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.