Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New World Coming!!!!

"When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars, This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius..."  (The 5th Dimension, 1969).

The Age of Aquarius is here.  Some believe it began in the year 2000 as we left behind the Age of Pisces, the two dimensional struggle between individualism and group pressure to conform and be something that organized groups and their leaders tried to pressure others into doing.  Some believe that we are only on the cusp of that new age or world to come, that it will emerge as time continues to move along but will not be complete until 2062 or even as late as 2680.  I doubt if I will be alive to welcome its coming if it takes until either of those two dates.

The Age of Aquarius, both the song and the belief in a world of peace and harmony, sees a vision of what could be if humans could only learn to live together without conflict, war, and strife.  "Harmony and understanding, sympathy and truth abounding, No more falsehoods or derisions, Golden living dreams of visions, Mystic crystal revelation, and the mind's true liberation."  Aquarius....a new world, a new way of living!

It sounds much like the vision that the prophet Isaiah saw in chapter 2 of his words.  A new world would emerge in which all nations would stream to the holy city of Jerusalem to encounter wisdom from God's throne and God would teach the nations how to live peacefully.  People would willingly beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, agricultural tools necessary to grow crops.  The vision gives the encouragement---"come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!"

Light---necessary to guide our footsteps in times of darkness, to prevent us from hurting ourselves due to tripping and falling over obstacles in our way that we cannot see...the light is there to guide our way but we cannot always perceive its existence.  Walking in the light means that we see it and understand what to do in order to be safe.

The last few days have been gloomy days of overcast and cold and rain, something we are not accustomed to experiencing in sunny, hot Texas.  Winter seems to have arrived early as the days have been wet and cold and dark.  It has been getting dark very early and the long evenings seem to go on forever.  We long for the light, for the sun to shine again, even though we have plenty of sunlight in our long, hot summers.  We complain about the heat but when it gets cold, what we consider cold at least, we want that to go away too.  Keep us in the pleasant moderate temperatures with plenty of sun but not too much.  We want things just right.

That is the desire of all humanity.  We want things to be just right all the time.  That desire is called longing for utopia, for paradise, for all to be right in the world.  That is what the prophet Isaiah describes also.  He sees a time to come when all humanity will learn how to live and will enact that learning into common practice.  War will be a thing of the past because people will know how to live and act and will love each other instead of killing each other.  It is a dream, a vision, but one that we can continue to believe in because God is the source of all hope.  We believe in things that we cannot see, including a God that is invisible.  We believe not because we can see what we believe it but because we have faith in hope---hope that sustains us in the dark, gloomy days of winter and in the dark days of hatred and inhumanity.

"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, I believe in God even when he is silent, I believe in love even when it is not evident."  So goes a saying written on a wall of a prison cell by an anonymous author.  Truth to live by and reflect upon.  There is a new world coming....wait for it...hope for it...believe in it, even if you never experience it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Brave New World

I am a child of the 60s and still sing and hum music from that era.  I really liked the music of Simon and Garfunkel when I was a kid and then enjoyed Paul Simon when he struck out on his own.  Some of you may remember a song that Paul Simon sung, perhaps in the 70s called Kodachrome.  For those too young to know what the reference in the title of the song is about, long ago in a galaxy far away, there were little boxes that one would hold in one's hand to capture a visual image.  Those were called cameras.  No, you could not talk on them or use them to find a restaurant or to find directions if you were lost.  They were simply boxes that could capture an image on a piece of film.  Film?  Oh, that was a brownish looking strip that one would put inside the box and attach to a spool and as one captures visual images (we called the "pictures") the spool would advance some of the film and the visual image of something that the box was pointed at would be captured on the film.  Long ago, perhaps back in the 20th century, the film only came in black and white (yes, that is true, howbeit funny) but someone finally devised a way in which color pictures also could be captures on film.  Somewhere in the 1970s, an ever higher quality color picture could be achieved on film by using.....here comes the song title...."Kodachrome" film, made by the Kodak company, thus the name.

Whew, all that just to introduce some lyrics from a song.  Well, I still sing Kodachrome when I am in the kitchen cooking or when I am doing chores or any other time it pops in my head.  The first verse has little to do with taking pictures but it does have to do with life today.  "When I look back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all, but though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall."  Obviously, Paul Simon's lack of education may have hurt him some as the line contains at least one double negative, but I digress.  The verse to me is a prophetic call from the 70s that is made plain in life today because there seems to be a lot of things that people either are asked to learn at some time in life or are taught that people today consider to be (pardon my French) "crap".  Values, social mores, orders of life in the world that made sense in the 60s suddenly began to slip from favor with the general population as the 70s rolled into the 80s and the 20th century soon became the 21st century.

Today, life is nothing like it was in the era when Paul Simon first sang the song.  Institutions that once were held in high esteem by the general public are questioned regularly.  People in general have claimed the freedom to think as they will and act as they will despite what authorities may have said in the past.  I work in and for an institution whose authority has been eroded to the place where one may question one's own worth or role in the institution.  Where pastors at one time had great authority over members of a church, what one says today in one's official role is taken with a grain of salt by most people.  There are topics of conversation and debate that I dare not address, either officially or either casually, except among people with whom I feel a great confidence that they think much as I do.  I am not free to give my opinion on such topics even if I can quote a scripture from Holy Writ that would back me up.  To do so, may mean losing support among people whose support is desired in the church setting.

What Paul Simon sings about is generally true.  All of us had to try to learn information when we were in high school that seemed totally useless to us.  For me, it was anything that involved math.  I was math challenged (most likely from that hit on the head with a bat that my brother gave me when I was a child, but who knows who to blame for such things?) and never could do mathematical computation beyond simple fractions.  When I got to algebra, I squeaked through with a C for which I gave much thanks for (luckily I had a coach for an algebra teacher who was much more interested in chatting with the cheerleaders in the class than teaching the subject matter) but when I got to geometry, all Hades broke loose.  Good ole Mrs. Dean, who had been at the school since it was built long ago, couldn't care less for cheerleaders or football players.  She was all business and geometry was her love.  She only said things once, we were told on the first day of her class, and she did not repeat herself.  So, math challenged me, spent a lot of time drawing cartoons on my test papers because I knew nothing about the subject matter.  I finished the class with a 37 (yes, that was my average, not just one grade on a test.)  The result of that episode in failure was that as an adult anything that has math in it immediately brings up some math anxiety in me and I really do not care about math or what it can do for society.  Luckily, I chose a profession that uses a lot of words rather than digits.

So, I understand how some things change over the decades and are influenced by past experiences.  The authority of the church is one of these things.  Once the Church spoke and people listened and tried to obey, regardless of what the Church or its leaders said.  Today, people question the authority of the Church on every subject and consider their point of view as valid as that of church leaders even if the leaders think that they have the Bible to back them up.  People may love to have a Bible to tote around or to pick up from the pew rack now and then but as a whole society really does not care what the Bible says about anything.  It is all up to individual interpretation (we thank the Reformation for that insight) so even if church dogma or doctrine is based upon the Holy book, many regard it as second in authority to their own ideas.  In the same way that I consider algebra and geometry to be remnants of the medieval age, most modern people consider Church doctrine to be relics of the ancient world.

Who can blame society in general for having lack of faith in the Church or its leaders?  After all, some churches oppress others based upon Bible passages.  Other churches teach that hatred toward others is okay and they too use the Bible as their defense.  Some churches put their pastors on trial and announce to the world that they are bad based upon their church rules which they say they base upon Bible passages.  Some churches go all the way back to the ancient church and its leaders to defend their view on social issues that did not even exist in the ancient world.  It is any wonder that many people feel they have no need for the Church and would rather spend Sundays reading the paper, grilling something good to eat, or watching sports on television.

Whatever happened to the simplicity of the Gospel based upon the Golden Rule that Jesus and most faith traditions teach?  Love God and neighbor....do unto others as you would have them do unto you....treat others the way you would like to be treated.  It is not a hard thing to understand.  It is as brilliant as a Kodachrome day...."give us the nice bright colors...the greens of summer, makes you think all the world is a sunny day..."  God's Love for all humankind is easy to understand, it is just implementing it in daily life that is a challenge.  Perhaps that is why the Church exists and is needed....to show that love in daily life in practical living to ALL persons.  Then, maybe when people understand that is what the Church is about, they will want to willingly be part of it.  I hope it is in my lifetime.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Responsibility or Irresponsibility?

My wife and I were recently waiting in an airport for a flight to take us home.  We always arrive earlier than we need to and have time to sit and read and watch the people go by while we are waiting.  While we were sitting there,  halfway reading and occasionally looking around, we both began to watch a young woman who was walking a dog around the airport.  The reason we became fixed on this particular person was that the dog she was walking resembled our granddog, Kiwi, that belongs to our daughter.  It was a dog that seemed to look like a Lhasa Apso which is Kiwi's breed.  Long and lank, rather furry, with a tail that arched over its back, walking briskly, its little legs trying to keep up with its owner's long strides, we both felt sorry for it.  It had its tongue out as if it were thirsty and the young woman who was holding the leash was more interested in looking at her cell phone than she was in paying attention to her little dog.  She would pause here and there to consider whatever was going on inside her phone while her dog looked up at her longingly for approval or attention.

Every once in a while, the young woman would pass the trash containers and recycling bins that were set up around the airport and immediately the dog would press its nose to the ground and begin sniffing as if it was trying to locate something.  Then, while the young woman was either oblivious to the actions of her dog or ignoring it totally, the dog would lift its leg and urinate on the side of the trashcan.  This was repeated again and again, up and down the concourse, with the dog relieving itself on the trashcans here and there and the young woman transfixed on her cell phone.  The little dog had to go a lot and once an official for one of the airlines stopped her and told her of an alternative place for her dog to go to the bathroom and the woman's response was simply a smile and a wave, which I interpreted as a gesture of nonchalance or non-caring on her part.  She began her pacing up and down the concourse after her interaction with the official, the dog stopping now and then to lift its leg and do its business.

My wife and I discussed the scene we were observing and felt sorry for the dog.  Her owner was clearly distracted and not in touch with the needs of her dog or her fellow passengers.  Who wants to sit near those trashcans (and there were seats fixed not far from many of them) and smell the urine of an animal that had soaked into the carpet?  Who wants to have to clean up after the little animal as those working in the terminal that day had to do?  Why did this young woman become hypnotized on a piece of technology to the place that she could not understand her responsibility to those around her and to the dog who was supposed to care for?

My wife's sense of justice always emerges when she sees an animal or child being neglected or mistreated.  She wanted to march over to the young woman and point out the error of her ways.  I was much more secretive with my intentions--I just wanted to turn her in to the authorities in the airport telling them about the dog soiling the carpet here and there.  I figured they would make her confine her dog in a safe place and make her pay something in restitution to the airport.  Neither of us did anything, however.  We just talked and looked and shook our heads with displeasure.

My wife did encounter the young woman in the ladies room, though, bending down to pet the dog and tell the owner how cute it was.  She said the owner smiled and said that the dog drinks too much water and she did not want to give it any more right them because it was urinating too much.  The dog's long red tongue was out much of the time they were walking indicating to my wife that the poor little thing was thirsty.

We soon boarded our plane and left the problem behind us, only to reflect upon the situation more and to ponder why some do not see their lack of responsibility to others as they live their daily lives.  This was not the only example of irresponsibility we observed while on our recent trip.  There were others that involved pets and children but again they were observed momentarily and then once out of sight were quickly forgotten.

What responsibility does one have as a private citizen when one observes others being irresponsible?  Perhaps that is the great quandary we all have to ask ourselves.  When does it become necessary for us to interfere or intercede on behalf of another who may be helpless to fend for themselves?  A dog or cat or other animal or a young child is at the mercy of a human being who owns or has in their care this helpless one.  If the human is mistreating or neglecting such a being, do other humans who observe this have a duty to step in to do something to relieve the situation?  Is it necessary to be upfront about our interference with the offender or is something of a more secretive approach just as good?  Those of us who wish to avoid conflict are more ready to use the stealthy method while many would just as soon march right up and make their opinions known, despite perhaps unpleasant circumstances that could emerge.

There is not a simple or easy solution to such problems.  One has to handle them with care.  When caring for those who cannot care for themselves, however, perhaps it is love or mercy that guides our actions.  Divine intervention may indeed be needed when dealing with others who may not easily see or admit the error of their ways, especially when a stranger points it out to them.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Taking Care of Business

If you have never been a substitute teacher, then you don't know what you have been missing in life.  I was a school teacher for 16 years and had a few times that I substituted when I was in transition between jobs.  Either I had changed from one school to another and the timing of the change was not exact resulting in my being a sub for a while or there was some other reason. I did not sub many times but did it enough to know that it is a very challenging role to play.  Substitute teachers are faced with being the new person in a class of people who all know each other.  You do not know the names of any of the students (and often they organize and try to trick you into calling them something besides their real names) and you only have a set of written instructions to follow that are supposed to be keyed to a textbook or a pile of papers that the teacher left on his/her desk.

When I had finished my student teaching in college, I substituted in the same school for a few days where I had done my student teaching.  This was near the end of the school year so the students were weary of the routine and a bit restless.  The teacher had left instructions for the students to copy words and definitions out of the dictionaries in the room for a writing lesson.  When I saw the instructions, I thought, "How much more boring could an assignment be."  I actually hated to tell the students what they had to do for the assignment.  I felt sorry for them to have to do that mindless task (we called it "busy work" in the teaching profession) but I gave them the assignment and watched them at work, copying one by one the words and definitions from the dictionaries in the room.  As I recall, they stayed busy or asleep throughout the class period and I was also one who had trouble staying awake.  

Substitute teachers are people who try to fulfill the role of the regular teacher for a short period of time while the regular teacher is ill or gone to a workshop.  They cannot be that regular teacher because they do not have the status or authority of the regular teacher.  They can only try to use their talents and wits and intelligence to get the students in their care to fulfill the tasks to which they are assigned.  They are "stand-ins" for the one in charge and try their best to make it all work out.

Humans are like that substitute teacher when it comes to be good stewards of the earth.  The earth does not belong to humans.  It has only been loaned to them for the time period they are on the earth.  They are charged with caring for it and keeping it healthy and alive, keeping it clean, and making the best use of the resources that are provided on it.  Humans answer to the one who is in charge, the God who created it and endowed it with its resources.  Being a good steward of the earth means that humans attempt to care for it as they think that God would care for it.  Perhaps they may ask themselves the question, "What would God do in order to make the earth a wonderful place on which to live?"

Stewardship is often misinterpreted as being solely about money and giving money to organizations, such as churches (since many of them have annual Stewardship Campaigns that result in financial pledges to support the church).  Giving money to an organization is only one aspect of stewardship.  Being a responsible steward means that we use whatever we may possess (time, talent, treasure) in order to make the world a better place.  We in the church use our church as the organization through which we try to accomplish our goal of making the world a better place.  The end goal, though, is that once we have given all we can give, then we can see that what we have done has made a difference.

Being a good steward begins as we look at our lives as caretakers of the earth and of the resources of the earth with which we are blessed.  When we see ourselves as caretakers instead of owners of what we have, then we will begin to have a change in the way we look at things and we will give thanks for being allowed to have this short life on earth in which we may attempt to make things better than when we first began our journey of life.