Friday, April 17, 2015

Caravan to Love

         Life intervenes sometimes in very unexpected ways.  That has been the case for my family this week.  And, so, instead of my usual Friday meditation, I'm going to offer a brief prayer/poem from the poet Rumi as a spur for meditation:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn't matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come. 



Friday, April 10, 2015

To tell the truth?

     I was in the fitness center this week, working out on an elliptical trainer.  As is the case in just about every gym I've visited, there is a bank of television sets tuned to a variety of channels - I suppose to keep our minds off of how exhausted we're getting. At that particular time of the day, there was a locally-produced "show" that is little more than info-mercials -- just with a Colorado slant.  Since I've been in the gym at that time before, I've seen "interviews" with doctors, dentists, cooks, home-repair folks, etc.  But this particular "episode" just about floored me.
      The segment was about (what looked like) a "fat-reducing machine".  The gizmo, as far as I could tell (since there was no sound), was placed on the belly of the patient and, somehow, through suction and heat, that awful belly-fat was made to disappear.  AND, they had before and after pictures to PROVE it!  And, golly, there were people in lab coats performing the procedure!  You just gotta trust 'em, right?  They have to be telling the truth!  All I could think of were the vibrating bands and little steam cabinets that were features of shows like "I Love Lucy", or even some of the early James Bond films -- and that have been thoroughly discredited.  Not to mention snake-oil salesmen of the 19-th century. 
But, folks will believe what they WANT to believe, especially if it's presented in a way that seems only slightly-more than half-way plausible.
       Yes, we're gullible.  But we're also AWARE that we're gullible, and we've even turned this trait into entertainment.  Whether its the party game (or committee ice-breaker), "Two Truths and a Lie"*, or the television show so popular ("To Tell the Truth"**) it was produced and then re-produced decades later (not counting syndication), or the traveling "The Liar Show"***, the joy of lying, or, maybe more positively, of trying to ferret out the truth seems to grip us all.  And, certainly, detective "whodunits" play to this same desire: we want to know the truth from amongst a pack of lies, false truths, and red-herrings.  And, it's fun!  I don't deny, or discount it.  I love mysteries!
      The problem, it seems to me, is that, sometimes, we begin to believe our own fabrications.  We begin to lose sight of that which is really the case. We begin to believe the alternative view that WE may have constructed, even when we know it's false.  Then we get caught up in that alternative world, not recognizing (or caring about) the harm that "living" there may cause others.  For some, certainly, this might be traced to a psychological disorder. Others may use the "distancing form reality" as a means of keeping them from dealing with their own "issues":  "If I don't acknowledge it, it doesn't exist!".  It's a sort of psychological/theological equivalent of children sticking their fingers in their ears, singing, "Lalalalalalala", to keep from hearing that throwing the vase at the cat was not a good thing.
        So . . . gullibility is one side of the equation.  Self-delusion or self-deception, another.  Neither is particularly healthy for us.  I recall the psalmist's observation:  "While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long . . . my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. I said, 'I will confess my trasngressions to the Lord.' Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin" (Ps. 32.3-5).  the implication is that honesty/confession brings release and renewal.  The same assertion is found in the New Testament:  "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1.8).****  Similar teachings can be found in all the religious traditions:  Be honest in your dealings with others, but also be honest in your dealings with yourself.
        Telling the truth may be difficult, but, given the world in which we live, we are NOT living in a game.


*  In the off chance you've not played this, instructions are here.
**  More information here
***  More information here.
****  Commentator Ron Allen wrote concerning this verse:  "The community’s part is to confess sins, that is, to name and admit ways in which the members continue to live by the values of the world. To fail to do so is to lie, i.e. to perpetuate the values of the world in the community of Jesus. Indeed, to fail to confess is the same as treating God as if God is a liar."  [I would assert that the more general word "faith" could easily be substituted for "Jesus" in this context.]

Friday, April 3, 2015

Up the ante! Down with the anti-!

      Yesterday, we heard the horrifying news of the killing of 147 college students in Kenya.  Further reporting later in the day and this morning suggested that the majority of the students that the Al-Shabab militants singled out as hostages or for killing were Christians.  That is, their "crime" -- other than being Kenyan, since many Kenyan Muslim students were freed -- was their religious tradition.  The Somali Al-Shabab gunmen were, therefore, both anti-Kenyan and anti-Christian. We have recently heard similar stories coming out of other countries where religious extremism and political discontent have become potent allies in pressing a particular agenda.  The anti-[fill-in-the-blank] forces seem to be out in full.
      Sometime in the last couple of weeks I was listening to a radio discussion about whether anti-semitism was so on the rise in Europe that Jews would be better off, or safer, in some other country -- the U.S. and Israel were suggested as good examples  where their "safety" was better assured.  There was, of course, discussion as to the source of the anti-semitism:  was it related to increasing Muslim extremism in Europe?  Or was it related to a resurgence of Nazi-like thinking? 
The experiences of Jews in Europe has been seen to be negative, however, regardless of the source. 
      Reporting out of Burma/Myanmar, on the other hand, indicates that the Rohingya Muslim minority is being persecuted by the Buddhist majority, sometimes quite violently.  Many of us can recall the horrific Christian massacres of Muslims in the Balkans several decades ago. But lest we think this is all somewhere "over there", we read, often enough, of anti-Muslim incidents in the US. The killing of three Muslim young people in Chapel Hill, NC a few weeks ago is just one example.
      So, within the span of about a week, I heard stories of "anti-Muslim" actions, "anti-Christian" actions, and "anti-Semitic" actions.  If I plug the words "persecution" and the name of any religion into a search engine, I can be assured of multiple results.  The same would be true, of course, if I 
substituted the names of ethnic or racial minorities for religious groups. As much as any group is persecuted, so are no groups free of being the persecutor.  We, as a species, seem hell-bent (and I use that word purposely) on being opposed to folks who are different from us.  If we can't find something obvious, we will manufacture some feature/belief that we can use to divide us from the "un-washed". And, once we've established the dividing line, we're not too far from setting up mechanisms to eliminate the opposition.
       I am not so naive to believe that there aren't some folks who pretty much ARE wrong, and who need to be corralled.  I would see various terrorist groups -- foreign and domestic -- as examples.  Those groups take an "oppositional attitude" and run amok with it.  Yet most opposition does not need to result in violent conflict; it can, sometimes, result in productive discussion and learning . . . if we are willing to allow for the possibility that we have something TO learn.
       Refusal to be taught is refusal to grow, a refusal to proceed, a refusal to progress. It is a choice to live in an "anti-world".  The challenge to us who think more positively is to up the ante, to live in a "pro-world", to learn and to teach that a peaceful future can be seen in the eyes and hearts of those who look different, and differently, than us.