Who’s to blame?

Honestly, folks…I sometimes wonder if the Creator isn’t wondering why s/he created humanity–or at the very least, where our brains are!

We always seem to have to have someone to blame for what are usually called “natural” disasters. Silly me–I thought that “natural” disasters were just that…things that just happened. Yes, I know that sometimes the decisions we humans make (like where to build levees or dams…or what lands to drain…or where to build oil pumps) can magnify those disasters, but we didn’t cause tornados or hurricanes.

I guess I’m just listening to the wrong preachers!

According to several statements about Hurricane Sandy, expressed in various ways, Hurricane Sandy and its destruction is a direct result of the Divine’s (oops, guess I need to say “God’s) anger at a certain portion of humanity–those who dare to love someone of the same sex. I guess God isn’t quite as angry at those who cheat each other…those who see nothing wrong with hoarding wealth while others starve…those who do nothing to help innocents caught in sexual abuse…those who don’t reach out to the hungry and homeless, those in prison…

Nope, it’s those awful people who want to provide homes with loving parents to children who need to know they are loved…those who reach out to those in need in various ways…but who happen to be same-sex partners.

Hmmmm….

That’s not the God I know and worship.

I think that if the Creator is truly angry with our decisions, it’s more likely to be the ones that use and abuse other individuals and the environment…

Seems to me that Jesus had something to say about this. Regardless of your religious beliefs, I think there’s a lot of value in this reading from Matthew (25th chapter – The Message version)–a challenge for each of us to live:

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

So…rather than spend time railing about how one bunch of people or another has caused this natural disaster (or any other)…how about if we begin looking to see each other as brother and sister, as part of the Divine that connects us all?

We might just get somewhere then about creating a better world for everyone!

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Trying to understand

I’ve been trying to figure out some logic that seems totally illogical to me.

Here are the premises that are the foundation for the confusion:

  • Abortion is evil and should be avoided at all costs. (I can mostly agree with this statement, although I would prefer to phrase it something like this – “Abortion should be a last resort but should be legal for those times when it is necessary.”)
  • Contraception generally keeps pregnancy from happening.

Those two statements seem complementary to me. If you’re trying to bring the number of abortions down, then reducing the number of pregnancies that might end in abortion seems to be a logical action.

But then this philosophy gets added in:

  • Any form of birth control (for women!) is evil and should not be allowed or covered by insurance. If women can’t afford to pay for their own birth control–if they think they have to have it–then they will just have to suffer the consequences…or avoid sexual activity altogether.

Huh?

I’m missing something here…apparently.

  • If we agree that reducing abortions is a worthwhile goal, then why is refusing women access to birth control in order to reduce potential pregnancies okay?
  • What about a woman who becomes pregnant through rape? Can she not have the opportunity to take medication that stops the pregnancy before it becomes more than a fertilized cell? Or does she somehow have to “pay the price” for being raped by being forced to carry the results of that rape in her body for nine months?
  • Why is birth control for men okay? but not for women?

It feels so much like the attitude I remember being aware of as a child…. While it takes two people to create a child, the man really doesn’t have to worry about it. Only the woman has to pay the price if her hormones raged out of control…or if her birth control didn’t work (by the way, why shouldn’t the man also have to do something about birth control?)…or if she is raped…or if the pregnancy adversely affects her health…

I just don’t understand the logic. Maybe if men got pregnant, we could have a more nuanced discussion…but I’m not holding my breath.

Gayness and worship music?

I’m a church musician–have been for over 50 years in one form or another. I know how much music can minister to one’s soul (and to others)…how much it can nourish us, keep us focused on the path we want to be on…how it can often be a prayer when we can’t find the words to express them. As the years have gone by, I have also become aware of the challenge it is sometimes to find church musicians…

And so I was deeply disappointed yesterday to read this article in the Kansas City Star in which a gay musician who had been a worship leader for four years was told he could no longer function in that role. Why? Because he was homosexual.

Church literally saved this man. It was his lifeline after substance abuse treatment ended. It changed his life in so many ways–just not the core of who he was…and that’s what some thought needed to be changed.

The ministry he brought–that spoke to many…that didn’t seem to count. The fact that his life had been turned around…that didn’t seem to count.

The only thing that seemed to count was that he was attracted to someone of the same sex–even though he didn’t have a partner…even though he’d never made an issue of it…

Just the fact that he might someday be attracted to another man was enough for some to say that the gift he had in leading worship music wasn’t acceptable.

I wish he lived closer to where I am–I’d have grabbed him in an instant!

My congregation has many individuals who deal with difficult life issues. Some are LGBT…some are ex-cons…some are recovering from addictions (or still suffering from them)…some are overeaters…some have been (or still are) sexually active without marriage vows…

None of us are perfect. But each of us can use that brokenness to reach out to someone else–sometimes to someone who’s dealing with the same issues.

And each of us have gifts we can offer in worship.

At its best, religion can bring us into a healing, living relationship with the Divine and with others who care. It can change our lives and allow us to freely offer the gifts we have been given.

At its worst, religion can become so concerned with pointing fingers at those who don’t meet the standards we have set that we drive away the very people who need that healing, living relationship the most…and we lose incredibly gifted people who want to share because their lives have been changed.

The Jesus I read about spent time with those who were not acceptable to “proper” society. He accepted their gifts, valued their friendship, shared meals and worship with them. Yes, lives were changed–but because of the relationships that developed in the sharing together.

The minister in the story says “There is no middle ground with God’s word.”

My understanding of God’s word is that EVERYTHING else is based on two commandments–(1) to love God with everything we have, and (2) to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Seems to me that the church musician understood that as well–he loved God with everything in him, and wanted to share that love with his neighbors/friends through his music.

I’m glad he’s found a new church home.

What are you afraid of?

Rascal

Rascal (my dog) loves going after bugs that are crawling on the floor…wasps and bees that buzz around in the summer…. He will snap at them…play with them…eat them…

But let him hear or see a fly, and he is panic-stricken! He will cower in the darkest corner he can find…bury his head in my lap…go outside and hide in his doghouse. Once he becomes aware of a fly in the house, it becomes a challenge to get him to come in and stay in…and once in, we know where we’re likely to find him–backed in as far as he can go under the desk, under the kitchen table, behind the toilet stool in the bathroom…

His reaction doesn’t make any rational sense. Why would he continue to go after wasps and bees and yet panic at flies?

Once we have killed the fly, it still takes time to convince Rascal that he is safe. Then is when he needs the gift of touch–needs to push himself into a lap as tightly as possible…demand that at least one hand is stroking him…and yet I can still see in his eyes the fear that the fly may not really be gone. His eyes wander the room constantly, and the slightest noise that sounds even remotely like a fly puts him on edge, ready to flee again.

But is that really so different from us humans?

Yes, there are rational things to be afraid of. There are battles we find ourselves needing to fight at times. But how often do we go after the wasps and bees in our lives–and yet panic over the things that can’t possibly hurt us?

Unfortunately, when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I’m often like Rascal. I can deal (mostly!) with the big things–but the little noisy things sometimes throw me for a loop and I want to hide. I don’t really trust God to protect me, and I find myself on edge, ready to run away, to find a hole where I can hide.

But flies have never hurt Rascal–and they won’t hurt me either. Both of us just need to learn to trust those who love us, who say, “I’ll take care of you…you’re okay.”

When is the dawn?

There’s a  rabbinical story I heard a few years ago and couldn’t find again for a long time–but I recently read it in the book my spiritual advisor and I have been going through. It goes like this:

An old Rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.

“Could it be,” asked one of the students, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the Rabbi.

Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peace tree?”

“No,” answered the Rabbi.

“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.

“It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

It’s a simple story–but so difficult to live. It’s kind of like Lucy (in the Peanuts comics) when she says, “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.”

I can acknowledge in the abstract that others are my brothers or sisters. But what happens when that person has a different understanding of the scriptures than I do? or differs politically? or is gay? or is a terrorist? or is an alcoholic…a prostitute…a meth addict…a registered sex offender…is homeless…?

Can I still see them as brother or sister? Do I want to see them as brother or sister? Because if I do, then that changes how I interact with them…changes my responsibility toward them…and sometimes it’s easier to just keep things the way they are…the way they’ve always seemed to be.

But I’m tired of living in the night.

I’m tired of divisions..hatred…inequality…

There has to be something better–not just for me, but for all of us!

The only way we’re going to get there is if we are willing to take a chance–to truly look at each other, listen to each other, work with each other. I can hear someone now saying that it’s folly to take that chance if those on “the other side” aren’t willing to do the same. Maybe…

But somebody has to be willing to look for that first sign of dawning…to help others find it as well.

It’s not going to be easy…and it may take longer than we hope. But if we want the dawn to come, then it has to begin somewhere–and, as Margaret Mead is quoted as saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Remodeling and remaking

In a book I was reading this weekend, the author commented on a statement she had heard from the mother of a friend–that every ten years we need to remodel/remake ourselves. Sometimes those changes are obvious to everyone; sometimes they are more subtle and seen only by the individual.

It’s gotten me to thinking…to look back at my own life.

I can see some of the changes–and could see them as they were taking place. I think, too, about when my husband and I married. Changing my name provided an incredible opportunity for remodeling and remaking. I had spent many years being known as “the daughter of…” and living up to the expectations I felt as the oldest child of a minister father. Now all of a sudden I felt free to do things (or not) because wanted to…not because they were expected.

Part of that process of remodeling and remaking involved what I could only call a “conversion” experience. I had been a member of my faith tradition since I was born–baptized when I was eight. But now…now my faith decisions became my own. (That’s not the only conversion experience–just the first. As I’ve grown older–and my understandings have changed and matured–and my willingness to let God have more of me, there have been other conversions…even though I have remained in the same faith tradition.)

Obviously, when we became foster parents to two older siblings, that required some remodeling and remaking. Some we could handle easily. Some of the challenges sent me into therapy–when I discovered some things in my own past that needed to be remolded and remade.

When our son was born, that brought another found. I thought I was prepared for some things because of our foster parent experience…but each child…each experience…is unique and brings its own challenges!

More recently–especially as I look back during the last ten years of my work life–there have been other opportunities for remodeling and remaking. Some of them were not by choice! They were thrust upon me by decisions that were made by others that significantly impacted my job responsibilities. I didn’t respond to them well–and the process of remodeling myself ended up perhaps taking longer than it needed to…if it’s even done yet (and I’m not sure it is!).

As I look back, though, I’m not the person I was when I was in my 20s…and I’m sure I’m not the person I will be when I’m in my 70s and 80s. Sometimes that’s a little disconcerting–especially when I’m going through the process. But despite my desires occasionally for it to be otherwise, I know that remodeling and remaking are an essential part of living.

The Jewish Gospels…

I know–I usually put my book recommendations in the “What I’m Reading” section. But this book so absolutely intrigued me that I decided to put it here.

The Jewish Gospels was another of the books that I picked up from the “new book” shelf at my local library. I started reading it but then got sidetracked for a little bit. (I also needed to find a section of time that I was going to be able to devote to reading it in big chunks in order to absorb!)

When I went back to it, I kept going “Wow!” I’ve decided that it’s one to add to my own personal library as well.

I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the Gospels…from authors who have varying points of view about how to read them, when they were written, etc., etc., etc. But this one came from a perspective I hadn’t found before. Daniel Boyarin, the author, is the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, and has an entirely different idea about reading the Gospels.

He places them squarely in the context of Judaism, strongly suggesting that the ways both Christians and Jews have read them are incorrect…especially in the interpretation that they were written to make a distinct break between the two religious traditions.

He presented some Jewish theology I was not familiar with at all–especially the idea that the coming of the Messiah was fully imagined in the ancient Jewish texts. Jesus, moreover, was embraced by many Jews as this person, and his core teachings were not at all a break from Jewish beliefs and teachings. While I have long believed that we cannot ignore Jesus’ Jewishness, Boyarin presented significant evidence that Jesus and his teachings were not a call to separateness–that split came several hundred years later.

His book is not an attempt to “convert” either Christians or Jews to a particular set of beliefs. Instead it is an attempt to help both understand the culture and context of Jesus and his followers.

There is so much more that could be said about The Jewish Gospels…but much of it has already been said in the user reviews on Amazon.com.  This is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone interested in knowing more about the time/culture/context of Jesus–and it certainly helped clarify (for me) some things that have often left me scratching my head.