Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Here I am again, in an airport, writing the weekly column. It’s my last trip until Christmas, I am happy (merry?) to say.  Since the plane back to Portland has been delayed, I think I have the time to begin and finish this missive.

Time is weird. Take children, for example (please). From their perspective, ten years are like eternity. From mine? Wow! “How did you grow so fast? years? Seems like yesterday. How time flies”.

No, airplanes fly; time passes. And depending on our experience and point of view, it seems to pass at varying speeds. It doesn't take an Einstein to understand that. So if time is relative, is there such a thing as objective, or true, time?

I am not writing a science column (nor could I). But I will suggest that there is an objectively true time, and that it is called NOW. The eternal now, if I may. There is no past. There is no present. There is only now. The past is a memory; the future is a dream. Now is the only real time. Have you ever been present in any time that was not now?

If we are to live authentic lives, we have to live them in reality, rather than in memories or dreams. We need to live in true reality rather than in time that is temporary. We need to live in eternity, which is also called God's time.

What might that be like? Let's use our imaginations. If there is no past, why would I not forgive? To resent or hold on to injustices against me would be to define my eternity, my eternal now, as one of hard-heartedness and even revenge. Letting go would make room for other actions, even virtue.

But, we might protest, not acknowledging the memory of past hurts would only lay us open to being hurt again by the same person in the same way! How many times are we to forgive? As many as seven? Oh.

If there is no future, why would we save for it? The better question might be why would we hold on to more than we could ever make use of in a whole lifetime of nows. Is that not greed?

They just announced that the plane is going to be an additional hour late. If I am focused on the future, I will be very agitated. Maybe even angry and upset. I live in the now, there's no problem. It is now now and it will be now when I arrive in Portland, so what difference does it make if I am what we call late? I'll still be there now!

These are my random thoughts from the airport. I hope they might help you reflect on living now. but maybe you're thinking it's a good thing I don't fly again until Christmas. Oh. I forgot. I have a trip in November. I bet you can't wait! Well, you don't have to, because then is now. My head hurts.
I write from the airport, on my way to another wedding.  This is the last one of the year, in a fact until next summer.  This summer, I seemed to be off to a wedding every other weekend. These were mostly commitments I had made before being assigned to come to Portland.  I have loved attending each wedding, but feel it has been unfair to Fr. Ron, the Associate Pastor.  So I am grateful for the upcoming hiatus.

 As I headed toward the departure gate, I saw a very large display ad with people wearing various types of clothing and the question:   "What clothes show your power?" What a strange question!  I could not make a choice from the display, as they were all women's clothing, but I also could not answer the question in terms of my own wardrobe.  I dress for the occasion, not for power.

 As a priest, of course, I sometimes wear garments that no one else is wearing, but that is about function, not power. I don't have any power.  I have certain responsibilities and authority, but not power.  I learned a long time ago that I am ultimately powerless over just about everything.  That is, I cannot think of many things over which I have total and absolute control, with no room for doubt or error.

 People certainly could attribute power to someone based on how they are dressed.  Think of uniformed police, or a judge.  Or even a priest in vestments or Roman collar.  But that doesn't mean they have power.  If power is defined as the absolute ability to control, with no possibility of doubt or error, does any human have real power?  I do not think so.  So why pretend? There must be some payoff for those who pretend:  their egos are enhanced; they have the delusion of control; certain inadequacies are made invisible, at least to themselves.

Royalty, in most places, does not dress any differently than other citizens. Some workers wear uniforms for purposes of identity. I can think of only a few professions which dress to power: police; military; clergy. It is interesting to note that people in each of these professions are sometimes seen as being abusive.  I cannot speak about police or military, but I certainly admit there are priests and seminarians whose insistence on dressing in a religious habit or cassock appears to be based on a desire to not be mistaken for a mere mortal!

There are many reasons for dressing in a uniform or religious garb that have nothing to do with a pretense of power, of course, but using what one wears as a way to pretend to be superior to others can be a subtle form of bullying, I fear.  The hierarchical vestments in religion and the awe-provoking fanciness of a general's uniform do instill a sense of silliness, at times. The emperor's clothes help tremendously in the quest for power. Why is this my reflection for the week?  That display in the airport really pushed some button within me, and I feel compelled to speak some truth to power.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on 10 years after 9/11

Everyone not in their early teen years or younger clearly remembers where they were ten years ago today. For those in their late sixties or older, it was the second time they experienced the horror of our nation being suddenly attacked, resulting in thousands of deaths. For the rest of us, it was a first, and we could not even imagine anyone daring to attack the US.
At the same time, though, there was a sense of déjà vu while watching television as the towers burned and collapsed. We had often seen such scenes in movies. Still, the horror got through, and continues.
Later, we learned of the heroes of 9-11, those who gave their lives for others-firemen, policemen, Father Mychal Judge, who has been called the saint of 911 and others. We commiserated with their families as we watched some of the over three thousand funerals and memorial services. Then, we became the attackers.
The truths behind how we invaded and why we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan are still somewhat vague, perhaps, What is not at all vague is that almost 3,000 American civilians were killed in the 9-11 attacks. In return, we have killed just about one million of Iraq’s and Afghanistan civilian populations. Somehow, though, that does not shock and horrify us. We have become inured to the notion of our country dropping bombs every time some country harms us, or even merely displeases us. It does not matter which party is in control of administering our responses. It is just what we do, without even much reflection.
We are so out of touch with our souls and consciences that while we are attacking and killing, many among us want to claim that we are a Christian nation, founded upon Christian principles and that, as such, we are exceptional. When we respond with a 300 to 1 overkill, that’s ok, because we are American Christians, and those we kill are not. In fact, some of them are barely human—they are Muslims!
Our national lack of reflection on and awareness of our sinfulness shocks me more than do the attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon. Every time we react to an audacious insult or injury, we feel a need to attack and even kill someone—anyone. Do we not realize that repeating the same failed behavior over and over again is called insanity, and not Christianity? Who remembers the reaction in the past when anyone might hint that ours is a sick society? Defensiveness has never revealed truth. Only open reflection can. That is something we just do not do. Does any nation?
How many 9-11’s have we instigated? How have we justified them? National interest, national security. Has it ever been different? Will it ever be? Apathy and indulgence are among our biggest sins. When and how should we confront our sin? How do we get our politicians to move from acting like they are playing at some sport where all that matters is winning and losing to growing up and moving beyond self interest for the good, even the survival of the whole world? We have to demand it. And keep on demanding it.