Monday, January 09, 2006

01/08/06, Sermon

We need a safe place to reflect on who we are and what we love to do, and how we want it to play out from now until we die. How do we want to spend our time, given the nature and circumstances of our lives? Given the possibilities and limitations of our particular context? How are things with us? How do we want things to be? What can we do to begin living toward the difference we have in mind?

In the past, religion has been used to take our minds off how things are with us; it has been used to accommodate us to the world in which we live, and to tell us fanciful things to keep us going. “Not here, there. Not now, then,” has been the message of the religion of our experience. We have been told to tolerate the hell of our lives in light of the heaven that is going to take all our tears away. Religion at its best connects us with the way of life in the here and now, and enables us to do what can be done right here, right now to redeem what can be redeemed and do the work of transformation and renewal.

Religion at its best enables us to understand that we are to use the gift of who we are and what we love here to make things as good as they can be now. To make real the best that is possible in each moment of our lives. It takes intention to do that. And deliberation. And defiance. And determination. And dedication. And courage. It takes one another to do that.

We are about the transformation of the world. And, the world is geared to take the power of transformation away from us. To show you how this works, take the statement, “We are about the transformation of the world,” as a starting point. My hunch is that your first response to that is a question. It’s the world’s question coming out of your mouth. The world has trained us well. You are wondering: “What’s the plan?” There has to be a plan, right? If we are going to transform the world, the world assumes we must have a plan, a strategy, tactics, and, of course, a timeline. Well. How transformed is the world that is transformed according to the world’s idea of transformation? If you are really going to transform the world, you are going to have to do it without a plan. The minute you formulate the plan, you have become the world you would transform. If we are going to transform the world, we have to believe in the magic of being what is needed in each moment of our lives, and letting the outcome be the outcome. If you want a plan, that’s the plan. And, it isn’t as easy as it sounds, and it is more effectual than you think. Right thinking, right seeing, right doing, right being. That’s the sure path to the radical transformation of very nearly everything. Of course, we have to believe in it to do it. But, we have to believe in something. We may as well believe in our ability to transform the world one moment at a time.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says “Whether we like it or not, our lives leave a mark on the universe.” This is the Chaos Theory principle of the butterfly effect, where it is posited that the movement of a butterfly’s wings in Peking impacts the weather patterns in San Francisco. We do not live without impact. Csikszentmihalyi says, “Each person’s birth makes ripples that expand in the social environment: parents, siblings, relatives, and friends are affected by it, and as we grow up, our actions leave a myriad of consequences, some intended, most not…One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself…An active responsibility for the rest of humankind, and for the world of which we are a part, is a necessary ingredient of a good life” (Quotes from Finding Flow, pp. 131 & 132). And, he recommends a Buddhist perspective which says, “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you do, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”

We are here to remind one another of this because it easy to forget what we are about. The world is organized to sap our enthusiasm for the task of transformation. Living will take the life right out of you. Heart is the easiest thing to lose. Nothing is more difficult, fruitless, pointless, useless, stupid than picking ourselves up and running into the solid stone wall of reality, again. Who are we kidding? Who do we think we are? What do we think we are doing? How long can we keep going in the absence of evidence of impact? When the difference we make doesn’t make a difference, what keeps our heart in the effort? We need each other to remind us of the importance of living as lights in the darkness no matter what.

The world does not need just a little tweaking. It needs a complete make-over. An upgrade won’t do it. It is going to take a totally new operating system. We do the work of creating that operating system “on the fly,” so to speak, by imagining and living out of the alternative reality of the way of Jesus and all enlightened people everywhere.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus did not coin that phrase. It existed before him. It forms the heart of all pure religion. “Love one another, including your enemies.” “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There is nothing here about withdrawal, seclusion, exclusion. That is not the way of transformation. The way of transformation is the way of engagement, participation, presence and respect. It is the way of honoring one another, even those with whom we strongly disagree, even our enemies. It is about according one another the grace of benevolent intention. It is about giving one another the benefit of the doubt. It is about loving one another.

The way of transformation is the way of enjoyment, conversation, and play. There isn’t a plan for playing. Play is free form all the way. Improvisation. Jazz at its best. And, it is the path to transformation.

Religion at its best serves an alternative reality to the world at its worst. We have to be grounded in the alternative reality. We cannot see as the world sees and transform the world. We cannot think as the world thinks, and value what the world values, and transform the world. We cannot be as the world is and transform the world. We do not find our reason for living toward the best we can imagine here and now, no matter what, in the world of normal, apparent reality. Our energy for the task does not come from the results of our efforts. And, all of this is easy to forget. Living takes the life right out of us, and heart is the easiest thing to lose.

And so, we gather here to remember and be reminders of the crucial, essential, importance, not of faith, but of faithfulness—faithfulness to the dream, the vision, the service of the good. Our task is to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to the service of the good no matter what. Whose good is served by the good we serve? How good is a good that serves only our good? We come here to envision a good beyond our good, and to be encouraged in the service of that good through all the reasons to lay it aside, and focus on our own best interest in the time that remains. It will not be easy. It may not be much fun. But, it will be deeply, essentially good.
Living in light of the good is good. It doesn’t matter whether it is fully and finally realized. We are not about the realization of the good, the instutionalization of the good. We are about being good for one another—and all others—no matter what. And the world would ask, “What good is a good that does no good?”

The world can be counted on to ask questions that take the spring out of our step, and the light out of our eyes, and the life right out of our living. “So what? Who cares? What difference does it make? Why try? What’s the point? What’s the use? Who are you kidding?” We deal with the questions by living on in the service of the good, by being good for one another—and all others—no matter what.

Joseph Campbell tells the story, remember, of the Native American tribe where young men are told at the point of their transition into adulthood, “When you leave home to seek your fortune in the world, the birds of the air will poop all over you. Don’t even pause to wipe it off.” That’s how you deal with the world.

The point is to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to bear upon the here and now of our living. What do we have to offer the moment that the moment can use for the good of the moment? What does the moment need? How can we be of help? What is the blessing that we can be in the moment of our living? It takes perceptivity to answer the questions. It takes discernment. It takes attention. It takes awareness.

I asked Steve Collins to take down the gutters at our house and repair sections of rotted facial board behind them and either reinstall the old gutters, or put up new ones. He thought he could do it without much time and effort. Well, you know, once you get into something like that, you make discoveries that weren’t apparent upon preliminary inspection. The way the old gutters had been installed changed everything about his plans. I came home to check on his progress and found him sitting on top of his ladder, lost in thought. “What’s going on?” I asked. He said, “I’m adjusting myself to what has to be done.”

You might look at this place as the top of Steve Collins’ ladder. We come here to adjust ourselves to what has to be done. And, we leave here to go do it. In the spirit and manner with which it ought to be done. We come here to remind ourselves to live in the service of the best we can imagine, in each moment of our living, no matter what. The divine imperative is to be good for one another—and all others—no matter what. We are here for one another. We are here to bring the gift of who we are and what we love to bear upon the moment of our living, and to live in ways that are a blessing and a grace to the time and place of our living. And, the hope is that we will do that very thing!

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