Monday, July 24, 2006

07/23/06, Sermon

What evidence can you put forth in support of the idea that Christ would be a Christian? Which denomination do you think Jesus would join? Would he be non-denominational? Charismatic? Evangelical? Main Stream? What would Jesus do, and what makes you think so? Who would Jesus exclude from his company? On what basis? Are they the same people you would exclude from your company? On the same basis? Do you see the problem?

If money can be made, money will be made. If it’s good for business, it’s good. If it’s bad for business, it’s bad. If it’s good for business, it’s US policy, foreign and domestic, and it is verrry patriotic. If it’s bad for business, it’s a threat to national security. Do you see the problem?

There is nothing about the life of George Bush that has prepared him to be President of the United States. He could not be Principal of Itta Bena Elementary without being prepared. But, he can be President without being prepared. All it takes are some scripted sound bites and 400 million dollars. Do you see the problem?

What are we going to do about it? About any of it? About all of it? That’s what I want to know.

“Tell us plainly, O Master—will it all work out?”

“I tell you the truth, my children. Everything will all work out nicely in the end. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter.”

That isn’t what we want to hear. We don’t want to spend our time on things that aren’t guaranteed to perform as promised, achieve acceptable results in a reasonable amount of time, and deliver the goods. We don’t want to spend our time on things that don’t pay off. We want to know up front, before we sign on, if this is the “real deal.” And, we would like a time table. Where is this train going? When will it arrive? How will we measure progress? How will we know we aren’t just being “taken for a ride”?

We want to know what we can do to stop the war; to stop global warming, to wake Bush up and bring sanity and sensibility to life in the world. We want to be sure we aren’t just “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” We want to know that our actions will bring relief to the world. How can we end hatred, stop the violence, institute justice, and establish the eternal reign of peace and compassion throughout the earth? “Tell us plainly, Lord, what will work?”

We think our lives are to be measured by our successes, achievements and accomplishments. We have to have those long and short range goals, you know, and that career path, and that five-year plan, and those intermediate steps to measure our progress along the way. “A sailor without a destination can’t tell a good wind from a bad one.” “If you don’t know where you are going, any path will take you there.” “If you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything.” We have to know what we want to do; know how to do it; and know how to evaluate our progress along the way. And, we don’t have time to waste on things that don’t work.

On the other hand, we can avoid indefinitely the inconvenience of actually doing anything if we dismiss everything on the grounds that it is a waste of time and won’t work. For instance, we don’t have to quit driving and start walking in order to reduce global warming, because we can ask, “What good would that do, given the fact that nobody else is quitting with us, walking with us?” We don’t have to do anything as long as we can ask, “What good would that do?” about everything. We get to look concerned without having to change our life style. Which brings to mind one of Brian Andreas’ “Story People” stories: “I’ve always wanted to change the world,” she said, “but I would like to do it from the comfort of my normal life.”

Jesus stepped outside the comfort of his normal life. Jesus died in the service of his understanding of the good. Jesus did what was good whether it did any good or not. He lived a life of complete integrity, that is, complete alignment of inner with outer. Jesus was in harmony with himself. His actions were in synch with his words, and his words were in synch with his beliefs. You can sum Jesus up with such phrases as “non-violence,” “radical equality,” “identification with the least important people of his day,” and “fluid integration of the qualities of God in his life and being.” If you want to see God as God is, you can’t do better than Jesus. And, Jesus calls us to follow him. If people can’t look at us and see God, we need to get with the program.

The program is being God. The program is being as God is. The program is not changing George Bush. Jesus did not change Caesar. The program is not putting an end to war and violence. Jesus did not stop crucifixion. The program is not reversing global warming, ending hunger, homelessness, poverty, and any of the other ills that plague the world. Jesus died with all of the ills of his day firmly in place. But, if you looked at Jesus, you saw God.

“The master does his work, and steps back, and let’s nature take its course,” says Lao Tsu, or words to that effect. The master does her work because it is her work to do, and not to achieve results. Maybe it achieves results, and maybe it only sets the stage to achieve results in the next generation, or in the generation after that. And, maybe, nothing comes of it at all. Nevertheless, it is not a complete waste of the master’s time. It was the master’s work to do. It was an expression of who the master is. The master could not have failed to do it and still have been the master.

Our work—that which we do because we must, because we love it, enjoy it, delight in it, believe in it, and cannot leave it undone without failing ourselves in some significant way—is an extension of our identity, of our integrity. It is the unveiling of ourselves, the incarnation of who we are. It is us. And so, Gerard Manly Hopkins can say, “What I do is me/for that I came.” There you are.

What must we do? What must we do because we must do it, and not because we feel obliged to be doing something that “must be done”? Why must we be accounted worthy by doing worthy things? By achieving marvelous outcomes? By accumulating honors and stockpiling accolades and being Somebody? Why must we make a name for ourselves with the results of our living? Why can we not simply live? Where do we get the idea that we are not enough as we are? That we have to be more by doing more and accomplishing more? Where do we get that idea? At what point do we get to be enough? What is it really that we are trying to achieve with our achievements? Who is it that we are trying to please? Upon what does our happiness, contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, and peace depend?

These are not questions to skirt or ignore. These are questions to sit with in the silence of our soul until something stirs. What drives us? Haunts us? Robs us of life by requiring us to live “successfully”? Upon what does our success depend? What would it take for us to live at peace with ourselves? These are important things to know.

Until we can name our demons, own our ghosts, invite them into conversation with us, and hear them to the heart of what they have to say, we will be at the mercy of the needs and fears that fuel them. Our demons have demons! Our ghosts have their own ghosts! Who is going to listen to them, heal them, if we don’t? Or, did you think we could walk the spiritual path to wholeness and peace without sorting through our emotional baggage? Did you think spirituality was an escape from the pain having been where we have been? That we can just wink ourselves from one identity to another? And be “saved” from our past without dealing with it?

The Parable of the Prodigal is about us welcoming our failures, defeats, and disappointments to the table. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about us taking care of all that is reprehensible and disgusting about ourselves. The spiritual task is looking ourselves in the eye, and being reconciled with all that is within. The work of being spiritual is emotional reconciliation. Spiritual peace is emotional at-one-ment at the heart of being. It is not about believing a doctrine or two, undertaking a ritual or two, reciting a mantra, and having it made.

When Jesus was saying, “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”, he could as well have said, “Change your way of living! The Revolution has begun!” The call to the Kingdom was a call to Revolution. But, it was a different kind of revolution. It was a communal revolution, not a military revolution that Jesus had in mind—a communal revolution with political implications. It was a revolution of civility and commensality, of justice and compassion. It was a revolution of deportment, and style, spirit and grace.

The nature of Jesus’ revolution was to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, love your enemies, and your neighbor as yourself. It was to treat one another and all others like the prodigal’s father treated the prodigal, like the Samaritan treated the Jew in the ditch. It was to be a genuinely decent human being to all human beings. It was to be the right kind of company. To belong to, and participate in, the Kingdom of God, was, and is, to be the right kind of company—was, and is, to be as God is.

Friday, July 21, 2006


There are no immunities, no shortcuts. Life is great that way. We invent our buffers and cushions, our escapes and hide-a-ways, but life tracks us down and nails us with a big wet one right on the kisser, and we have to deal with the impact and implications of being alive.

There are no free rides. Everybody pays the fare. We don’t get out of this place alive, and we have a number of encounters with grief, loss, suffering and sorrow along the way. So, don’t be thinking the scourge won’t come near your tent. When it comes to scourges, it’s only a matter of time. Scourges level the playing field, make us all one.

Buck up and deal with it, that’s my best advice. Everybody before you has had to deal with it, as well as they could, with the resources available to them, like it or not. When it’s your turn, give it your best shot.


Do your work—the work that best expresses who you are—and don’t let hopelessness get you down. That’s my best advice. Of course, it’s hopeless. The Iroquois never had a chance. Didn’t stop them. They went right on being Iroquois to the very end. That’s what I say! Go right on doing what you do, what you love, what is most wonderfully “you” to the very end. We only get one shot, so far as we know, at being who we are. If conditions aren’t favorable, that’s too bad. We still have to be who we are.


If you were going to exhibit godliness what would you do? What does godliness call for, require, rule out, prohibit? If our overriding concerning is the expression of godliness in the world, how does that concern impact all our other concerns? What are we, then, not concerned about? What are we, then, concerned about? Our view of God and godliness conditions all of life.

If we have a militaristic, Law Giver, Judge—A Wrathful, Vengeful, Imposer of the Straight and Narrow view of God, we can slaughter the infidel without a twinge of conscience. If we have a merciful, long suffering, loving kindness, prodigal’s father view of God, we will sit and wait forever for love to work its magic. Everything flows from, and hinges upon, how we understand God. It’s perspective all the way.


The Buddha gets to be the Buddha by understanding that there is no Buddha. The Christ gets to be the Christ by understanding that there is no Christ. Or, better, that all are Buddha. All are Christ. It’s important to kill the Buddha you meet on the road because the external, out there, over there Buddha keeps you from realizing your own Buddha nature. Fred Craddock says, “The message of the Messiah is ‘There is no Messiah!’.” The Rabbi’s gift is “The Messiah is one of you!” There we are.

The problem is that we cannot be closer to the Buddha than our idea of the Buddha. We cannot be closer to the Messiah than our idea of the Messiah. We can only be as Christ-like as our idea of the Christ allows us to be. Right seeing (and hearing). Right thinking. Right doing. Right being. It all depends on what we bring to the table. And, it’s perspective all the way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

07/16/06, Sermon

What do you do when you discover that the way you had been told it is isn’t the way it is? Ah, that’s the question, now, isn’t it? That’s quite the question. What do you do? Well, you either grow up or you go under. Going under is about denial, despair, or death. Growing up is about coming to terms with the discrepancy between how we have been led to expect things will be and how things actually are. Growing up is about making the necessary shifts in perspective to take into account the difference between what we think the deal is and what the deal is.

This place is about not going under. When you turn a corner and life delivers the piano from the sky on your head, you need a place like this between you and the edge. When we lose our bearings, and nothing makes sense, or is what it is “supposed to be,” we need a place like this in which to reorient ourselves, regain our balance, and find our way. Without a place like this, we are in a tight spot; up against it. And need the right kind of help to make it.

In a place like this, you will find people who are capable of sitting with you without having to say anything. That’s amazing in itself. And, when they get around to saying something, it is highly doubtful that they will tell you God dropped the piano on your head in order to give you something really wonderful in the end. After the eighteen wheeler and the five-mile wide meteor bearing down on you faster than the speed of sound. We won’t say things like that to you. We are doing our best to bury the “all things happen for a reason” doctrine and replace it with “Nothing can happen to you that you can’t transform over time with the right kind of help.” And, we are working to be the right kind of help.

So, when these people talk to you about the piano, they will say things like, “What happened?” And, “What did you do then?” And, “How does the piano square with the theory of life that you were handed and told to embrace?” And, “In what ways will your life be different after the piano than before the piano?” And, “In light of the piano, what will you tell yourself, and your children, and other people, about life and what to expect from life?”

The last question is crucial. How we put things back together in the aftermath of the piano (and the eighteen wheeler and the meteor) is a big factor determining the quality, character, and the direction of the rest of our lives. Everything rides on the perspective we form in the aftermath of our loss of faith in the trustworthiness of life. What will we tell ourselves now about the nature of life? How will we live from this point on?

The questions are at the heart of spirituality. How will we live in light of the worst life can do? The question resides at the core of healthy maturity. We cannot grow up well without answering it well. Here it comes. Don’t duck. It’s the best I can do. Spirituality and maturity are the same thing.

We cannot be deeply spiritual and immature. We cannot be mature without being deeply spiritual. The process is the same process. The way is the same way. The things that bring out our maturity bring out our spirituality, and vice versa. As we grow up, we become spiritual; as we become spiritual, we grow up. At stake in both spirituality and maturity is the matter of perspective, which shapes and forms our motive for living.

Why do we do what we do? When we are immature, we live to get what we want and have our way. We live for the carrot, for all that glitters and shines. We think, “It’s about the economy, stupid!” We think it’s about money. The promise of prosperity now and heaven when we die fills the pews of the churches of the land and propels us through the world. Listen to the descriptions of the afterlife from young suicide boomers and elderly evangelical Christians. They all sound remarkably juvenile. In heaven, it is said, you can eat all the ice cream and pizza you want, and not gain weight. Virgins and Big Rock Candy Mountains. Sensual pleasure with no price. That’s heaven as a twelve year old might imagine it. That’s what bad religion does for you. It freezes you in place. Suspended animation. Spiritual hibernation. Soul death. You never get beyond being twelve years old in the church of bad religion.

The motive for living well from the standpoint of bad religion is that you will go to heaven when you die and have everything you have always wanted. Heaven is where your dreams come true. Which is incomprehensibly brainless, because the bedrock charge of bad religion is sin, which is to say we want the wrong things. But, when we get to heaven, we can have all we want and more. It’s a twelve year old construct all the way. Some five year olds are more mature. More spiritual. The heart of our spirituality and our maturity is the matter of perspective which shapes our motive. What keeps us going in a world where pianos fall out of the sky?

Joseph Campbell says, “Either you can take it, or you can’t.” What do we tell ourselves to increase our chances of being able to “take it”? What do we tell ourselves, sitting there, on our duff in the dust, with the remnants of life as we have known it blowing away in the wind—what do we tell ourselves when how we have heard that it is is clearly not how it is—what do we tell ourselves, then, to get up and keep going? I don’t think stories about 10,000 virgins and big rock candy mountains are going to do it.

What’s going to do it is a shift in perspective. Spiritual growth and maturity are nothing more than shifts in perspective. We change our minds about the way things are, about the focus and direction of our lives, about what’s important. And, everything changes as a result. Falling pianos call for a shift in perspective. Shifts in perspective are amazing grace.

When life delivers the piano, we cannot make it work like we have been told that it works. If we are going to have what it takes to deal with life as it comes to us, we have to let go of how we think it is supposed to be. We cannot force the map to fit the landscape. We cannot make sense of the world of our experience based on the assurances and constructs of our childhood. We cannot live in this world with the orientation of a twelve-year-old. Our perspective has to shift.

What can we count on in a world where pianos fall out of the sky? What do we need to live well in a world like this world? How do we stabilize our lives when the rug can be yanked out from under us without warning at any moment? Where can we find an immovable center around which our lives can coalesce—an unshakeable foundation upon which we can be firmly grounded—regardless of the cataclysmic, tumultuous, catastrophic nature of life in this place?

Here’s the deal: Emotional stability is a function of perspective. Here’s the other deal: Reactivity wrecks perspective. We cannot hope to be emotionally stable if we are emotionally reactive. To regain perspective, we have to have working room. We have to step back emotionally from the events and circumstances of our lives. We cannot live well trying to wrestle our lives into submission. Trying constantly to force this into being, and prevent that from being, and protest that for being (or, for not being), we exhaust ourselves, deplete ourselves, and have no fun.

So, sitting on our duff in the dust, with the fragments of our life as it used to be blowing away in the wind, the thing to do is take up the task of spiritual development, to do the work of maturation, to grow up. Two aspects of the work of maturity are adjustment and reorientation. Adjustment begins with just sitting there, breathing. If we are ever going to take our time with anything, we have to take our time with the alteration of our perspective. We have to adjust ourselves to what just happened and to what that means for us, to what the implications are for us.

The process of adjustment is rather straightforward, but it takes a long time to do the work. We have to find the word, or words, for the emotional impact. This is critical. No one tells us about it, about finding the right word for what we are experiencing. About saying what we are feeling. We have to do that, and we have to experience the reality of the impact of the experience. Then, when we are able, we have to step back from it—we have to establish the proper amount of emotional distance between ourselves and the experience. Then, when we are ready, we step forward with it into the rest of our lives. The process has its own time frame, and it cannot be hurried. And, it makes all the difference if we have the right kind of company throughout.

The right kind of company is crucial to spiritual development and growing up. We need a community of the right kind of people to have a chance, and so, it is critical that we do the work of becoming good company and know how to offer the right kind of help. We have to know how to be with one another in helpful ways. Circles of trust, Quaker-style clearness committees, and the book “The Fifteen Minute Hour” are ways we have explored for training ourselves to be helpful, and we will offer other opportunities in the future as we work to “be what we need” in helping one another adjust to the fact of pianos falling from the sky.

In addition to adjustment, spiritual development and growing up require us to reorient ourselves by cultivating and practicing the difficult emotional responses to the events, and circumstances, and people that make up our lives. The easy emotions are things like anger, and fear, and hatred, and resentment, and desire, and jealousy, and revenge, and vengeance. Anybody can experience these emotions without thinking about it. The difficult emotions are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, grace, compassion, and justice. We have to work at loving our enemies, for instance. Hating our enemies is easy. Loving our enemies is hard. We have to do the work of reorienting ourselves in the direction of the difficult emotions by cultivating them and practicing them steadily, over time. And, over time, we grow up, and exude the kind of spiritual presence that transforms the world.

Friday, July 14, 2006


Tao de Dollar
(1) To be appropriately engaged, we have to be appropriately detached. Now, that’s the trick, if there ever was one. Optimal distance It’s called “working room.” It’s the emotional space between us and our lives. Figure that out—get that down—and you have it made.

(2) I don’t know how to recognize optimal when we see it, but I think it has to do with listening to our bodies. Our bodies carry our emotions. To know what we are feeling emotionally, we have to know what we are feeling physically. What is going on in our bodies? What sensation is the predominate sensation? Begin there. Focus on the sensation. Find the word that best describes it. Listen to what it has to say. Accept what it says. Notice the shift when it happens. Listening to our bodies, we find the way.

(3) Meditation is listening with acceptance (openness, mindfulness, awareness) to what is there. Meditation is experiencing our experience. Being present with what is present with us. Attuned to the implications our living has for our being, and the implications our being has for our living. Curious about what it might mean to live well on the earth. We cannot hope to live well without listening, without seeing. What do we do to encourage. to enable, listening, seeing? That is meditation.

(4) We cannot think we know what to do. That we know how to be. Every moment is a lesson in doing, in being. Every moment is our teacher. Right Seeing (and hearing). Right Thinking. Right Doing. Right Being. Right Seeing (and hearing)… It is a circle without beginning or end, opening before us in each moment, inviting us to be open to it.

(5) Where do you draw the line between too much and not enough? Don’t worry about it. When you are aware of having stepped over the line, ease up. When you are aware of having stepped back over the line, bear down.

(6) When you can’t figure it out. When you can’t see where you are going. Go with what you do see. Do what you can imagine doing. And trust the process. If you are wrong, you are just wrong. We can only do what we think is the thing to do. And see what happens. And then, do what we think is the thing to do in response to that, and see what happens.

(7) You cannot live so finely balanced as to get it right all the time. Or, even most of the time. So, do not let getting it wrong be a problem. And, do not let getting it right be a source of pride and triumph. Just live on, toward the best you can imagine in each moment, and let your outcomes be your outcomes.

(8) Second guessing is what we do best. Maybe we are wrong. Maybe not. We will not always do it the way other people think we ought to do it. Maybe they are right. Maybe not. How do we know who is right, who is wrong? Sometimes we do not know. We do not have to repent of everything. Sometimes, we have to repent of repentance.

(9) The work of being spiritual is the work of resolving our conflicts, internal and external. It is the work of peace. “Spiritual warfare” is a contradiction in terms. A “spiritual warrior” is an oxymoron. The Biblical ideas of Armageddon and Apocalypse, damnation and hell, are not spiritual reality. They represent an imposition of “the ways of the world” onto the Way.

(10)The Way is not warfare. It is not expulsion. It is not banishment. It is not the way of excommunication and exorcism and exclusion. It is the way of welcoming the prodigal home, of ministering unto “the least of these,” of eating with the outcasts and sinners and associating with the prostitutes and tax collectors. It is the way of the lion lying down with the lamb, and the bear eating straw like the ox. It is the way of beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Of loving our enemies and forgiving those who sin against us seventy times seven times. And, we cannot hope for peace between us, among us, until each of us, all of us, achieves a modicum of peace within us. Our spiritual work is stillness, and quiet, and peace within. Out of that center, we exude peace, we create peace, in the world.

(11)The challenge of life and the spiritual path is to know what must be assisted and what must be opposed—and to learn how to assist and how to oppose. Living well comes down to mastering the what and the how. The skills of mastery involve being quiet, being mindful, being awake, being conscious, being open, being aware, being alert, seeing, hearing, understanding, knowing and not-knowing. The tools of mastery are time and distance.

(12)It is interesting and entertaining and fun to note the differences in what we consider to be fun. They are remarkable. Your idea of a vacation would not likely be my idea at all.
(13)The trick is to have as much fun as we can manage without having it at anyone else’s expense (For instance, requiring me to go on vacation with you), while enabling others to have as much fun as they can manage, without having it at anyone else’s expense. I don’t see anything wrong with that for a life plan.

Tip of the Day

My advice to you is to spend time with things you enjoy. They don’t have to be big things. A cup of coffee will do. Or, reading a book to a grandchild. Or, walking the dog. Or, just walking. You better have some enjoyable moments tucked into each day. What? Do you think that after you get all that business taken care of—that after your ducks are in a row, and your crop is laid by, and you are well ahead of the game, and have it made, then you can enjoy your life? Then, you’ll be dead.

Today is the day to find something to enjoy and enjoy it. And, tomorrow is another day in which to do the same thing. And, so on, through all the todays there are. If you don’t soon kick into enjoying your life, it will be a long haul without much in it to be happy about.

All there is is enjoying ourselves and one another, and helping one another enjoy ourselves and one another. How long is your list of the things you enjoy about yourself, your life, and other people? How many other people do you enjoy being around? It’s up to you to find things to enjoy about practically everyone. There are not many people about whom there is nothing to enjoy. The people we don’t enjoy anything about should comprise a very short list. If you have a lot of people that are hard for you to be with, I’ll wonder if it is easy for you to be with yourself. And, if it is hard for you to be with yourself, I’ll wonder what that block is all about. What is so difficult about you enjoying you?

When is the last time you made yourself laugh out loud? The last time you said, “Wow!”, at something you said, or thought, or did? The last time you delighted yourself? Surprised yourself (in a positive way)? Pleased yourself? Who are you trying to please, if not you? What makes you so hard to please? We are not here to achieve perfection, whatever that is. We are here for the joy of it, for the pleasure of being alive. My advice to you is to get with the program.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

07/02/06, Sermon

Our work is to harmonize the discord within. And, without. Estrangement, disruption, chaos, instability, tension, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, war are all the result of unmanageable, and sometimes unacknowledged, conflict. We have to do a better job of recognizing, addressing, and integrating the “contraries” at work in our lives, imperiling our lives. Friedrich Hegel’s structure of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis is a way of describing sociological and political shifts, or the transformation of thought through contradiction, engagement, and integration, and it is a strategy for consciously easing the conflicts in our own lives.

We are often aware of the “thesis/antithesis” struggles which enfold us. We can describe the sources of stress and tension in our lives. We can say, “On the one hand, this, and on the other hand, that. And, then there is that over there.” We can say “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” We can identify what is happening that we don’t want to happen, or what is not happening that we do want to happen.” But, we have a hard time figuring out what to do about it. We “pick sides,” and try to force the issue, and war results, with a winner and a loser, and the conflict goes underground, to spring up again because it was never resolved. “Synthesis” escapes us. Which leaves us with escape and denial as our remaining options.

Our plan for dealing with conflict is to get away from it. Withdraw. Hide. Move. Say “It ain’t so!” And, there are times when bailing out is all that is left for us to do, when leaving actually works. But, that is a rare event, and when the conflict is within, when it is our own failures, and insufficiencies, and deficits and excesses that we cannot bear, well, then escape becomes impossible. Then we drink too much, and fail ourselves again, so we have to drink too much some more. It would be to our distinct and everlasting advantage to take up the work of synthesis in a consciously mindful and deliberate way. But, that doesn’t mean we DO anything! Except bear the pain of the tension within and without, and make the conflict painfully conscious, and wait to see what happens!

We have to become deeply aware of all aspects of the discordant realities shaping the conflicts which characterize our lives. The way to do the work of synthesis is to bring our conflicts to the table, and talk. But it has to be a special kind of talk. It has to be honest talk, authentic conversation, intimate, vulnerable, real and true. We can’t just bang our shoes on the table and demand to have our way. We do have to say what we want, of course, but, more than that, we have to say why we want it, what the ground of the want is, and what we know about it, and be open to the possibility that what we want is not what is needed—that it is not in the best interest of all concerned. In this, we are seeking the center, the foundation, the core of the conflict. We are speaking for the want at the heart of the matter, not just of it. We are saying where it comes from and who its parents are. We are trying to get to the bottom of things. To the center.

Shift happens at the level of the heart. When we are heard all the way to the bottom of what we have to say, things change. And, the change is as much within as it is without. The trick is time. None of this is instantaneous. Yeast in the dough, you know. You work the yeast into the dough and stand back. Step aside. Get out of the way. Leave it alone. Transformation happens over time. In its own time. And, in its own way.

We cannot predict the practical outcome of integration, of integrity. We do not know what will happen when the discordant realities begin to harmonize. A shift will happen. And, the drift will be toward the good. But the result will likely not be what we have in mind. The work of integration is no way to get what we want.

The work of integration and integrity takes us beyond the jurisdiction of manipulation and control. One of the reasons we have to do the work of integration and integrity is that we have manipulated and controlled ourselves, and the environment, and the world into contorted, distorted, misshapen monsters by trying to achieve what we want in the world. By trying to have our way, guard our interests, and defend our “national security,” which is, essentially whatever those in power think is good for business, we create a world in which no one can live. As we celebrate our birthday as a nation, we would do well to reflect on the drift from “liberty and justice for all” to “rights and privileges for the well-to-do” and whatever is left over for everyone else. Whose good is served by the good we serve? Increasingly, it is the good of the few at the expense of the many. Not what Jesus, or the framers of the Constitution, had in mind.

What we want is not always what is needed, either on a personal or corporate or national level. We can want what we have no business having. There is a movement underfoot these days which disguises itself as spirituality whose selling point is the secret to having what you want. How to make your dreams come true. How to manifest your destiny. How to achieve your unlimited potential (never mind the contradiction in terms). How to have it made. It’s a scam, no matter how it is presented. We are in the mess we are in by trying to have what we want, and we think we can want our way out of the mess.

We can only want our way into a bigger mess, because we only know what we want. We do not know what we should want, what we ought to want. We do not know what TO want. We only know what we DO want. And, even if we did know what we should want, we cannot make ourselves want it. We can only want what we want. We cannot want what we don’t want, even though that is often exactly what we need. If someone comes along promising to reveal to you the secret of how to want what is truly needed and do it, go with them wherever they lead you, and pay them whatever they ask, because that is the work of integration and integrity. And THAT is spirituality at its very best.

Of course, we aren’t likely to like what we should want. We aren’t likely to embrace what is needed. At least, not initially. What is needed takes some getting used to. We have to adjust ourselves to what has need of us. Our first response is to say, “What do you mean, ‘Go to Egypt’?” “What do you mean, ‘Go to Nineveh’?” “Take Aaron in stead.” “I’m only a lad.” “No Lord! Not you!” It takes a while to get ourselves wrapped around and in favor of what needs to be done.

That’s because what needs to be done isn’t generally what we want to do. Spiritual development isn’t about development. It is about conversion, alteration, renovation, revolution, reformation. It isn’t about trying harder, or giving 10 percent to the poor and needy and doing what we want with the remaining 90 percent. It is about changing what we want. It is about transformation at the level of the heart. And the heart is the last thing to go.

The work of harmonizing the discord within and without is not about rearranging the surface elements of our lives, taking down the hill and putting up the shopping center and the parking lot, and those nice mercury vapor lights. We are altering the mix at the level of the heart. We are redesigning the basic structure of the way things are. We are creating a brand new world with a revolution at the very center of civilization—by shifting perspective, revising ideas of what is important, and changing how things are done. In other words, we are doing what Jesus did.

Jesus changed how things were done at the level of the foundations. “Might makes right.” How’s that for capturing the present orientation of civilization? Jesus said that’s wrong, and went about doing what was right in defiance of the “might” of his day. Jesus did not get his ducks in a row, and have everyone on board, and get permission from those in authority, and make sure no one would get their feelings hurt or have their nose out of joint before he socialized with the outcasts, ate with the prostitutes and tax collectors, touched the untouchables, loved the unloveables, lived with the people as God would live with the people, and declared his way to be exemplary of the Kingdom of God. And, he turned on their ear, the political, and social, and religious systems of his day. His simple actions transformed civilization at the level of the heart.

You couldn’t do it the way Jesus did it and maintain a social/cultural/political/religious order based on patriarchy. Or sexism. Or racism. Or Good-Ole-Boy-ism. Or Might-Makes-Right-ism. Or Profit-At-Any-Price-ism. If you do it the way Jesus did it, you turn everything upside down, and start over. It’s all right there in the Sermon on the Mount.

If you want a Manifesto for the Transformation of Things at the Level of the Heart, you only have to turn to the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and read the Beatitudes. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake.” How many politicians or Enron executives or Sunday school teachers or preachers are standing in line to be blessed because of their quest for righteousness?

Kurt Vonnegut raises the question in his latest, and perhaps last, book, A Man Without A Country. There, he wonders why the fascination with placing the Ten Commandments in the court houses and school rooms of the land. “Why not the Beatitudes?”, he asks. Well, it’s clear that we can’t make the Beatitudes the focus of our lives and get what we want. But the fantasy is that if we keep the Ten Commandments we will be given what we want. That’s the sickness at the heart of Christianity as we have commandeered it, the culture, and civilization. What we want cannot save us. Because we want the wrong things.

The way out of the mess is the way of sitting down and listening with mindful, accepting, loving, attentive awareness to the opposites within and without. It is the way of listening to the discordant realities, and allowing them to find their own way to resolution, and integration and the creation of a new perspective, a new way of doing things, and a brand new world.