Tuesday, November 21, 2017

My Endless Journey

I have confessed here before that I was in a career I often didn’t understand or felt suited for. I was a Baptist minister for more than 20 years. I met some loving, beautiful people in those years. I dedicated babies. I watched toddlers turn into teens and I loved them all. Some of them I married with spouses I thought were perfect for them. Many are still together with children of their own.

In my last congregation, I spent nearly 14 years with people I adored. Some of them are still my closest friends.

There were, of course, tough years, times when my own search for an authentic theology and philosophy of ministry clashed with the long-held traditional beliefs of some of our church members. By the time I arrived at my last congregation I no longer had any interest in building huge numbers, baptizing people in some kind of competition with other churches, and creating worship that was hyped, emotional, something similar to cheerleading and entertainment. That was not for me.

I wanted to give thoughtful sermons and make worship sacred, a place to think, contemplate life, be open to love, and find connections with others. I was not interested in salvation. Or getting people to rededicate their lives to Jesus because they had committed some sin the week before. In the Baptist tradition, the minister stands at the altar at the end of his sermon and invites people to the front to pray with him, to confess their sins, or to accept Christ as their Savior. I was never comfortable with any of that. Over the years people stood there and told me things that should have been shared in private, not with a crowd of people standing around waiting to go to lunch.

I was not an Evangelical. I did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. I could not accept the reality of a hell where people are tormented forever. I really wasn’t even a Baptist. I grew up one. My father was a Baptist minister. I was a young, impressionable teen who didn’t think I was capable of much. The church was all I knew. So I felt compelled to give my life to God in service to…I wasn’t sure what. People? Jesus? Society? The Church?

After seminary, I found the courage to explore my faith. I wanted my beliefs about God and Jesus and Scripture to be mine. I no longer wanted to carry around the beliefs of others who expected me to follow their rigid doctrine of biblical interpretation and moral rules.

Seminary was a huge learning experience. As was my doctoral work where I studied with people of all faiths and backgrounds and religious ideas and questions. It was intellectually stimulating, spiritually challenging, and emotionally refreshing.

When I eventually left the ministry after a painful divorce and leaving a congregation I loved, I floundered about looking for work that provided some security and where I could use the skills I had developed over the years as a public speaker, a writer, and a leader of others. It was a dark and lonely time filled with self-doubts, and a sense that I had lost touch with myself.

Thankfully, my sons, who were boys at the time, were amazingly resilient, determined, and loving and have grown into men I am unable to adequately tell how proud I am of them. It sounds immodest, but they are extraordinary men. That they turned out so well helped me traverse my own difficult transition.

Eventually, I found my way to work I enjoy and that uses the skills and interests that are my own.

There is little I miss about career ministry and the institutional church. It all seems now so politicized, profane, and insensitive to real human needs or to any of the dynamic and challenging teachings of Jesus. In fact, so much of institutional church today is focused on all the opposite concerns of Jesus.

It was Horace Mann, the great education reformer, who said, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” That seems to me to be the way our politics and religion are going these days. It saddens and disgusts me.

On the bright side, many are now weary of a totally corrupted political system and empty religion bewitched with indecent greed and cruel power. In time, perhaps the tables will turn, an apt metaphor of Jesus-anger, at both political and religious scams, and citizens and voters will demand transformation.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

If I Could, I Would

If I could, I would
Stop all the wars
And heal all the sores
And give the less more
And free the bored
And individualize the hoard
If I could

If I could, I would
Have all women revered
And all children loved
And the old honored
And the sick well
And the disabled cheered
And the foreigner welcomed
If I could

If I could, I would
Enact gay rights around the world
And celebrate them as whole
And give them freedom
To be who they are
And embrace them into
The family of you and me
If I could

If I could, I would
Empty Congress of its politicians
And fill it with teachers
And Poets
And writers;
With artists
And sculptors;
With farmers
And ranchers;
With animal lovers
And stargazers;
With gardeners
And fishermen
If I could

If I could, I would
Remove all bigotry
And prejudice of every kind
And put the redneck
and the whitey
and the Confederate flagger
and the bully cop
and the crooked judge
and the compromised preacher
And baptize them in the holiness
Of tolerance and give them
The spirit of love for all
If I could

If I could, I would
Stretch my soul to
Enlarge my small self
And grow my heart
Beyond its boundaries
Of fear and pride
Of hostility and shame
And be a man of grace
And generosity,
A man so human
My love would seem divine
If I could

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Let America be Known for its Poems Not its Corpses

Playwright and screenwriter, Robert Ardrey, once wrote, “We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

Which is to say, our acts of benevolence, kindness, love and generosity transcend our acts of terror, barbarity, murder, and mayhem.

The unimaginable carnage, cowardly and beyond any possible reason, carried out Sunday by Devin Kelley, takes us to our knees. We collapse under the weight of such a beastly crime. How does anyone human carry out such an inhuman atrocity?

Details are murky. The answers we need and want, and what will finally be revealed, if any at all, will not be sufficient. Whatever the motive or mental defect may have been, all we will be left with is that the depths of our individual capacity for evil and harm know no limits.

Monstrous crimes are not new. But what seems to be dramatically different these days is the frequency of them, so that they are becoming not an aberration but a common reality.

There is without question a poisonous, lethal anger in society today. Linked to that is simply cold indifference to humanity. The temptation today is to just not care about one another. We are being encouraged to grow weary of our differences, to refuse compromise, to ignore any impulse to relate to others not like us.  The result is that many have become detached, frozen in some moral inertia, unwilling and even unable to be compassionate, understanding, or empathetic.

There is a movement in our country, I can’t say it is a conservative movement because that does a disservice to real conservatives. But a radical, pernicious movement nonetheless, of leaders, influencers, people of means and power, who have given authority to the idea that I am here and you are out there and let’s keep it that way. These so-called leaders are giving us permission to hate, to be cruel, to rage, to dominate, and to kill. And in some instances, they encourage this by their own actions.

When, with your words, or your politics, with your ideas, or your religion, you crush the humanity out of people, you’re left with people with no humanity.

We are getting there. And yet, there is nothing American about this.

I have been watching the PBS documentary series on New York. The history of the state and of New York City is a fascinating journey of discovery, genius, and vision. Early in its development, New York City was the nation’s capital. But the leaders at that time did not want the city to be about politics. They wanted it to be about commerce, culture, and opportunity. So the capital was moved to the swampland of what later became Washington, D.C.  Seems Congress has reverted to its original landscape.

The philosophy of New York City was to be the greatest city in the world. That has not changed. Then and now, it is a city open to all. Immigrants from across the world flocked to New York City to start a new life. Foreigners, people from odd cultures, the classes of poor and uneducated, aliens and outlanders unable to speak English went there and built a life. Some built a fortune.

America was seen in that bold, energetic, innovative city as a nation of welcome to everyone. New York was a massive port city of international trade. The mix of so many different people caused problems early on. There were resentments, violent scuffles, and abuses. But there were those who saw the mix as wonderful, raw, something new and indispensable to America’s future.

Walt Whitman was one who saw this. His “Leaves of Grass,” a monumental book of soulful poetry, all about Brooklyn and New York City, called people together. He celebrated the vast differences in the City and believed they made us a unique nation.

His poetry guided Americans toward a vision of unity and acceptance. “I am large,” he wrote. “I am multitudes.” He loved the mix. He revered all people. His humility and humanity called us to a larger social perception. He asked us to work through differences and cherish people. “Poetry, beauty, romance, love,” he wrote, “these are what we stay alive for.”

That is our history and our legacy. Not isolationism. Not ignorance and bigotry. Not murder and mayhem. Not cruelty and cowardice. But openness to extraordinary ideas, to a bold vision of ourselves, to the risks and the rewards of welcome and cooperation.

Yes, New York City had and still has its scoundrels, its crooks, and criminals, its blowhards and bullies. But it gave and it gives the world a sense of our true American spirit, one that says we’re all capable of something, perhaps even something extraordinary, if only we work hard, take risks, cooperate, and believe in one another.

If somehow we can break this spell of outrageous selfishness, moral bankruptcy, cruelty, and hate, then perhaps we can be known again among the stars, and across the world, for our poems and not our corpses.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Finding Our Own Homeland

This is one of my favorite poems by writer Jorge Luis Borges:

“Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious and would like to
understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove's visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn't expect to arrive.” 

There is so much yearning in these words. Such honest beauty.

Borges expresses hope in people. He watches the ambitious and wants to understand them. He sees their passion, their hunger for success, their vulnerability to excess, their need to relax, to let go of so much urgency. He identifies with them. “My humanity,” he writes, “is in feeling we are all voices of that same poverty.”

What is that poverty? The need to perform, to achieve, to win, to succeed, to be recognized and affirmed. We all have that, more or less. And we slavishly seek to satisfy it.

But the fulfillment, the contentment we long for, is not in the daily grind. It’s not in the stepping over others to advance ourselves. It’s not in the blunt, rude manner of our time. It’s not in the building up of capital, the accumulation of property, or the insatiable craving for things.

It’s in those simple gifts. Borges says they reside in what he calls his “homeland.” The music of a guitar. Some pictures. An old trinket. And the soft, gentle arms of the willow tree folded in prayer.

Instinctively, we know this. We know where the good stuff is. And we know where the incorrectness exists. And yet, too often, we choose the shadowy encumbrances and walk past the luminous offerings that could deeply benefit us.

However we strain for it, we cannot be the gods we want to be. But alarmingly, if we are not vigilant, we can become something less than human, with casual ease.

It’s the simple things that nourish and affirm us and keep us balanced. It's caring for one another. It’s honoring the magnificence of nature, the fellowship of animals, tasty food, and intimate friends.

It is in finding our homeland, that place in the center of the chaos where life hums with meaning.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why Are We Afraid to Question?

Best-selling author, Jungian analyst, and post-trauma recovery professional, Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs, has written, “Asking the proper question is the central action of transformation—in fairy tales, in analysis, and in individuation. The key question causes germination of consciousness. The properly shaped question always emanates from an essential curiosity about what stands behind. Questions are the keys that cause the secret doors of the psyche to swing open.”

This is the essence and the work of psychotherapy. A properly framed question can probe one’s deepest inner spaces and dislodge a revealing answer.

But let’s broaden the scope a bit. More than the work of therapists, physicians, and psychiatrists, thoughtful questions offer all of us insights and discoveries we may or may not be aware of.

We live in a time of flimsy answers. Our politicians are not interested in questions. They only want to provide their own solutions, even though they may be unworkable and unwanted.

Why are we not as individuals and as a nation asking more sensible questions?

For instance, why in the world are we still fighting unwinnable wars? Does anyone even think about this? After the devastating 911 attacks, the Bush administration initiated “the war on terror.” No one questioned the ambiguity of such a war. What kind of terror? Which terrorists? No one knew for sure. And why, seemingly, did no one even dare to question why we were attacked in the first place?

President Bush and his staff said it was because the terrorists hated our freedom? That never made any sense to me. Our freedom? No. They hated our interference in their lives, our belittling their culture, their religion, and our abuse of their resources. Did it occur to any of us that the USA had finally infuriated Muslim, Arab, and Islamist leaders and their people to the point they would take our intrusions and arrogance and superiority no longer? They had no lethal air power. No advanced military. No high caliber weapons. What they did have were clever ideas for terrorizing giant superpowers. And unfortunately, they succeeded then and still today.

If anyone questions any of this; if anyone suggests these wars might have something to do with money-making and greed on our part; if anyone says our fight on terror is an aimless, winless delusion played out by corrupt politicians—well, then we’re tagged as unpatriotic, traitors, pansies, spineless whiners afraid to get into it with the bad guys. Which of course is a bunch of nonsense.

We’re smarter than this as a people. Why don’t we question these wars and the endless and enormous human and financial waste they produce?

Here’s another question. Why is it perfectly fine for a police officer to shoot and kill an unarmed suspect, especially a black man or woman? And why are they, except in a tiny few instances, never prosecuted for their crimes? Why is that? We all know a police officer’s work is dangerous and they take risks every day to serve and protect society. But does that mean it’s okay when they just outright murder a suspect and then face no responsibility for taking a life, at all?

Police misconduct and flagrant murder should be questioned by a humane society. Period.

And what about our immigration policies? The pathetic, outdated, torturous, intimidating, overpriced and often just cruel process for immigrants to gain citizenship in this country is outrageous. Why don’t we question it? Why can’t we update and improve it? Why make it so difficult and so expensive that it drives decent, hard-working, skilled people underground into illegal status?

Why are we still fighting abortion rights in this country? Abortion has been legal since 1973. Legal in every state. And yet, religious groups, hate groups, duped and cowardly politicians, continue to find every way possible to thwart, constrain, browbeat and threaten women in this country who choose to have a legal abortion. No one questions this. No one cares that countless women struggling with unimaginable complications to a pregnancy, or rape, or incest are being forced in states across the country by incompetent, callus, patronizing politicians to carry to term terribly complicated and often humiliating pregnancies. Why do we unwittingly allow this?

Principles, values, and laws are meant to serve and protect society, not society serving principles, values and laws that harm and destroy people.

It’s time we question who we are and what we stand for as a nation and as individuals.

© 2017 Timothy Moody

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Panting Present

The news carried a story this week of a couple in Sonoma, California who had lost their home in those raging fires. It came on them without much warning. They woke up in the night smelling smoke and before they knew it their house was in flames. They jumped in their swimming pool in order to stay alive. They would come up for air only when they had to. The heat of their burning house singed their backs every time they did. They had planned a trip to Indonesia, and instead of staying in California trying to deal with all the damage and loss, they got on a plane and left. In their fifties, they said they wanted to get out of there and enjoy time together.

Good for them. The mess will be waiting when they get back. Why not get some relief and fly off to a beautiful place and live in the moment where there are no blazing fires to deal with?

British novelist Martin Amis once wrote, “The future could go this way, that way. The future's futures have never looked so rocky. Don't put money on it. Take my advice and stick to the present. It's the real stuff, the only stuff, it's all there is, the present, the panting present.”

In our society, we’re always looking off to the future. We have to start saving for the kids’ college fund. We have to plan the next vacation. We have to get ready for the upcoming weekend events.

These things are all well and good. And yet, our focus is often on something not yet. Something up ahead. Something to get ready for. And all the while we miss “the panting present.”

A Facebook friend posted the other day a stunning sunrise she caught from her back porch. Another friend posted a photo of her getting ready to run in the cool air of a new day. I often see photos of babies, of toddlers, and teens, from proud and grateful parents who stop their busy lives and capture a priceless moment with their children.

That is what enriches our days, and our lives. Those limited moments.

I chatted on the phone with an old friend this past summer. He retired several years ago. Then, out of nowhere, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He went through a long series of chemotherapy treatments. Those who know and love him worried about his recovery. He had been so active and healthy, but his illness took a toll. Today, however, he is cancer free and doing well. In our conversation, he asked when I thought I might retire. I said I wasn’t sure. He said, “Well, you’ll know when you’re ready. You’ll be sitting in your office one day and think, ‘Why am I still doing this?’ And then you’ll quit.” I said I still like getting a steady paycheck and want to have something to retire on. He said, “It’s not about money, Tim. It’s about time.”

He is so right. And he would know. When you’ve had a cancer scare or any other serious health malady, you realize that time is life’s most precious gift. And spending it with the people you love and who love you is our best use of it.

I have another set of friends, a married couple who worked hard all their lives. They had professional, stressful careers. They both retired in their early 60s. They could have put their money in stocks, or bought a huge house, or new cars. Instead, they spend several weeks each year in Switzerland in a lovely small chalet nestled within the most spectacular scenes imaginable. They are there now and are sending me photos of their hikes and the breathtaking mountains covered in snow around them. The sights are simply magnificent.

There is nothing wrong with planning, and saving, and being prepared. But the moments of now, the very present, panting for us to be aware, to enjoy and absorb, they are what count over and above all else. I never want to miss them.

© 2017 Timothy Moody 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Real Reason NFL Players Are Taking a Knee

Two things. Vice President Pence left an NFL game last Sunday because some players took a knee at the playing of the National Anthem. He said they were disrespecting the American flag.
Second, Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones has now said his players will all stand at the playing of the National anthem or else they can’t play. He said his players will respect the flag.
Okay, I get this obsession with the flag, which is only a symbol. I’ve written about both the absurdity and the danger of worshipping a symbol of freedom while denying people human and equal rights.
Pence and Jones are playing to the worst fears and prejudices in people. To deny professional football players, or anyone else, the right to express their disappointment and their disapproval of how certain police officers and police forces are mistreating, often outright killing, unarmed suspects, especially black men, ought to bother all Americans.
Power and money do not give anyone the right to silence protest of any kind in this country. The National Anthem protest is not about the flag, the military, or any other such thing. It is solely and entirely about a nation that blinks, looks the other way, ignores or condones police brutality and murder. Primarily brutality against and the murdering of unarmed black suspects who are judged, tried, and executed in the streets by aggressive and frightened cops who are never held accountable for their actions.
The Vice President, Jerry Jones, and other high-profile individuals in this country disgrace and abuse the considerable influence they have by shaming or threatening those who choose to exercise their Constitutional and American right to protest.
The flag and the anthem hold a lot of significance to a lot of people, and as I have written before, many want to tie them to religion and church and God. Incorrectly, I believe.
This protest is a silent, and I believe, responsible way to say to anyone watching, “I am disappointed in my country and its leaders. My country is letting me down. I’m a man of color and I feel threatened in my own country by aggressive and fearful police and a justice system that seems not to care about me and my family at all.” That, is the protest.
I do not have power or wealth and my voice counts for little, but I fully and without hesitation support the NFL players who are taking a courageous stand against police brutality and the irresponsible deaths of unarmed suspects who, until proven guilty, still remain innocent in this troubled and chaotic country.
Let's stop reframing the issue. It's not about the flag or the National Anthem. It's about the injustice in the country those symbols represent.

© 2017 Timothy Moody