief and where that leads each of us.  may we abandon beliefs that cause suffering for ourselves and for others.  shalom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

When Upon Life's Billows You Are Tempest Tossed

during the past week i've been in a sort of funk while dealing with several issues that have arisen since returning from our trip overseas.  several needed repairs to our home had to be sorted out, there are divisions in our church, some performance commitments took up a great deal of my time, and plans needed to be made for some future home improvements.  i've allowed all of this to overwhelm me, and i haven't been very pleasant to be around.

on friday, my wife and i took a break from the demands of daily life to take in a movie.  getting away from the house and my responsibilities helped me to see how wrapped up i had become in the problems we've been facing and to put things in perspective.  i realized that everything will work out over time.  while there are many molehills to get over, there are no mountains--it's my worrying mind that has made mountains out of these molehills.

all-in-all, life is good, and i have much to be thankful for, not the least of which are a loving wife, wonderful children, a comfortable home, enough food to sustain me, and many friends.  i don't have to find a roof for my head, as many people do every night.  i don't have to go to a soup kitchen for food, as many do every meal.  i am not alone in the world, as many are.  all these gifts are undeserved, and i am fortunate to have this life.  instead of being weighed down by problems that are insignificant in comparison to the worries of many who lack the basic necessities, i can see that my problems can be dealt with if i address them with patience and thought while relishing the wonderful joys of life and doing my part to help others with real difficulties.

may we stop to count our blessings.  may we accept that chance plays a major role in our situation in life.  may we acknowledge the help others have given, and continue to, give us, realizing that none of us are "self-made."  shalom.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It Is Not The Healthy Who Need A Doctor

late one afternoon while we were is scotland recently,  i took a nasty fall that scraped and cut my nose and forehead.  my wife and i debated about whether i should seek medical attention, since the cut on my forehead night heal better with stitches.  we decided to leave it alone after the bleeding stopped and check with our landlord, who works at the tourist office, the next morning.  he encouraged us to see a doctor, since there would be no cost to us, but at the very least, he thought we should consult a pharmacist.

i decided to wait until the end of the day and go to a nearby pharmacy.  i didn't want to give up a day of sightseeing, and, though we had purchased medical insurance for our trip, i didn't want to have to deal with the complexities of seeking treatment in another country.  as we went through the day, several people inquired about my injury and each was puzzled that i didn't avail myself of medical treatment, since each person we spoke with assured us there would be no cost.  i put off seeing even a pharmacist until the next day and was relieved when he assured me that the cuts were healing well and recommended some antiseptic cream to ward off the chance of infection.

a few days later as we visited with another couple who were about our age, they told us about the husband's experience with a frightening virus that had infected his brain.  he thought that he had suffered a stroke because he first had a tingling sensation in one arm, then had difficulty with one leg, and finally lost the ability to speak.  this happened over the course of a few days, and when the speech loss occurred his family took him to the hospital.  the doctors ruled out stroke as the cause, since the progress of his ailments had been gradual rather than sudden.  while in the hospital, he lost movement in the tingling arm and the leg that had first bothered him.  the cause of his ailment was found and, once treated, his symptoms dissipated within a matter of days.  with a brief period of therapy, he recovered completely.  we asked about the cost of his treatment and the quality of his care, and he told us that there was no cost whatsoever and that he had received excellent care.  he and his wife were full of praise for the national health service and expressed amazement that our health care seemed to be so expensive and complex.  they said they couldn't imagine having the cloud of possible impoverishment hanging over our heads should we suffer a major health problem, as many young people in the usa do because they can't afford comprehensive health insurance.

we came home with the same puzzlement about health care in our country.  i'm sure there are some in the united kingdom that could tell horror stories about their health care system, but every person we encountered who expressed an opinion had high regard for british health care, and, because of my injury, we heard this from many.  perhaps the british system wouldn't work here, but there must be a better way than what we have now.  if health care could cease being a political football and be viewed as a basic right that every person should enjoy, we could make progress in finding a solution.

may we turn from causing suffering for so many while playing politics with health care.  may we find solutions that bring down its cost while making good care available to everyone.  may we have compassion for those who cannot access the health care system because they can't afford it and devise a means to providing adequate care for all our people.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Each Smile A Hymn

upon our return from our recent trip, we've had to deal with the usual "coming back to reality" issues of day-to-day life: our central air unit has to be replaced, our 13-year-old lawn mower has decided to retire, we have a roof leak, the house has to be cleaned, and so it goes.  as we try to deal with these issues, we've reflected back on our trip, remembering the wonderful sights we've seen, the new locales we've experienced, and the kind people we've encountered.

when we travel we discover that people everywhere are much the same.  there are a few impatient, rude, selfish folks, but most are gracious and kind.  the lovely irish lady from whom we rented our first apartment left us fresh baked bread and staples for breakfast.  the young irish student that set beside us on the train from waterford delighted us with stories of her life and curiosity about ours in the states.  the manager of the spar store/petrol station in newtonmore, scotland, treated us with such courtesy as he gave us advice on sights to see and routes to take, and we looked forward to the necessity of stopping to see him several times during our travels.  the pharmacist who came out from behind the counter in edinburgh to look at the cuts i got when i fell and to find the right cream to help me heal quickly made us feel that we were long-time customers instead of tourists he would see only once.  the scottish couple we chatted with as we traveled on the train from mallaig to fort william seemed like life-long friends.  as we waited to board the ferry to return to dublin from wales, i struck up a conversation with a young english man, and he became our companion on the ferry ride across the irish sea, as we talked about the national health service in the united kingdom--the subject of his post-graduate studies--and our complex and expensive health system in the usa.

everywhere we go, we find wonderful people, strangers who become our friends for a few fleeting moments but who seem to have so much in common with us that they could easily be members of our family.  this trip, like each one we take, convinces me that we are all much more alike than we are different.  we may speak different languages or the same language with different accents.  we may be young or old.  we may have different sexual orientations.  we may practice different, or no, religions.  at our core, we long for connections with others, for a peaceful life, and for every person to be free from want.

may we remember that a little kindness to a stranger goes a long way toward making life happy.  may we see that our similarities are more important than our differences.  may we live lives that set aside the cultural barriers that separate us and see our common humanity.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light

while we were traveling, our church took two actions that have left me puzzled.  first, the church marriage policy was updated, stating the "for christians, marriage is between a man and a woman."  second, the church accepted a transgender person into church membership.  the decision on the marriage policy saddens me, though i am not surprised.  i disagree strongly with the church's decision limiting marriage, and i find the phrase "for christians" especially disturbing.  does the church mean that if one acknowledges same-gender marriage as being legitimate, one is no longer a christian?

i was relieved that the church did not turn away the transgender person who applied for membership.  many in the church strongly disagree with the church's decision, and i have learned that attendance was quite sparse on the sunday she was formally received into the church.  those who were there attributed the low attendance as a protest against the church's decision.

our church's membership is weighted heavily toward those who are 50+, and we live in a very conservative community in a very conservative area of the country, so it is not surprising that most oppose same-gender marriage and deny the existence of transgender persons.  old ways of thinking die hard, and, even when these points-of-view are wrong, they won't change quickly.  that doesn't mean that they have to be accepted, and i am troubled that the clergy leadership of the church is not engaging us in discussions of both these issues.

we have committed gay couples who are members of our church.  we have gay individuals who have been elected to positions of leadership.  we have a gay staff member who is in a committed relationship and plans to marry his partner.  in the face of these realities, we have to deal with the issue of homosexuality and same-gender marriage more honestly.  the church can't make a pronouncement about the definition of marriage, flatly stating that those who disagree are not christians, and think that the issue has been addressed.

can we tell a gay member that she is qualified to be an officer in the church but the church can't honor her commitment to her partner?  can we tell our gay staff member that we're willing to honor his service and pay his salary, but we won't acknowledge his husband?

some of the most conservative members are pushing for our church to leave our denomination for one that flatly condemns same-gender marriage and refuses admission to transgender persons.  one person has already withdrawn her membership because she is unwilling for the church to take time to struggle with these issues and has left to search for a church that condemns same-gender marriage in more emphatic language and refuses membership to transgender persons.

like her, i struggle with whether to remain a member of my congregation; unlike her, my reason is its refusal to recognize that the church has no business telling people whom they should love and to whom they should make a permanent commitment.  at the very least, the church should acknowledge that one can find same-gender marriage acceptable and still remain a christian.  for now, i'm willing to wait for attitudes to change as our clergy and leaders examine this issue, but i'm not willing to leave our denomination because the national church has decided that a congregation can honor same-gender marriage.  in the coming weeks, i will speak with our leaders and ask that they reconsider the decision they've made and the language used to express that decision.  once i have a sense of the rigidity of their position, i'll have some guidance in making my own decision.

may we acknowledge that change often comes slowly and that there are times when that is a good thing.  may we stand up for what we believe to be right, even when we're in the minority, and may we do so while respecting those with whom we disagree and without attacking them personally.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

When Hatred and Division Give Way to Love and Peace

may i understand, o God of mystery.
may i be at peace with myself and others, o God of peace.
may i be fully present in this and every moment, o God of the cosmos.
may i be filled with loving-kindness, o God of love.
may i be patient, o God of eternity.
may i see my suffering and that of others, o God of healing.
may i be generous, o God of all good gifts.
may i forgive any wrong done to me, o God of mercy.
may i make amends for any wrong done by me, o God of justice.
may i think clearly and logically, o God of reason.
may i see no "others," o God of unity.
may i not cling to that which is impermanent, o God of the ever-changing universe.