Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Womb of Life and Source of Being

gracious God--that is how i begin my morning meditation, with a prayer that addresses a God that i will never fully understand.  it would be easy for me to be an atheist, except i can't get past the idea that a long series of unlikely events had to occur in order for life on this earth to exist.  how is it that in this small corner of the universe life evolved on this tiny planet?  there must be a beginning, a primal cause, and for me, God is the most satisfactory explanation.

i reject the idea that God is a "personal" God, a great santa claus in the sky, or a vengeful rule-maker with a notebook, keeping a record of how good we are at following mandates recorded in an ancient collection of writings.  God is not my buddy.  God is not jesus.  God is not the cause of all the terrible things that happen in this world.

i don't know what God's role in the world is.  i believe that God cares for all that God created, that all life is sacred, that all of creation should be honored and cared for.  i don't believe that God intervenes in human history or that there is a "will of God" to be discerned.  i believe that the only commandment, the only will of God, is that we love one another and in so doing we love God.  there is no "right" religion, and as we explore the role of organized religion in history, it appears that religion has done more harm than good.  we fight one another in the name of religion.  we seek to convert one another by any means possible, including force.  we commit the worst sorts of atrocities in the name of God, and it is little wonder that many come to the conclusion that there is no God.

two verses from the first epistle of john are for me the most true sentences about God: the one who doesn't love, doesn't know God, for God is love (1 john 4:8) and God is light and in God there is no darkness (1 john 1:5).  this is the essence of religion, not the layers of complexity that have been heaped upon us by religious authorities.  God is not the christian God, not the islamic God, not the hindu God.  God is.  for me, that's enough.  love is the key that unlocks the mystery of God.  if we seek to live a life that is filled with love, we come to know God, even if we don't believe that God exists.

may we love, not in the name of any religion, but simply because that's the best way to live.  may we honor all that is around us, caring for the planet that is our home.  may we cast aside the differences that religion imposes on us and embrace one another as human beings without any need to control each other.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Work, for the Night Is Coming

each morning he awoke with a sense of urgency, remembering all the tasks that should have been completed yesterday.  today there were those tasks, plus the new ones that had to be done before this day came to an end.  he made lists of all that must be accomplished in order for today to be considered a success.  he carried his day planner with him everywhere, lest he forget some important appointment.  once he began one of the listed jobs, he saw more all around him that needed to be done.  how could he possibly cram all this work into one day?  yet he had to; the lists told him so, and now there were new items that he had just noticed on the lists.  at the end of the day he collapsed, exhausted and frustrated that everything had not been completed and some items on his lists had to be carried over into tomorrow.  what a lousy day it had been, and the next day would be much the same.

each morning he awoke, looking forward to the new day.  he thought about the most important task that he could accomplish on this day.  as he considered the several tasks that might engage him, he prioritized his mental list.  some jobs were more urgent than others; those were the ones that would engage him first.  the others could be deferred to another day if need be.  he checked his appointments for the day so that he could organize his work around them and made certain that the day would have a flow that left him time to relax between jobs and meetings, and he began this day, as he did each day, with some quiet time for reflection and meditation.  at the end of the day, he took stock of what had been accomplished and gave thanks for the good day he had enjoyed.  he knew that tomorrow would take care of itself and looked forward to moving on to some of the work he had put off on this day.

these are the stories of two friends of mine, one whose life is filled with frustration and suffering, the other who is happy and at peace with himself and the world.  i've learned much from both of them, and it's obvious which i try to emulate.  why do we fall into the "if-only" trap: if only i could get all this done, i could be happy, if only there weren't so much that had to be done, i could be happy, if only there were more hours in the day, i could be happy.  let's forget if only.  let's rejoice that there is fulfilling work to do and be happy in that work.  let's complete the most important work and then give ourselves a pat on the back because it's been done before moving on to the next job on our list.  let's give ourselves time for gratitude throughout each day.  let's remember that peaceful rest is as important--maybe more important--than keeping our noses to the grindstone.

may we all figure out what our priorities are and put first things first.  may each day be regarded as a blessing that might not have come to us.  may we find reward in our work and be grateful for what we're able to accomplish.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

We Will Walk Side by Side

a man dies while in police custody in baltimore.  two men attempt an attack on a gathering in garland, texas, and are killed by an off-duty policeman who is serving as a security guard.  there seems to be no end to these incidents in my country.  how could someone have died while being transported to the police station after a simple arrest?  why would two men plan an attack on a group that was attacking their religious sensibilities?  us against them, over and over and over.

now the right-wing media rails against the baltimore protestors.  there is no pretense of trying to understand the intense anger over the senseless killing of a black man in one of baltimore's poorest neighborhoods.  there is no indignation directed at those who killed a man whose only crime appeared to be fleeing the police, who the police only pursued because he ran from them.  none on the right are asking why those living in this area of baltimore live in poverty and why the drug trade seems to be the chief source of income.  none of these pundits are asking why someone would flee from the police for no apparent reason.  instead, there is only condemnation for those who take to the streets in anger and frustration and vilification of the victim.

in garland a gathering of bigots who are intent on offending devout muslims comes under attack.  certainly, the attackers were not justified and left the policeman who shot them no choice.  but what would be the reaction had a group of middle-eastern immigrants held a rally that featured a competition for cartoons depicting jesus?  would armed gunmen from the christian right have appeared outside such a rally?  most likely, given the prevailing belief in texas that everyone should have the right to carry weapons anywhere and to carry them openly.  those who assembled in garland wanted to offend and provoke.  in the name of american nationalism, those who came to garland contradicted the ideals of tolerance and of respect for the beliefs of others inherent in the declaration of independence and the u.s. constitution, as did those who came to kill them.

may we turn from extremism in every form.  may we refuse to engage in the "us against them" philosophy that is anathema to the common good.  may we look for the causes of anger which spill over into violent confrontations in the streets of our cities.  may we stop and think before we so blithely assume the worst in others.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Eat at the Welcome Table

a person has applied for membership in our church.  i use the word "person" because i don't know how to refer to him/her; this applicant for membership dresses as a woman for church functions but dresses as a man in professional life.  biologically a man, my friend prefers to dress in female attire as often as possible.  i don't know whether he/she is a cross-dresser or transgender, so i should probably say my "acquaintance," rather than my "friend."  i have known him/her and worshiped with him for a number of years, but only recently did i come to know this acquaintance in her female incarnation.  when dressed as a man, he prefers to be called by his male birth-name; when in women's attire, she prefers a female cognate for the male name.

we've been hearing a lot about transgender issues lately, what with prominent pieces on transgender children and their parents on the network evening news, bruce jenner's recent interview, and several offensively ridiculous bills that have been introduced by conservative state legislators in several states regarding bathroom access for transgender persons.  for those in my generation, it's a difficult issue to deal with.  it's one we'd rather were swept under the rug so that transgender folks could continue to suffer without calling their problems to our attention, but we can't do that, as this situation in our church demonstrates.

i can't imagine the pain of a biologically male or female child being forced to grow up in accordance with the dictates of anatomy when the child's very being is undeniably in conflict with biological reality.  i applaud brave parents who allow their children to develop naturally without insisting on conformity to anatomy.  i applaud brave children (and adults) who become what their psyche demands.  that empathy for these parents and children doesn't make it any easier for me and many others to understand the body discomfort that transgender humans feel or their desire as adults to become the sexual beings that their brains are most comfortable with.

back to my friend/acquaintance:  i pray that those who've been elected to make decisions regarding church membership will read these words from the front of our weekly bulletin before reaching a decision:  "to all who are weary and need rest–to all who are friendless and want friendship–to all who pray and to all who do not, but should–to all who sin and need a savior–this church opens wide its door and in the name of christ says, 'welcome.' "  i pray that we won't turn our backs on one who comes to us from a troubled past, struggling with issues that few of us can understand.

may we not rush to judge that which we do not understand.  when we say "welcome," may we mean just that.  may compassion take precedence over too-easy prejudice.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Come Away with Me, Lucille

a few days ago, my wife and i had the opportunity to observe two couples during a week-long trip.  one of the couples subscribed to marital complementarianism, holding that the bible teaches that husbands, as "heads of the household," have the final decision-making authority in a marriage.  the other husband and wife considered themselves to be equal partners, and during the trip this couple talked over decisions and agreed on mutually acceptable resolutions.  both couples seemed quite happy, but it bothered both me and my wife that the wife in the "complementary" couple seemed to be subservient, even in matters like what meal to order in a restaurant or what gift to buy for a grandchild.

i don't condemn the couple who have ordered their relationship so that the male in the couple has all the power.  the wife appeared happy with her role and seemed to feel free to voice her opinion, even if it was ultimately overruled by her husband.  my wife and i treat each other as equals in all matters, as the second couple in our party did, and i believe that our egalitarian relationship is more satisfactory that our friends' "complementary" relationship.

again, we face the dilemma of "me versus an 'other.' "  when one partner in a marriage is in control, the other partner becomes the "other" who is less intelligent, less talented, more likely to make the wrong decision.  there is no sense of "two heads being better than one;" rather, it is my well-being becoming more important than yours so that i-writ-large can control the outcome.  this attitude carries over into other areas of life; we heard both partners in the "complementarian" couple speak ill of minorities, often ridiculing them.

as i sit and write, i am more convinced than ever that the best way to live is to remind ourselves over and over of our common humanity, to remember that we are all one and the same.  may we join hands as partners in marriage and in life instead of trying to contol others when the opportunity presents itself.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gone Are My Friends from the Cotton Fields Away

a black man was shot repeatedly by a white policeman in south carolina, and the man's final moments were caught on a video by a witness to the shooting.  there are many questions we might ask: would this death have been more tragic if the races of the two men were reversed?  is the race of the two men significant?  what are the circumstances leading up to this tragedy?  why did the bystander feel compelled to capture these moments in a video?  is this incident a reflection of our society's insistence on easy access to guns?  the list of questions that need to be answered could fill many pages.

the one that most concerns me after so many recent deaths of people of color at the hands of white officers of the law is the question of race.  this is the elephant in the cupboard of culture in the usa.  we want to say that there are also whites being killed just as callously but i don't think that's the case.  we have only to compare the reaction to mobs of predominantly white students in kentucky after a basketball game loss to the reaction to mobs of predominantly black people over the killing of a black teen in missouri to see the bias in our culture.  the race of the two involved in this south carolina incident is significant, because, in the eyes of many, non-white lives don't matter as much as white lives.  so close on the heals of our observance of the surrender at appomattox that ended the civil war, the stain of slavery and the aftermath of that horrible war still have not been cleansed from our psyche.

in our part of the country, and i expect in other regions as well, dinner table conversation too often includes little veiled barbs that suggest that blacks or hispanics are not as bright, not as moral, not as industrious as whites.  we see ourselves as a society of us and the others, and the others can't be as good as we are.  we can't let them have power.  we can't acknowledge their complete humanity.  it was all too easy for our forebears to turn a blind eye to the misery that was the lives of thousands of people of color so that a few white colonists and their descendants could enjoy lives of wealth and privilege.  under the veneer of a genteel society, blacks lives didn't matter except for what their backbreaking labor could produce so that this "gracious" way of life could exist.  this attitude continues to persist and to color all our national conversation.

this is the horrible consequence of "us versus them."  we refuse to see our sameness.  we fail to grasp the desire of non-white families to want the best for their children, to acknowledge that race has nothing to do with intelligence, the willingness to work hard, or moral integrity.  we citizens of the usa are not alone in this failure--look at the treatment of the irish at the hands of the english, at the tragedy of racism in south africa, at conflict between arabs and jews in the middle east.  the fact that other cultures are guilty of racism doesn't make it any more right here in this country; it only underscores our human tendency to live mindless lives when we allow our minds to become lazy and to look for scapegoats.

the needless taking of one black life by a policeman in south carolina or new york or missouri or ohio or california is significant.  the hostility to a president because he is african-american is significant.  the denial of voting rights to minorities is significant.  the indifference to the suffering of the poor is significant.  the desire to deny citizenship to hard-working hispanics because they dared to flee poverty and oppression in their home countries is significant.  there is no "us," there is to "them."  there is simply humanity, and it is our duty to treat every person with respect and compassion without rushing to draw the all-too-accessible weapon that can so easily bring a life to an end.

may we train our minds and hearts to see the person inside skin that is white, black, or brown.  may we love without limit.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

In Terror and Amazement

christians have just observed easter, a holiday about which i have mixed emotions.  i am uneasy about the militaristic imagery of our hymns, filled with phrases about conquering death.  somehow this "victory march" seems wrong in light of the prince of peace having been executed by the power of a great military state.  easter leaves no room for the recognition of suffering; it pushes those who are hurting and grieving away.  i wish we'd pay more attention to the most ancient versions of mark's gospel in which there is no sighting of a risen jesus, where the women who have gone to the tomb to anoint jesus' body leave in "terror and amazement" (mark 16:8, nsrv translation), and, in their fear, they tell no one of their discovery.

for me, easter is not about eternal life.  rather it is about the permanence of love.  in this way it is tied to my lenten meditations about the qualities of love: love never ends.  as i drove home from church on easter sunday, my thoughts went to the nature of a loving God, a reasonable God, a God who would never create beings whose "very nature is evil," as our easter sunday confession had begun, a God who would delight in eternal punishment for those our religion claims this same God loves.  why would a loving God create us to live this complex existence and expect us to figure it all out in one short lifetime?  the more i think about this sort of God, the less faith i have that the god we are taught about in our churches is an accurate portrayal of the true nature of God.

if one believes in God, doesn't it make more sense that a loving and reasonable God would allow us as many lifetimes as we need to understand what life is all about, to come to a full realization of what love is?  we are such a tiny part of the vastness of the universe, and there must be creatures similar to ourselves out somewhere in the far-flung reaches of space.  is it possible that those beings have found their way to God in exactly the same way christians on this earth have?  are others here on this earth condemned to eternal torment because their cultures have led them to God in different ways than western culture has led christians?

so for me where i am in my journey, jesus' execution at the hands of rome teaches me about a love that lays down its life for its friends.  a literal resurrection is beside the point; the point is that love is unending.  it is the glue that bonds everything together.  it is the reason for living, it never dies.

may we go on loving, hoping for as many chances as we need to discover the true nature of love.  shalom.