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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Will You Help Me?

I looked on as we jammed parking lots and cleared off the shelves of ‘life essentials’ from supermarkets this week. We call it getting prepared for an invisible enemy that has sent fear if not outright panic through to the bones of many.

The question my conscious kept asking: Will I share what I have purchased with my neighbor if they come down with the Coronavirus? Or is all this just for me? The other deeper question is how do we take care of each other psychologically and emotionally during this situation?

The Public Health system works on the basis that we are all in this together. Yes! Evergreen is a community and we are all in this together. What is good in health practice for me is good health practice for you also. We all benefit! Transmission of a virus between us is limited by the limitation of interaction between us. We are asked to create and maintain an isolation from each other to slow down – even defeat this enemy. This makes sense from the Public Health perspective to control the spread of a virus.

But on a social level, as a community, how are we to respond to the isolation we are creating?

Are Seniors living alone more distanced from the community now? Are they to be without conversation or in sight of another person to ‘defeat the enemy?’ Are Families struggling to make ends meet now determinatively left alone to fall into a psychological depression, fear and panic because they can’t join the rush to the supermarket? Are our minds to be filled with fear for our own health, real or unreal to be panicked and filled with anxiety over something we cannot control?

We all need emotional and spiritual support in a time of crisis whether we have a lot or a little.

What do we need to support each other in the community when we are in isolation from each other? Do we need an old fashioned phone tree to simply ask: “How are you doing? Or…..

Reflect on what we can do to strengthen emotional and spiritual ties during a time when we are so tempted to think only of our closest and to lose sight of ourselves.

For those with a spiritual depth I include the following prayer. And for those who may feel a prayer is ‘over the top’ in the social realm, perhaps you could read it as a moment of reflection or meditation on our place in the universe. After a Yoga session would be a great time to read it.

“God, our peace and our strength, we pray for our nation and the world as we face new uncertainties around coronavirus. Protect the most vulnerable among us, especially all who are currently sick or in isolation. Grant wisdom, patience, and clarity to health care workers, especially as their work caring for others puts them at great risk. Guide us as we consider how best to prepare and respond in our families, congregations, workplaces, and communities. Give us courage to face these days not with fear but with compassion, concern, and acts of service, trusting that you abide with us always.” Amen.

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It’s A Messy Business This Christmas Thing

It always seems around this time of year there is some kind of global crisis and tragedy that counters the message of the Christmas story. Don’t you have the same feeling?

The Christmas story portrays Mary and Joseph with their God given son.  It is a moment when peace, hope, joy are part of a beautiful experience of God and mankind joining together.

Then we get those horrible human tragedies juxtaposed.   Aleppo is a case in point.  Aleppo is the human tragedy called by some ‘a holocaust’. The opportunity to prevent this tragedy passed a long time ago.  We all know that even if we don’t say it. We hesitated. Now, how does one claim ‘victory’ when you have destroyed the lives of your own people? It must be difficult to sit at that victory table with such human cost.

Life is always messy.

The contemporary fanatics of the world refuse to accept the fact that life is messy. Religious fanatics, cultural fanatics, scientific fanatics, philosophical fanatics are all cast in the same cloth with slightly different colors.

These fanatics insists that their way brings justice and correctness to life so long as their rules are followed. They are correct, of course.  Fanatics beat everyone into submission so that all mouth the same message, look alike, think alike and die alike in their emotional, spiritual poverty and desolation.  It is okay because everyone agrees to be miserable, despondent and hopeless together aghast at the thought that life could be any other way.

The Christmas story has no fanatics.  Joseph and Mary wouldn’t make it in the Middle East of our ‘modern’ world.  They would be executed as unfaithful to ‘The Law’ .  A young unmarried couple about to have a child do not fit into the strictures of a controlling religious culture.  Joseph and Mary would also be sanctioned today by the very Christian religion that tells their story. Joseph and Mary as parents without marriage push the edges of Christian values too.

The Christmas Story about Joseph and Mary has all the tension of the modern world intertwined into it with the hint of a brave new world.  (Perhaps it isn’t so brave but I like to think so.)  It reminds us that nothing ever is smooth sailing.  It takes God to organize the story so the facts point toward something great.

Most religions would bury the story of Joseph and Mary because it is nested in the messiness of life.  God should be found on the highest mountain with the best parents humans could create.  Instead the birth is placed in the valley where most of us live.

The Christmas story is in the face of everyone.  Life is messy down here in the valley.  We don’t have it all. We don’t know it all. We just know that God shines a bright light so we can find a way through the messiness. We desire to love ourselves. Our families. Our neighbors.

The anchors we throw at social institutions, programs, education are eventually recognized as landing in styrofoam.  There is never any security or certainty in our human structures. We humans are restless to improve the world of our creation. Only the God story enables us to move through the messiness.

And despite the violence of Joseph and Mary’s time, the inhumanity to man, the imbalance of power (and every other ill you can think of) there is someone there to remind us to “not be afraid” of the known or unknown, to seek the goodness, gentleness, the power of godly thought and spirit that changes the world through kindness, service, love, opportunity, true wealth.

Read the Christmas story with delight.  It talks of your experience and my experience finding our way through a messy world without the fear that stalks the human heart.

A blessed Christmas to you all

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