Sunday, October 29, 2006

10/29/06, Sermon

If it is worth having, it is worth passing along. How are we going to do that? Pass it along? How are we going to recognize what’s worth having when we see it? Shape it? Form it? For passing along? What are we doing here? What is so important about our coming here? How are we going to pass it along?

We’re saving our souls is what we are doing here. We are finding the center of our lives. We are bringing ourselves into focus. We are settling out, and down. We are healing the fractures, integrating the fragmentation. We are recovering our sense of purpose and direction. Restoring our battered spirits. Becoming whole.

We are doing that with music, and silence, and inquiry in a loving, attentive space without answers. We are doing it by becoming a different kind of church for one another, a church whose primary gifts are the heightening of awareness, the deepening of consciousness, the enlargement of perspective, a church whose function is not to impart doctrine but to see, hear, and understand and to live with justice and compassion for all sentient beings. We are creating a culture within a culture that transforms the culture as it helps us form our own identity and shape our lives.

In the larger culture, we have no center of influence. We are constantly subjected to the persuasion of 10,000 things. We are bombarded with attractive suggestions and images throughout the day, throughout our lives. We are overwhelmed by intriguing possibilities. In Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1948, there were very few possibilities of any variety, and none of them were what you might think of as intriguing. There was the Low Price Store, with its selection of “dry goods” that remained the same over time, and Durham’s Drug Store, and Davis Hardware. If you couldn’t get it in one of those places, you didn’t need it, could do without it, and would be better off for not having it.

Compare that way of life with internet shopping. I can select a Tibetan Singing Bowl from sites all over the country, and have it delivered the next day. Even today, you can’t buy a Tibetan Singing Bowl in Itta Bena, Mississippi. In Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1948, options were limited and nothing was influencing us to ask for more than we could have. In Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1948, the center of influence was church and family and the larger culture which defined how life was lived in Itta Bena and the Deep South. We have no such center of influence today. We suffer from the fragmentation of purpose and freedom to achieve it. We serve too many gods. We are fascinated, enthralled, by a wealth of possibilities every day. We live at odds with ourselves, and are too disjoined to be whole. We lack a centering tradition, a point of focus and direction. There is only the idea of wealth to keep us going.

The culture teaches us to believe that money will save us. With enough money, we think we will be secure, and happy, and content, and at peace—and never think that with that much money we would be targets, and have to live behind high walls, with body guards, to keep someone from kidnapping our children and holding them for ransom. We sell our souls for the illusion of happiness, and security, and peace of mind that money can buy. We seek wealth for the sake of being wealthy. Wealth is its own end. Except that it is without end. There is never enough wealth. Never enough money. We get tired before we get tired of making money. And die. But the desire for more money does not die. It is passed along, to those who believe that money will save them.

Capitalism is the relentless, if not ruthless, pursuit of money. Capitalism is the great destroyer of cultures. Greed feeds on itself and burns itself out and up, and has nothing to ground it or sustain it beyond it’s insatiable appetite for more. Greed has only eyes for bright, shiny things. It has no heart, no soul. It has no center, no self. Capitalism is greed’s great achievement. It will wreck the world and leave it in ruins. The culture is as lost as we are. We have to create a culture that saves us, and the world.

The purpose of the church is to create a culture within the culture that saves the culture, that restores the culture’s soul. We are not here for our own comfort and peace, we are here to save the world. The work to save the world is the work of creating a counter-culture which exists to acknowledge and enhance the essential worth of every living thing. We begin here, with one another, taking up the spiritual practice of treating one another with honor and respect. Seeing one another, hearing one another, offering to one another the right kind of company and the right kind of love.

We cannot live well without the modulating influence of the right kind of others. Put us in a gang, and we’ll act like the gang. Put us in a monastery, and we’ll act like the nuns and the monks. Natalie Goldberg, writing in Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America, says: “Minds, my mind and yours, are run by the same principles. We are not unique. We mirror what is around us. If we walk into a red room, we become red. If we are always in a group of angry people, it is hard not to become angry. If we are with someone who is clear, our mind reflects that back, and we become clearer.” We have to create the kind of environment that influences us toward the good, toward the best we can imagine, toward a life we could be rightly proud of living.

The right kind of community is essential to the development of the right kind of self. Hitler could not have happened in the right kind of community. George Bush would have been remarkably different if his Cabinet, or his church, or the people he runs with was, or were, the right kind of community. Left to our own devices, we are free to invent the world we wish we lived in. And, fooling ourselves is what we do best. Wanting what we have no business having is what we do best. It takes the right kind of community to wake us up, bring us to our senses, and enable us to serve a good beyond our own, personal, good.

Apart from the right kind of community, we cannot tell toxic and deadly from the elixir of life. We become a healthy “I” only by our regular and on-going participation in a healthy “We.” We need the right kind of community because we don’t have what it takes to do the work of independence independently of those who are also doing that work. We need one another to think for ourselves. It is the work of the right kind of community to enable individuals within that community to find their own voice, to sing their own song, to uncover their own genius, to live the life that is theirs to live—in service of a good beyond their own, personal, good.

The right kind of community does its work, not by imposing its rules, standards, and ways of doing things, but by listening carefully and deeply to what is said, making perceptive inquiry, and responding out of its heart and wisdom to what it hears. The right kind of community enables a certain communion with truth, a certain depth of perception, a certain quality of awareness and mindfulness that we are incapable of achieving on our own. Our work is to become the right kind of community. We begin by learning to extend compassion to one another. We cannot strip people of their identity, rob people of their souls, separate people from themselves. We cannot tell people they are sinful, evil, and are not to be trusted, or tell people their only hope is to be sorry for who they are. Where’s the compassion in that? Where’s the grace, mercy and peace in that?

Who we are is God’s gift to the world! Who are we going to be if not who we are? The problem is not that we are who we are, but that we are NOT who we are! All our lives, we have been who we thought we should be, who someone else told us to be, who the culture told us we ought to be. We have become, not ourselves, over the course of our lives, but someone else’s ideas of who we are supposed to be. We are cut off from ourselves, separated from what is deepest, best, and truest about us, adrift from our moorings, and lost in the world. And the church of our experience has added to our burden by telling us we should be ashamed and spend the rest of our lives repenting, confessing and being guilty. In this present culture, we don’t go to church to become who we are. But, church is exactly where that should happen. If the church is going to give us anything, the church should give us, ourselves.

The church transforms the culture and saves the world by restoring our souls and giving us ourselves. The essential need in a culture as fragmented and lost as ours is for hospitals of the spirit, oasis’s of soul. Where do we go to have our psychic wounds dressed, healed? Who knows how to apply healing balm to the spirit? How to nurse, and nurture, the soul back to health and wholeness? Who knows how to treat the mind as an invisible, yet actual and tangible, body-part?

We have to understand that there is more to us than meets the eye. Body is also Mind. Mind is also Body. You can’t hurt the Body without hurting the Mind. You can’t hurt the Mind without hurting the Body. Beat a Body and the Mind is bruised long past physical healing. Brutalize a Mind and the Body exhibits physical symptoms for years to come. Where do you go in this culture in order to be seen, respected, honored, and treated as the Body/Mind that you are? Here, in this place, we have to consciously, mindfully, conscientiously, develop eyes that see Body/Mind, ears that hear Body/Mind, hearts that enfold Body/Mind with understanding and compassion.

We begin the work of saving the world here, with one another, with as much of the world as the world brings to our doorsteps. We practice with ourselves. Listening. Caring. Extending the tender mercies of grace, and compassion, and acceptance, and understanding to one another. Bringing life to life in one another. Encouraging, nurturing, fostering, calling forth the self, the soul, the spirit, the spark, the genius buried beneath layer upon layer of should, ought, must, must not, should not, ought not that has been piled upon us from birth. Freeing ourselves to listen to ourselves by listening deeply to one another, and hearing what is struggling to be heard by allowing one another to say what needs to be said. Becoming and enabling one another to become awake, aware, alive.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

10/22/06, Sermon

Thelma Foster says, “Each generation must grow into its own view of God.” K Misenheimer says, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” No one can give us God, or the proper way to view God, see God, think about God. We find the way ourselves.

In Transformations of Myth Through Time,” Joseph Campbell talks about the quest for the Holy Grail (on pages 211 – 213), and says that the knights decided to enter the forest at a place where there was no path and darkest, most difficult and forbidding. He says that if you are on a path, it is someone else’s path, and our task if to find our own way, not someone else’s way. We can take clues from conversation with others, but we have to take what they offer and translate that, interpret that, in ways that are beneficial to us, and not allow their advice to be a substitute for our own work of discovery. He asks, “By what kind of magic can people put God into your heart? They can’t. God is either there or not their out of your own experience.”

This casts a new light on the realization that Jesus is an ink blot. We all have to see Jesus the way we see Jesus. Jesus cannot be defined for us, or explained. Jesus is not confined to the confessions of faith, limited by the doctrines, contained in the catechisms. The Spirit, you know, is like the wind that blows where it will. “Each generation has to grow into its own view of God.”

No generation can spell things out for succeeding generations. No generation can think that its view of God is THE view of God. Each generation has to free itself of the constraints of previous generations in order to enter the woods where it is darkest and thickest and where there is no path, and make its own way through the wilderness and the wasteland to the Grail, to God.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that we are not alone. The spiritual journey is not a solitary trek. We get to take our friends along. The only stipulation is that they must be true friends. They must be the right kind of people. They must know that they don’t know what they are doing, or where they are going, or even, what they are looking for. They must be genuinely seeking themselves.

The phrase “genuinely seeking themselves” has to be understood on two levels. The right kind of people are those who are invested at the level of the heart in their own search. They can’t be just along for the ride. And, they must be genuinely seeking themselves—listening for their own voice calling them home, searching for the trail to their own heart, hoping to drink deeply from the Grail that gives them their own life. We are all on a quest for the Yellow Brick Road that leads to the Emerald City and an audience with the Wizard whose message is the same for everyone: “Wake up! Be who you are!”

But not, “Be who you are alone, cut off from one another, with concerns only for your interests and ends, wishing only to serve a good which serves your own good. Be who you are in community, in the great company of humanity! Be who you are connected at the level of the heart with one another, so that you have to take all others into account, and none of you can live only for yourselves alone!” THAT’s the spiritual task! Being true to yourself in loving relationship with other selves—with ALL other selves—working out the implications of autonomy through community.

Anyone can be true to herself, to himself, alone in the woods, or in a cave, without having to eat what someone else wants for dinner. Anyone can live out her life, live out his life, quite happily as a self-centered self, with an entourage of handlers wearing white gloves making sure that everything goes her, goes his, way. That is a two-year-old’s idea of having it made. On a spiritual level, it is, as they say in the Deep South, “too shallow to splash.”

We achieve depth of soul by being true to ourselves in loving relationships with other selves. Anyone can give up self by living to please others. Anyone can give up others by living to please themselves. Not everyone can bear the pain of being lovingly true to themselves and lovingly present in the lives of others. Not everyone can bear the pain of loving God with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and loving their neighbors as they love themselves. The Greatest Commandment has been glossed over with lip service and disappeared by the callousness of familiarity and over-handling. No one lives in its practice. Love God! Love neighbor! Love self! Love your enemies! Work out the implications of love in the smallest details of your life! The Grail sits unveiled and ignored before us all. We have a different end in mind for the journey—we want the Grail to serve us, but we serve the Grail!

And so, the purpose of the journey becomes changing our minds about the purpose of the journey. The purpose of the path becomes waking up to the nature of the path. The Grail is never more than a perspective shift away. All we have to do is wake up, and there it is. But, waking up is the hardest thing to do. Being awake is the hardest thing to be. Want to make someone angry? Tell them to wake up.

We all think we are awake. It’s the rest of humanity that is asleep at the wheel. It’s those people over there who need to wake up. THEY are the problem. Go tell the Muslim’s to wake up. Or, the North Koreans. They’re the ones creating all the trouble. And, we roll over, snoring.

The great limitation of the spiritual life is “each generation must grow into its own view of God.” And, “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” And, the only person we can wake up is ourselves—and we are not even in control of that. At best, we can only participate in the process of our own awakening.

Embracing the life that is ours to live, and finding ways to become fully, completely, lovingly, laughingly alive and awake and aware in it is the spiritual journey. As we do that, we discover that we have discovered the Grail, that we have found God, that we have become ourselves in loving relationship with other selves. All that waits is the revelation of how we might best assist the process of our own becoming, of our own awakening. Here it comes. Pay attention.

That was it. Get it? Pay attention. That’s all there is to it. The spiritual journey comes down to paying attention. We assist the process of our own becoming, of our own awakening, by paying attention. The path is paying attention. The path is waking up. The path is seeing, hearing, and understanding. We participate in the process of our own becoming, of our own awakening, by looking and listening. By speaking to one another about things that are important to us, hearing what we are saying, reflecting on what we have said, and living out the implications.

That’s it. This is all I can do for you. Now, you know all I know, and there is no reason to keep the guy behind the curtain on the payroll. And, I’ll have to find some other way to make a living. I hope it’s not shoeing horses. I would hate to shoe horses. Or, change oil. I do so hope I haven’t talked myself into changing oil.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


The Dali Lama sees himself as living the life of a simple Buddhist monk. He has what he needs to be who he is. What do we need to be who we are? What do we think having more is going to do for us? Where are we going to draw the line? When will we have enough? What do our aspirations and desires say about us? Who is it that we are trying to be with what we have?
What truly matters to us? What are the important things? What do they say about us? The Dali Lama sees himself as a simple Buddhist monk. How do we see ourselves? Who are we? Who do we wish we were? What is our idea of who we truly ought to be?

What is the image we are projecting with the lives we are living? Is the image we project with our lives different from the one in our heads? How aligned are we, inner and outer? How do we need to change our lives to be in synch with our idea of our ideal self?

With whom can we talk about these things? Where do we go to say who we are, and who we wish we were, and who we think we truly ought to be? Where is the community that enfolds us like a cocoon and allows us to emerge transformed? Who do you know who has ever grown up on her, on his, own? With whom do we take up the task of our own becoming?

Spiritual growth is not a solitary enterprise. We cannot hope to become healed and whole and saved and well on our own. Simple Buddhist monks are surrounded by other simple Buddhist monks. Who surrounds us? How can we hope to be different from those who surround us? Spiritual development requires the right kind of company. We become a self—the self we are—in the presence of other selves. We cannot do it alone, in the woods or a cave. And we can’t do it in the company of the wrong kind of others. A simple Buddhist monk requires a simple Buddhist monastery. The search is as much for ourselves, as for people who will let us be and become who we are. We find the Grail in the eyes of those who love us into being. Do not speed past those who allow you the grace to be and become who you are.


We “let be what is” even as we work to change it. Part of the “what is” is what we have to do to change “what is.” We accept the fact of the unacceptable and the fact of what we have to do to alter it. We do not allow things to be as they are forever. We are here to move things toward what they truly ought to be—to make the world habitable—to become human beings. But we don’t do that with explosives and bulldozers—by force. We do that by listening and looking, by hearing, seeing, and understanding. By being awake, aware, and alive.

Nothing changes how things are like waking up to how things are. Seeing that the emperor has no clothes puts clothes on the emperor. If you want to change the world, see the world. Of course, the caveat here is that seeing the world also changes you. The transformer is transformed through the process of transformation. What? You wanted things to change without being different?


Seeing with the eyes of compassion allows things to be as they are and lays the groundwork for transformation. Compassion and justice are one thing. We cannot be truly compassionate and unjust. We cannot be truly just and uncompassionate. Justice and compassion require the transformation of how things are, but they don’t carry out that transformation unjustly, uncompassionately. The attitude of “In Your Face You S.O.B You” is not going to substantially change things. It takes a different approach to make things truly different.

The Dali Lama may not live to see the end of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, but in his approach to that situation, he has effectively, and beautifully prevented the Chinese from occupying his heart. First the heart, then the world. Over time. It’s the over time business that gives us the most trouble. We think we have to see results now. We think explosions change thing. It’s momentum that changes things, and keeps them changed. How do you create momentum? Slowly. Deliberately. Intentionally. Mindfully, Conscientiously. Over time.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

10/15/06, Sermon

Ride it out, that’s my advice. Pick a path and ride it out, to the point where it becomes obvious it’s the wrong path, or a dead end, or the royal highway to the Holy Grail. How do you know which one to choose? Choose the one that seems to you the most likely, ride it out. The path will reveal its nature to you over time, if it becomes obvious that you should choose another, choose another. And, what if you choose poorly at the start and miss a chance of a lifetime, a life of a lifetime? Make the best of it, that’s my advice. Mourn what must be mourned, grieve what must be grieved, bear the pain of your empty-headed-ness, your short-sighted-ness, your have-to-have-it-right-now-ness, redeem what can be redeemed, and start again, with the choices that are before you now, and choose the most likely path before you, and ride it out, mourning, grieving, bearing the pain, redeeming, and making the best of that choice.

You see the pattern? We don’t just wake up and there is the path with our name on it. We pick a path, and then wake up, over time, to the true nature of the path. The path wakes us up, as much as we can be waked up at this particular time and place of our life. And, that much awake now, we pick another path, which wakes us up, as much as we can be waked up at that particular time and place of our life. You see how it goes? We live our way into enlightenment. We don’t just read a book, or hear a lecture. There are no shortcuts. There is no, I hate to be the one to tell you this, path.

No one path. No one and only path. No path that is the absolutely right path forever and all time. Every path is capable of opening us to as much truth as we are able to apprehend at any point in our lives. No path is fool proof or pain free. At any point in our lives, we have to bear the pain of having lived to that point in our lives—of having trod the path we have trod up to that point in our lives. There is no escape, no protection, no immunity. We can only be as awake as we can be at any point in our lives, and any path, every path, has the capacity to wake us up to that extent. Which means, gentle people, that one path is as good as another, because all any path gets you is as awake as you can be at a particular point in your life, and every path is good for that.

And, if you are wondering about what to do with your life, or about who and how to be, here’s the answer to what to do with your life: Wake up! And, here’s the answer to who and how to be: Awake! And, if you want to be fully, completely, absolutely, instantaneously awake right now, here’s the solution to that: Wake up! There is only waking up. The path is waking up. Every path is waking up. Waking up is the path, seeing is the journey. Or, seeing is the path and waking up is the journey. It’s all the same, either way.

One path is as good as another. Every path is the Grail Path. We can only be where we are. And we are where we are because of where we have been. Every step has been a necessary step to this here, this now. We can only be as awake as we are. If you think another path could have made you more awake, wake up!

One of the things we wake up to when we wake up is that there is more waking up to do. We can never be more enlightened than our present state of readiness for enlightenment allows us to be. Our seeing, at any point, has to take our seeing into account, has to see that, no matter what we see, we only see what we see. As we begin to see our seeing, we see things we don’t see, haven’t seen. And, we see that seeing is an unfolding path forever.

No seer worthy of the title expounds on what she, on what he, has seen, but inquires about the unseen. Every seer seeks to see more than has been seen. In the presence of seers, note how much time the seer spends talking, and how much time she, or he, spends listening. If the seer does more talking than you do, look for another seer. If you come upon a seer who only wants to tell you how to see, walk on. If you come upon a seer who wants to talk about what you see, sit down for a while. The conversation will be enlightening.

Thelma Foster says, “Every generation must grow into its own view of God.” K Misenheimer says, “God doesn’t have grandchildren,” meaning that each of us must work out for ourselves who God is; meaning each of us must grow into our own view of God; meaning that each of us has to find our own way to God, to the Grail—that no one can tell us what we seek, we have to discover that on our own—meaning that there are no shortcuts. Meaning that the path is waking up. Eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart that understands. That’s all there is. If you want something else, wake up!

That being the case, you’re bound to be wondering why anyone would ever change paths. All paths being equal, one path being as good as another, every path being about waking up, why not just stay put? What would lead you to leave one path in favor of another? Why did the bear go over the mountain? To see what he could see. Seeing is the key. Once you have seen what Itta Bena has to offer, you move on. Once you see your seeing, you can’t simply keep seeing the same things forever. You have to look for something else to see. It is the nature of seeing to see more, to see differently, to see something else. If you are content with what you see, you don’t see. See?

We are not here to create comfortable routines, to wallow around in the safe mud holes of home until we die. It isn’t about how long we can last, or how painlessly we can live. It is about being alive. It is about seeing what there is to see. It is about following the calling to wake up and discover a world beyond the wallow—to take up the journey to who knows where, past rational objections and irrational fears, into lands waiting for those who have what it takes to trust themselves to the wind and ride things out.

We cannot think that life consists of safe harbors and soft cushions. We have to live on the cusp, on the threshold between staying too long and leaving too soon. How long do we stay? When do we go? As long as our eyes are open, it doesn’t matter. Itta Bena can be the seat of wisdom and understanding and enlightenment as easily as the high Himalaya. No kidding. I wouldn’t joke with you about this. What I’m saying is that you are under absolutely no pressure to find the right path. Your only pressure is to open your eyes. Any path is the right path if it is walked with your eyes open. You can stay on any path as long as you like if your eyes are open. Any path walked with your eyes open will do as much for you as any other path. This is the freeing realization. Any path walked with awareness will lead to the Grail, to God, to enlightenment, to eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands.

But this doesn’t mean that every path is equally good for everyone. I had to leave Itta Bena. Sonny Boy Bledsoe did not. I can’t say that I am any more awake than Sonny Boy, that I see any more, that I’m any better off. I can say, however, that I am more awake than I would have been if I had stayed in Itta Bena. But, staying in Itta Bena could have worked as well for Sonny Boy as leaving has worked for me.

I had to leave Itta Bena, and I did not have to trek to the high Himalaya. Lots of Pilgrims make the trek. I do not have to. Their path takes them there. My path does not take me there. They have their way, I have mine. Alan Watts once asked Joseph Campbell, “What kind of yoga do you do, Joe?” Campbell replied, “I underline passages.” There you are. Any path walked with awareness leads to the Grail, to God, to enlightenment, to eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. But, not every path is our path. Awareness leads us to some paths and away from others.

Not everyone stays in Itta Bena or treks to the high Himalaya. Not everyone underlines passages, or even reads books. No path is the right path for everyone. Any path can be right for someone. If you are wondering how you know which path is right for you, the answer is follow the clues. Here are the clues, or some of them: Which path has life for you, offers life to you? Which path is the interesting path, the intriguing path? Which path seems to be whispering your name? Which path looks to be fun, engaging? Which path is “you”? Which path won’t go away? Which path can’t you put aside? And, here’s the kicker: Can you ride it out past wanting to quit?

At some point, every path goes over into drudgery and boredom. Every path loses its allure. Every path leads into the trackless wilderness, and we wonder what we are doing, and what we were thinking about, and where we go from here. Riding it out is what a seed does in the ground. What the yeast does in the dough. What the salt does in the soup. What the light does in a dark, dark place. Riding it out is about waiting, holding on, trusting that there will be an opening, or a shift, or a change in policy.

We can talk ourselves into believing it was a mistake. We can talk ourselves into, and out of, everything. We can quit too soon. We can stay too long. We have to know when we have had enough and quit when we must, but not until we know we have reached the limit, and sometimes we only know that in hindsight. When we know it we stop, but we don’t stop just because we are afraid we might be reaching our limit. We can talk ourselves into quitting too soon.

We are not here to create comfortable routines and wallow around in the safe mud holes of home until we die. It isn’t about how painlessly we can live. It is about being alive, awake, aware. Cook up an interesting whim, see where it takes you. Listen to your heart. Follow your dreams. Let your curiosity and your passion carry you out your normal, safe, routines into strange lands and the company of unfamiliar people. Stir up your capacity to imagine a better world than the one you live in, and don’t stop when you meet the fear, the resistance, the opposition. Ride it out. That’s my advice. And, that’s where we came in.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

10/12/06, Thinking About God

We have to change the way we think about God if we are going to live together in ways that create the world, that foster Life, sustain Life, and make being together a good place to be. Abraham could ask of God, “Shall not the judge of the universe do right?”, as though there is a right way of doing things that is beyond God, a right way of being that even God must acknowledge and respect. It’s a far cry from there to the hymn that helped indoctrinate generations of church-goers: “Whatever God Ordains Is Right.” The popular orthodox/evangelical notion that anything God does or allows is right because it’s God who does it or allows it, and who can question God?

The who can question God position was handed to us by the prophet who asked, “Can the pot say to the potter, ‘Why have you made me so?’ Or can the tree say to the ax, ‘Why have you cut me down?’” And by the Book of Job, where Job’s complaints about the unfairness of God are answered by God who says, in effect, “Who are you to ask me to explain anything? Might makes right, and I am the mightiest of the mighty, and can do anything I want! So take your suffering like a man and quit your whining!” Where is Abraham when you need him?

And, who, really, is the whiner? Throughout the Bible it is God who whines, and complains, and pouts, and punishes. God wipes out creation and starts over with Noah—Noah, no less. Of all people, why start over with Noah? Noah gets drunk celebrating the return of dry land, and it all goes to hell, again, from there. And, God spends the rest of biblical history pleading, and pouting, and punishing because the people won’t do it the way God wants it done.

God, the brilliant, all-knowing, all-foreseeing, all-powerful, designer, creator, sustainer of the universe, calls the people of Israel out of Egypt only to torture them mercilessly in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, which, as it turns out, is much more of a curse than a blessing, and always was. It seems that the people’s wanting something to eat and drink was a complete surprise to God, and that the Golden Calf was equally unanticipated. Moses spends as much time talking sense into God (“You can’t kill them all,” says Moses. “You would be the laughing stock of the nations if you killed them all. The nations would say you are a failure and a dumb butt if you kill them all.” Or, words to that effect), as he does talking sense into the people (“If you keep acting this way,” says Moses to the people, “God is going to kill you all.”). At the end of the biblical record, after God sends Jesus to die for the sins of the world and reconcile the world to God, God is still talking about killing all of those who do not make God happy, and sending them to hell for an eternity of suffering and misery, to teach them a thing or two.

In the Bible, God is depicted as a monster of outstanding proportions. God kills everybody who stands in God’s way. God kills Jesus, God’s only son our lord, in order to forgive everyone who believes God killed Jesus, who died for our sins and restores us to God if we believe he died for our sins and restores us to God. And, God kills everyone who does not believe Jesus died for our sins and restores us to God. If we don’t do it the way God wants it done, we die. And go to hell. That is the over-whelming consensus of biblical opinion. Only two statements, that I can think of, contradict it.

Abraham asks, “Shall not the judge of the universe do right?” Let’s hear it for Abraham! And, Jesus tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There is no place in that parable for the father to ever say to the prodigal, “If you don’t do it the way I want it done, I’m going kill you and send you to hell!” In the Parable, we get the idea that the father will forgive the prodigal and welcome the prodigal home seventy times seven times, which is to say, forever.

When Jesus says, “The Father and I are one,” we have the idea that Jesus is God. It’s the other way around. God is Jesus. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” says Jesus. There you are. Who does Jesus kill? Who does Jesus condemn to hell? Is Jesus more like the monster God of the rest of the Bible, or the prodigal’s father? Jesus is living out before the people a new way of thinking about God.

“You have heard it said,” says Jesus, “but I say unto you…” Jesus sets aside the popular ways of thinking about God, and is not afraid to think differently about God. “God is not who you think God is,” says Jesus. God is like the prodigal’s father. God is like yeast in the dough, salt in the soup, light in the darkness, a seed in the earth.

Jesus lives out his idea of God before the people. Jesus brings God to life in the way he lives with the people. Jesus is his idea of God, not punishing the people for their sins, but bearing the burden of their sins all the way to death on a cross without retaliating, destroying, or demanding vindication. Jesus is the prodigal’s father, the way he believes God ought to be.

Of course, it doesn’t catch on. You’ve heard me say that Jesus wasn’t dead fifteen minutes before everything changed. We reinterpreted Jesus to fit the old conception of God. We like the idea of God as monster. That’s the way we would be if we were God. We would make them pay, by God, if we were God. None of this long-suffering, loving-kindness, forgiveness and grace business! Give us tit-for-tat! That’s the way God ought to be! The little monsters need a Mighty Monster, it seems, and will kill all who suggest that God is otherwise, and wish them to hell.

We cannot let that stop us from suggesting that God is otherwise. How free are we, though, to create God as we think God ought to be? Aren’t we stuck with the “overwhelming weight of biblical opinion” regarding who God is? Doesn’t the Bible know what it’s talking about? By what authority do we set it aside? “You have heard it said,” said Jesus, “but I say unto you.” Are we free to be who Jesus was? Are we free to invent, imagine, and bring to life in our lives a God we would be proud to call “God”? Who is the God beyond our idea of God, and how close does our idea approximate the reality of God? Whose God is God? Who is to say? How do we know?

We stand before the monster God of the Bible and the prodigal’s father God of Jesus, and we decide which God is God. How do we decide? Whose word do we take? How do we know? Which God makes sense to us? On what basis do we make our choice? What if we are wrong? We might wish God were like Jesus’ father of the prodigal, but how can we go against the overwhelming weight of biblical opinion?

Jesus sits with his disciples and asks, “Who do people say that I am?” And, they say, “Some say, John the Baptist. Some say Elijah, or one of the prophets.” And he says, “Who do you say that I am?” There you are. It doesn’t matter what “they say,” even if “they” represent the overwhelming weight of biblical opinion. The question is what do we say. Who do we say God is? How is that made evident in our lives? How do we live to bring our idea of God to life in our lives? Are we more like little monsters, or the prodigal’s father?

Monday, October 09, 2006

10/08/06, Sermon

There is a Zen observation that says, “An archer’s ability to hit the bull’s-eye varies in indirect proportion to the size of the prize for hitting the bull’s-eye.” There you are. The more we have at stake in the outcome of our doing, the less we are able to simply be in the moment of our doing. The more about us the path becomes, the less we are able to find the path.

When my focus shifts over to me and what I’m getting out of it, and what I stand to gain from it, and how I can use it to my advantage, it’s all over. I can then forget being present in the moment, available to the moment, able to offer to the moment what I have to give. The moment is not ours. We are not here to possess the moment, to squeeze the good out of the moment, to make happen what we want to happen in the moment. We live in the moment for the sake of the moment, not for our sake. We belong to the moment. The moment does not belong to us.

We are not here for what we can get out of it. Enlightenment is not about what we get from being enlightened. We get to be enlightened is what we get, and that doesn’t do anything for us. And, if we ask, “Well, then, what’s the point?”, it may be a while before we get it.

What do we do for no reason beyond doing it? What do we do for its sake alone? What are the “simple pleasures” that we do for the joy of doing them? How much time do we “waste” in a day doing things we enjoy for themselves alone? Do we allow ourselves the privilege of “doing nothing” but enjoying what we are doing? If so, are we aware of “losing the moment” when we begin to wonder how we might turn it somehow to our advantage? When our advantage enters the moment, the moment shifts from enjoyment to strategic planning. We begin to scheme, and fret, and finagle—thinking, perhaps, that we will get back to enjoying life once we have it made. The joy is there right now. Why do we put it aside, to get back to it later, if ever?

Enlightenment gives us the moment. There is nothing beyond the moment to get, to own, to have, to be. If we think there is something beyond the moment, something more important than the moment, we lose the moment. THIS is the moment of our living. How fully can we live it? How fully can we be aware of it? How fully can we be alive in it? What is there beyond being fully alive to get, to own, to have, to be?

Snoopy, in one of the Charles Schultz Peanuts comic strips, reflected on his life as a pup at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. “We all dreamed of escape and freedom,” he said, “but, once we got over the fence, we were still in the world.” That’s the way it is with the life of our dreams. At some point, we have to live here, now, with what is with us in the moment of our living.

The dream is always “out there,” ahead of us, waiting to be realized, but the realization only creates the need for a more elaborate dream. In this way, dreaming is a buffer we place between ourselves and the moment of our living, a pleasurable escape from the world of the here-and-now. We lose ourselves in the dream, cut ourselves off from the moment, and go through the motions of life, living only in and for the dream. The question is, and it may be the essential spiritual question, is whether we will do the things that close us off from the moment or open us to the moment—of whether we will live or only dream of being alive.

Spirituality is about being awake and alive in the moment of our living. What do we want spirituality to do for us? What do we hope to get from spiritual growth? How do we want our lives to be different with, say, an advanced degree in spiritual development? A deeply formed spiritual orientation and perspective is only going to give us the moment of our living, is only going to enable us to be alive there.

The irony is that living as those who are alive in the moment of our living transforms the moment. No moment will be unchanged by those who are awake in it. Every moment will be something more than what it was or would have been without those who are awake in them. Being awake and alive in the moment of our living radically and fundamentally alters every moment flowing from it, following it. But, we cannot think there will be anything in any of that for us. We cannot think it will be to our advantage to be awake and alive in the moment of our living. We cannot think enlightenment, or spirituality, is a strategy to get what we want if we want something more than being awake and alive in the moment of our living. And so, the saying: “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

The Way is the way of being who we are, where we are, how we are, when we are. It is the way of being alive in the moment of our living. Being awake, and aware, and mindful, and open, and present to what is present to us. It is the way of seeing, and hearing, and understanding. It’s the way of being true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives. It is the way of living aligned with what is deepest, best, and truest about us. It is the way of being transparently engaged with, invested in, the moment of our living—that is to say, engaged with, and invested in the moment, with nothing personally riding on the moment, with nothing to gain and nothing to lose, with no agenda beyond being aligned with the best we can imagine for the moment.

The spiritual task is to break the spell cast by the culture, by civilization, really. The spell is the perspective that restricts perspective and allows us to see things only from the standpoint of our own advantage and personal interest. Enlightenment breaks the spell, enabling us to see, and hear, and understand—enabling us to know how things are and how things also are, and what is being asked of us for the good of all. The spiritual task is to wake up, to be awake. Waking up is the hardest thing to do. Being awake is the hardest thing to be.

The business of the church—our business—is doing the hardest thing, is waking up, is living with our eyes open, is having eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand. Everything flows from that. Right seeing. Right hearing. Right thinking. Right doing. Right being. Everything changes, everything is transformed, when we see into the heart of things, and know what’s what, and understand how things are and how things also are.

If you are going to give me anything, give me a perspective that is always being enlarged, that is always taking something more into account, that is always seeing past what has been seen into what is to be seen. Seeing is the tool of the soul in the work of the soul. Seeing shapes the world. We cannot see and live as though we do not see, as though we have not seen. Seeing changes us and transforms the world. If you are going to give me anything, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands. With that gift, we change the world.

We don’t have to be somewhere else to effect the kind of change that transforms the world. Wherever we are is the place of power. All we have to do is open our eyes. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are the tools of transformation. If we want to change the world, we only have to see what is before us, hear what is being said and done, understand what is and what also is. The world will be transformed.

We live to transform the world by the way we live in the world. Perspective is the means, the mechanism, for the transformation of the world. We will transform the world by being awake and alive in the moment of our living, but we probably will not have anything to show for it. Jesus and the apostles are no better off for all of the kind things said about them after they died.

It is not about accruing the advantages and having it made. It is about living aligned with the best we can imagine and letting the outcome be the outcome. This doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of or shooting ourselves in the foot. If we aren’t here for our own advantage, we aren’t here for anyone else’s advantage either. It isn’t about anyone’s advantage. It’s about serving a good beyond our own personal good—beyond all our own personal good—trusting that that will prove to be good enough for all of us.

What is stirring within us, among us? What is trying to be born in us, through us? As you listen to your life, to the time of your living, to the moment of being, what do you hear? What is the Virgin being asked to deliver? We have to listen if we hope to hear. We have to look if we hope to see. We have to be open if we hope to receive the vision that changes the world.

The heart of spiritual practice is sanctuary, retreat, sacred space. We have to create an open space in which to listen and look and wait to hear and see. We have to step back in order to step forward. We have to live with the demeanor of a monk, with the quiet sense of presence afforded by the perspective of a monastery, within the din and press of our daily lives. We have to carry into each moment a quiet place within, a sanctuary of the heart, and live out of that place in bringing the way of God—in bringing life—to life in the world. To do that, it helps to have an actual sanctuary, a place of retreat, were we can go “just sit,” and be present with whatever is present with us. Our work is that of maintaining a proper perspective through our days upon the earth. To do that we have to find a space that enables us to be alive to the time and place of our living. From there, The Transformation!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

10/07/06, Clowns

Yesterday, I bought a pair of red Crocks. Not because they are Crocks, but because they are red. Then I created a business card, with the typical Presbyterian Church of the Covenant stuff on one side, and this on the other side: "We are all being treated as clowns in a circus run by a ring master with a flare for the absurd. Everyone of us should wear red clown shoes, or a red clown nose, or an orange Bozo the Clown wig as a way of acknowledging and protesting the way things are, for as long as they are this way." I'll hand the business card to anyone who comments on the red shoes. I'll wear the red shoes everyday, for as long as the ringmaster of the absurd runs the show. And, yes, I'm talking about George W. Bush. I invite you to join me in the acknowledgement and the protest.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Look for what resonates and don’t ask any questions. Except to understand that it isn’t about sex. It’s easy to think it’s about sex. When we are dealing with the kind of resonation that is sexual attraction, it’s easy to think it’s about sex. What’s sex about? Well, it can be an avenue to the ecstatic, to the wonder of merging with, and being lost in, another. It can be a miracle of presence, absorbing and being absorbed by another. It can be an enraptured experience with attentive, loving, knowing. The two become one. Thou art That.

Except, of course, Thou really aren’t That. That picks its nose, lets the dog have the run of the house, and leaves its socks in the hallway and the sports section on the back of the toilet. How could Thou ever have been so blind to the obnoxious, disgusting, wholly un-Thou-like side of That? How could Thou even think of having sex with That? Waking up to the un-Thou-ness of the That is the beginning of the end. Or, the beginning of the beginning. Depending on Thou’s depth of perception.

Here’s how it works: Sex has a spiritual side. We cannot be intimate if we will not be vulnerable. Intimacy and vulnerability are spiritual pathways. The physical and the spiritual become inseparable in the sensual. It is a spiritual hunger that we try to appease, a spiritual longing that we try to satisfy, with sex. And, it’s all glorious and magnificent while it lasts, but then we wake up to the That-ness of the That, and it’s all over. Or, just beginning. Depending on our level of acumen.

To ask more of sex than human warmth and comfort and the joyful, life-giving nature of physical pleasure is to stretch it to the breaking point. Sex is not a substitute for spiritual engagement, and spiritual engagement is not a prelude to sex. The two are easily confused and can feel like the same thing because they awaken us to our hunger and longing, and open us to our need for union and communion, attachment and connection, but they are not the same thing. Sex eventuality comes to grief upon the That-ness of the That. Spirituality carries us past the That-ness of the That into That’s Thou-ness, something sex aspires to, but cannot begin to do.

Sex is sex, and, at its best, is a suggestion of the union we seek with more than we can say. But, sex is sex, and cannot sustain the illusion of oneness with another over time. What is the hunger we try to satisfy with sex? It is more than we can say.

What is the flame to the moth? What is the power of the attraction? What is the moth trying to “get”? The moth cannot say. What is our “flame”? Our “strange attractor”? Toward what are we being pulled? We cannot say. But the gift that seems to center us, calm us, and bring us peace is the gift of self. Not the self of the other, but our own. The “pearl of great price” seems to be the discovery of our own voice, the uncovering of the path with our name on it, the unveiling of who we are and what we are about. If you are going to give me anything, give me, me.

Of course, it is not just any “me” that I am after—not just the “me” that has “my” best interest at heart. The “me” that wants one, no two, of everything. That wants all the advantages. That is not the “me” I will be satisfied with. I am after a much bigger “me” than that. I am after the “me” that is, well, you. And you. And you.

Here is an interesting aspect of the mystery. When I am singing my song, and you are singing your song, we are in, what might be called, perfect harmony. We are one. When I live with you in ways that enable you to be you, and you live with me in ways that enable me to be me, we make a space for each other, for one another, in which the That-ness of the That is actually created, and encouraged, and cultivated, and born, and brought forth, and nurtured, and guarded, and protected, and defended, and enlarged, and deepened, and expanded, and you become more than you could ever be without me, and I become more than I could ever be without you, and we make the joyful, shocking, foundational discovery that Thou ART That, in ways Thou could have never imagined before Thou became truly Thou and That became truly That. In becoming me, I become you, in becoming you, you become me, and we connect at the level of the heart, and know ourselves, and each other, as though for the first time.

So. True love is about me doing everything imaginable to help you be you, and you doing everything imaginable to help me be me. Within that matrix, the Thou-ness of the Thou, and the That-ness of the That are mutually respected, and self-limitations apply, so That’s dog doesn’t have the run of the house, and That’s socks aren’t left in the hallway. We don’t walk “all over” each other, we walk with each other, in Thou-ness and That-ness. The trick is that both Thou and That have to be waking up to do it. We cannot experience True Love if even one of us is asleep at the wheel.


Because we die, we feel like we have to get it done now. We are running out of time. We will run out of time. And so, we must bear the pain. We will die with things undone, with books yet to be written, with photos yet to be taken, with relationships yet to be developed and enjoyed, with sights unseen. We are always having to adjust ourselves to something. We have to adjust ourselves to death. That’s just the way it is.

In bearing the pain, and coming to terms with the fact that we will not have enough time, we give ourselves more time, in that we don’t lose any time worrying about not having enough time. We don’t have enough time. And, we have this moment right now. Don’t throw this moment away bemoaning the fact that you don’t have enough moments! Live this moment now! And the next moment then! Do what is to be done now, and let that be enough, because it is all that it can be.

I am likely to die with another photo trip in mind. I don’t care how many times I go to the Canadian Rockies, I am going to want to go back one more time. And, to Yellowstone, and to the Grand Tetons, and to Death Valley… No matter how much time I spend with the children and the grandchildren, it won’t be enough. No matter how much time I spend talking with people whose presence I treasure, it won’t be enough. I have an insatiable appetite for life, and living, and being alive. And, I am appalled at the very idea of dying. I have better things to do. But, I can spend what time I do have being appalled, and depressed, and woebegone, or I can spend what time I have living, doing right by the moment, loving what is to be loved, enjoying what is to be enjoyed, making wherever I am a good place to be, and waiting until I die to be dead.


There is that which, by its nature, brings me fully into the moment with it, and creates a space in which being there with that is enough. A cup of morning coffee does that. Loving presence does that. Sunrise at a scenic vista does that. “Aesthetic arrest,” I think it is called. We are stopped by a wonder, and brought to life by it, in the moment with it. Surprising gifts of life come out of nowhere to wake us up and make us alive.

Certain paths within Buddhism make use of a bell to wake participants up to the moment of their living, to call them out of the press of life and enable them to step into the now with consciousness, mindfulness, awareness as those who are alive and fully present. Tibetan singing bowls (do a Google search) ring us into the here and now, call us to remember our breathing, and to be present with what is present with us. The Buddhist have the advantage of someone with the responsibility to strike the bowl, to ring the bell. We are left to our own devices. Where is that woman with the bowl? We need her always at our side. Bringing us back to the now, inviting us to be alive.


What needs doing? What needs to be done? What needs us to do it? There are cars all over the world which need to have an oil change. Not one of those cars needs ME to do it. I am not the person to change oil. Just because something needs to be done, does not mean that I am the one to do it. What needs ME to do it? Where are MY gifts, inclinations, aptitudes, talents, interests, and abilities being called for? What is being asked of ME? We have to have a sense of our own “me-ness” and of the world’s need in order to find ways we might be of help to those about us. What are we suited for? Where do we fit in? How can WE be of service to the world? What can WE do to make where we are a good place to be?

Ram Dass once asked Joseph Campbell, “Joe, what form does your yoga take?” To which Campbell replied, “I underline passages.” There you are. Underlining passages might well be our gift to the world. Let those who build Habitat houses, build Habitat houses. Let those who ladle soup, ladle soup. Let those who sit in prayer and meditation, sit in prayer and meditation. Let those who underline passages, underline passages. And, don’t disparage anyone for the way they choose to bring their gift to life in the world, or think that everyone must serve, must be of help, in the same ways.

Monday, October 02, 2006

10/01/06, Sermon

The struggle to be spiritual is the struggle to be authentic, to be genuine, to be transparently real in every moment. Of course, by this definition, any two year old is the most spiritual person we know. Maturity adds compassion and awareness to the mix, and the decentralization of the ego, and the corresponding reduction in the power of the raging sea of desire to a quiet pool of preferences. The overriding spiritual quest is not to be authentic at the expense of other people, but to be authentic in relationship with other people, to be a self connecting with, relating to, self and other selves. To be a self in relation to other selves. A two-year-old can have an authentic melt-down at the candy counter. A spiritual master, on the other hand, can take no for an answer all day long, really for an entire life time, as the Dali Lama has done in regard to the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

We think being authentic has to do with saying what is on our minds, but it has to do with the connection between ourselves and our circumstances, being who we are in a way that meshes with what the situation calls for. It does not have as much to do with what we say, or even with how we say it, as it does with what needs to be said, or left unsaid, in the particular context of our living. There is a difference between stuffing our feelings and choosing not to say something, or waiting until it can be said.

We stuff our feelings because we are afraid of speaking, because we are afraid of putting truth on the table. When we do it that way, we pay a price, emotionally and physically, over time. But, there are times when it is not in anyone’s best interest for us to say who we are, where we are, why we are, when we are, what we are, how we are. You have never heard the Dali Lama say anything disparaging about the Chinese. He has not vented. He has not ranted, raved, threatened, remonstrated, demonstrated, demanded retribution, restitution, and apology. You might say he has not put truth on the table. You might say he has been stuffing his feelings. You might say he has not been honest, authentic, genuine, transparently real. But, if you said that, you would be not understanding the situation.

When the Pope spoke a couple of weeks ago, indirectly, about his ideas regarding Muslim propensity for violence by quoting from a centuries old manuscript to that effect, he enraged a good portion of the Muslim world. You might say he was being honest, authentic, genuine, transparently real. You might say he was putting truth, however veiled, on the table. You might say he was only telling it as it is and the response proves his point. You might say at least he wasn’t stuffing anything or pretending things are different than they are. You might say at least he had the courage to sort of say what needed to be said. Even if he sort of took it back. But, if you said that, you would be not understanding the situation.

When I trip back to the Mississippi Delta, or to the Mississippi Hill Country, to visit the cousins and the aunts and the uncles and the assortment of parishioners from the past, I don’t wear my Gay Pride tee shirt, or carry my anti-war banner, or take the suitcase with the pro-choice and the gun control now bumper stickers on it, and I don’t say much about politics, and religion, and race relations. You might say I’m being dishonest, and two-faced, and a fraud. You might say I’m stuffing how I really feel, and hiding my true feelings, and failing to be authentic, genuine, and transparently real. But, if you said that, you would be not understanding the situation.

In my defense, I’ll say I didn’t hide much of anything in the 20 years I spent talking to folks in Mississippi about my take on the gospel. And, I replaced the Dukakis For President yard sign almost as often as it disappeared. But, there is a point at which what you have to say cannot be heard. Beyond that point, if you keep talking, you suffer as much psychological and emotional (Where DOES that line lie?) damage as you would if you swallowed it all and stuffed everything. You become the weird relative in the backroom, about whom everyone says, “You know how he is.” Being excused in this fashion is not much different from being beaten, and speaking out is not much different from holding it in. What is the strategy for being heard in a world that cannot hear?

The Dali Lama does not talk about the Chinese, or about the Occupation of Tibet. He does not talk to those who cannot hear. He isn’t stuffing anything. He isn’t pretending anything. He isn’t denying anything. Jesus recommends that his disciples leave those who cannot hear them and go to those who can. It isn’t stuffing to recognize what can be heard and what cannot be, and to consciously choose to accommodate yourself to your audience, even as you search for those who can listen with acceptance and understanding to what you have to say. Authenticity, genuineness, and transparent realness do not require tantrums, venting, protests, or rage. They do require the realization and awareness of what we have to say and what those around us are capable of hearing, and where we have to go to find eye-to-eye-ness and commensality. The spiritual quest is as much for those who can hear what we have to say as it is for knowing what to say, or for hearing what needs to be heard. We cannot grow much beyond the capacity of our audience to hear what we have to say. When we find ourselves talking to blank expressions and empty eyes, we have to seek out other people to talk to.

But, being authentic is more than just saying what you are thinking to those who can hear what you are saying. It is saying what is needed, what is necessary, what is helpful. It is offering to the moment what the moment requires. It is bringing to life in a situation the very thing that is most useful to the situation. To do that, of course, we have to get out of the way. We have to disappear. Offering what the situation needs is not the same thing as offering what we think it needs, or giving it what we want it to have. So there is a sense in which being authentic, genuine, and transparently real doesn’t have anything to do with us at all.

Being authentic isn’t about saying what we are thinking so much as it is about knowing what needs to be said and saying it, knowing what needs to be done and doing it. It is about reading the situation, seeing into the heart of the moment, understanding what is being asked for, and offering what is needed. Authenticity is about the connection between who we are and what is being asked of us. We don’t make that connection by thinking about it.

Authenticity is not a function of cognition, of thought, of reason. It is not a left-brain function. The left-brain plays a part, of course, but it does not take the lead. We do not know what ought to happen in a situation apart from participation in the situation. We live our way to the truth. We do not think our way there. We cannot apply recipes and formulas, design structures, impose forms, provide answers from outside the situation. We have to live in it to know what to do about it, to know how to respond to it. We have to listen to it to have a sense of what needs to happen in it. And, sometimes, the answer is “nothing.”

Sometimes, nothing needs to happen, that is, the situation needs nothing to happen. Sometimes, there is nothing to be done. Carl Jung said, “There are no answers to the big questions, no solutions to the critical problems. They just have to be out-grown” (Or words to that effect). Doing nothing is doing something, and it is always an option. We wait to see what can be done, what needs to happen. We wait for clarity, for insight, for enlightenment, for wisdom, for revelation. But, we have to be intentionally waiting for those things. We can’t just be putting action off because we are lazy, or afraid.

Two things keep us from waking up and living authentic lives—lives connected at the core to ourselves and what needs to happen in the moment of our living. The two things, of course, are fear and desire, and, since fear is really desire in disguise, there is only one thing keeping us from waking up, although desire is not quite the word for it. What is the word for wanting what we have no business having? What is the word for trying to calm our fear and anxiety by giving ourselves an endless array of toys and bright, shiny distractions? What is the word for taking our minds off the situation, for disconnecting ourselves from the situation, and compelling the situation to be what we want it to be, to be what we think it ought to be (“Democracy for everyone!”, for example)? We cannot be authentic and afraid or anxious. We cannot be authentic and want what we have no business having. Sometimes, we have to “calm the troubled beast within” in order to bring ourselves to the situation as those who are awake, watching, and waiting to see what needs to happen, what needs to be done. And, that’s a tall order.

How do you calm yourself, soothe yourself? How do you find peace? How do you distance yourself from yourself and the situation in order to see, and hear, and understand? We have to see what is happening, and what needs to happen, in order to respond appropriately and authentically, in order to bring who we truly are to bear on what truly needs to happen. How do you achieve that sort of “working distance,” the kind of perspective that sees into the heart of things, and knows what to do? However you do it, that is a spiritual practice for you. Keep it up.
We cannot live appropriately and authentically—we cannot be awake, aware, and alive—without enough distance between ourselves and ourselves, and our circumstances to see, and hear, and understand. The creation of the right amount of “working distance” is the product of spiritual discipline and practice.

We are not “naturally” predisposed to live appropriately and authentically connected to ourselves and the circumstances of our lives. Our “natural” predisposition is to get our way or die. We “naturally” think of what we need, not of what needs us. We “naturally” respond with anger and hatred to that which blocks our way and frustrates our desires. It is the easiest thing in the world to melt down at the candy counter.

Spiritual discipline and practice calms “the beast within,” and enables us to consider our circumstances from a perspective other than our egocentric, self-centered, interest in getting what we have no business having—in having what cannot possibly satisfy or sustain us. We cannot live authentically connected with who we are and what our situation requires without the discipline of spiritual practice. Or, without participation in a community of like-minded people, who have no particular agenda beyond seeing, and hearing, and understanding, and responding appropriately and authentically to what is seen, heard, and understood.

Of course, we are working to create that kind of community here. And, we hope that you will be a part of the work with us. It will help to not have to know what you are doing, or by when you have to have it done. There is no recipe and there is no time frame for living appropriately and authentically in the world. But, the time to begin is always now.