Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fighting Over God’s Image - NYTimes.com

Fighting Over God’s Image - NYTimes.com

This is a fairly good article on the history of Divine images in America. The author talks about how influxes of immigrants forced Americans to deal with images even though our earliest white settlers were against the idea. This is held in stark opposition to the violence and anger in Muslim countries over depictions of God and Mohammad. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Politics

As a minister, I try to stay out of making political statements. I have my own opinions, and I share them with friends and family, but I'm not prone to making large, sweeping statements on blog or FaceBook. I don't think it's my place to share my opinion as a minister; instead I feel it is my place to help guide people to right thinking, which will allow them to vote as their conscience demands.

The above cartoon hit my FaceBook page this morning. At first I chuckled. Then I sighed. I understand what the cartoonist meant by it, of course, and to some extent I agree. Yet I wondered what the point was, in making it about children.

Let's deconstruct this little cartoon. The children have arrived with bags full of candy, and the gentleman wants to take bunches of that candy and give it to kids "too lazy" to trick or treat for themselves. This is designed to get us frustrated or angry. This is compounded by the witch's comment that it's a Democrat they're dealing with, just in case anyone missed the obvious.

What if we changed the man's statement a little bit, to read, "I'm going to take half and give it to kids who were unable to go trick or treating." Would that change your opinion? Why?

When I made the change myself, and read it and tried to internalize it, my knee-jerk reaction was to feel "better" about the taking of the children's candy. Then I asked myself that awful question: WHY? Why did it feel better? It felt better because it wasn't for "those evil lazy children" but instead for "some poor disabled children." That seemed to justify the taking of the candy.

This leads us back to wondering why it's alright to take the candy to begin with. I know when I've gone out with our kids, if there was a child unable to trick or treat because of illness or some other issue, we've offered to take around an extra bag and a picture of the child. I know many people who do this. It seems to be the right thing to do.

The man taking the candy from the other children represents the government, who are taking our taxes from us to do (presumably) benevolent things for us and our country. The problem we run into is that the government, unlike the man above, doesn't know who's lazy and who's ill. In order to make it fair, they have to distribute things evenly. The belief is that it is worth giving some lazy people money, because truly poor people will get money too.

I don't agree with that. It's not that I don't feel we shouldn't help those who need help, be they poor, injured, disabled or whatever. Quite the opposite, in fact! I believe that communities should be the ones helping out those in their district that are in need. A community can do what a government cannot. A community knows who's just taking and not giving back, and who really needs it.

In my own example above, I knew who needed the candy (well, if anyone can be said to NEED candy). I helped out because I could. I wouldn't have done the same for a kid who just wanted to stay home and eat sugar. There was no reason for me to give candy to random children who might, or might not, be ill. I knew who in my little community needed it.

I am not interested in taking benefits away from people who are struggling to make ends meet. What I would like to see, and what I don't think either party gets, is that the government can't do it. The government is too big, too unwieldy, too unable to see what its various parts are doing. As the saying goes, its left hand doesn't know what it's right hand is doing.

I am interested in seeing welfare become something useful again, something designed to help you out of a tight spot, to get you through the emergency until you can do something again. I'd like to see it designed to help re-train people who can't do what they were doing before due to injuries or issues.

Think what we could do if we took the community viewpoint and ran with it. We could encourage people, put them on positive rather than negative ground. We'd know who needed daycare help, and could get it to them, because we wouldn't be wasting money on people who were fully capable of working and just weren't.

One thing I don't think most people understand, is that the few people who do mess with the system tend to do a lot of damage. To put it in to perspective, having one "single mother who keeps popping out babies from different fathers every two years" (something I have, unfortunately, witnessed personally) in order to stay on the dole, eats up the benefits of several small families who could really use it. Is it a fantastic life that the single mother lives? Probably not, but it's where she's chosen to go.

We need to stop thinking about these things in terms of "dead baby stories" and start looking at those who really are around us. I know so many people who could really use welfare, but who are refused for stupid things beyond their control. I know at least as many people who are getting more money living off welfare than I take home in a month. This is a sad situation. The system is broken.

I'd like to suggest we start helping out our own communities, by metaphorically offering to collect candy for kids who can't go out on their own. I don't want to give MY candy to someone in Dallas, TX. I do want to be able to help out those I know, even if only as an acquaintance. Communities do a surprisingly good job of helping out their own, after all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Small, fragile signs of hope

Muslims, others honor slain US ambassador and denounce attacks | The Courier-Journal | courier-journal.com

The article is a bit of fluff, really, but worth reading. I am seeing something, finally, that speaks to my heart and soul. Statements like these intimate that we're making slow, if tiny moves forward:

 "Terrorism has no religion, it has no place in Islam." - Adam Buazza of Louisville

Monday, September 17, 2012

Headlines and quotations

US Dept. of Sate
 This man, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, worked at the American Embassy in Benghazi (Lybia) recently. Most people are already aware that he was killed by marauders on September 12. There are many accounts of his death, but nothing as poignant as the blurry cell phone video of his body being dragged through the streets while people cheered. There are reports that his dead body was raped. We're unsure if he was alive or dead when he was dragged through the streets. His death, regardless of anything else, was violent and uncalled-for. By all accounts, this man had never been anything but kind, and had worked very hard at a difficult job.

So what was Ambassador Stevens killed for? He was killed because an unknown person in the United States chose to post up a poorly edited video on YouTube, making fun of the Prophet.

Please note: Ambassador Stevens was not a part of the video. No one believes he had anything to do with the video, not in our country and not in Lybia. He was just a warm body in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will say it again and again: this man did nothing wrong, and from what Muslims and Americans alike have said, he was a personable guy working at a challenging job, and doing a fairly decent job at it.

US Dept. of State
The gentleman pictured to the right is Diplomat Sean Smith. We know even less about Mr. Smith. In fact, the only real information I came up with was that he died in the same attack as Ambassador Stevens. Why did he die? He was murdered because someone put up a video that insulted people in another country, far far away.

I try very hard to make a distinction between fanatics of any religion, and the true people of that religion. Westboro Baptist Church is not a decent example of American Christianity, for instance. I realize that the people who murdered these two men are not good examples of the Muslim faith, either. Yet I see Americans out protesting Westboro Baptist's bad behavior all the time, putting themselves between the idiots and their prey. I'm not seeing too many Muslims doing that to their bad actors.

Instead, what I'm hearing is this (quoted from this morning's New York times - please note that any spelling and grammar errors are theirs, not mine):
"We want these countries to understand that they need to take into consideration the people and not just the governments. We don't think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression; we think it is an offense against our rights." -- ISMAIL MOHAMED, a religious scholar in Egypt, on the protests that exploded in Muslim countries over an Amercan-made video mocking the prophet Muhammad.
This quote comes from another Times article, entitled Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film. The article is full of examples of things which people in the Middle East seem to believe about Americans. For instance, they believe that it's illegal here to deny the Holocaust, which is not true.

What I am hearing in the quotes and interviews coming out of the Middle East is that they wish to impose rules on the rest of the world to ensure they are not insulted. The problem with that, of course, is that insult is an internal thing.

Being largely pagan in my beliefs, I've weathered many insults over the years. I admit, I spent some of my younger years being "righteously indignant" when someone said a witch had green skin and warts, or claimed I worshiped the devil. Today, though, I just chuckle. If the person in question is able to handle the truth, I explain. If they aren't capable, I try anyway, but give up before I cause them more pain than necessary.

After all, what does it matter if someone is mistaken about my beliefs? They are MY beliefs, not the other person's. There are things happening all day that I could get offended about, but why should I waste my time on it? I believe what I believe, and if someone is uneducated enough to claim otherwise, then that's their problem, not mine. They are welcome to their opinions... and I'm free to be offended, or not.

Muslims and others in the Middle East cannot impose their rules here in America. They are welcome to be offended, if they wish. It's their right to do so. And we will watch them burn our flag and effigies of our Presidents and shake our heads in distress. I, for one, won't be offended, though. Saddened, yes. Offended, no. That is, after all, what they want.

Also from the above article:
“We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker said, holding up a handwritten sign in English that read “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”
The hypocrisy  of this particular quote actually made me chuckle, if in a rather disappointed way. They retain the right to insult our country, our President, our beliefs and values and rights, but demand that we respect their view of a prophet that the majority of us don't believe in.

Think about how it would read if we replaced some of the words. "I never insult Jesus, so why can't I demand that Zeus and Hecate be respected?" The answer, of course, is that I can't force respect on others. Not realistically. I don't expect the President to apologize to me because some fanatics think I'm trash and going to hell, nor do I expect him to apologize to the Muslims because they chose (yes, CHOSE) to get offended by a bad movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Prayer beads help focus the mind

Re-post from Examiner, February 8, 2012

Photo by: Muhammad Rehan/
Wikimedia Commons
There are times when prayers is not as easy as it should be. At these times, it is easy to fall into the trap of self-blame, self-punishment, or even self-hate. These are not useful attitudes, and hamper our ability to pause in prayer. Those moments when prayer is difficult are often the moments when prayer is most needed.

Each religion has its own way of aiding the mind in concentrating on prayer. Prayer beads are popular in Catholicism, Anglican Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism and other faith communities. There are also prayer wheels, prayer flags, sitting and standing postures for prayer, and literally dozens of other ways of focusing the mind on the All.

Prayer beads are an excellent aid for prayer. Generally they are made of a series of small beads with larger beads interspersed throughout the necklace or bracelet. Short prayers are said with the smaller beads, and longer ones when a large bead is reached. You don't have to be a part of a special religious sect in order to use prayer beads, though.

Using any set of beads with large and small at intervals, or creating your own prayer beads, can lead to a fruitful prayer life. Hold the beads in your hand, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Finger the first bead, and take the time to know what it's made of, how large or small it is, and think on what it represents for you. Say your prayer, and then let your fingers slip to the next bead. Repeat until you make it all the way around your string of beads, or from one end to the other in the case of a line or string rather than a circle.

The benefits of using beads are many. You do not need to keep count or use a timer when you use beads. the beads count themselves, and this is why you use large and small beads. You don't need to have a light on, because your fingers are doing the reading rather than your eyes. You are putting a limit on your prayer time, but without the tick of a clock or the jarring buzz of an alarm clock.

The links above will take you to a variety of religious sites explaining in detail how prayer beads are used within those traditions. Don't hesitate to create your own set of prayer beads, though, and write or find your own prayers. The act of praying is much more important than the specific words or techniques used. Beads may help you feel a bit more organized and relaxed about your prayer habits. They are another useful tool in the prayerful person's prayer kit.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember - Manchester Prayer | Examiner.com

Remember - Manchester Prayer | Examiner.com: A question that frequently pops up, especially among those who survived in New York City on September 11, 2001, is, "Where was God when the Towers went down?" The answer is complicated, and what facts there are don't truly answer the question.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turn to books for prayerful inspiration - Manchester Prayer | Examiner.com

Turn to books for prayerful inspiration - Manchester Prayer | Examiner.com: Sometimes the act of praying comes easily, and sometimes it's difficult. For those moments when it's rough, there are some wonderful prayer and meditation books available out there. Keep one by your bed and grab it in times of trouble, allowing your mind to focus on the message you've picked, perhaps at random.