Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Pray That All Unity May One Day Be Restored

as we live our lives, we often wonder what purpose there is in living.  is there an underlying motivation for our actions?  why do we do the things that we do?  is there something larger than our day-to-day routine?  when i awakened this morning, i was surprised to find myself thinking of the idea that all we do, all we think, all we are expresses our underlying motivation.  we may live as if this concept we call "self" is the most important reason for being, leading to a life of selfishness that revolves around distractions that are intended to make us happy and yet never seem to do so.  or one may live as though service to others is the supreme purpose for life, always placing the needs of others ahead of one's own needs, and this purpose in the end seems to lead to frustration and unhappiness.

rather, it seems that the idea of living one's life as an expression of worship so that each action and each thought expresses a desire to participate in the love that flows through all of creation is the highest purpose for life.  this embrace of that which is larger than oneself, that includes all that is, leads one to see that we are all a part of one another, we are each part of the stuff of the universe, we vibrate with the energy of something eternal.  we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves, and sacrifice which denies oneself is ultimately unfulfilling.  rather, serving others is a way of serving onself, not a denial of onself but an expression of the force that binds us all together.

we are not doctors, lawyers, teachers, or whatever our vocation is, but we are beings who make our living through our work.  the work is not who we are.  we are human beings that are bound together by the same longings for peace, for happiness, and for connection to others.  we can express our humanity, our need to give and receive love, through our work, but the work must flow from our basic human longings rather than the work being our reason for existence.

with each breath, may we sense our common bonds.  may we give and receive love and forgiveness.  may we see ourselves in others, remembering that inside even the most seemingly cruel person beats a heart full of hurt and the desire to love and be loved.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Love Your Enemies

how does one confront the violence in the world?  as we look at the evil that is prepetrated by an organization like isis, can we defeat such an army without resorting to the use of force?  were we wrong to confront the murderous regime of hitler by going to war against germany and its allies?  had we followed the teaching of jesus and adopted a policy of non-violence, what would have been the result?  should we have refused to intervene during the war in the balkans as the serbian army massacred muslims in bosnia?

i search for answers but do not find them.  as i reflect on the life of jesus, especially on his final hours as he surrendered to the power of the religious authorities and the romans, walking without protest to his agonizing death, i see a man who faced that death with quiet dignity, supreme bravery, and unflinching confidence that something noble would arise from his crucifixion.  even as he was arrested, he taught that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and healed an injury caused by one of his followers.  was it only his own belief in his resurrection that propelled him on the path of surrender to his enemies, or did he have confidence that his martyrdom would inspire his followers to spread his teachings of peace, good will to all, and love for one's enemies throughout the known world?

if we live by his teachings as we face the violence of armies of zealots who are so convinced of the rightness of their causes that they murder all those who refuse to yield to them and to embrace their ideology, can such ideologies be defeated by the power of love?  when ethnic and religious minorities are executed by those with whom they disagree, can non-violence ultimately triumph?  there are those who point to the proliferation of christianity in the roman world as evidence that pacifism can overcome, but one wonders if chrisitanity would ultimately have been replaced by some other religion if it had not been adopted as the state religion of the roman empire, thus transforming what had been a peaceful religion to the religion under whose banner the armies of constantine marched.

i want to believe that turning the other cheek would work on a global scale, but i'm not so sure that arms in the hands of organized groups of fanatics can be overcome by the power of a loving pacifism.  or can love conquer all?  may we look in our hearts for the answer to the question of how to confront movements like isis and al-qaeda.  may we not use force thoughtlessly.  may we live as people of peace in a world that turns to violence all too easily.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men

the events unfolding in the world--the killing of a young black man in a suburb of st. louis and the ensuing turbulence, the fighting in syria, iraq, and ukraine, the war between the israeli government and hamas, the civil unrest in thailand--have amazed and troubled me of late.  it is easy to sit in my comfortable chair, smugly congratulating myself like the pharisee in jesus' story that i am not like other men: i am rational and compassionate, i would never embrace a religion and lifestyle of intolerance that participates in the execution of those who disagree with me, i would never shoot an unarmed teenager.  or would i?

how much does the culture in which we were brought up and continue to live influence us?  when i am honest with myself i know that i am a christian because i was born a christian and live in a society in which christianity is the dominant religion.  that i am a "progressive" christian rather than a partisan of the religious right probably has as much to do with my upbringing and education as it does with convictions arrived at through thought and inquiry.  had i been born in most parts of the middle east, chances are i would have been a muslim and, had i been exposed from an early age to radical expressions of islam, chances are i would have been as radical as the fighters of isis.  had i been born in thailand or burma, i would be a buddhist most likely.  had i been born in india, i probably would be hindu.

so i wonder if the way to end senseless violence and racism is to convince others that my religion is the true one, as many christians suggest.  is my version of christianity or some other's version the solution to all the world's problems?  is believing that the religion of another is the source of evil and clinging to our own as the true or favored way a valid path out of the quagmire?   or is the answer to work together to eliminate the poverty and lack of education that provide a fertile ground for hate to flourish?  should we not meet those who look and believe differently from us with respect and tolerance, rather than seeking to impose our own culture and beliefs on them?  would we be as concerned for those under the control of the islamic state in syria and iraq if only shiite muslims were being persecuted, rather than all religious minorities including christians?

i can't know what is in the heart of another, but i can know what is in my own heart.  i must ask myself if i am harboring racism and intolerance within me and confront the prejudices i find.  as i think about how to view the world and the actions of others, i must be honest about the cultural biases that filter my view and use my intellect to push aside those biases.  may each of us see the humanity in every person, including the policeman who shot an unarmed young man in ferguson, the fighters who kill those with whom they disagree, the religious zealots who would have us persecute others because of their sexual orientation, the hamas fighters who bomb innocent israelis, and the israeli soldiers that kill hundreds of innocent palestians in gaza.  may each of us learn to see past the influences of background, culture, and education that makes us appear different and see the suffering person that is not so different from us.  shalom

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Eschew Evil and Do Good

i love to go to church on sundays.  i love the organ voluntaries (even when i'm the one playing them).  i love the hymns.  i love the scripture lessons.  i love the sung and spoken responses.  i love the sermon.  i love saying the creed, the call to worship, and lord's prayer in unison with the congregation.  i love the choir's anthem during the offertory.  i love the pastoral prayer.

one thing i don't love is the prayer of confession.  in our tradition, this prayer contrasts our human failings with the goodness of God, and i don't deny that this is a valid comparison.  what bothers me about this prayer is that there is never any recognition of human goodness.  if we are created in God's image, the goodness of God is a part of who we are, and we ought to recognize that in the confession also.  God is in us, and our failure to recognize and cultivate the presence of God in us is the cause of the bad that is also in us.

this God-in-us ought to be recognized along with our shortcomings, and, instead of a consistently negative view of human nature, we should also be confessing the good that we do and giving thanks to God for being present with us as we perform acts of kindness and mercy that are also part of our nature.  the prayer of confession as it is used in the  tradition of my branch of christianity teaches that each person's life is always full of sin, always failing God and others, never growing or changing; it implies that there is no transformative process in living as a christian or as a compassionate human being.  i can no longer accept that view.  the more we recognize the goodness inherent in us, the less we allow evil to control us--we grow and are transformed.  we're never perfect, but we aren't "totally depraved" either.

may we forgive ourselves and others for the wrong we do.  may we not allow guilt over our shortcomings to cause us to forget the goodness that is also a part of us.  may we cultivate that goodness, embracing the lovingkindness and compassion that are a part of who we are.  may we encourage ourselves and others to do good and turn from evil.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stop and Smell the Roses?

as i looked at the name of my blog, "mindfulness and transformation," this morning, i began to think about the connection of those words and to wonder if i truly have become more mindful and, if so, in what ways has that mindfulness changed me.  i'm not as mindful as i'd like to be. i still find myself fretting over the future, spending time regretting some things in the past, multitasking at the expense of what is happening  in the present moment.  i imagine perfect scenarios for the immediate future and long for them to come into being, but i find myself being called back to a present that, while imperfect, is full of joy and is far happier than i would have believed possible a few years ago.

i find that i am much more content with things as they are and am less inclined to rail against life's failure to turn out just as i had hoped.  when i am called from what i've told myself i should be doing to attend to the needs of someone else, i've discovered that i am not so irritated that what i had planned is not happening.  i understand that another person's needs are more important that attending to my own tasks at exactly the time i'd planned, and i am able to focus more fully on paying attention to that person in need.

the effort to live more mindfully has been transforming, though my progress along the eightfold path is halting.  i stumble, but following the path is worth the effort.  to be able to simply sit in my den, experiencing what is going on around me--the sound of the floor clock ticking, the pleasure of the gentle breeze of the fan behind me, the feel of the fabric of my chair against my legs and arms, the hum of the always-on sound system, the glow of the kitchen lights in the corner of my eyes, the warmth of the laptop computer on my upper legs--is something that would have gone unnoticed a few years ago.  to close my eyes and find my mind at rest, not racing from topic to topic to solve every problem or to organize my day is a wonderful new phenomenon.

so, am i mindful?  well, sometimes.  has that sometime mindfulness been transformative.  emphatically, yes, and that emphatic "yes" encourages me to continue to increase the time i spend living mindfully.  may we all find the time to just be in the present moment.  may we find that the most basic tasks of life are enjoyable if we are mindful as we do those tasks, rather than mindlessly racing through them as we think about what may never come to pass.  may we be at peace within our own minds and skins so that we may be at peace with others.  shalom.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do Good to Them That Hate You

ancient hatreds seem to die hard.  it is difficult to understand how this can be.  as i watch and read about the strife between the israelis and the palestinians of the gaza strip, i am horrified.  i can't pretend to understand this conflict, but it appears that thousands of palestinians are crowded into this tiny sliver of land, living in deplorable conditions.  on the one side is the sea with an israli blockade, on the other, the powerful israeli armed forces.  above are israeli war planes.  the palestinians fire rockets into israel, causing indiscriminate damage that provokes retaliation by israel.  bombers cross the border into israel, killing israeli civilians, and the israelis respond with more violence.  in the conflict, the government and armed forces of israel appear to be conquerors, using overwhelming force at will against the population of gaza, killing far more innocents than hamas combatants and creating even more enemies who will continue the cycle of brutality.  why can't one side simply end the fighting by refusing to continue?

as i ponder this in my own ignorant and simplistic way, it suddenly dawns on me that the origins of all such conflict is personal.  as i smugly condemn the israelis for their brutal role in using force to try and keep the lid on this simmering cauldron of hatred, i am reminded of my own anger toward the relatives of my father's wife and toward one particular relative that i see as taking hurtful and insulting action against me and my family in the wake of my father's death.  it is only because i live so far away and the only means of convenient communication with this man and other of his relatives are telephone or email that i am able to keep my silence rather than venting my frustration in words that are hurtful and that would cause further escalation of our differences, but the hurt and anger, the longing to say those cruel words, are still there.

how can i condemn the anger of israelis and palestinians with one another while this anger eats at me?  when a palestian father joins the struggle against israel and takes revenge for the killing of his child by stealing into israel to set off a bomb in a crowded market, his anger is personal, and his longing for revenge grows from his powerlessness in the face of an enemy that seems large and impersonal.  but this enemy is made up of individuals like him.  how many israelis have been touched by violence perpetrated by palestinians?  in the end, all such anger and the violence that grows from it are personal, having a deep root in a single act that is multiplied by the cycle of retaliation.

may each of us examine our own hearts for the source of enmity with our "enemies."  may we see that there are no enemies, only those who may "despitefully use" us (luke 6:28, KJV), that ill use perhaps stemming from a perceived offense by us that might have been thoughtless or unintended.  may we see that we are the same and that the only way to end the cycle of hatred is for one or both parties to say, "enough," for one to break off the conflict by refusing to participate in it.  may anger be replaced by peace, may hatred be replaced by love. shalom.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Until We Know By Heart the Table of Forgiveness

as part of my meditation each morning i pray my own version of the lord's prayer.  the central part of that prayer has to do with our relationships with one another.  in my prayer, i think of all those who suffer because they are without life's necessities; they may lack shelter, food, the comfort of loving connections to others, or adequate clothing.  i think then of our responsibility to address these needs that so many have.  i think of the suffering that is caused by our clinging to ancient hatreds and prejudices and by seeking to impose control over others through the use of force, and i pray that we can forgive one another and be forgiven by them for the wrongs we have done so that the cycle of violence can end.

here for me is the heart of true religion: seeking to alleviate the physical and emotional needs of others by our actions and seeing that we are all the same despite our predispositions to stereotype those who appear to be different from us because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or religion.  the idea that we are reborn in another body after our death is helpful, i think, in that it does away with these barriers that seperate us from one another.  when we think that another person may have been our mother, our father, our child, our sibling in another life, we see that we are all related and that superficial differences are unimportant.

by seeing others as connected to us and the universality of the desire for loving connections with one another, we break down the walls of hatred and prejudice that artificially keep us from awareness of the humanity and suffering in others; we understand that all suffer and we understand that, by easing the suffering of another, we lessen our own suffering.  may we see ourselves in each person we encounter.  may we pray that each one's suffering may be lessened.  may our actions result from hearts filled with lovingkindness and compassion, hearts that respect each person  shalom.