Monday, February 27, 2006

02/26/06, Sermon

All perspectives are self-validating. Every perspective is capable of adjusting itself to take into account facts and experiences which contradict the perspective. We cannot transform perspectives by proving them to be invalid through argument, debate, and an unending array of evidence. There are people who are sure men have never landed on the moon; who are convinced that the Holocaust is a fiction concocted and perpetuated by Zionists; who are sure that global warming doesn’t exist, and, if it does, isn’t caused by greenhouse gasses. Some Mary Kay salespersons believe God arranges their success and wants them to have pink Cadillac’s. Al Qaida operatives believe God is calling them to carry out the destruction of corporate America, including the cosmetic empire and automobile manufacturing. Put Mary Kay in a room with Osama ben Laden and see who changes whose perspective first.

We are going to see things the way we see things until something comes along to change the way we see things. Sometimes, it’s a simple shift in metaphors. I lived in Ferriday, Louisiana during the great flood of 197pickanumber7. Ferriday, Louisiana is protected by levies on all sides. The big one holds back the Mississippi River.

For weeks the Mississippi lapped at the top of the levy system, threatening to breach the levy and flood Concordia Parish. The Army Corps of Engineers sent a spokesperson to quell the rising wrath of politicians and citizens demanding that something be done. In a meeting with community leaders, who had been calling for spillways to be open downriver from Ferriday, the spokesperson said, “The river is not like a bathtub full of water which empties when you open the drain. It is like a garden hose full of water. No matter how many holes you put in a hose below a certain point, above that point, the hose is still full of water. And it won’t empty faster below that point as long it is being filled with water above that point. Until it quits raining, the river on the other side of this levy is going to be full.” That’s all he needed to say. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to shift a perspective.

I expect that Mary Kay and Osama ben Laden would have to do a bit more than that to change the way the other sees things. It’s hard to change some perspectives. A perspective which refuses to take itself into account, does not lend itself to alteration or transformation, adjustment or change. “This isn’t how I see things! This is how things are!” There are questions that neither Mary Kay nor Osama ben Laden can allow themselves to ask. They have an investment in their point of view that will not permit the examination of their point of view. You can agree with them, or you can go to war with them, or you can leave the room. But you cannot talk with them about things they will not put on the table.

The things we will not put on the table are the things that are too close to us to reconsider. It is easy for our religion to be too close to us to be considered. We become fundamentalists when “the fundamentals” of our religion are too close to us to be considered. When we cannot think about what we believe because it is “true belief” and is perfect as it is (because it was given to us directly from God), and doesn’t need to be thought about, we are too close to it to talk about it, and cannot put it on the table; cannot walk around it; cannot wonder why this and not that; cannot reconsider it; cannot think about it; can only believe it and try to force it onto those who do not.

An example of a belief that cannot be talked about, and hence, cannot be expanded, or altered, or transformed, or changed (and examples are everywhere), is the idea of “God’s will.” Literalists and fundamentalists (and the terms are interchangeable to my way of thinking) insist that everything exists because God wills it into existence. Nothing can exist that is “outside of God’s will.” They like to say, “There is a reason for everything,” as though God put it all here to arrange a particular outcome, to effect a particular plan. Yet, they can talk about being “in the center of God’s will,” implying that there is somewhere else to be. And, they can talk about sin as being “opposed to God’s will,” which suggests that God wills opposition to God’s will and holds accountable those who comply with God’s will by refusing to do God’s will. All of which begins to make you dizzy if you are paying attention.

You can tell if you are in the presence of a perspective that will not take itself into account—that will not put itself on the table—if you find yourself getting dizzy for no apparent reason. The dizziness is evidence of a perspective that has enlarged itself to take every objection into account and explains everything without changing anything about its fundamental point of view.
If God is almighty, invincible, omnipotent, omniscient and in complete control of everything, then nothing can happen outside of, or contrary to, God’s control, and God’s will is absolute. And, the idea of “double predestination” is inevitable, where God wills people to heaven and wills people to hell, and we are all just puppets playing out the role assigned to us before we were born. When religion becomes rational, we all become crazy. We have to keep religion crazy if we have any hope of remaining sane ourselves.

To keep religion crazy, we have to keep everything on the table and say we don’t know anything about any of it, and be willing to talk about all of it, knowing that we will never get to the bottom of it, but relishing with deep and abiding enjoyment the walk around the table and the imaginative, creative discussion it engenders. The discussion may wind down from time to time just because we can’t think of anything else to say at the moment, but with more experience and additional insight and new ideas and different people coming into the conversation, things take a new turn and new connections are generated, and we all are enlivened with new energy and new possibilities. When we cut off conversation with The Answers, in the form of doctrines, and creeds, and dogmas, and catechisms, and take the questions off the table, and there is nothing else to think about, we die, and our religion becomes rigid and brittle and lifeless and barren, regardless of how devotedly we believe.

Keeping everything on the table means being open to the possibilities without having to settle on a particular explanation as “the gospel truth.” Where God’s will is concerned, this means that we can agree that there is something within us moving toward something. We recognize the will to life, and it is not the will to just any life. It is not the will to life on a subsistence level. We are not content to just being 98.6 and breathing. The will is to LIFE. To the expression of that which is more than we are; to the experience of that which transcends our personal history and pulls us toward more than we have encountered or imagined. We are not content to just repeat the past. We cannot stay where we have been. We are seeking more than we can say. Can we see this seeking, this urge for more than “this,” as God’s will? As God seeking God? As a purpose that is more than we can explain or understand working its way out in our lives?

Why isn’t life happy with an ocean full of single cell organisms swimming around, having a blast? Why cannot life be satisfied with being alive? Why evolution? What is it going to take for life to be content? Where does life think its going? Is it just the nature of protoplasm to explode in all directions, and so do what it can to perpetuate itself on as many levels as possible, hoping for eternity and everlasting life? Or, is there more to it than protoplasm alone can ever be aware of?

Once evolution produces consciousness, something new enters the picture. Everything changes. Nothing is what it was, or what it is. Imagination and awareness transform life, and living, and being alive. With consciousness, with imagination and awareness, life becomes more than it has ever been. Now, it is no longer enough to just be physically alive—if it ever was! Now, we understand life to be a matter of levels, and we create Maslow’s Pyramid of Values, and live to be self-actualized, and strive to experience “flow.” Consciousness carries us to depths and heights far beyond the capacity of single cell organisms. Does it enable us to access a spiritual realm beyond the physical world and commune with God? The possibility is on the table!

Consciousness enables us to imagine, intuit, apprehend, perceive more about life than living requires us to know. Consciousness perceives that we must live in certain ways. With consciousness comes the idea that it is not enough to live. We must live well. We must strive to do it the way it ought to be done. Where does that idea come from?
Before consciousness, the urge was toward our own good. An amoeba will live toward its own good and away from its own bad. So will a carrot, to the extent that it is able. With consciousness, we become aware of, and responsible for, the good of one another and all others, to the point where we will sacrifice our own good for the good of the whole. Or, some of us will. The more conscious ones of us will. The more conscious we are, the more clearly we recognize that the good of the whole is more important than the good of the part, and that, at some point, they are indistinguishable goods. “Thou art that” in the sense that the other’s good is tied inseparably to our own. We cannot think of ourselves, of our good, as independent from the good of one another, and of all others. And the whole recognizes its responsibility for the good of the parts. Concern for the other flows both ways.

Is that God’s will at work in our lives? With consciousness, we intuit, imagine, perceive a purpose beyond our own purposes at work in our lives. We intuit, imagine, perceive a love beyond our power to love calling us to love more than we are naturally inclined to love. We intuit, imagine, perceive a desire for justice beyond all reason and practicality, urging us, driving us, compelling us to establish “a more perfect union,” and recognize the full implications of understanding that all persons are created equal, and are equal, and must be treated as such. Is that God’s will at work in our lives? Why wouldn’t we acknowledge it as such? And live to serve it with all the intention and awareness we can muster?

Friday, February 24, 2006


It’s hard to know when you are forcing something that can’t be forced and when you are participating in the flow of something that is asking you to do what’s hard. What is the nature of the struggle? Wanting, willing, desiring, are often necessary to the struggle, to the effort to effect the good upon the earth. They bring out the best in us in the work to do what is us. We have to be determined and dedicated in the service of the good, because it isn’t easy to do what needs to be done. We have to beat our heads against some walls, because some walls have no business being.

What is easy is to question our motive and to talk ourselves out of doing what’s hard. What is easy is to lose our resolve; to see resistance as a sign that we should quit; to look at difficulty as evidence that we are not the ones who are “supposed” to do the difficult thing.

Churchill or Gandhi (I’ve seen it attributed to each) said nothing worth doing can be accomplished in a single lifetime. And that doesn’t help us a bit. How do we know if we are working away at something that is worth doing, or wasting our lives in the pursuit of delusion and emptiness, too stubborn or selfish to quit? How many 49er’s spent their lives digging holes to nowhere? How do we know if it is a mine that we are working or a hole that we are digging?

I don’t know of any way of determining whether the path we are on is the one we ought to be on, or if there is another, better path with our name on it somewhere else. This is the path we are on. Are we going to stay with it? Make a decision. That’s the best I can offer. Make a decision, “for better or worse,” and reevaluate it from time to time. Maybe you are one shovel full from turning a hole into a mine. Maybe it will never be anything but a hole. There is no way to know what you should do. What are you going to do? That’s the question. Just make up your mind, that’s the answer.

Of course, you might try listening to your body. Sit down, make yourself comfortable, center yourself by being aware of your extremities and moving into the center of your body with your awareness. Settle into this time and place, and ask “Dig?”, for instance, and see how your body responds. Feel what happens in your body in response to the question. Go to that place, or those places, with your awareness and say, “Hello. What’s behind the (and find the word for what it feels like in your body at that place) tightness (for example) all about?” And listen to what the (tight) place has to say. Then say, “Thank you for that. Is there anything more there?”, and listen again.

When that place is spoken out, see if there are other places in your body that feel something in response to the question, “Dig?”. If so, go through the same exercise with those places. Then ask, “Quit?”, and listen to your body’s response. Our bodies know things our heads are completely clueless about. Yet, our heads often have to get to the end of their rope before they will give our bodies a chance. It isn’t easy, being us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Suffer what must be suffered to love what must be loved. That’s my best advice. To love what must be loved the way it must be loved. Not all love is loving. The loving thing is not always the thing we want to do in the name of love, in the cause of love. What love requires is not always what we want to give. What does love require? That’s the tough one. If we only knew! If we only wanted to know! Suffer what must be suffered in the cause of love. That’s my advice. It’s up to you to work out the details.

It’s all in the details. I don’t care what we think, or believe, or espouse, or profess, or proclaim. What’s in the details? What do we see when we look at the details of our lives? To what extent do the people around us benefit from our presence? In what ways are they better of for our being with them? Are we a self engaged in loving relationship with other selves? Are we required to “disappear” in order to maintain our relationship with other selves? If we suffer what must be suffered in the cause of love, does that mean we cease to exist as persons because the relationship cannot bear the truth of who we are? Is the loving thing to disappear, or is the loving thing to walk away? The details are hell.

In a perfect world, relationships would permit, no, require, the full inclusion of all persons, not just meaning that all persons would be welcome, but that all of each person would be welcome. In a perfect world, suffering what must be suffered in the cause of love would mean that all persons in relationship would respect and honor all the other persons in the relationship. Well. You all know how far from perfect this world is.

In this world, it is easy to find relationships which exist at the expense of someone and to the advantage of someone. “As long as I pay the bills, you’ll do it my way.” On whose terms does relationship exist? Upon what does relationship depend? We give up what to get what? Where are we simply welcomed as we are, with no strings attached and no conditions in place? How many relationships do we have where the focus is on the quality of the relationship, with all persons involved doing what needs to be done to tend the relationship, as opposed to working to get what they want from the others in the relationship? Suffering what must be suffered in the cause of love means one thing in relationships based on patronage and power, and another in relationships based on mutual commitment to the common good. Where do we go to find the right kind of relationships in an imperfect world?

The right kind of relationships imply the right kind of people. How many of the right kind of people do we know? My hunch is that we all could use more of the right kind of people in our lives. We’re back to the details here. It doesn’t matter what we think, believe, espouse, profess, proclaim. Are we the right kind of person? What do we need to be the right kind of person? In what ways are we consciously working to become the right kind of person? What is our vision of the right kind of person? Who are the people in our experience who stand out for us as the right kind of person? If you can’t think of an actual person, a fictional person will do. What are we doing to be like they are?

The work is as much to be the right kind of person as it is to find the right kind of people. Being the right kind of company is as important as finding, or falling into, the right kind of company. What constitutes the right kind of company? Who is to say? You are. You are to say. Make the list. Live toward compliance. That’s the spiritual task, path, journey, quest. And, it’s all in the details.

Monday, February 20, 2006

12/20/06, Sermon

I’m amazed, and somewhat depressed, by how relentless we have to be in the service of good, in the service of life, in the service of just getting out of bed again, and putting our shoes on, and stepping into the day to do what needs to be done. It is difficult to work as hard as we work with as little as we have to show for it on any level. Look around you. No one has it easy. No one has enough cooperation or encouragement. No one has enough help. What keeps us going?

That is the question which forms the foundation of religion at its best. What keeps us going is completely irrational, illogical, beyond articulation or understanding. That we keep going is the one thing we cannot defend, justify, excuse or explain. We don’t know why we do it.

No one in her, in his, “right mind” would keep going—through all we have been through, through all we have yet to go through, both individually and as a species, for no more than we are getting out of it! We have come from nowhere to glass and plastic in 6 billion years. We kept plugging away all those years for pink Hummers and Wal Mart? For cell phones and flat screen TV’s? We were out of our, as they say, ever lovin,’ cotton pickin’ minds to do all of that for this! We kept going for Las Vegas and Disneyworld? For iPods and email?

It makes no sense. We can’t make it make sense. We keep going, but no one knows why. We think maybe it has to do with stuff. We think maybe it’s the steady accumulation of stuff that makes the going worthwhile. Well, we could take a field trip to my office and assess the stuff I have piled up there, and we would have to conclude it isn’t about stuff. We don’t know what it’s about. We don’t know what keeps us going, but, we cannot deny that we do.

There it is. The foundation of religion at its best. Mystery. Unfathomable, Inexplicable, Inexpressible, Ineffable, Undeniable. We keep going, but we don’t know why. And, we cannot get to the bottom of it. Anything we tell ourselves is just something we make up to put the question aside. Nothing we say will hold up under scrutiny over time. It is stupid to keep going through all we have been through, through all we have yet to go through, for no more than we have to show for it, for no more than we get out of it. And, yet, we don’t quit.

What more do you need in the way of evidence of transcendent reality? We go as an expression of, and as a search for, that which is beyond words, and concepts, and ideas—for that which is more than we can ask, or think, or imagine, or, certainly, say! We go as evidence of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts—a whole that we glimpse from time to time in the experience of Beauty in art, music and nature, and in the sense of Presence, and Depth, mediated by one another.

We are bearers of Holy Presence. We bring Compassionate, Caring Presence to life in the world. We mediate the Presence of Justice and Peace in the chaotic clash of national pride and personal interest. We stand in the midst of the way it is being done, and do it differently, and do it the way it ought to be done. We redeem the moment. We heal wounded spirits. We restore lost souls. We bring hope to life. We transform perspectives. And we encourage one another by standing as reminders of that which is beyond, yet within, us all.

And then, like that, it passes. And, we snap back into this world of normal, apparent, reality, where they are out of half-and-half at the coffee shop, and we can’t find our W-2 form, and we have to get the dog to the vet again, and we don’t know what keeps us going.

Yin and Yang. Two realities. Flowing into and out of one another. One being lost in and concealed by the other, but springing forth in amazing ways, at unpredictable times, to stun and surprise, and disappear, leaving us to wonder at the truth of its passing and to long for its hoped-for return. Why can’t all moments be like the moment we met the eyes of person at the check out counter and saw a flash of the beauty, and goodness, and depth of life revealed, unveiled, exposed? Why can’t all moments be like the moment we rocked the baby in a communion of souls beyond all expression? Why do we touch the depths of truth only to be yanked to the surface without a decompression chamber, or an air lock, or time for transition and preparation, by the jarring intrusion of “life in the real world”?

A better question, perhaps: Why do we allow the world of normal, apparent reality to claim to be “the real world”? Why do we permit unchallenged its claim to being the only world? Why do we treat this world of normal, apparent reality, as the one that counts, the one that matters? There is nothing in this world to keep us going. This world is a fascinating life support system, but it is not life, and is not to be confused with the source of life, and living, and being alive. This world is like manna in the desert. But we don’t serve the manna. The manna enables us to live in the service of, as mediators of, the world beyond this world, the world beyond the manna. We live in this world as servants of Presence, as expressions of Presence, as the incarnation of Presence, as the emergence of Presence within the structures and systems of the same old same old. We live as evidence of that world to the surprise and consternation, and salvation, of this world. But it isn’t easy.

What’s easy is to forget what we are here for. And so, we gather regularly in this place to remember. We come here to be reminded of Yin and Yang. To hear again about the two worlds. To know once more that we don’t live in the service of glass and plastic, but as agents of grace, mercy, and peace; as emissaries of justice and compassion; as channels of hope and love, as evidence, and sources, of life.

We live to bring Presence to life through the quality of our living in the world of normal, apparent, reality; through the character of our participation in this world of glass and plastic, pink Hummers and Las Vegas. We live in this world—as extensions of, as evidence of, as incarnations of, the other world. But it is hard to remember that in the press of life in this world. Life in this world is shaped to take our minds off that world. Life in this world leads us to think it is the only world. And, yet, there is nothing in this world with the power to keep us going. We don’t keep going in the service of the things of this world. The things of this world can sustain life, but they are not life. To touch life, and be fully alive, we have to maintain our link with the other world.

And, so, we come here to remember, and to stand as reminders of, the things that keep us going; the things that are life; the things that bring us alive. Connection, community, communion; authenticity, realness, genuineness; gentleness, peace, compassion; justice, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, mercy, love, joy, hope, hospitality; courage and encouragement; endurance; dedication; devotion… The list goes on. And, on the list are the qualities and characteristics, the elements, of life, living, and being alive. These are the things that keep us going.

We keep going to experience and express the elements of life and living, to be alive. This place nurtures life and living, and enables us to be alive. It does that by enabling us to remember who we are and what we are about. We are bearers of Holy Presence, the incarnation of God. We bring God to life through the quality of our living, through the depth of our seeing and hearing, through the unique variety of our awareness, through our ability to be with very nearly everything in healing, helpful, ways.

Of course, I’m blowing smoke here. This place isn’t anything like that. We aren’t anywhere close to being able to pull this kind of thing off. We may as well be a used car lot for all our expertise at mediating Holy Presence. Who are we kidding? But, that’s the idea. The idea is that we will intentionally become the kind of place we aspire to be over time.

We are what we think about. We are what we focus on. We are who we hang out with. If there is ever going to be more to us than pink Hummers and Wal Mart, we have to cultivate the more by spending time with people who, in places that, call us beyond the world of ordinary, apparent, plastic reality to the world of heart, and soul, and spirit, and self. If we are going to live in this world as evidence of, as expressions of, that other world, we are going to have to spend time with people who, in places that, connect us with, ground us in, the wonder of life, and living, and being alive.

What keeps us going is the experience of the wonder of life, and living, and being alive. Where do we find that in the world of glass and plastic? We get only props and promises in that world. That world can dazzle and entertain with its flashing lights and its sleight of hand, but only offers the appearance of life. It cannot sustain life over time. It takes the other world to do that. We come here to remember that, to remember what the deal is that keeps us going.

The deal is that we are the bearers of Holy Presence. We are the incarnation of God. We come here to remember that, so that we might live in the awareness of it, out there, in the world of normal, apparent plastic reality, a little longer each week; a little more frequently each week; blessing the world with glimpses of how things are in the other world, and reminding everyone of what keeps us all going.

Monday, February 13, 2006

02/12/06, Sermon

God always helps believers toward what they want, toward their idea of how things ought to be. Never was a God who gave those devoted to that God things that were radically contrary to their idea of the good. You might say our idea of God serves our idea of what’s good. We serve the God who serves our wants and aspirations.

Of course, we will pay any price to have what we want. We will give up anything to have our idea of the good delivered to our doorstep, with the guarantee of its continuance through the long years of the far distant future. God can ask, and extract, anything of us, from us. But, we fully expect God to hold up God’s end of the bargain. Make no mistake about it, we give to get. It is an investment, not a gift. We do not give ourselves up for nothing.

Getting is the essential motive, the prime orientation, of those who “serve God.” We serve with an eye out for what’s in it for us. We serve with our best interest firmly in mind. All of the hoops we jump through, and they are considerable, have prosperity now, and heaven in the sweet by and by, as their payoff. Take prosperity now and heaven in the sweet by and by off the table, and watch the faithful leave in droves and herds.

But, with prosperity now and heaven in the sweet by and by off the table, something new enters the scene. Now, for the first time, there is the possibility of bringing God to life in the world for no reason. Or, better, for the pure joy of it. For the pure pleasure of bringing God to life in the world and seeing what happens. Now, for the first time, there is the possibility of our living to bring God to life in the world the way a fish swims, the way a dog wags its tail, because that is, we discover, what we do. Now, for the first time, there is the possibility of our being conscious of our unique capacity to imagine and align ourselves with the way of God with no purpose in mind beyond the experience of that affinity.

The experience and expression of the divine/human affinity is what life is all about. God comes to life in us, and through us in the world. And, there is nothing in that for us, beyond the experience of the experience itself. Or, to put it another way, what, do you think, is in it for God? What does God get out of the deal? As with one, so with the other.

The experience of life together with God is what it is “all about” for us; the experience of life together with us is what it is “all about” for God. What we create together is what it is “all about” period.

What did you think? What were you looking for? Are you disappointed? Were you hoping for more? A life of ease and infinite distraction, perhaps? Celebrity status? Servants and valets? Money in the bank and no worries to speak of? The world is filled with things to want. We never have it all, it seems. And, God waits, wondering if we will wake up and realize it isn’t about what we eat, or drink, or put on, or how well we live, but about seeking first, what Jesus called, the kingdom of God, and letting everything else fall into place as it will.

The idea of God waiting on us, not as in serving us; not as in waiting tables and taking our orders, and bringing us a damp cork to sniff and approve; but as in waiting for us to make up our minds; waiting for us to wake up; waiting for us to begin living in ways which align ourselves with the way of God and bring God to life in our lives, and in the world—this idea of God waiting FOR us is seminal and unique in the world of religion. Jesus lives his life in the service of the God who waits.

It came about, don’t you know, in the loss of everything he once believed. Oh, I know some of you think Jesus never changed his mind; never struggled to find his way forward; never thought about giving up. You don’t get to be who Jesus was without paying dearly for the clarity that is yours. Jesus worked out what he believed, as we all must, in the aftermath of the loss of everything he had been told to believe. Let me get specific with you. John the Baptist was arrested and beheaded. And nothing happened.

John the Baptist came preaching about the winnowing fork, and the threshing floor, and the chaff being burned in the fiery wrath of God. John the Baptist came preaching about how the wait was over. You know the wait I’m talking about. The wait of the people. Our wait. We’ve been waiting all these years for God to wake up and come save us and deliver us from the injustices of politics and life, and destroy our enemies, and clean up the mess, and institute the perfect world, where no one takes advantage of anyone and everyone is glad to do what they must to help everyone enjoy life and have a good time. It’s in all the literature. We’re always waiting on God, watching for God. We’re always thinking it can’t get any worse than this, and if God is ever going to come, it must be now. That’s what John the Baptist preached. Herod arrested him and executed him, which made things much worse, and nothing happened. If that isn’t going to stir God to action, what will? What will it take to get God going? What is God waiting on?

Ah, the question. What is God waiting on? That’s the question that puts the train of associations on a new track. Before, we had always associated The Mess of the world with the God who created the world and was thus responsible for The Mess, and would come in time to clean it up. What if God is waiting on us to clean it up? What if God is waiting on us to align ourselves with God, to incarnate God in the wonder of the divine/human affinity, and recreate the world “on the fly”? What if we are to work within the world, within The Mess, to change the world, to change The Mess, like yeast in the dough, like a seed in the earth? What if God is waiting on us? That’s the kind of question that could create a movement.

What happens when The Movement hits The Mess? What happens when The Mess hits back? The mix, the exchange, between Movement and Mess is an extemporaneous, improvisational dance in the moment of our living. There is no plan, no strategy, no scheme, no structure for instituting the Kingdom of God upon the earth. The Kingdom of God is not an institution, it is a Movement. It is episodic. It comes to life here in this way, and there in that way, and it rarely blooms in the same way twice. You cannot calculate the Kingdom of God. you live it. It becomes the living expression of the divine/human affinity. It is always a miracle of justice, compassion, and grace. And it can never happen, any more than Jesus can be raised from the dead. Which frees us wonderfully and graciously from having to figure out how it can happen and carefully plot what must be done to make it happen. It cannot happen! There is nothing to figure out! There is nothing to make happen! There is only the living expression of the divine/human affinity. There is only living in the service of grace, mercy, and peace; there is only doing justice and living with compassion for all things; and letting the outcome be the outcome.

What must we do? Who knows? Jesus didn’t have a plan. Jesus healed who was before him and said what was on his mind. That was Jesus’ plan. And it changed the world. The more we think about it, the more impossible it becomes. So, don’t think about it. Jesus never advises thinking about it. Jesus never tells us to figure it out. Jesus just says, “Come, follow me.” Jesus just tells us to take up the work of expressing, exhibiting, incarnating the divine/human affinity and letting the outcome be the outcome.

Of course, the church cannot be the church (as it ought to be the church) and pay the bills! Of course, you can’t do justice and make a profit! We don’t have a program! We have a movement! What must we do? Find the cracks! Plug the holes! Demand that the world do a better job of doing right by its citizens, of easing their burden and lightening their load!

What must we do? Become the right kind of company! Heal the sick! Raise the dead! Proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God! Live in ways that are aligned with the way of God! Live in ways that express, exhibit, incarnate and make real the divine/human affinity in each moment of our living! Take up the cause of the “widow and the orphan,” of the marginalized and ignored, of the outcast and the exiled—with the full understanding that “the harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few,” and “the poor will be with you always,” and we will never get it done.

We will never clean up The Mess. We will never get rid of The Mess. And, when we think we must, we are thinking like the world we would transform. Here’s the thing. We have come here into this space for well over eight years now, and I have talked to you about the church of our experience, and how it needs to be changed, and what we are doing here to change it. Well. The world of our experience also needs to be changed. We are here to change the church and to change the world. And, we will never get it right. We will never run out of things to change, either about the church of our experience, or about the church we are endeavoring to become, or about the world of our experience, or about the world we are bringing into being. We are here to make the church as it ought to be, and to make the world as it ought to be, and we will never complete the task. So what? Do you understand the importance of doing what must be done, even though it won’t “bring in the kingdom”? It IS the kingdom! Do you understand that doing what must be done IS the kingdom?

It’s a Mess out there. And God is with us as a full partner in making things more like they ought to be than they are. It’s a Mess out there, and God is waiting on us, for us, to align ourselves and our lives with the way of God—to exhibit, and express, and incarnate the divine/human affinity in each moment of our living. It’s a Mess out there, and God is waiting on us, for us, to live in ways that change the church, that change the world. And, the question, of course, is: What are we waiting on?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


How far beyond “the practice of the Presence of God” do we think we get? What else do we think there is? Practicing the Presence of God means bringing God to life in our lives. What more could there be? Let’s get that down and see where things are then.

What would it mean, do you think, for us to be Present as God would be Present? What do we need to do to mediate the Presence of God in this world of normal, apparent reality? How do our lives need to change in order to live as Holy Presence, Compassionate Presence, Caring Presence, Attentive Presence, Just Presence in the world? How do we need to see in order to see as God sees? How do we need to hear to hear as God hears? How do we need to be with to be with as God is with? How far from our interest, needs, and agenda can we get in order to be as God in the world? What do we do to move away from us as we are and toward God as God is?
There you are. Answer those questions properly, and you are exactly where you need to be. And, all the angels in heaven will give you a rousing ovation. The world will be transformed. And all will be well. Or, you will be executed, and your followers will forget the answers, and then forget the questions, and we will be back to square one. Again.

But, don’t let that possibility stop you. Bring God to life in your life and see what happens. It beats standing in line at Wal Mart for more glass and plastic.


You take the old, reliable, newspaper report essentials: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and apply them in tracking the moment-to-moment fluxuation of our identity over time, say, over the duration of our lives, and you get, Who are we? What are we? When are we? Where are we? Why are we? How are we? (And the related questions, What are we about? What are we doing here, now? What are we trying to do? What makes us think it should be done? How well is it working? What can we imagine doing instead?). There you are. That should do it. Except, of course, for the missing ingredient. Someone who can talk through these things with you.

Once you have the Attentive Presence in place, then it’s a matter of identifying yourself “in the moment” And, we have to be careful not to think it’s applicable in all moments, in all times and places, as some eternal depiction of our character and style. It isn’t. Identity evolves, flows, develops in response to its context. Who we are, depends on where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, what we are and what we are after, up to, about. Take us out of our context, and we will be lost for a while, and won’t know “who we are.” We will have to sit still, and wait for something to happen, in order to then begin the process of bringing ourselves into focus and being a self in relationship to our context once more. This lostness, this casting about, this not knowing who we, are happens in the aftermath of traumatic disruptions of life. It takes a while to reform our identity when we are “between lives.” And, it helps dramatically to have the company of Attentive Presence who can help us remember the questions and come up with the answers.

Identity is only part of the work of being human. There is also the matter of Integrity. That is, living in ways that are integral with who we are and with what matters most to us; living in ways that are aligned with that which is deepest, best, and truest about us. And, there are the matters of Vision, Focus, Purpose, Clarity, and Awareness. What is our idea of the future? What are we living toward? What are we striving for? What is the nature of our motivation? For what are we living? What is truly important? What keeps us going?

Are you beginning to see that the work of being human is a very spiritual enterprise? It deals with the “essential abstractions.” What we are about is, in essence, nothing. It cannot be weighed, or measured, or quantified, or dissected, or examined. It can only be imagined. Intuited. “Felt.” Sensed. Experienced. What matters most is a function of heart, and mind, and soul, and spirit. The work of being human is the work of taking spiritual essence and giving it physical form. How does love look, for example. How shall we create a physical environment that nurtures our need for spiritual realization and expression?

We have to do the work of being human within a world, within a physical context, that has its own ideas of what is important, its own agenda, and its own ways of imposing itself upon all comers. Wow. Are you beginning to see how important the church is as a physical place in the physical universe that intentionally creates a safe space in which the work of being human can be done? The work of the church is the work of being human. We do that work by developing the skills of Attentive, Caring, Compassionate Presence.

Mindfulness, Attention, Awareness, Perceptivity. These are the tools of the trade, so to speak. These are the things which enable us to do the work of the church. The work of the church is hearing, seeing, understanding, knowing with a quality of compassion and acceptance that does not leave things as they are. The work of the church is being with the world in a way that changes, transforms, heals, restores, saves the world. The work of the church is being with us, with one another, in a way that changes, transforms, heals, restores, saves us, one another. The work of the church is the work of being with what is in a way that heightens (or deepens) awareness and occasions transformation.

Awareness changes things. Sometimes instantly. Sometimes over time. Knowing how things are changes how things are. The path to transformation is any path walked with awareness over time. If you are going to become anything, become aware. Become mindful. Become awake. Become attentive. Become perceptive.

Things stay as they are through denial, diversion, distraction, dismissal, and defection. When the church exists to take our minds off our lives, with talk of “pie in the sky by and by,” for instance, or with talk of “the rapture,” or “the apocalypse,” the church becomes an extension of the world. Nothing needs to change if we aren’t going to be here to suffer the way things are, of if we can escape in happy fantasies of the world to (soon) come. Awareness of painful realities is so painful, and we cannot bear the pain, so “Come, Lord Jesus!”, and “How long, O Lord?” The church that hides from the world, or denies the world, is no threat to the world, and cannot be the hope of the world.

The church has to tell the world what it is doing, and listen the world to what it needs to do instead. The church has to “bear witness” to the world’s “drift from the truth”; to it’s departure from the way that is good, and bring to awareness the way things are. That is the magic that changes everything.

Monday, February 06, 2006


I’d say our work is cut out for us. Learning to listen on all levels, to all people, places, and things, is quite the goal. We don’t even listen to our bodies. How can we hope to listen to the clash of contraries in our lives and in our world? We seem to think that our first order of business is erecting a defense from which we can launch assaults upon the defensive positions of those about us. We spend our time battering, and being battered by, those who don’t see it as we do, with no one listening to anyone, and everyone trying to have her, or his, views prevail over those of everyone else. Who listens to us ever, anywhere in our lives? Where do we go to be heard? How many sentences can you voice on a matter that is dear to your heart before you are confronted, converted, dismissed, or condemned—or, simply ignored, with the subject being changed, and the conversation shifted to another level, or direction?

Take this as your homework assignment. Count the number of sentences you get to speak on some subject that is truly important to you before being forced on the defense, dismissed, or ignored. Then, count the number of sentences you are able to listen to without challenging, confronting, attacking, dismissing, or ignoring. My hunch is that by week’s end, you will have to conclude that hearing and being heard are rare events in the experience of the species. We do a lot of talking, but not much listening. That has to change.

Listening/hearing, looking/seeing, are the essential components of knowing/understanding which is the foundation of being/living. Or, did you think it was telling/shouting, commanding/ordering? Or, maybe you thought it was attacking/denouncing, bulldozing/demolishing? The verbal equivalent of cruise missiles and smart bombs? That seems to be the basis of civilization as we know it. Argument and debate, not hearing, seeing, understanding.

Listening is time consuming. And, it is not achievement oriented, project driven or goal directed. You start listening, and who knows where you will wind up? It is not the way to get things done. So, we tell people what to do, where to do it, how to do it, and by when to have it done. Getting things done under budget and ahead of schedule is the way we want things done. We don’t have time and energy to waste on anything else. Time is money, you know. So, get to the point and move on!

I don’t see the culture changing. But, we can do better. We can create listening posts, listening stations, listening rooms. We can lean to listen. We can listen one another to the heart of the matter, any matter. We can cultivate the art. We can produce listening environments. We can do that much.

In order to do that much, however, we have to believe in listening as an end in itself. We do not listen to then be able to recommend a course of action or offer sage advice. We listen to listen. That’s it. No advice, sage or otherwise (No parsley, say, rosemary or thyme). No counsel. No fixes. No solutions. Just listening.

Who just listens, these days? Who believes in just listening? Practically no one, it seems. Though, there are some. Quakers have Clearness Committees. A few people are lucky enough to have found their way into Circles of Trust. The rest of us are on our own. And, not withstanding the established, and well documented, fact that over-statement is what I do best, the future of civilization depends on our listening and being listened to.

Here’s why. The old spiritual saying says, “Nothing has quite the transformative, salvific, impact of a path—any path—walked with compassion and awareness.” Or, as it is sometimes phrased, “The path of transformation is any path walked with awareness.” The assumption here, of course, is that compassion and awareness equal justice. If you don’t think that is the case, then you have to add justice to the mix.

Awareness is the result of seeing and hearing. We look and see. We listen and hear. And we deal compassionately, justly, with what is seen and heard. And that transforms, saves, the world. Magically, you might say. The magical mixture, the pixie dust, so to speak, is seeing and hearing with compassion and justice for what is seen and heard.

We cannot see and hear and live as we have always lived. Seeing and hearing changes things. Everything. Changes us. Changes the way we live, and move, and have our being. Nothing is the same after we see and hear. The path to transformation is any path walked with compassion and awareness (and justice).

Which means that nothing is quite the threat to life as we know it, to life as it is being lived around us, as seeing and hearing. Which means that everything is geared to rendering seeing and hearing impossible. The status does not become quo by allowing people to see and hear, don’t you see? It is not in civilization’s best interest to be seen and heard. So, no one listens. No one looks. Or, listening and looking, no one hears, or sees.

If you want to be a part of the revolution, you have to remove the blinders and take off the headset, and begin to look and see, listen and hear. To be a part of the revolution, you have to live with awareness of, and compassion for, what is going on around, and within, you. That is the non-violent, courageous, act that shakes the foundations. Don’t believe me? Try it out. See what happens. But, be warned. The life of a revolutionary is not drip dry, stain proof, wrinkle resistant and trouble free.


It takes time to be seen, and heard, and known. It takes time to establish yourself, and build trust, and be accepted into someone else’s world. People who rush to welcome you without taking the time, without allowing the time, for seeing and hearing and knowing, do neither you nor themselves any favors. There is a “break-in period” for all relationships, a time for “being with,” and seeing, exploring, “what’s there.”

In the ministry, it takes between six and ten years for a congregation to begin to trust you, and for you to be able to trust yourself to a congregation. All that time, of course, you are being who you are and they are being who they are, and everyone is saying, “Is this who you are?” “Is this who you are?” And, if somebody is not being who they are, it blows the whole thing.

So, we have to be ourselves before we can trust the other to receive us gently and treat us lovingly. We create what we need by acting as though it is there before it is. Which, as you might guess, has a certain propensity for a down-side. But, after a while, if you survive, you get better at reading who is faking it and who is not; at knowing where the authenticity is, and where it isn’t; at trusting the rhythm of relationship without having to check its vital signs, or live on the edge of your seat, wondering if it’s real.

It takes a certain confidence in oneself to withstand the suspense of relationship over time—to trust ourselves to something we aren’t sure is trustworthy. We have to trust ourselves. We have to trust ourselves to be okay, to figure things out, to find a way, to deal with what happens regardless of what happens. It is only in trusting ourselves that we have what it takes to take the risks of relationship in being ourselves before we can be certain that the relationship can sustain the full weight of who we are. And, where do you get that confidence? Let’s rephrase the question. What is it going to take to convince you that you have what it takes to take what comes and keep going? To take what comes and do what can be done with it? Where have you been flattened, overwhelmed, demolished, devastated, destroyed, rendered kaput, and didn’t get up, take a deep breath, dust yourself off and step back into your life? What makes you think you cannot handle whatever happens? What, really, do you have to lose?

02/05/06, Sermon

How are we going to overthrow the world? What’s the nature of the revolution? Civilization has always been at odds with the way it ought to be done. You can call that “the way God would do it,” or “the way God would have it done,” or “the way of God.” Or, you could call it “the way it ought to be done.” It’s all the same, and civilization exists to desecrate the way it ought to be done. The “more” advanced the civilization, the greater the desecration.

Civilization is concerned with the acquisition and accumulation of wealth, of goods and services. It is a social, political, economic invention to ease our way. It is an approximation of our idea of “the good life,” but it doesn’t have anything to do with the good. We don’t know what is good. We only know what is good for us. And, we create civilization to help us get it.

Civilization is at odds with God. Civilization is a substitute for God. Civilization is our way of getting what God wouldn’t give us. Civilization is our way of taking care of ourselves. Of course, that is always at the expense of some other selves. But, that is too bad for them, and it really isn’t our problem. Somebody has to pay for our good times. That’s just the way it is.

Talk to the destitute in any civilization since the beginning of civilization about how things ought to be, and you’ll get the vision of the Heavenly City, with no tear in any eye and a chicken in every pot. It’s the same utopian vision across the board. Everybody has enough. No one has too little or too much. Everyone loves one another as they love themselves. Everyone lives in the service of everyone else. Everyone does right by everyone else. It’s a sharing, caring culture, and things are exactly as they ought to be. Of course, if the destitute have been banged around enough, there is also the idea of sweet revenge where the stupid bad guys get what is coming to them.

We have to take our consolation where we find it, it seems. The utopian vision keeps us going in the face of the complete absence of anything worth having and then some. The wealthy amass more than they could possibly need, or use, and the poor long for the day when they just have enough. That is the story of civilization. What keeps the story going? What chance do we have of changing it? It seems to be the inevitable outcome of “the human condition.” We are built, you might say, to “lord it over” one another. How do we overthrow ourselves? What is the nature of THAT revolution?

When we get down to the heart of the matter, we discover that we are talking about your heart, and mine. Civilization is a mirror reflecting who we are to the core. If we are going to change civilization, we are going to have to change us. How different can we be? How far into transformation can we go before we draw a line and say, “This is all I can stand”?

The far extreme might be a vow of poverty and celibate asceticism. That’s about as counter-cultural (in any culture) as it gets. Communal living is somewhere on the continuum. Writing checks to charity is somewhere else. Having an occasional twinge about homelessness or the destruction of the environment would have a place. What form shall our protest take? How shall we register our opposition to the way things are done? How shall we clarify our vision and express our emerging sense of how things ought to be? And, what do we do about the realization that we don’t have what it takes to do what needs to be done? We like the idea of disposable income. We know from personal experience that having enough lends itself to imagining what we could do with more, and that train never stops at a station. What shall we do with us?

The old spiritual saw, some would say “cop out,” says “Start with where you are. Work with what you have.” Feel that twinge. Write that check. Carry those old clothes to Good Will. Help build that Habitat House. Serve food at the homeless shelter. See the poor around you. Live consciously, mindfully, of the children who have no books at home, no computers or game boys to develop the skills that would get them beyond minimum wage in the world. Pay attention to the way you are living and to the way life is being lived around you. See what happens. See where the path—any path—walked attentively, with awareness and mindfulness, leads.
The old spiritual saw, some would say “absurdity,” says, “The nature of the revolution is a life lived with awareness.” Begin the revolution! Open your eyes! Of course, you know there is a catch. There is always a catch.

The catch here is that once we see, we have to live as those who have seen. We have to live as those who cannot forget what they have seen. Seeing things changes things. Hearing what must be heard changes things. If you want to change the world, see, and hear, everything, including everything about yourself. If you want a plan for changing the world, develop a plan for seeing the world as it is, for hearing the world as it is. Look and see! Listen and hear! That’s the plan!

George Bush cannot hear Cindy Sheehan because he knows what she is going to say. Cindy Sheehan cannot hear George Bush because she knows what he is going to say. The Israelis cannot hear the Palestinians; the Palestinians cannot hear the Israelis; because both know what the other is going to say. They all have heard it before. If we only hear what we have heard before, we are not listening to the heart of what is being said. If we are only repeating what we have always said, we are not saying all there is to say. The trick is to sit with one another and speak from the heart, and listen to the heart, with understanding and compassion for what is to be said. Where, in your experience, have you been heard all the way to the center of your soul? Where have you listened that deeply—to yourself or someone else? It is this level of deep listening, with understanding and compassion for what is said, that transforms the world.

The Danish cartoonists who drew Muhammad-themed cartoons in September of 2005 for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten as a deliberate experiment testing the limits of freedom of speech were within their rights as western journalists to express themselves in print. And, they were beyond the boundaries of civility, mutuality of respect and common decency, but no one in the west is likely to understand what’s the big deal. Everyone in the west is likely to recoil with horror and disgust at the reaction of the youth branch of Pakistan’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which offered a bounty for murdered cartoonists. Which is more offensive, to draw a picture of Muhammad or to murder the cartoonist who drew the picture? Your answer will depend upon where you sit, upon where you live, upon what you think and how you came to think it.

Forgetting, for the moment who is right here, and who is wrong, and how we know, and who is to say, let’s put you in a room with the Danish cartoonists and the offended Muslims. How long do you think it will be before they are able to hear one another? Which side, do you think, is most likely to listen deeply to, and care sincerely about, the perspective of the other? What could you do to facilitate that listening with understanding and compassion for what the other has to say? Do you begin to appreciate the difficultly in simply listening deeply, with understanding and compassion, to what is to be said?

At what point is the right to—and not only the right to, but the absolute necessity of—free speech compromised by the other’s ability to hear what we have to say? By the other’s willingness to permit us to say what we have to say? If we “bite our tongue” out of deference to the other’s sensibilities, where do we go to “spill our guts”? There are some things that cannot be said in some places, to some people. But, there must be some places in which, and some people to which, anything and everything can be said. Do we live to invoke gag orders or to enable deep listening?

It seems apparent to me that some members of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Task Force cannot hear anything negative about the Communist Workers’ Party and its part in contributing to the events of November 3, 1979—or allow anything negative to be said. To say that the CWP was at fault in any way is to be seen as “blaming the victim,” and labeled a white, privileged, middle-class, Southern, racist. So much for truth or reconciliation. How do we get past the barriers to hearing in order to listen one another to the deep truth of our perceptions and perspective? When there is something that cannot be said and heard, where is the hope of transformation? As long as we tip-toe around the egg shells, and carefully ignore the dead elephant on the dining room table, and pretend there is no stench in the air, nothing changes. At what point does our sensitivity to the needs of the other to be protected from the truth of our perspective begin to poison our own souls and become detrimental to our ability to see, and hear, and know the truth of our own perspective? Where do we go to be able to say what must be said? And, where are we, like the offended Muslims, cutting off the possibility of conversation because we cannot consider the perspective we are bound to hear? What must people not say to us? What are we unable to hear? What can we not allow ourselves to see?

Are you beginning to understand how difficult it is to change the world? It is so much easier to tell the world what it must do to change. Listening the world to the truth of its own perspective requires us to hear things that change us. And, as long as that is a door we will not open, things will remain exactly as they are, in spite of all of our protests and denunciations.