Let’s get some things out of the way. Here’s the first thing: What are the safe-guards? The standards? What keeps us from going over the edge? From stepping over the line? Where’s the child who can see that the emperor is wearing no clothes? Fooling ourselves is what we do best, you know. Shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. Talking ourselves into what we have no business doing, or having, is what we do best. What’s to keep us honest with ourselves and one another? What’s to keep us awake, aware? What’s to keep us from going to sleep at the wheel, or going to sleep with complete trust and confidence in whoever is at the wheel?
The history of religion is the history of people fooling themselves and being fooled. There is a sense in which the religion of our experience is the result of smooth talking and easy listening. Or, fast talking and slow listening. We have been sold things we had no business buying. Enough is enough. If we are going to create the church as it ought to be, there has to be a clear understanding among us regarding what’s what—regarding your role and mine.
As I stand before you and bluntly state what I see and how I see it, you have to take the position of Vance Arnold and say, “Wait a minute! Not so fast! Everybody can’t wear red shoes!” I can get by with defining myself as a radical Christian liberal who throws out the doctrines, and the dogmas, and the rituals, and the liturgy, and the Bible as long as you aren’t buying it. As long as you are saying, “Wait a minute! Not so fast!” The right kind of community has to be a place where any perspective can be spoken, but no perspective is revered as the last word in perspectives. The distance between where I am and where you are is the safe space that allows people to develop their own views and positions without thinking they have to see things as I do to be a part of things here. As long as you don’t buy what I’m selling, other people who walk into the gathering don’t have to buy it either, and can use the freedom of thought here to find their own way.
The way, you might say, is the way of right relationship between each one of us and the rest of us. We have to listen to ourselves and we have to listen to one another. And, we have to decide for ourselves what we are going to do, think, and believe. I am a part of the material you use to construct your own path. And, you cannot give me more of a place in the construction of that path than is warranted. And, who decides what is warranted? You do, and you had better be right about it.
In the recent past we have seen the power of guileless enthusiasm in the service of wacky ideas of God in the so-called “ministry” of Jim Jones, and Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart (Do you see a theme developing here?). David Koresh had his mis-guided followers, and the poor folks waiting to be taken to glory in the space ships following the comet had their mis-guided leader. And, it is the easiest thing in the world to take yourself, or someone else, too seriously. As the paid Declarer of Truth As I See It, it is my place to be outlandish. I have the responsibility of stretching your perspective, of challenging your assumptions, of broadening your horizons, of blowing your mind. But, you can’t take my word for anything, and you can’t let me get by with talking you into anything. Your responsibility is to say, “Wait a minute! Not so fast!”
If all you ever heard from me was nothing more than “the same old, same old.” If all you got from me were the clichés, and the platitudes, and the maxims, and the tired old formulas, then one of you would have to play the part of the radical, mind-stretching voice. But, none of you is paid to do that kind of thing, and, if any of you began to do it, the rest of these good people would likely turn on you in a “who do you think you are” snarly kind of way to keep you in your place as member and not leader of the community.
The leader has to be the person who is paid to lead or things get ugly. The leader has to be the one who shakes things up. The leader has to challenge and confront and confound and call forth. The leader has to lead, and the followers have to follow, but the followers cannot follow too closely. The followers have to buck, and snort, and resist and ask questions for clarification and elucidation. Otherwise, things go too far in one direction or another and the wrong kind of community develops.
The right kind of community lives on the boundary between yin and yang. It fosters perspectives which take themselves into account. It does not require its members to sign a pledge of allegiance or a loyalty oath. It creates an atmosphere like that of a college dining hall, with groups of people scattered throughout the room, eating together, without thinking that their table is the only table and that all the others are unwelcome intruders, but also without thinking that everyone should be eating at the same table. The leader of the right kind of community is responsible for setting a clearly defined course, for stating bluntly what he, what she, thinks about a wide number of issues that are pertinent to the life of the community, and to the lives of individuals making up the community. And, the leader is respected and honored, but not taken too seriously. And, the leader doesn’t take himself, doesn’t take herself, too seriously, and does not take personally not being taken too seriously, but goes about the business of leading with the understanding that the community cannot follow too closely if it is to be the right kind of community, because the more narrowly the community allows itself to be identified and defined, the fewer people it will be capable of serving, and the less likely will be its chances of having any positive impact on the way life is lived in the world.
In order to have a chance at being the right kind of community, you have to know that you are here to find your own way and not to take up mine—or anyone else’s. If you take someone else’s word for it you lose the magic of your own voice, of your own thinking, and you get off the path with your name on it, and lose the way, and become lost among the bright lights everyone else is shining in your eyes, trying to show you the way, which is their way, as they shout directions telling you what to do and how to think to be as they are. But, you aren’t to become as they are. You are to become as you are. Yet, you aren’t to take your own way so seriously that you can’t receive instruction or insight from others. It’s a balancing act, a dance. And no one can tell us exactly how to do it. When to listen to whom? How to do what? All things come to those who wait, and watch. But, it is a special kind of waiting, and watching. It is a special kind of waiting and watching that involves nothing special. It comes down to “just sitting” with our ears, and eyes, open.
The spiritual discipline of “just sitting” will take you to the heart of things. When we “just sit,” things come up. Let them go, they continue to come up. The “10,000 things” pass before our eyes, pass in review. The vast majority of these things are static, the background noise of our lives. Some of them are the pertinent issues of the day, of the moment, which need to be attended and addressed. How to tell one from the other is a matter of listening to, of observing, our physical reaction to the thought. How does our body respond?
The body knows, you know. The body is our fail-safe guide to the issues that must be resolved. What is the physical sensation that is connected to the thought? What is the word that best describes the sensation? Tightness? Soreness? Choking? Nausea? Say the word until you find the right one, the one that fits exactly the sensation. Then, say hello to the word.
“Hello, Tightness.” And, invite it to speak. “What do you have to say?” And, listen. Wait, listening. Accept whatever comes without defending, justifying, excusing, or explaining. If what you hear is accusatory, say, “Something is fed up with the way I’ve been doing things.” And, wait, listening. Your role is to listen, accept, identify the emotional tone of what you hear, and create a loving, gracious, hospitable, receiving, space for what has to be said. Your role is to get to the bottom of things. Your body’s role is to serve as the doorway which carries you there.
You can “just sit” with a physical symptom. Treat the symptom as that which something is using to get your attention. Find the right word to describe what it feels like to have the symptom—what the physical sensation of the symptom is. Say the word, greet it, welcome it, ask it what it has to say. Wait, listening, accepting, welcoming, hearing it out.
And, don’t think you already know what it’s going to say. Don’t think you already know all about “the problem.” Listen, accept, welcome all the way to the core of what it has to say. Who is “it”? Not you. You are not “it.” It is not you. And language is important to keep you and it separate, not enmeshed. Do not say, “I am afraid.” Say, “Something is afraid.” Something is trying to get your attention, so address it as “Something.” Our place is to listen to what something has to say. We “just sit,” and listen, and clear the way to the heart of things by so doing. “Just sitting,” we know the truth and are free to do what must be done. If you are going to do anything, “just sit” in the right frame of mind. That is the power, the force, that transforms the world.