Friday, November 28, 2014

Why People Shoot.

There's quite a lot of stupidity out there, isn't there?  Have you noticed?

A friend of mine just posted another article about some guy "accidentally" shooting himself. And there's a similar story posted in the comments. Lots of people are shooting themselves these days. Accidentally.

Here, read this for yourself... this is from a real newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times:
Emery was upset because he could not find his lighter, police said.
He picked up a revolver and threatened to shoot the dog, pulling back the hammer on the gun to emphasize his threat, police said. Later, as he tried to release the hammer, the gun fired while Emery had it pointed at his face.
Emery has had 34 contacts with Pinellas Park police since 2012
His cigarette lighter. He was upset.

So he did what any reasonable person would do, right? He got his gun and threatened to shoot the dog.

THEN as he is releasing the hammer -- because, yes, he pulled the hammer -- he got the brilliant idea of pointing the gun at his face. It is hard for me to tell which of those words should be in all caps because they are ALL SO STUPID.

And -- raise your hand if you're surprised by this -- he has had contact with the police before. Not traffic citations. 

If this were an isolated case we would say, "Whoo-Boy, that guy is wac-o..." and that would be the end of it. But it's like there's one-a-day of stuff like this.

Here is a story about ANOTHER guy who shot himself in the face while trying to kill a dog.

Obviously, if you're trying to kill a dog then God is going to get you. And that's fine by me. But, really, what's going on?

The first guy was upset.  You know, about his lighter.

The second apparently was irritated about the dog barking. He had 13 dogs. I would expect there to be barking from 13 dogs, but that's just me.

So, let's be generous and say they had their (bad) reasons.

But, take a minute to Google "man shoots self" and you'll get over 18 million hits. EIGHTEEN MILLION! And a fair number of those involve attempted dog killing.

You have probably heard about the Home Depot shopper who was carrying a pistol in his pocket, reached for his wallet and accidentally shot himself in the ass instead. And it wasn't a pellet gun either, that weapon was a .40 caliber Glock.

But, did you know that police sometimes do the same thing?  In this CBS story a state trooper shoots a man who was reaching for his wallet.

So guns and wallets are confusing for some people. I get that. But the reason that the state trooper is justified in the shooting, according to his lawyers, is that he feared for his life.

So, if I am trying to understand these things I can tell that being upset about something like a cigarette lighter, or having a fight with your wife about the dogs, or fearing for your life... even if you are armed and the other person isn't... those are all reasons to shoot.

I don't like that reporter, John Stossel, but I like something he says:

Give me a break.

My FB friend asks: 
Has this sort of carelessness and stupidity unto death been going on in the past, and we haven't been paying attention, or are we seeing an an upsurge in the past few years?
And I think a lot of us are wondering about that.

I do think that since the recent spate of school shootings, the mishandling of firearms is being reported more often. A lot of that, no doubt, is about selling adverts and raising those ratings. That's OK. That's the system we have. But I do think that there is just more of it.

There is more stupidity.

More people are behaving like beasts.

Let me ask you a question? Do you like reading the Psalms? I do. I like the Psalms. When I get to Psalm 73 I think of it as a mini-me Job. These are two touchstones in theodicy: The book of Job, and Psalm 73.

I wrote a short commentary on the book of Job one time and it was about 100 pages long, so I'm not going to ask you to read that. But let's take a look at Psalm 73. It's a Psalm of Asaph.

Now, you know me so you know that I'm going to put this in my own words, ok.  You don't have to like it, it's just how I do...

In the very beginning the writer says, "Hey, look at all those investment bankers and all the stuff they've got... Man, they have everything! They go to a fancy gym and they're all sleek and beautiful. even death doesn't scare them because they can buy the best doctors and ease their way out of here. Lucky bastards. Lucky wicked bastards..."

Do you see what he does there? He starts equating wickedness and prosperity. It may be true... maybe the prosperous are wicked, maybe they are not. But if you can believe that one group of people is wicked on account of their money, then it's pretty easy to start believing that you and your group are righteous on account of your poverty.  And, that 'aint right.

Stay with me now, because I am not trying to override any preferential option for the poor. I am trying to override a theology of them (those wicked/rich people) and us (poor/righteous children of God.) OK.  

In verse 13 the writer talks about how he had been faithful, he is not like those wicked/rich/good looking people.

But, it's a false dichotomy. The only real differences between any of us are the most superficial things.

But in verse 22 he reflects back on this belief, the notion that he is all good and that the rich are all bad and he recognizes that this attitude made him arrogant. He says, "I was upset and bitter. I was stupid and unintelligent. I acted like a beast in the presence of God."

Well, look, we've all been there. Right?

And when it's like that, when you're confused and stupid... like a beast. Well, then you might do something stupid.

I think there is a lot of confusion out there about why things are the way they are.

There are rich people. We see them... In magazines. The affluence, the abundance... NO, the decadance!  It's there. Some people have more than enough.

The rest of us struggle.

People don't understand that. They don't know why they don't have any money; they work, after all. Most work longer and harder than their parents did. They genuinely expected more out of life and they don't understand how they could still be poor.

And, like the psalmist, they are jealous! Sometimes I am too. There have been times in my life when I thought how wonderful it would be to have a day where I wasn't worried about money. Just one day. I didn't envy the jets, and boats, and sleek bodies... just the lack of worry. And I think a lot of you may remember times like that too, or maybe you are living it right now.

Many of the people in my age group will be the first generation in memory who have not done better than our parents. I have some understanding of why that is. But I still find it frustrating. Imagine if I didn't have any understanding? I'd be beastly over it, I imagine.

I think this is especially hard for white men, many of whom do not even understand that they have been on the top of the heap for all recorded time. They do not understand that they will have to yield for others. This is perceived as a real injustice for them. Trust me. I know some of these guys... they feel victimized.  And I think that it is so deep, and so frustrating, that sometimes they shoot themselves in the face.

I wonder a lot about the increasing violence in our society. But, even more than that, I wonder at the increasing stupidity. It's all so beastly. And this Psalm -- Psalm 73 -- it offers an explanaion for me:  When we falsely divide the world into US and THEM it turns us into beasts... stupid beasts. .

One more time, because I've said this before, there is no US and THEM. We are ALL in it together.

But as long as there is no understanding, as long as people set up divisions between the haves and the have nots, then there will be beasts. And they will shoot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Time to Practice

Back when I was just a young pup, and not as smart as I thought I was, Shirley Rabb Winston -- adviser, mentor, and general agent provocateur -- used to tell me, and I can just about hear her melodious voice in my head,

"Daaahing, everyone is doing the very best that they can." 

And she said it in that dramatic way that only old divas can. And then we'd sing a song from the 50's or something from an opera.  And she let me sing along with her even though my voice is untrained and wild, while hers was still clear, strong, and disciplined. Once in awhile she would say something about my singing, I know I sometimes irritated her, but I would always look at her in that way I do, and I'd say that I was doing the very best that I could. We'd have a big laugh out of that because I didn't agree with her about the "very best..." I didn't agree at all.

I once told Shirley that I could give her a list of people who most assuredly were not doing their very best. She advised me to examine my compassion.

As the years have gone by, and Shirley has since gone to that great spotlight in the sky, I've had occasion to watch people. Some people think that I am quiet and reserved. The truth is that I am just watching. I am very interested in all of you people. And what I have seen is that people really are doing the best they can, in each moment, given the resources they have. All of you are.

Sure, sometimes it looks like they are just being big dicks, I know. Oh, I can sure see that. But if you look a little closer you can see that they might not have the resources that some others have. I feel very fortunate that I have had so many opportunities to practice patience, to practice expressing myself authentically, and to practice not knocking people up'side the head. It's an art. I've practiced. Not everyone has had the advantages of practice that I've had. I know that.

Unto whom much is given, much shall be required. Us first-worlders don't like to think about that one too much, but it's in there. And unto me has been given much compassion, many second chances, and opportunities to practice not being a dick.  But, the times I have failed, I failed because of the resources I had in that moment, not because I just wasn't doing my best. Recognizing this is a short exercise in self-compassion and it is one of the shortest and easiest spiritual exercises you can do. And one of the most important. If you can't have compassion for yourself, then it will be hard to have any for others.

And when I see someone who lacks compassion for others, that is one of the saddest things, because you know they lack self-compassion too. And no condemnation is as nasty as self-condemnation. You don't deserve that. You deserve to treated kindly. And others can treat you with compassion, kindness; but until you treat yourself that way you can't really share it with others.

So, look, when you see these rioters, or the terrorists from abroad, or idiots with a pulpit, whatever... there's no shortage of candidates here!.. when you see that, remember that they are operating out of the resources that they have, and it may not be very much, but it's what they've got. It's your chance to practice compassion! Don't loose your chance to practice! Look, it happens to me all the time too:  I have a chance to practice compassion, but I practice something else instead. Woe is me, I do the very thing I hate. I want to do better on that.

When Jesus redeemed the world, the power of his life was such that it set every single soul, every plant, every animal, every thing that has ever been or ever will be on the road to glory. If salvation is something less than that, then I want out. I don't need no half-ass salvation. But, here's the thing, for some reason some of us have more resources for dealing with the earth plane and it's limitation and dimensionality. I don't know why that is. It's too high for me to think about things like that. And I don't think any of you know either. But it does seem to be the case.

Everybody's best is not the same.

Shirley is not here to hear me say this, but maybe if I say it on the internet she will somehow know: 

Shirley, I was wrong. Everybody is doing their best.  You were right all along, my friend. And sometimes, I think about that and I miss you and wish I could tell you. I hope you get this message.

People are trying.They are using the resources they have. If their behavior is not what we would like it to be then there are other questions to ask:

How can I show love and compassion in this situation?
What resources does this person need to be able to cope here and now?
What kind of world am I creating with my own actions and attitudes?
Am I putting out love, compassion, joy?
Am I not?
What do I need to be compassionate with myself?

Oh, the list goes on... and you should make your own list.

But there is more to all this than just blaming people for not acting right. There's more to it than that.

Now is the time to practice whatever you can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Baptism of Jesus

Regarding the baptism of Jesus, a friend recently pointed out to me that in Matthew (the reading we have today) and Luke the heavens are opened, but in Mark they are torn open. That sounds like a completely different thing to me.

We can open a door, a window. We choose to open ourselves in various ways. But opening is at the discretion of the opener. If something is torn... well, that's completely different.

Of course it's about creation. Birth and creation go together. And I would like to think that it's easy to create something new, smooth sailing. But I think we have to wonder.

Just thinking out loud this morning.

I wrote a haiku about it:

opened gently or
were the heavens torn open
ripped, bleeding, and sore?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Haiku

Two things happen this time of year:  The farmers burn the last of their crops, believing that the ash helps the soil; and the coal burning starts in earnest as the wind comes blasting off the steppe.  It makes for some pretty heavy air.

Air so heavy, brown
Farmers burn and coal fires up
trembling in the cold

You all have a good day.  Stay bundled up if you're cold.  And if you can breathe, then breathe a prayer of thanks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Haiku

Here's a haiku from last week:

last bit of summer
strug'ling to still warm my bones
you are fading now

And for several days last week I wore a coat. 

There were days when the sun came out during the middle part of the day and it was almost like spring again.  But as soon as the afternoon blooms there is a crispness in the air.  It's going to be winter soon.

The Talents

We had the parable of the talents this morning.  One of my favorites.  In fact, the entire Matthean Olivet discourse is in my favorites column.  So, here's the text in case you missed it:

Matthew 25:14-30English Standard Version (ESV) 

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

In my church we also had the I Thessalonians reading, which I thought went along nicely with last week's gospel reading.  Light and dark, and all.  We did not have a reading from the Hebrew Bible, nor a proper Psalm... though there was a little song with a verse or two from Psalms in it, but it hardly counts as a reading.

And we had a sermon. 

A bad one.

It was not the worst sermon I've ever heard, but it was perilously close.

And we had a very bad sermon the week before on the ten virgins.  Very, very poorly done.  But I was able to live with that.  To me, the crux of that one turns out to be personal.  How do you handle the dark?  Are you waiting or are you out working for your salvation?  Don't you know that you're going to be welcomed with wide open arms regardless of the status of your little lantern?  If it gets dark you should just calm people, and let them wait with you, in the glow of your light... do not send them away.  The ones who sent the poor, scared, virgins away are the evil doers in this story.  They're in the wedding feast alright.  But they are the evil doers.  The thing is it's not about the oil, the lanterns, or even the sleeping.  It's about how you wait.  Whether or not you help others learn to wait.  It's personal.  So the fact that the sermon on that was botched didn't bug me too much.

But today's sermon does not appeal to one's private situation.  This is about the dominant order of things and whether or not we are going to participate in it.  It's about how we overthrow the kingdom of the world in some hope that the Kingdom of God might come.  This one is important.

Today the preacher at my church gave some kind of interpenetration where the master of the household was God, and the servants were all of us, and the ones who took their talents and made more were rewarded and got to go to Heaven and sing praise songs all day.  He said that the trustees worried about being successful and that good worry can spur you to action, but bad worry makes you bury your talent in the ground.  Oh, and we were all urged to examine our many talents (because he assured us all that we were the kind of trustee that would get a million dollars from the householder)  we should make sure we are using our prodigious talents. It was a bunch of crap.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist, or even a theologian, to see that that wears a little thin in  places.  For example:

  • How did the servants double their money?  Did they do it like their master, reaping where they did not sow?  Because that doesn't sound like very good behavior to me.  Nor does it sound like anything God would do.  God sows everywhere, even on rocky ground.  It's like he's the god of seeds... he just throws them everywhere and doesn't care much if they grow or not.  It just doesn't fit.
  • Also, what does it mean to "come into the rest of your master?"  I mean, who is the master?  I do think that's an important question...  Because I believe in the devil.
  • And, finally, how do the actions of the master square with what we know of Jesus?  Jesus doesn't kick people out.  He is all about the second chance.  "Today you will be in Paradise with me,"  he says to the thief on the cross.  To the woman caught in adultery, he has no condemnation.  He is always reaching out to the lowest man on the totem pole... or up in a Sycamore Tree.  You never see Jesus casting people into darkness.  So I think it's odd that he'd be doing it here.

So what is this story about?  

Well, the first thing you need to know is that it was not written for 21st century Americans.  It was written in probably 70 or so, maybe earlier.  It was written for Jews who had converted to Christianity, though I think the two were not as far apart even then as they are today.  Anyway, and it was probably sourced from Mark.  But I wasn't there and I don't know.  I got that from some notes I made in the margin on my Bible.  Always get a Bible with wide margins.  That's my advice. 

So, if we are not the intended audience then it is important to think about what the story sounded like in those first century Jewish convert ears.  You can't skip that step.  I have heard a lot of sermons lately where people skip that step.  No, people.  You have to do that step.  So, here's what you need to know about that.

The economic system in first century Palestine was as corrupt as Wall Street is today.  No foolin',. it was bad.   And the way this wicked householder made his money way by robbing the serf/slave laborers who worked on his land.  It is likely that at one time the land had belonged to them. or at least to their fathers and grandfathers.   But, times change.  Things get hard.  And over the years the land had been sold off.  Now the former small land holders were renters, and they were perennially in debt to the new land holder... the man who reaps where he does not sow. 

If you reap where you have not sown that means you are stealing.  I don't know how to be any clearer about it.  The householder was a thief.  That is how he got rich.

So, anyway, he decides to go on a trip:  a vacation, business trip, off to see his mistress... we don't know.  He's going away.  And he wants someone to look after his loot while he's gone. So the storyteller here presents us with three trustees:  One who receives FIVE talents, one who receives only two, and one who gets just one. 

The trustee who got five talents had obviously proven himself to the householder, because five talents is a lot of dough.  In other words, he is well acquainted with the machinations of evil.  He can turn five into another five easily, and probably still had some to tuck away for himself.  That's just how things worked back then.

The trustee who got two talents was probably pretty good too.  But, he was more like a junior partner.  He might have still had a few things to learn, but the householder trusted him.  Even two talents is a lot of dough.

But the last one... he is different.  This trustee was only given one talent.  I think that in the honor/shame culture of that time and place that might have looked like one of two things:  It might have seemed like a slap in the face.  Only one talent, after all.  Or, it might have been an opportunity to prove himself worthy/evil by going along with the householders financial shenanigans. 

Trustee one and two get to work right away extorting money from their poor neighbors, and they are ready for the master's return.

The other trustee, he refuses to participate.  And he knows his master.  In fact,. when the master comes home trustee three calls him out,  "You are a bad guy.  You take what is not yours.  I am scared of you," he says, "But I will not extort and rob either.  I am not going to play these games with people's lives.  Here's what's rightfully yours." 

Trustee three is the hero of the story.  It is possible that he was given the money as a joke, because the master of the house knew that the trustee was honest.  It's possible that the trustee had been on the fence and the master wanted to see which way he would go.  We can only speculate about these things.  But something happened that forced a decision on the part of the third trustee.

The first two were taken into the masters house to live with him.  Why?  Because they would have been killed if the master had left them out there with the peasants.

The other trustee... he could walk freely among the peasants without fear because he had not defrauded them.

The questions we should ask ourselves today are:

  • What am I doing to overthrow the oppressive economic systems in the world today?

  • How is my participation in capitalism perpetuating the poverty of others?

  • How can I begin a personal revolution to live in a way that does not aid and abet the terrorists of industry and government in their relentless enslavement of the poor? 

  • How can I begin an economic revolution to overthrow capitalism and bring economic stability to all?

  • Am I ready to live with the consequences of dissent? 

You come up with your own questions.  I have to go to work.  Oh, perfect.  I work so much I don't even have time to blog.

Addition:  When I lived in Myanmar I saw lots of houses surrounded with razor wire and I would often put up a little prayer that I am never so rich that I need razor wire.  I'd rather be poor and have the friendship of the peasants than rich, isolated, and fearful. 

We really do have to have some compassion for the first two trustees.  They had to live in the master's house.  And I'll bet it had razor wire.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wet Blessings

There was a most blessed event last week... in my fish tank.  I glanced over and noticed movement, something different in the water.  And, on closer inspection, much closer, I discerned five tiny little fish which had not been there the day  before.  I had not seen them anyway.  Some new life has come into being right under my nose! 

Every morning since then -- well, every afternoon too -- Actually, anytime I enter the room -- I check on the little ones.  My first concern is for them.  Oh, I still love my sleek orange babies, and the fluttering guppy with their tails and all... But, it's the little ones I look for first.  I count one, two, three, four... three, four, and five.  You have to count carefully.

And this morning I wonder if God isn't a little like that.  Just after getting up and stretching, maybe a few Sun Salutations, the Almighty looks down on a small blue speck and counts the little ones, the most likely to have been eaten, or sucked up by the (filtration) system.  Does God count?  Is God's joy in the smallest, the ones which are hard to see, hidden for safety in the tall grass?  I kind of think so.  And it makes me want to hide in tall grass too.

                       So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth. 
Job 5:16

Monday, November 3, 2014

Status Update

It has been a busy week, but less stressful than anticipated.  Things move slowly.  I am trying not to get ahead of myself. 

As you can see from the post below, I am reading Strange Glory, the book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It's a luxury for me, really.  I don't have time for it.  But it IS a nice read and I need a little luxury.  I do.

I want to do a blog post on why when we destroy creation we destroy God.  It's not Pantheism.  You'll have to let me explain.  But it is so deep, and it's been there for so long, that I am not sure I can pull the words up.  I am just starting to practice writing again and it's not that easy.

And I want to do a blog post on what I learned at church last Sunday.  It was pretty remarkable, and it surprised me because that was not what I was expecting. 

But, I am tired.  These days, at this school... it takes the life right out of me.  So I am going to go right to bed.  There are other things I'd rather do:  Listen to Jan Nunley's sermon, read the paper, watch these videos I have on Kierkegaard, write some haiku, or read some Basho... But I'm going to bed. 

Love to all.

Lindy's Late Night Reading Club - Strange Glory

I'd just like to say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't go to church very often.  In his new biography of Bonhoeffer, Strange Glory, Charles Marsh says:
In Berlin he had never shown much interest in religious practice -- that is, going to church -- and even now as a student in a Lutheran theology program, he rarely appeared at his parish church on Furtwangler Strasse. (Loc 1250)
and later...
His dissertation may have focused on the church community, but he had been reluctant to spend much time in the church himself. (Loc 1337)
It seems that he was pretty spiritual, but not very religious.  I rather like that.

I've just started the book and, boy-o-boy, what a nice read!  It's one of those books that is just a pleasure to pick up.  Right from the beginning it is clear that Charles Marsh has done his homework.  We get shining little pearls along the way:

  • Like the fact that his mother was a devotee of Rudolph Steiner.  (Loc 196)  We don't know how much that influenced the way she educated Dietrich and the other Bonhoeffer children, but it's interesting to think about. Space aliens and all...
  • And we get details, details, details... like the fact that when Dietrich was a boy he enjoyed dressing up in a white party dress with a "blue silk petticoat underneath." (Loc 209)
  • We even learn that Barth listened to Mozart while studying.  (Loc 1140)  I love that about Barth.  I have my own relationship with Barth, not as fawning as Dietrich.  But I am often heard saying that Jesus has nothing to do with religion, and Marsh throws that in as one of his little gems. 
There is quite a lot about Barth and Harnack, whom I don't really know.  But I have enjoyed watching the proud young Dietrich fall in love with Barth and walk a line between that and his theology professors at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. (Barth had been a student there too, but was considered something of a wild hair.  Dietrich somehow manages to reconcile Barth and the Reformation Protestants in his own unique voice.  Marsh calls him a "natural ecuminist.")   

I am only on chapter three or four so I can't give a full-on review, but I thought you all might enjoy this little glimpse.  I will go ahead and recommend the book on the basis of it's lovely prose.  I think it's going to be one of my top reads for the year.