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?

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