Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Our Anguish and Our Praise

I visited with my brother Jim yesterday and, as always when I see him, I left deeply reflecting on life.

“The world,” Helen Keller once said, “is full of suffering; but also, the overcoming of it.”

It is difficult to watch the news and see the horror in the Middle East. There is so much suffering and death there. And yet, people somehow survive it. Refugees walk hundreds of miles, pile their families and a few belongings into small boats to cross treacherous waters in hope of finding safety. They enter strange countries where now they are often unwelcome, mistreated, harmed or sent back to the nightmare they fled. How do they do it? How do they go on? The human spirit, though fragile, often shocks us with its undeterred courage.

And here, in our country, minorities still struggle to be free. Free of discrimination, injustice, abuse, and hate. That our black friends still, after all these years, have to fight for basic rights is a stain on our democracy. Yet, they carry on, and do fight, and stand their ground with dignity and endurance. They keep showing us how small our prejudices make us.

That undocumented Latinos, endlessly waiting on a totally failed process of legalization, are still assumed criminal, seen as job stealers, as welfare beggars, and are threatened with deportation and the breakup of their families, betrays the notion that we are a Christian nation much less a humanitarian one. Yet, they continue to work long hard hours at thankless jobs with low pay and still manage to buy a home, build a solid family, and contribute to their surroundings.

That the LGBT community, after all they have achieved, are nevertheless still often dismissed by the prudish and the narrow-minded as somehow defective and unwanted in society, boggles the mind. How does a nation of thinking people parade such disregard? And yet, our gay friends disgrace those who oppose them by demonstrating determined self-respect, knowing they have nothing to be ashamed of, fully accepting their place in the human family, and making humanity better for their presence.

How do people suffering bigotry, violence, war, shame, cruelty, and hate, keep their sanity, somehow manage to persevere, and do good in the midst of so much bad? I thought of this as I sat with my brother Jim. His suffering is on a different level. But that he has endured it is a tribute to his own stouthearted spirit.

I have no way of knowing the deep hurts inside him, the feelings of loss, the frustration of being in a perpetual state of brokenness. I was given a healthy body by some chance roll of the dice. I cannot, in spite of my sincerest wishes, enter into his pain. And that is my suffering.

Life is so often a mystery. And, in many ways, that is what makes it beautiful. We feel deep anguish from all the heartache we see, here and around the world, and, in the people we love. And when we slow down enough to notice, we are also left breathless at the sheer determination of people to withstand their ordeals, their torments, and afflictions, and to outlast them to the end without bitterness or defeat.

That my brother Jim is in the last stages of an incurable disease has me kneeling before him. That he and so many others in the world suffer on and on, yet nobly, puts things in perspective for me. I bow my head in reverence and praise them.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Thursday, February 9, 2017

We Need to Walk

“We need to walk to know sacred places, those around us and those within. We need to walk to remember the songs.” ~ Joseph Bruchac, Poet/Novelist

Friday, February 3, 2017

Actions Make a Difference

“We make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something about them.” ~ Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Physician/Author

Pictured here is Kikuko Shinjo, 89 years old, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast. As a 17-year old nursing student she helped nurse victims of the carnage back to health. Many of them died in her care. She says she holds no grudge against America and encourages interaction between the Japanese and Americans. She has devoted her life to peace, saying, “I want all the people around the world to be friends, and I want to make my country peaceful without fighting.” Today she makes colorful paper cranes and donates them to the Children’s Peace Monument at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Other Night

“Outside the freezing desert night,
This other night grows warm, kindling.”
~ Rumi

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Not Create Your Own Bible?

Emerson, the brilliant essayist, philosopher, and poet, started his long and productive career initially as an ordained minister. When his young wife died of tuberculosis he was devastated. He questioned his faith and the simple beliefs he thought as a minister should be accepted unconditionally and believed by everyone. He left the ministry, went to Europe, met with towering people in literature like William Wordsworth, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When he returned to America he was transformed and began a series of lectures on spirituality and ethical living. 

In one of his many books, he wrote, “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

It is a beautiful and profound statement and one I fully embrace. And it is a part of a personal religious search I started years ago. As a young minister I struggled with biblical texts that I could not make sense of, things about God’s vengeance and wrath, his fickleness with his followers, choosing some over others for seemingly petty reasons, the ordering of the destruction of whole villages wiping out entire groups of people including women and children, telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, to kill him as a sign of his faithfulness, things like that.

I was taught not to question anything, to accept the Bible as the word of God without error or contradiction. This would have worked if I lived only inside my small country church, cloistered in the tiny office behind the sanctuary. But of course, there was real life to live in out there in the big world where things were messy and absolutes dissolved in the face of human suffering and pain.

All of those simple truths I held to be sacrosanct did not hold up under the weight of real people in trouble, in despair, in living complicated lives that involved affairs, addictions, sexual abuse, abortion, dark disturbing secrets, spousal abuse, the death of a child, being gay, the loss of income, feelings of hopelessness, suicide, and so much more.

I didn’t seem to have an answer for most of the human conflicts I faced in my community. Telling people to go pray about it and give it to God, let Jesus heal you, and all of that felt inauthentic to me. What good did it do anyone? People needed to be loved and helped in tangible ways. I wanted the church to be there for them, and for me.

Some of the sweetest, most decent, most loving people I know I met in my years in the church. I served four congregations over 20 plus years and they were all filled with beautiful souls. My greatest critics, those who needed consistently to call me on the carpet, to vehemently disagree with my theology and my style of ministry, were not the lost souls, the doubters, the people caught in horrible personal dilemmas. No, they were my allies, my support. The church can attract mean people, arrogant, indifferent to real heartache, completely resistant to change, absorbed in their own righteousness, and those, though they were few, were the ones who scolded and hounded me. Some of them held places of position in the church. Some of them were prominent in the community. Some of them had money and influence that they thought allowed them power over others and over me.

But I learned in seminary to trust my own religious instincts, to not be afraid of critical study of scripture, to seek out the best minds not just in religion but in philosophy, history, and the sciences, to develop my own path, to be myself. And somewhere along the way I followed Emerson’s advice, though at the time, I had never read what he had said about making your own Bible.

Today, my religious life is still in flux. I try to live by a variety of truths and ideas and experiences I have discovered, often in the most unlikely places. I have found so much comfort in music, poetry, novels, plays and movies. These can be sources of such spiritual lift that leave you alive, strengthened, wiser and more human.

The words of poets Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, and Stanley Kunitz; the novels of Pat Conroy, Barbara Kingsolver, and Roland Merullo; the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, U2, James Taylor, Lady Antebellum, and Pearl Jam; the books of John Shelby Spong, Anne Lamott, Kate DiCamillo, Carl Rogers, and C.G.Jung; and the lines out of countless films, all make up the Bible I live by.

Leaving the old religious beliefs that no longer work for us, that have lost their meaning, and inventing our own system of values and truths, guidelines we can actually live by, is one of the hardest tasks we face in life. But it can be so rewarding. Find the ones that feed your soul, that elevate your spirit, that help heal your inner wounds, and like a trumpet, wake you to life and love.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy Moody

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What We Once Accomplished Astounds the Imagination

This beautiful land of ours. The old cities. The towns and neighborhoods. All once so incredible with their highways and their landmarks, their lakes and parks, their schools and churches, their giant buildings and small country stores. There were good jobs with fair pay and opportunities for promotion and advancement.

Most of that is vanishing under the weight of high tech jobs, computerized gadgets and mind consuming e-toys, expensive big vehicles, high rise condos, billion dollar sports stadiums, interconnecting gyrations of freeways with vast concrete loops, and relentless urban sprawl. It’s all gobbling us up in a net of human indifference, aloofness, rage, and ill will toward one another.

What we once accomplished astounds the imagination. Across our creative history other nations have envied our freedoms, have marveled at our productivity and ingenuity, have seen as sacred our humanity and compassion.

There are reasons why people all over the world have wanted to live here. It’s not because of some divine superiority within us, some mythical greatness no one possesses but us. It’s because we have built great things; because we cherished our families and cared for our neighbors; because we valued children and fought for a better future for them; because we worked hard and accomplished a lot and were given appropriate financial rewards; because our places of worship taught us basic morals and ethics and how to be decent and good; because we believed in justice and fair trials and personal freedom; because we accepted diversity and made peace with those not exactly like us; because we created amazing art, music, theater, film, and books.

It’s not that other countries have not done or not had these things; they have. But here, access to them was unparalleled.

For years we had a professional press core of gifted and dedicated journalists who put aside their biases and reported the facts. There was no mocking, sneering reports; no yelling and screaming at guests; no millionaire celebrities as anchors. Of course, there has always been some form of lousy journalism in America, cheap stuff from hacks and puppets of wealthy purveyors of gossip, innuendo, and character assassination. But the real pros so overwhelmingly produced such a high level of craft with their intelligent, polished, accurate writing, reporting, and commentary, that most people ignored the drivel and slander offered by journalistic pretenders.

Today we have almost entirely lost bright journalists with ethical standards, adept news reporting, and superior writing, and it is a part of our national disgrace. The wrangling between the press and newly elected president Trump is a shocking sign that the search for truth, that honest reporting matters, is becoming a losing enterprise in this country. We have so coddled and rewarded unworthy journalists elevating them to some senseless status of notoriety and paying them millions of dollars that we now have biased, partisan journalists demanding respect they have not earned.

Our current crop of journalists has let us down time and time again. Now that their qualifications are being questioned they want to be taken seriously. It seems a bit late for that. Their incompetence during the presidential campaign makes their furious criticism of the new administration useless now. Respect has to be earned. You can’t demand it, whether you are a president or a journalist.

There were once standards we all followed, even if some didn’t believe in them, even if some used them to promote their own interests. But there were established rules of conduct, orderly ways to express your disagreement or your anger, whether to a neighbor, a police officer, a judge, or a politician. That’s pretty much gone now. People simply say whatever they want with little thought of the other person. We see it in Congress. We see it in the press. We see it from those who are supposed to be leading us—from the president, the military, the finance industry, the basic departments of government, from law enforcement and the church. Where is their national interest?

Much of our crude behavior is displayed hourly on social media. It is there that we often see horrible behavior; the personal exchanges between people are sometimes alarmingly antagonistic, mean and irresponsible. People used to post photos of their cat asleep in the window; or told something funny that happened to them that day. Now it’s mostly posts of acrimony, angry bias, my way or the highway, F bombs, verbal threats, mocking taunts, and mean-spirited attacks.

So much has changed over the years. But the America I love still exists, if not in the White House or the government, the courts or the media, on Facebook or Twitter—it does still exist, in homes where families talk to one another, in businesses large and small where product, services, and customers matter, where ethics are practiced, in the majesty of nature and our national landscape, in the innocence and hope of children, in the generosity of kind hearts, in the freedom of healthy laughter, in the spirit of compassion and small acts of thoughtfulness that people demonstrate every day.

If this sounds corny and hopelessly idealistic, so be it. Give me that over all the wretchedness of our current national hostility and dread.

© 2017 Timothy Moody 

Monday, January 23, 2017

An Antidote to Confusion

"I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart." ~ Mary Oliver, Poet/Essayist