Emperor, Czar and Bullies!

The 21st Century version of an over confident Chinese Emperor Xi Jinping and a Russian Czar Putin jointly ‘take the platform’ at the Olympic Opening  Ceremony.   They pronounce that the autocratic power brokers have the Right to determine the definition of human rights, democracy and the correct view of the world and its people. 

In other words, you can thank the autocrats for letting you play your sport in their stadium. The ‘stadium’ referring to ‘the world’ that you live in.

It was an ominous commentary made to a powerless audience gathered to celebrate sport.  But that is how Dictators and autocrats function.  They own the world view.  They pronounce their version of reality and demand all to acknowledge and eventually submit to their views. 

Yes.  These two powerful national leaders.  One who cannot field a national team at the Olympics because of his State sponsored doping of athletes.  Two powerful leaders who persecute minorities, suppress information, poison or disappear political adversaries, drop barrel bombs on civilians and destroy hospitals. Terrorize civilian populations until they acquiesce to the demands of cowardly bullies. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a logical next step.

Autocrats, Dictators, Emperors, Czars all fall into the cesspool filled with the drugs of power and control.  They love it.  They want it.  They can’t get enough of it.  You don’t need to be at the supreme level of governance to have this addiction to power and control. But the power and control obsession is extremely dangerous at the supreme level of governance. These Dictators make war and kill at will and use others to do it for them. And they plead innocence.

The biblical stories are filled with examples of individuals who became great leaders and squandered leadership through their abuse of power and control. King David, granted great prominence in contemporary conservative Christian narratives, leaves much to be desired as a leader and community builder.  He ensures that the husband of the woman that he desired was killed in battle so he could add her to his harem.  And much of his great accomplishments as a leader were lost in the mire of his immersion into the cesspool of power and control.  The Bible contains these stories to remind us of the fragility of our capacity to lead well. There is constant threat to efforts to enhance integrity and honor in our world views.  

The autocrats and wanna-be autocrats of our world need to learn that only like minded monsters share their personal thirst for power and control.  We don’t want to help make them richer, more powerful, more elitist.  The main stumbling block for autocrats is that they believe their own deceptions and there is no one voice strong enough to convince them differently.  The Biblical voice suggests how to eventually collapse and destroy these corrupt ways of thinking and living.

In contrast, most want to share in the freedom of learning how to grow themselves, be creative and love and serve each other.  When we are at our best too we want all to have freedom to live magnificently different lives.  

I prefer to learn these truths from the biblical examples than to have to live the sordid tragedies  again in our time.  And the Bible witness helps us to envision a different world without experiencing the holocaustic tragedies of the past.  Making people suffer, destroying others, causing pain and death is godless human absurdity. 

The belief in God challenges us to a higher calling in life.  We are not here just for ourselves but for all generations, past, present and future.  And the Bible shows us so we may learn about this higher calling from each other and the goodness of life as gifts from God.

Pastor John Goldstein

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I’m already exhausted by 2021.

It seems like the past four years we were encouraged to go after each other.  

Throw the conspiracy theories and repetitive opinion statements derailing facts into the mix and it sure led to a confusing time.  It is certain that anyone listening/watching only the sound bites surely got a discouraging world view filled with distrust and anger.

The dissension from ‘The Right’ became downright angry and unclear to someone like myself.  The complaint was a mix of Christian religious destiny theory, a deaf eared Congress with dark motives and feared loss of individual rights.  Those who stormed the Bastille, I mean the Capitol, did so as if they were trying to take back the democracy that had been stolen from them.  And like stereotypical marauders they sure left a mess along with lots of fear and disgust.  (My apologies if I got all this wrong.)

The past four years and the last two weeks (which seemed like an additional four years) struck me with the thought of how much America has transformed over the past 50 years.  The anger of dissent was the reflection of the reality that many don’t feel like they are on or that they want to be on the ‘post 1965’ America train. 

Before 1965 America was a white majority country where there was an assumption that the  ‘white’ race was superior to all others.  At least, that is what the majority white people repeated to each other.  The laws requiring ‘separate but equal’ were cracking. But efforts were made to downplay opportunity or accomplishments of ‘other than White’.  This of course, gave more opportunities for white peoples.  Not that they were necessarily conscious of this.  They just had the upper hand and a bigger playing field.

The big sea change came in 1965. It came from the most conservative place I can think of:  The White House wagging the Congress.  It was a legislative revolution.  The Voting Rights Act and the Immigration Act of 1965 were passed by Congress.  In the same year.   

These two Acts represented revolutionary changes in American perspective.  Yes.  Huge sectors of black and white citizens were going to have access to voting.  Until that time, white wealth dominated voting rights in many states. It would no longer be so easy to disenfranchise the common guy and gal.  Threats and intimidation still worked. It works today too as does gerrymandering.  

But after 1965, immigration was based on family unification and attracting skilled labor into the U.S.  No longer would preference be given to the wealthy European white immigrant.  This is boring stuff except that the immigration bill changed the make up of the American population and created the rich, diverse, ethnic and racial populations we have today.  It is no longer majority white with white focused self understanding.  Some want it to come back.

Today, we have large major ethnic minorities. And the Civil Rights Act gave most Americans a voting voice and saw their votes truly count in 2020.  Some voters are stunned to see this sea change.  I guess this is where the ‘stolen election’ idea comes from.  The one who lost is emphasizing that elected representatives are not representing!   

It is clear that the philosophical, social, economic  and religious needs of many are not getting addressed.  We continue to be in the throes of an economic sea change.  Elected officials need to start paying attention. We have lots we could fight over.  But endless argument and division ultimately pulls us down.  It does not build up.  

Religion at its heart provides the space to share ideas and grievances and the pains of a transforming time.  Religious faith should unite us.  Not divide us.  Just as it provides private space for personal  and spiritual renewal.  It is discouraging to find religious leaders hijacking religion to defend indefensible positions that encourage hatred and division. Religion will not save or salve a lost worldly power.

America could destroy itself from within if it continues to seek ways to ingest deceit and lies as truth with intent to separate and divide.  I found it remarkable that in stark contrast to the divisive actions of some, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement brought people from all races together. Albeit to protest as a sign that all lives do matter and that belief is reflected in our common humanness.  Who could have imagined that!

Perhaps a similar notion of being ‘created equal’ will occur again in our political and self understanding. This will give us the tools to grow together again as a nation.  One nation under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

Pray that the rest of 2021 will provide at least initial steps to bring us together.

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Nero Fiddles. Burns Rome Too.

I was very young when I heard the saying ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned’.  

It related to the devastatingly destructive fire that burned through Rome in A.D. 64.  Emperor Nero was preoccupied. He was focused on playing his fiddle.  He was a hated Emperor by the end of his reign, so they say.  True or not, it came to summarize the reign of a self indulgent Emperor, distracted and unwilling to be involved in the tragic sufferings of the people.

January 6 2021 events in Washington DC play a similar tune.  It was the day that the President fiddled and burned Rome too. 

The President, fixated on a lost election, incessantly repeated baseless fraud stories to ensure that truth got lost in innuendo and conspiracy theories.  People started to question seriously whether the man would or should actually leave office.  

Meanwhile, the individual American is trying to get a grip on the Covid-19 pandemic with its grim reaper that is getting dangerously close to home, vaccinations that don’t appear to getting near to enough arms, kids out of school, job insecurity.  Well.  You know the story.

The symbolic heart of American democracy under attack in DC.  Where is this leader?  He is fixated to convince the world as he has convinced himself that he won an election that he lost. At some point, you wonder:  Does anyone really care?

Leadership makes a person greater than they truly are.

England’s King Charles II of the 17th Century was also an unpopular leader. Probably is up there with Nero and other self indulgent monsters. London caught on fire. It was horrific and out of control driven by high winds and destroying homes of all.   The unpopular, hapless King rode into the city, took charge.  With a strategy he organized people. The King helped put out the fire. His reputation soared.  You cannot lead without serving the people around you.  Doesn’t matter if people like you or not. Doesn’t matter what your political philosophy may be.

We all desire a decent, able leader of good moral character with a little integrity thrown in, who will show us a reasonable future.  More so if we have children and an extended family that loves us.    We want our children to fulfill our dream as they build their own.  Future, realized potential, gives energy to our hope. 

Leaders are identified when they are willing and able to fulfill the role.   Leadership demands the ability to create a vision of the future that we can all be a part of;  that all can help create. Leadership shows us that working together we accomplish more.  Leaders get us to work together on building a future that is better for all of us.  Politics at any level, whether it be a President or Pastor, becomes a circus when it is just about ‘ourselves’. 

Jesus never wrote any books about how to be a good leader.  He set the example by serving others and teaching others to serve others.  Jesus had ‘everyone’s back’ as we might say today.  He healed and fed and showed others how to do the same.  He had a religious practice and lifestyle that enabled him to keep himself together. It taught him compassion and empathy, patience, friendship and love.  He taught others how to pray and ways to live without dictating rigid rules or lifestyles.  He brought people together to feel and believe as one.  That helped to make him a great Leader.  Someone worth following.

He led Mother Teresa to write the following:

“If you pray, you will have faith.

And if you have faith, you will love.

And if you love, you will serve.

And if you serve, you will have peace.”

Give us ideas based in truth that make rational sense. Model those ideas and call us to service to implement those ideas and we shall follow.  Nothing satisfies a follower more than an able leader.

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It’s Getting Dark Out There

It’s winter.  

We bring out lights to shine in the darkness!  It’s all part of our religious belief.  Whether we practice religion or no.

Light and dark are to be taken seriously.  Darkness can threaten life. Bad characters in movies are usually in black to imply the power of evil or destruction.  Boo to you Darth Vader….!!

The Hindu festival of Diwali and the Christian festival of Christmas both tackle the power of darkness that surrounds us in life. Christian and Hindu stories intertwine similar portrayals of the evil of darkness and the significance of light to us humans.  

Diwali is a religious festival that celebrates the victory of the god of light over the god of darkness. Light displays, social events and food focus on light in contrast to the darkness.  The god of light kills the god of darkness in this Hindu story.  Light prevails!!!!  Thank God.  Humans cannot live without light.  

Christians draw the same conclusion about the significance of light in their Christmas Story with a twist.  The baby Jesus is born in the darkness of ‘mid winter’ so the carols sing! And accounts of Jesus’ birth story is one of light illuminating in the darkness.  

There is no violence in the Christian story.  The Christian God of light does not kill the god of darkness.  In fact, there is no god of darkness to kill from the Christian perspective.  Darkness is not the dominion of any god.  It is never destroyed nor killed.  Darkness is overcome by turning on the light.   It literally disappears when light appears.  And we humans play a role of bringing the God of light into the human arenas of darkness. This is not a battle of the gods.  It is a challenge for humans to recognize light and to share it. Isn’t it refreshing to see light in the midst of darkness?The Hindu perspective recognizes the violence of our world as depicted in the violence of the gods.  The gods kill each other as humans do.  And we give thanks that the good god prevails.  May the good god of light always prevail.  

The Christmas story focuses on the human desire for life and peace in the world. Angel choirs sing to poor shepherds of ‘peace and goodwill’. Divine messengers bring good news of God’s human presence among us in spite of the violence within the human experience.  

This theme of peace is a thread that begins in the creation stories and is integral to the Christmas story.  The God of creation makes everything from chaotic matter and describes it as good when the living spring from it.  There are no warring gods to decide who is the most powerful.  There is no other power!  This creative God is all powerful and yet pacific.  And when God determines to create, it is done so without harming or destroying other forces.  This sentiment pours out from the globally sung Christmas carol  ‘Silent Night’.  The song is loved by people of many religions:

‘All is calm.  All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace.”

The God of light offers light to hope and human possibility.  

We are tempted to ignore religious story and adopt a corrupted view where the evil god of the world needs to be killed and destroyed over and over. In such a world, evil has new emissaries every day and they must be weeded out before they take control. Or we live by a corrupted Christian view where the world is darkness and light does not enter.  Evil is like the cloud cover that never lifts. We blindly continue in the darkness fighting the conspiracy of darkness.  Nothing much we can do! So it implies.

Either corruption encourages us to view others with suspicion.  What kind of emissaries are these ‘others’ I see?  They walk the streets and I don’t recognize them.  They drive in my neighborhood and I don’t “recognize the car”.  I cannot trust them in the darkness of my world.

The world of darkness accepts suffering and death as ‘fait accompli’.  Darkness seeks to divide us.  Warring factions kill on command.  Refugees are abandoned on land borders or left to drown in oceans.  Resignation is granted to prejudice and hatred of others for race, origin, language, social place. Darkness makes us powerless to foment change, feel safe or that we can intervene.  This is the world of darkness which we pop in and out of daily, mentally and spiritually.  

I prefer to see light brought into our midst so we can see more clearly.  It provides the hope that the world can be transformed. I want to know why my neighbor is so angry and troubled.  Doing so would help me understand why I am angry also.  I am part of the transformation from darkness into light.  One can never see darkness. One can only recognize the dark life when light overcomes it.  May we see light dissipate the darkness! 

Silent night, holy night

Son of God, oh, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

With the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

Have a meaningful season of light and a Blessed Christmas!

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HALLOWEEN IS NO CHRISTIAN TRADITION ANYMORE

It has been many centuries since Halloween was a Christian celebration. 

It’s been so long that some Christians call it a satanic event.  It is what you determine it to be.  Today, it is a quintessential American tradition that has gone in many directions.  Some quite discouraging.

Halloween was once one of my favorite American traditions.   I enjoyed spending time with my children and grandchildren. They are in costume, filled with anticipation and story, imaginations running wild with excitement.  

I got to walk the streets with the children and visit neighbors whom I rarely see except on the way to work or some weekend chat. We actually talk, share stories and do so without any pretense or agenda! ‘Hey!’ ‘You live down the street!’ ‘I didn’t know that.’ ‘And these are your kids?’ ‘Wow! They are growing up so quickly!’

It is also a time to reconnect with children of all ages and to be reminded that they, like myself are filled with excitement about life and its surprises. ‘Trick or treat’ the littlest ones try to say. They are amazed that the words magically trigger smiles, laughter, and best of all candy treats!

Little kids can barely ‘trick or treat’ now. They are confronted by too much horror filled costumes and displays that generate fear and anger.  Some of the displays focus on perverse cruelty and shock.  One year I dressed myself in a sesame street costume and discovered that children gathered around me for protection of a fun clean, friendly character in contrast with the costumery of violent characters from war trilogies, destructive evil characters and unsettling faces and designs   Most of this is unsettling to an adult too.  I can’t imagine how the children remember it.  Shutting down ‘trick or treating’ due to the pandemic may provide a breather space for people to rethink the purpose of costumery and displays.  Halloween in its roots was not designed for a ghoulish ‘shock’ factor.

Halloween maybe an American celebration. But it draws from the supermarket of world celebrations to create a fun evening of costumery, celebration and reminder that life is filled with all kinds of mysterious and unanticipated aspects that have no power over us. 

Halloween has its roots in ancient beliefs and practices. It is most easily traced back to pre-Christian England and Ireland and celebrations to remind the living of their link with their deceased ancestors. The ancient celebrations were ‘Christianized’ by the Christian conquerors as they contained elements of essential truths about life. The elemental truths are found in most cultures and religions throughout the world. 

Religion is not shy to consider the profound issues of life and death, meaningful existence, relationship with our ancestors and our descendants, life values and purpose. Religion discusses them using such terms as ‘reincarnation’, ‘incarnation’, ‘resurrection’, ‘eternal’ even ‘caste’ or ‘social place’. 

Interest in ‘ancestors’ and the ‘forces that give way to life’ also gives rise to questions about the existence of spirits and other kinds of ethereal beings that work for good or evil. The Christian view is that evil does not exist as a god force.  Evil is overcome by turning on the light of truth in the midst of darkness.  Darkness disappears in the light. Costuming is one ancient method to show that feared entities have no power (and in most cases) no existence beyond the imagination. Dress up as the ‘evil one’ and see that you can play the part as well as anyone! Because it is a part that can be dissipated and eliminated by good and kind and righteous people!

Be ‘Spiderman’, ‘Superman’ and discover in your imagination that you are as powerful as the creature that you portend to be! It is a simple method to allay fears of creatures that do not exist and even if they did, they have no power or control over you – only the power and control you give to them.   Turn on the ‘light’ in the midst of the darkness so the Christian would say!

Okay.  This doesn’t sound like Halloween anymore!  But the roots of the Halloween celebration  head in a direction that we all long for.  We all need a path to confidence and courage when we are confronted by life situations and experiences that make us fearful and afraid.  There is no need to cower in fear at the forces we don’t understand.  Indeed. We should be mindful of our predecessor generations that survived to give us life and a life story to tell.  But they don’t have power over us. 

Halloween would be better if we could discover and rediscover how fun, light hearted events can help make life safe, secure, anchored in the inheritance from previous generations.  Fun for self and the people that surround us. 

I’ll probably take a breather this year.  But I do love seeing the children in costume.  Maybe we will all rediscover the power of children asking, receiving, laughing, having fun dressed up as someone that they respect or admire.  We were children once.  Remember a costume only has the power you give to it.

Have a fun Halloween.  If that’s possible!

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Dance With Me

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The Beat Goes On…

We don’t have a ‘rogue cop’ problem in America.  Let’s be clear on that.  It was caught on video.  That’s why it became of national interest.  

Mr Jacob Blake shot 7 times in the back as he went to get into his car is now paralyzed from the waist down.  Another side addition to the average of 3 police killings every day in America. We need our police and we need each other too.  But we don’t need the current violence now wedded into our policing system.

The police violence problem is NOT because we have a few ‘rogue cops’ that need to be weeded out.  I wish it were that simple. The Police Officers I know are the nicest guys.   But as in all jobs there is a culture built around the job. The police culture is built on past precedent and evolves over time.  Those on the inside experiencing the change evolve with the change about them.  

Cops are trained to follow the rules set out for them as part of their police culture.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Consultants and Police Trainers come with military experience from Afghanistan and Iraq – our endless wars, that portray human beings from the perspective of a human enemy. Just as police department use excess military equipment.  Be that true or not the police world view comes from their mountain top experience where the legal rules make their word and actions almost impregnable to question. 

There is both formal and informal training in any and all fields of learning and practice.  The formal training is the easiest to get at.  The informal training, the police culture is a harder to get at.

A now retired police officer friend of mine once commented that as he approached retirement he found himself classifying people that he met as either a victim/potential victim of crime or a perpetrator of crime.  After years as a hospital chaplain I recall classifying people as either hospital patients or preparing to become hospital patients.  These are parallel examples of a distorted culture view and a loss of ability to recognize our human relatedness to everyone we meet. 

Here are some practical steps to change policing efforts.

1).  Train police to DE-ESCALATE situations.  This means talking and negotiating until non violent interventions overwhelm the desire to remove guns from holsters.  A Change to non violent emphasis policing methods will increase the respect and support for the police.   Police receive more training in violent behaviors with minimal training in de escalation techniques.  

2).  Stop using chemical weapons against the people who pay for the police through their taxes.  Tear gas and other associated violence breeds violent self survival responses in return.  Ultimately counterproductive.

3).  It would seem logical that cops should live by the same laws as everyone else.  But they don’t. The law specifically exempts them. And City Contracts with police unions removes most if not all transparency and ability to remove officers from employment. Police Unions heavily fund political campaigns.  It will be hard to get serious changes made when the politician relies on the funding support of the police unions. This is clearly true in San Jose too. The public will need to press for this transparency and the Unions and the elected officials will not!

4) The relationship between police officers and prosecutors is incestuous.  Prosecutors rely heavily on the word of police officers to get convictions.  Now we want them to prosecute the very people they depend on. Will they do this without major political pressure?

5).  Non violent protest is important. But the pressure on political leaders in the political and social process is of even greater importance.   That means public demand for transparency, social media postings, letters to the editor and elected officials and candidates, participation in the political process, forums, public meetings with a well supported public voice.  Police and politicians are paid by the taxpayer.

The early Christians were encouraged to respect their civil rulers.  To defy them could mean instant death.  But they were also encouraged to live by the higher standard where ethics and equal justice ruled.  In our democracy we should encourage all to live by the higher standard.  It is possible.  And we don’t need to see three of our neighbors killed by police in America every day.  There is already enough suffering in our community and world

Changing the police culture and the racial prejudice that is part of it will go a long way in making us a community more representative of our ideals with less need to attend police inspired funerals of our friends and neighbors.

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THE PANDEMIC. HYPOCRISY, MOVING FORWARD

I’ve been ordained for almost 50 years.  Thought I had heard and seen almost everything.  Then the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic hits. I have more to learn.

You know the routine.  The CDC says we should ‘shelter in place’.  States and Counties say we must.  None of us really like it but we do prefer life over death. We resign ourselves to the reality.  

We all get restless and start moving around.  After all.  I haven’t died yet.  Bars and restaurants and beaches fill up with people. Then some religious leaders feel left out so they celebrate indoor religious services as a ‘God given Right’ to congregate shoulder to shoulder inside. They answer to a higher power ‘in the sky’.  (We all do of course.) Churches finally have something in common with bars and indoor parties.   

All this religious posturing is so biblical.  Pastors love their big pulpits and they want to be heard!!  I get that feeling.  We all feel like we deserve better than sheltering in place. (We do deserve better).

This kind of defiance reminds of Namaan the great Syrian Military Commander who knew himself to be too superior to dip himself in the lowly Jordan River for healing. We are above that.

Before we know it, we have blown our cover and the virus is having a field day.  We knew this was going to happen didn’t we?  But then again.  We all want to believe that everything is going to be alright.  Just fine. There are always some around who will tell you what you want to hear! (We shall shelter in place again, you’ll see.)

Viruses are pesky creatures that pay no respect to our thoughts and rules.  Whether you like them, believe in them or not, they will fight to survive by spreading ‘at will’. They appreciate our generosity.  They kill at will too. It may not be me who dies but it may be somebody at our behest.  Shall we bow to the virus and say:  ‘Let me show you the way?’

Indoor up close activities are reckless at best.  They are tantamount to what satan tried to do in the second temptation of Jesus.  “Since you are the Son of God, Jump off the pinnacle of the temple and the angels of heaven will save you.” So Satan said.  

And Jesus replied:  “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”

Our defiant behavior is just another way to tempt God to show power and authority.  That’s why it is pretty dangerous, reckless behavior.  Maybe God would save me if I was His son but then again…..?  Either divine response shows power and authority.  I don’t want to be tempting God.

Religious leaders are really in a pickle when they insist how God shall respond.  Pastors are more like Shepherds than gods. Although some Pastors have a hard time drawing a distinction. Pastors are shepherds who are there to protect their flock not to lead them into danger.  “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” type of shepherd.  Pastors are not called to lead people into unknown dangers as if they were warriors in a Picket’s charge.  Pastors are shepherds who lead toward doing what is right and honorable and good for all.  Shepherd Leaders do not to encourage their people to walk blindly into danger as a charge into potential death from an amoral virus.

What does a Pastor, the shepherd say to the church family if “even one of the least of these” dies because of the infection of the virus from an indoor worship gathering?  ‘Gee.  I’m sorry?’  Doesn’t sound like the wise actions of a shepherd.

Pastors spend a lot of time preaching and teaching about the workings of the unseen, the invisible.  But this is to reveal truth not to defy fact and experience. The virus is unseen but becomes real in illness and death.  Moments of doubt should lead us to visit an intensive care unit or a morgue.  There one might get a sense of the power of the invisible.  

Perhaps we are envisioning a warrior God in our communities?  We Christians like to make a big noise about King David.  Now he was a warrior who did all kinds of wonderful things and evil things too in God’s name.  His physical kingdom never went anywhere and historically, barely merits a mention.  And even in the Biblical books he is shown to be a rather fallible, self consumed individual like most people who want to be King. Hasn’t changed one bit even today.  “You don’t want a king”, the biblical prophets said.  I am beginning to understand what they meant.

You may be thinking of religious leaders as hypocrites with big egos?  Before you pass judgement remember that there are hypocrites in all professions, business, all forms of leadership; perhaps even in your own family.  The Bible tells us so.  Our task is to recognize hypocrisy so that we do not replicate the hypocrisy but learn from it. Even the hypocrite is a teacher.  I hope you learn from me too.  

The life quest is to become good listeners, good learners, productive citizens who love all people and hunger and thirst to share and to build – together- a better world.  “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.”  

I pray you don’t need 50 years to comprehend what that means for you.  The solution begins by dipping ourselves in the waters of the lowly Jordan River (figuratively of course) and accepting what simple things we need to do to help and serve each other. 

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Knee on the neck of Black America

It would be inappropriate not to recognize the tragic incident in Minneapolis this past week when police officers killed Mr George Floyd, a 46 year old African American. Yet another example of police killing an African American in the United States.

The image of a white police officer with a knee on an African American citizens neck was an image of  America at its worst.  

This is a picture of the history of America’s attitude and action toward people of color fed over a 400 year history:  They need to know their place; they are to be held down; ignored;  and treated in the manner as prescribed by a white dude:  Whether it be a police Officer or someone else.

This prejudicial situation reminds me of the lyrics from a song in the old Rodgers & Hammerstein musical,  “South Pacific” 

The lyrics go something like this:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

We humans are NOT born to treat others inhumanely.  We are taught to discriminate with hate and fear.  We are taught to assume inequality, and to hate and fear others supposedly unlike ‘me’.

Likewise,  “You’ve got to be taught” to love and respect others.  It doesn’t just happen. There is a process to learn how to treat others with respect. “You’ve got to be carefully taught”.

Anger and violence can be anticipated to flow from these tragic circumstances.  And in America, it seems that without the public expression of anger nothing will move.  

Otherwise it will be addressed by a Committee, Commission, a Board that will sidestep the inequity of law and justice and justify the current rule and order. And African Americans will continue to be killed by our police officers with impunity.

The police are key to the cultural transformation that needs to take place.  The Police are on the front line where justice is formidably tested. They have the power and opportunity to publicly display the equality and inequality that exists about us.

There is a simple antidote to our social dis –  ease.

We need to address and act toward each other as human equals.  

In all situations.  It is difficult. It will be difficult.  But practice of the right behavior creates the right habits, and the right thoughts of respect and appreciation and the love for each other.

“You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Our condolences to the family of Mr George Floyd.  Our prayers are with you.  And our prayers are with the United States of America.  The land we all love and are willing to live and die for.

If I might quote St Paul:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

The grace and peace and love of Christ be with you all. 

John Goldstein, Pastor

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How Are You Doing Now?

We have completed our first week of ‘shelter in place’. Our Santa Clara County is one of the ‘hot spots’ of the infection in the state. Our daily discipline has changed.  And everyone is saying:  Who would ever have thought that we would be in this situation?

Aren’t we tired of hearing that we need to wash our hands for 20 seconds and keep 6 feet apart?  The important question is:  Are we following this discipline?

It doesn’t take long to shorten, forget or give up on it.  All of a sudden we want to be close and to hug and shake hands now that we know that for the sake of those we love we shouldn’t be close or hug or shake hands.  

It’s that quiet voice in the background that keeps us at it.  Yes.  Thinking of the possible consequences and the impact on my children and my neighbor in addition to myself.  We grudgingly or joyously are resigned to keeping at it.

It seems that ‘caring for each other’ is a part of human psyche. It is as much as being human as it is to eat and sleep.  And helping each other is a way to feel better about self and place in community. The world changes one person at a time.  And what we do influences what other do too.

I am trying to create a list of things we can do to help others while we are in ‘shelter in place’.  I’m sure you have better ideas but here are some things that I have heard suggested:

-Call or text a neighbor and simply ask:  “How are you doing?”

-Call or text someone you suspect may be alone and ask:  “How are you doing?”  Don’t make the call a ‘one time event’!

-Contact a food bank and drop off when they are able to receive.

-Take a walk with your pet.  You need to get out, change scenery and exercise a little.  Maintain distance from others.

-Get into a comfortable position, read something inspirational, take a deep breath, and reflect on the meaning of: “God is with us”.

Religion pops up in time of crises as we search to find answers and reassurance.  Over the years I have found that religious people like myself, are restless people. They develop rituals and disciplines to guide them to experience beyond themselves.  Yoga is like that as we learn to abandon distractions and to focus.  The religious (not all religions) hunger to  see as God sees – all that is ‘seen and unseen’.  Not gonna happen of course!  But it is a wonder filled goal to enlighten and brighten the life path! And it does illuminate the heart not just the mind.

Our readings for Sunday turn our attention to this life journey.  Ezekiel provides a vivid description of the ‘dry bones’ of the desert taking on life when God speaks.  Jesus will bring the sleeping Lazarus out of the grave as a sign that God’s timetable is different from our own.  He will also demonstrate that we are all restrained by the limits of our ways of thinking, our restricted vision and failing expectations of what God can and shall do.  The journey of the godly person is a journey for place and meaning.  “We are restless until we rest in You!” 

The journey never ends until life itself is engulfed in the lap of God.

SELECTIONS FROM THIS COMING SUNDAYS READINGS

Ezekiel 37:1-14

14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

John 11:1-45

“Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

And for those who have said they find this helpful,  here is a prayer to reflect upon:

“Keep watch, dear God, with those who work or watch or weep, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, comfort the afflicted, shield the joyous;  all for your love’s sake.”  Amen.

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