Sunday, December 30, 2007

12/31/07, Sermon

Live with limitation, that’s my best advice. Not that you have any real choice in the matter. That’s one of the lessons of photography and life. Photography is about living with limitation. Photographers, like the rest of us, are limited by ten thousand things. They wake up, like the rest of us, and take what the day gives them. They do not, any more than the rest of us, dial up their days. They are, like the rest of us, always where they are, when they are, how they are, who they are, what they are, why they are. Nothing they can do about it.

If they go somewhere else, then they are where they are there. See? Wherever we are, we are there and not somewhere else. We are limited by our place and time, and all the other things that define and restrict us. We can only do what we can with what we have to work with. Other photographers have better opportunities, better choices. That can’t be helped. If we had only been here last week, or could only be here next week! But, here we are, today. This is it for now. What are we going to do?

Always the question, what are we going to do? Now what? That is the question that opens us to the moment and the moment to us. What are we going to do now? What is the next step, the step that is waiting to be taken now? The question awakens us to the choices we have, to the opportunities that exist in this moment, to the decisions that are to be made here and now. What here? What now? What next?

We cannot do a lot of things, but what CAN we do? And, of all that we can do, what are we going to do? What’s the next step? Here’s what Carl Jung has to say about that: “Be simple and always take the next step. You needn’t see it in advance, but you can look back at it afterwards. There is no ‘how’ of life, one just does it… It seems, however to be terribly difficult for you not to be complicated and to do what is simple and closest to hand… So climb down from the mountain and follow your nose. That is your way” (Quoted in The Tao of Jung, by David Rosen, p. xx).

Here we are. Aqui Estamos. Now, what are we going to do? No more complaining. No more whining. No more moaning about this old life and these old choices and wishing things were better. Here it is. This is it. What are we going to do, now? What is the next step? What is to be done, NOW?

What is our life asking of us? Where is our life taking us? What is trying to be born in us and through us? How do we know? Certainly not by thinking about it. We do not think our way to a life worth living. We do not think our way to the Grail. We live our way there.

We think knowing is a function of cognition, of thinking. We are all enamored by thinking and think it’s the only form of knowing. We live under the curse of “I think, therefore I am.” But, that pronouncement merely means, “I think, therefore I think I am.” We know more than we think we know. For example, we know our heart’s true love when we see her, or him, And, we know it isn’t the person standing next to her, or him. And she, he, might not have any of the qualities we think are important before the encounter. And, we can’t think that up, or out. It’s just there.

Folks who stand for us as witnesses of events we aren’t privy to say that particles, whatever they are, know what is going on with other particles instantaneously over vast distances. And, other folks, who also know what they are talking about, say bacteria communicate instantly (or close enough) with other bacteria all over the world, so that when you hit them with a vaccine, they figure out a way around it and pass the word just like that, and the vaccine stops working. And, the animals knew the tsunami was coming and made for high ground, while the human beings were thinking what a nice day it was. Thinking is not the only form of knowing. We need to know how to know what cannot be thought, or simply trust that we do.

We can’t be thinking about what to do here and now to make then and there what we want it to be. We have to be opening ourselves to what we know needs to be done here and now, never mind then and there. What needs doing now? What is the next step in this moment?
This present state of affairs is not going to last, that does not make the present moment expendable, or meaningless. That makes it precious. We cannot throw the moment away in an “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” frenzy, or in a “Woe are we, we are all going to die!” gloom. We can only live the moment as well as the moment can be lived without having to have something to show for it, without having to have a future that establishes the value of our investment, of our effort, over time. Life is not an investment! Life is life! It is to be lived, enjoyed, loved, shared, honored. We live to do right by the life we are living. What does it mean “to do right by the life we are living”? We live to figure that out.

We don’t live to make the future what we wish the present were. We live to make the present as good as it can be without spoiling the chances of a good present in future generations (after Fritjof Capra), and, we understand that it all hangs in the balance, and everything can be lost in an instant (when the Yellowstone caldera goes, for instance). Catastrophes have always wiped out life as it was being lived, and life has always started over. The tide is going to wash away our sand castle. That cannot diminish our joy in building sand castles. Live for the joy without ruining the chances for joy of future generations. And, don’t be thinking you have to have forever to make life worth living now. The moment is precious. Adore it. Live it.

The idea is to live now with the limitations present in the moment. Don’t think we have to have all the limits removed before we can live and breathe in the wonder of endless possibilities and infinite choices. That’s a dream world which keeps us from doing what can be done with this here, this now. Life is always grounded in a particular time and place. Time and place are always limited, restricted, conditioned. We live in a certain context, within certain circumstances. Here is where we are, now is when we are, what are we going to do about it? What is the next step? We have to come down off the mountain of wishful thinking and follow our nose, our knowing, into the next thing, feeling our way along, not knowing (with our heads) where we are going, or how it will all work out, but trusting ourselves to what our nose knows.

The answers we seek begin to stir in the stillness of not-knowing (with our heads). They take root in the fertility of expectant waiting. They grow in the nurturing atmosphere of wonder and delight. How long since we played with an idea? Since we laughed at the very idea of us doing THAT—and did it? How long since we settled into the dull routine of being ourselves, without any consideration of who else, or how different, we might be?

Abraham, you remember, left his father’s house and took off to a far country. Moses did the same. Jesus was a rebel without a place to call home from the start. No one who has known God has played it safe, stayed in the driveway, did the same old things in the same old ways—in the way they’ve always been done and, therefore, ought to be done—until they died. God trashes the same old same old. To know God is to try new things and risk ourselves in the service of the unheard of and unknown. No woman or man of God settled for the blah, blah, blah talk of their ancestors. Every woman or man of God spoke of new things, danced a new dance, launched out in a new direction, and everyone said they were crazy, touched in the head, over the edge.

But that’s where God lives. Over the edge. Outside the camp. Way-Out there. The heart of creation is free falling into the endless emptiness, calling us to follow our noses into taking the next step, over the edge, to jump in and enjoy the ride. That means creating an inner and outer stillness in which we can be engaged by our imagination, which is another term for the voice of God. Oh, surely not, you protest. Surely not! Well, you can’t tell them apart, imagination and the voice of God. It’s all the same to you. So, if you think something is “just your imagination,” go with it as though it is the voice of God. You could do a lot worse, mainly by ignoring what imagination is calling you to do.

Oh, but, terrible things could happen! WILL happen! Life is no lark! This is no waltz on rose petals in the soft moonlight. This is LIFE that we are talking about! Being ALIVE! You think it’s all sweetness and light? Being alive will break your heart! And, if you think that’s bad, try being dead!

Every great adventure is an ordeal. We may not survive—aspects of us, perhaps the things we have grown most attached to about us, say our favorite perceptions and perspectives, most certainly will NOT survive, which makes being alive a lot like dying. It will push us to the limit, and beyond. Being alive asks hard things of us, terrible things, wonderful, joyful, delightful things. And, we would be crazy to say no to any great adventure that comes along, that our imagination cooks up, that the voice of God suggests we go and do, that our noses sniff out and offer as the next step, the one to be taken here and now.

Monday, December 17, 2007

12/16/07, Sermon

Life is a terrible experience. We get by on the strength of our wit, courage, resiliency and luck. We have the happy fantasy of “rainbows, roses, and white picket fences,” but the reality is that “living will take the life right out of you.” Now, what are we going to do about that? Take it right back! How do we take it right back? By understanding that being alive is not accidental or automatic. It is deliberate. It is conscious. It is the work of our lives to be alive. To be alive within the framework of life as it is.

We think living is about arranging our circumstances to suit ourselves. “This is really living,” we say, when we have things like we want them. We think the work of our lives is getting and keeping things like we want them. So, we wrestle our lives into accord with our ideas for them, for how life ought to be. But the beast will not be charmed.

Just about the time we get things right, the Vikings sail into the harbor, the Huns pour over the hill, the stock market crashes, the polar ice caps melt, the doctor says “I want to have a closer look at this spot on your lungs,” and it all goes to hell. Our life is a dance with hell’s angels, and our best hope is soon reduced to a long break between songs.

We cannot count on our circumstances being what we want them to be. Our circumstances are not on our side. If the quality of our lives depends upon the quality of our circumstances, we are, of all people, most to be pitied. Our circumstances, they are a-changing.

This is the one thing we have in common with all people of every epoch since the beginning of people. We cannot count on our circumstances. We do not know what the next minute will bring. That is the deal, and, in response to the deal, we have done one of three things as a species. We have said, “NO!” We have said, “Yes!” Or, we have said, “Battle!”

“NO!” is the great negation. Life is suffering, it’s awful, it isn’t worth living, I won’t have anything to do with it, I am much too good to waste myself on something as wrong as life on its terms. Just read the newspaper. Good-bye, cruel world. And, we walk away to be a bitter recluse or we kill ourselves because we just will not have it. Life ends in death and we hurry up our dying because we just can’t take it.

“YES!” is the great embrace. We take the good and the bad, just as it is, and see perfection in every bite. It’s all cyclical, seasonal, bad is going over into good, good into bad, don’t take it so seriously, in any moment the next moment may be better, so why spend this one moaning about how bad it is, or the next moment may be worse, so why waste the good that is in this one moaning about how bad it is? No matter how bad it gets, the good is always good, enjoy what can be enjoyed and live the life that is yours to live. Life comes from death, so trust yourself to the moment and see what comes next.

“Battle!” is, you might say, a technological innovation. If you don’t like something, change it! Build a dam, or a dike, or a levy. Bulldoze the mountain chain. Erect paradise, complete with central air and heat. Develop! Alter! Transform! Defeat disease, and poverty, and hunger! Eradicate misery and suffering! A chicken in every pot and a pot in every house and a house for every person! Don’t let your circumstances ruin your happiness! Find a way to have what you want! Make the world over to suit yourself!

These are the three fundamental, you might say essential, orientations of the species to the world we wake up in every day. We assume one of these postures in relation to our lives, and our living takes on the tone of our basic presumption about this life we are born into.
Our orientation toward life is one of the most important things about us, and governs, to a large extent, the over-all quality and character of our lives. That being the case, you would think we would think about it, be conscious of it, aware of what we are doing, but not! We say, “NO!” to life, or “Yes!”, or “Battle!” without thinking of it. So, we better think of it, and we better say, “Yes!”

This is so critical, I should say it slowly and loudly for the proper emphasis. But it hurts my throat to speak that loudly, and to go slow softly puts people to sleep. So you’re going to have to pretend that this is coming at you slowly and loudly. Our lives are to life as a river is to its channel.

Our lives constitute our interests, aptitudes, aspirations, desires, concerns, fears, needs and the like. Each of us has our own personal integrity, call it “integrity of being,” just as we have our own finger prints and DNA. And, we have to live out of that integrity and be who we are in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Life constitutes those conditions and circumstances. We live our lives in relation to life. Our lives are what we are able to negotiate in relation to the conditions and circumstances of our living. Our life’s work is to enter consciously, regularly, continually into that negotiation.

It’s like this: I should have said that to you slowly and loudly, but it would have hurt my throat. See? We have to be true to ourselves within the conditions and circumstances of our lives. That is the spiritual task. We have to come to life, and live as those who are fully alive, within conditions and circumstances that govern our living, and restrict our choices, and limit our possibilities.

The meandering of the river is shaped by the possibilities of its channel. A river can’t go just anywhere, I don’t care how big and mean it is. In fact, the bigger and meaner it is, the more limited are its possibilities. Forcing your way can be very restrictive. Short is long, don’t you know? And soft is hard. And easy is difficult. And we have to work it out, who, and how, we will be, in relation to our possibilities.

That’s the spiritual task. It’s spiritual because we are bringing our invisibility, our latent potentiality, our innermost integrity of being, into physical shape and form. We are birthing ourselves into this world where there is no room for us in the inn. And, wa-la! Just like that, we are at the manger—we are IN the manger! We are Mary the Virgin, birthing the Christ in us, into the conditions and circumstances and possibilities of life in the world.

The problem with all of this is that you have to know what I mean before you can understand what I’m saying. You have to help me help you. I am speaking to you as much through your imagination as through your ears. If you don’t get it, you must not easily assume that there is nothing to be gotten. Revisit the idea. Sit with it. Play with it. It may yet come to life in you and for you and through you into the world—like the baby born of the virgin.

Think of me as the angel and of yourself as Mary. I’m telling you that you are going to have a baby through a spiritual conception and it will be born in the world and in your life, actually, tangibly, physically, really, and that the baby is you. And the work of birth is the work being you within the possibilities, and conditions, and circumstances of your life.

To live like this is to say, “Yes!” to life just as it is, and to realize that in every condition and situation of life, our task is to find our way to our heart and the Heart of Creation, which is, of course, the same heart, and to live out of our identification with that heart/Heart in the midst of our present life-situation.

We bring life to life in life. This is the birth of the Christ (The Anointed One of God), the birth of what we might call True Life or Our True Self, within the ordinary conditions of life in the world. “He was without form or comeliness.” There was nothing about him that would draw attention to him. His appearance was such that no one would ever notice him. And, yet, in him was the light that was the true life of all people.

That is the mystery of the incarnation. When we bring to life the True Life that is within us, no one notices, nothing changes, everything is just as it was, yet the world is transformed, and the host of heaven joins in a great chorus of Halleluiah, and the shepherds and those who are wise gather at our manger-side to offer their gratitude. Even those who don’t know and don’t see seem to sense that something is going on.

But, it is wrong for us to take any credit, or seek any gain. It’s a Virgin Birth, remember. We don’t have anything much to do with it. We are just along for the ride. Our part is to not get in the way, and to just remain open to the realness of our heart and the Heart of Creation and to the reality of the possibilities and limitations of the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Anything that comes to us, is like that which comes to the ox treading grain. The ox is not elected king or queen, but gets to eat what comes his, or her, way. No big deal. Nothing special. That’s True Life in the real world.

And, it is essential to everything that happens there. “The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” says Joseph Campbell. All of life is enhanced by the authenticity of the life of a True Human Being—the life of a person living in accord with her heart, with his heart, and the Heart of Creation, within the conditions and circumstances of her, of his, life. This the miracle, that we live here and now in ways that incarnate, reveal, disclose, unveil and make plain that which is more than we can say. And, when we do it, people can’t decide if they heard the voice of angles, or only thunder. And, can’t decide if they had seen a child of God or a child of Satan. And, we can’t try to clarify things for anyone because we are too engaged in the work of bringing life to life within life. To talk about what we are doing, or prove what we are doing, is to stop doing it.
So, the need to explain, defend, justify, excuse becomes just another tangle in the web of circumstances we have to work with in being true to ourselves within the conditions of life.

If they don’t believe what they see with their eyes, they won’t believe what they hear with their ears, so we can’t spend too much time with them trying to get them on our side. “Those who are with us are with us, and those who are against us are against us.” And, “there are miles to go before we sleep,” so we can’t wait for everyone to get on board before we leave the station.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

12/09/07, Sermon

I have a favorite coffee cup, and it was lost for six weeks. I’d taken it with me to retrieve something from the closet where we keep our luggage and carousels of old slides, and left it, with two sips of wine—it is also my favorite wine glass—on the shelf, while I carried out my self-appointed task of, what must have been, great urgency. I am sure that if it had been filled with wine, I would have never forgotten it, and this one of the lessons to be learned from this experience. Never retrieve something from somewhere in the house with less than a full cup of wine as a traveling companion.

The other lesson has to do with doing what you can to rectify a situation without doing more than you can. I conducted a number of interviews, carried out two or three full scale searches, and a number of light reconnaissance missions, and sat thinking about the possible whereabouts of the cup for a couple of minutes on several occasions. I knew it was my fault, even though it occurred to me to blame the grandchildren, or a daughter, or one of the sons-in-law, I knew I couldn’t make any of the charges stick. I remembered as much as getting up with the cup and its two sips of wine and considering my options: leave it behind, chug it, refrigerate it, or take it along. I remembered taking it along. And, that was as far as memory would serve.

Well, those things constituted as much as I could do. Beyond them, I would not go, trying to do more than I could do, tearing up each room of the house, say, in the style of those mobster or FBI searches in the movies (Amazing, isn’t it, how the good guys and the bad guys are indistinguishable in the way they go about looking for something? Makes you wonder what one knows that the other doesn’t), or putting all family members on the rack or the water-board (Another amazing similarity between the good guys and the bad guys. What IS it that makes us think WE are good and THEY are bad? Particularly, when they are thinking the same things in reverse. You would think there would, at least, be agreement among the good guys and the bad guys about who was who). At any rate, I didn’t try to do more than was legitimately mine to do. After I did that much, I simply waited, trusting that I would live long enough to see the mystery solved.

My wife found the cup in the closet, with its sticky residue of evaporated wine, when she was bringing out Christmas gear to decorate for the season. I rejoiced and was glad. During the searching operation of the campaign, I looked carefully in places I don’t normally go, like the basement, but the luggage-slides-Christmas closet didn’t make the list. I don’t go there often enough to think of it as a place I don’t normally go. But, I did look on top of the hutch that holds the phone. I thought it was clever of me to think of that even though it wasn’t there. It was in the closet the whole time, it’s contents drying up, waiting to be found—as helpless as I was to hurry up the time.

There are no short-cuts, it seems. We can only wait it out. Making the necessary adjustments, accommodating ourselves to our less than optimal living conditions, acquiescing to the inescapable truth of how it is: “This is the way things are, and this is what you can do about it, and that’s that.”

When we wake up, this is one of the things we wake up to, the “is-ness” of the now, of the here and now, of this moment in which we are living. This moment is the staging area for all the moments following it. In this moment, we set the tone for the rest of our moments. This is the Karmanic influence of the present, in adjusting the drift of the past and moderating the direction of the future.

I avoided a number of possibilities for the future by not yelling at anyone for doing such a poor job in taking care of me. They must know by now that I cannot be trusted, and must be watched, and kept from shooting myself in the foot. What do they mean, leaving me to myself? Even when an event is clearly my fault, I can still find ways of blaming everyone else for letting me do it. And, the fact that I refrained from doing so out loud is to my credit. It also underscores the point that a number of futures are possible in any moment, and that the way we live in the moment creates the path to livable, or unlivable, possibilities.

After we have done what we can do, we wait. We do not try to do more than we can do. We cannot force short-cuts or willfully wrest the world of our choosing into being. Waiting is balancing, it is restoring the harmony between what we want and what we have. This is the work of consciousness, the work of awareness, the work of spiritual practice. It is the work of realizing how our interests impact, mesh with, and are altered or obliterated by the unfolding of circumstances. We may want to play tennis, for example, but when the Yellowstone caldera blows, it’s going to put tennis aside for a while. It is the work of consciousness, awareness, mindfulness, and spiritual practice to put ourselves in accord with the conditions and circumstances of our lives. This is the work of realization, balance and harmonization. It is the work that is required to find the Holy Grail.

Now, the missing coffee/wine cup wasn’t the real Holy Grail. But, then, there is no real Holy Grail. It’s a metaphor, don’t you know, for the heart and soul of life. It’s a metaphor for life itself, and for what has life, and is life, for us. In that, it’s like the manger. And, the work of finding it is the work of Advent.

Here’s how the work works: We are born into this world, and the world does not cooperate with us and the realization of our wants and desires and interests and needs. We have a problem. The problem is how to get what we need from the world in which we live. How to get our needs met. And, not only our needs, but our aspirations and dreams as well. We can imagine a better world than the world we can live in. There you are. The problem. How do we put ourselves into accord with the circumstances of our lives? That is our life’s task. Negotiating a settlement we can live with—coming to friendly terms with the circumstances of our lives.

And, those circumstances are always changing, developmentally and environmentally. We have to find the way from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age. From dependency to responsibility to dependency. Making transitions all the way, with the biggie being from life to death. And, while we are doing that, the external circumstances of our lives are doing a dance called the Chaotic Swirl. And, we have to find the way to life, to the Holy Grail, to the manger, through all of this. It’s enough to make you forget where you put your coffee cup.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. I think I might need to make a stronger connection between the Grail and the manger for you. It starts with you thinking metaphorically about both. Understanding both the Holy Grail (which came into being at the end of Jesus’ life) and the manger (which was there at the beginning) as being about the same thing: Life. “I came,” said Jesus, “that you might have life and have it abundantly.” John says, “What has come into being in (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Jesus’ life from start to finish was about bringing us to life, here and now. Not after our biological death, but right now. The life and the light is about living properly aligned with God, neighbor, self and circumstances.

The whole point of life is to be alive. What’s the wasteland? It’s a place where people are living inauthentic lives. It’s the place where they are not living their own lives at all. It’s the place where people are living life as life is supposed to be lived according to the codes and norms and rules of their social group—where people are doing what they are supposed to do—where they are doing what they are told to do. Jesus was born into that kind of framework, as we all are, and he said, “What are you people thinking? Wake up, for crying out loud, and live the life you are capable of living!”

The manger and the Grail symbolize the life of the individual that is lived in right relationship with her, with his, circumstances. They are about waking up and living in right relationship with our lives. We don’t run to do that. We wait. We look. We listen. To see and hear what must be done. The season of Advent is a symbol reminding us of the importance of the place of waiting in the spiritual scheme. What are we waiting for? Christmas morning! Not for the gifts and presents that Santa brings to those who have been good little boys and girls, and not for the reenactment of the birth of one little boy who is said to have been especially good. Christmas morning, and the manger, are symbolic of the awakening, the realization, the enlightenment which comes to those who wait in the right way. And what does enlightenment do for us? What do we wake up to? This present moment right now and how we need to live in it in order to do what needs to be done in it. We wake up to what it means to be alive right here, right now.

Being alive in any moment means seeing the moment as a living thing in its own right. All our moments have a life of their own. Our moments are filled with possibilities and opportunities and choices and options, all of which have implications for the way life is lived. We cannot think that the moment is some lifeless rock that we can pick up and throw into the sea if we want to, without any consequences for anyone ever. We cannot think that our moments are ours to do with as we will. This is the spiritual realization.

When you have this realization, it is as though the Grail appears before you, and you have the chance you have been waiting for, even though you didn’t know you were waiting for it, and everything rides on how you respond, on how you live in the moment of your living. The moment can carry you to the Grail Castle, or it can dump you in the wilderness of you own making, depending on the choice you make in the moment, so you better know that you are making a choice. “Whom does the Grail serve?” “Those who serve the Grail!” What does it mean to serve the Grail? Answering that question requires us to dance with our gifts and our circumstances’ needs, between our interests and aspirations and dreams, and our circumstances’ possibilities. For whom does the Grail exist? The answer is “Not you, and not Not you”! We live in relation to our circumstances as a river lives in relation to its channel. Our concern is not for ourselves and our gain and our advantage but for what is needed in the moment. What does it mean to “do right by the moment”? That is what it means to serve the Grail! We do the right thing in this moment right now, not some other moment. We live in this moment, here and now, not in some other time, not in some other place. Life is not to be deferred, yet, we live not by grabbing the gain, but by doing right by the moment of our living.

No one is ever so awake in any moment that she, that he, can live as a robot in that moment. Nothing is automatic in being alive in the moment of your living. You cannot memorize some creed or some catechism or some book of confessions and meet the needs of the moment out of what you have stored in your head. Out of what someone else has told you to do. You have to be alive in the moment of your living and live out of your own spontaneity. It has to be you and the moment, not some book and the moment, not someone else and the moment.

Christmas morning is about awakening to the importance of being awake in the moment of your living, awake to the possibilities of the moment, awake to what the moment is asking of you, offering to you, awake to what is unfolding within your own self, awake to what is ready to be born within you, to come to life in you and through you into the world.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

12/02/07, Sermon

We dream of escape and deliverance. It is the human condition. Not this! Not this! Anything would be better than this! But, everything turns into “this,” eventually. Our assets have their liabilities, and the way out of one thing is the way into another. Where are we better off? On the move! And, even that gets old after a while.

Settling down with the way things are means making our peace with our lives, letting “this,” (whatever it is) be well with us, even though it is not, really, and it is a lie to pretend that it is. So we make the lie part of the “this,” and accommodate ourselves to the pretense, as well as to the situation, until enough becomes enough, and we get fed up, and can’t take any more. Then we move on.

Truthfulness demands a “No!” from time to time. Some things are not tolerable. When the waterhole dries up, we’re stupid to accept dehydration and death. Move on! Stop looking for peace at last! Accept unsettledness as the human condition! Be unsettled! Make the endless trade-offs! Do not look for the Land of Promise where everything will be just fine forever! Being happy with the way things are is a grand illusion. There will always be something not to like. Don’t like what is not to be liked! Live with it, change it, or move on!

If only we weren’t so hard to please! If only we could let things be! If only we could just be content with the way things are! Trouble is, we are part of the way things are. We aren’t pleased with our being hard to please. Our dissatisfaction with the way things are is one of the things we cannot let be. And, we can’t fix ourselves without leaving ourselves alone. Enter irony, paradox, and the need for the balance of laughter, and playfulness, and the ease of living softly, with an affinity for untied ends and unknown paths and unpredictable turns and shifts and outcomes—the need of an aliveness to life!

Balance is never rigid. Balance is constant adjustment, compensation, accommodation. It is not a fixed state, but a quality of motion. We experience homeostasis because we are comfortable with the routine movement required to keep things “the same,” but there are perturbations within the range of comfort that are acceptably “normal.” We never drive in an exactly straight line, and riding a bicycle is just a matter of learning to narrow the wobbles to an acceptable range.

We experience distress when we have to move beyond our “comfort zone” to deal with the upheavals and disruptions of life. Maybe things return to the “old normal,” and maybe we adjust to a “new normal,” but, over time, things settle into another comfortable routine until the next round of upsetting circumstances. But, the comfortable routines are not steady states of being, but constant efforts at regulation and control. We run out of coffee, the rain ruins the paper, the dog throws up on the carpet. “It’s always something,” and we are always making adjustments and compensations throughout our day.

The cumulative effect of constant adjustment is exhaustion. So, part of the adjusting cycle has to be shut-down, vacation, holiday. The impact of physical reality can deplete the Psyche and we develop symptoms on the level of Soma, so Nous, or “mind,” has to step in with a plan for restoring harmony among body, mind, and soul, among spiritual, emotional, and physical reality.

There is Psyche, and there is Soma, and there is Nous. Soul, Body, Mind. Mind is more than intellect. More than reason. More than the thinking, calculating, evaluating, deciding side of us. Mind is also the balancing agent. Mind balances Soul and Body. Soul and Body get out of synch like that, in no time. The culture is a constant source of sensory overload. Our physical needs are, shall we say, somewhat more than met. Overindulgence is a hobby with us. We live to be stimulated into collapse. Where does the Psyche go to have its needs met? Body gets all the attention. Soul has to fend for itself. That's where Mind comes in. Balancing the needs of Body and Soul. Our life's work. Being aware of all that we truly need to be fully alive.

For example, We can restore the psyche by allowing it the freedom to do as it pleases from time to time, to be lazy, to indulge its pleasures, to not be responsible, to not have to “make production,” to create for nothing beyond it’s own joy, to relish beauty, to commune with the spiritual essence of being, to wander aimlessly, to do what it needs to do. We maintain balance by being delightfully unbalanced at various intervals throughout our lives.

To do that, we have to understand the needs of psyche and soma. Our physical needs are fairly obvious: Food, clothing, shelter. Abraham Maslow identified, what he called, a “hierarchy of values,” and holds true across all ages and classes and categories of people. His five values, or needs, are survival, security, prestige, personal relationships, and self-development. I think a case could be made for these same needs existing and being evident in all the so-called “higher” animals. They are not unique to human beings.

What is unique to human beings is the completely crazy, totally irrational, absolutely illogical tendency to throw it all away—to cast Maslow’s hierarchy of needs/values aside—in the service of what Joseph Campbell calls “a mythological zeal.” We go nuts in the grip of a compelling vision. This is what makes us human. We are the vehicles of consciousness breaking into the physical world. Campbell also says that human beings are to consciousness as light bulbs are to light.

You could call it consciousness, or you could call it psychic reality, or you could call it the Spirit of God. It is a spiritual (spiritual meaning not intellectual, not rational, not capable of being explained or understood, or scientifically investigated or explored) passion, or zeal, that seizes us and requires our cooperation and participation, one might say our obedience and faithfulness, at the expense of all other considerations. This is what makes us human.

Of all the species on the planet, we alone are capable of being gripped by a passion, a concern, that lays us bare and strips us of our interest in survival, and security, and prestige, and the like. We alone can “lose our minds,” and “leave everything,” and go off on a journey, a pilgrimage, to the heart of creation, with the heart of creation. We are searching for the heart that beats in synch with our heart, and calls us beyond ourselves— calls us out of our life and out of our dreams for our life into its dream for our life. This is the search Jesus had in mind when he said, “All who seek to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives in the right cause (he said, “for my sake and the gospel’s”), in the service of a cause worthy of them, will find Life (he said, “their lives”).

Here is the flow of the journey. We move from egocentricity, from ego-centered-ness, from the I-Me-My-Mine of childhood to the peer-mask of adolescence and early adulthood (where we disappear into our peers and look just like everyone else with their beige Ford Explorers and there Golden Lab on the back seat and their house made of ticky-tacky on the hillsides of the suburbs, doing we are supposed to do, what is laid out for us to do by our social circle and the culture of which we are apart). From this loss of self to the norms of our recognized social order, we, if we are lucky, move into an “identity crisis,” where we cast off the values and expectations of that order and take up the search for the things that are truly important to us, searching for our passion, our “bliss,” for our heart.

This is “the hero’s journey,” leaving the society to find the blessing of her, of his, own genius, and then returning to the society with a new understanding of what it means to live, and living there out of that understanding, out of that vision, as a mentor and model for others in their own journey to self-development and self-realization. And, in that struggle to be a self in relationship with others, to be true to one’s self within the context and circumstances of culture and society, we take the final step in the process of affinity with consciousness, which is the development of our awareness of that which is beyond us. This is the third handing over of the self.

The first was when we disappeared into our peers, into our social order. The second was when we disappeared into our own hearts and followed the beat of our own drummer, and allowed our own sense of what was important to us to guide us. And this third handing-over is when we disappear into the heart of the universe and consciously identify ourselves with that which is beyond us, outside of us, more than us. “Thou will, not mine, be done!”

Here we follow, not society’s ideas of what is important, and not our own sense of what is important to us, but that which is truly important in its own right because it is essential, and is the way, the truth, and the life. And, when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me,” he is saying what we all say at this point of surrendering ourselves to the truly important, to the Tao, to the “will of God,” not in the moral sense of the Ten Commandments, but in the sense of doing in the moment what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, when it needs to be done. “I and the Father are one!” and the sage is one with the Tao. There you are, the map of the journey. The rest is up to you.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

11/25/07, Sermon

We have our intentions for our lives, our purposes, our goals, wishes, wants, desires. And then, we have our possibilities. There are the conditions within which we live, under which our intentions and desires, etc. are worked out. It is exactly here, in this clash between what we want and what we can have, that all of the important questions are answered: How contentious and combative will we be? How gracious and receptive? How hard and demanding? How soft and accommodating? How manipulative and controlling? How open and accepting? How war-like? How pliable? How masculine? How feminine?

The more adversarial and oppositional we are in relation to the things that meet us in life, the more hard and sour, bitter and brittle, we are apt to be. How do we deal with not having what we want? How do we know what to want? Every religion that I know of, every spiritual system for living in relation to the world in which we live, recognizes, in one way or another, that we can want what we cannot have, and we can want what we have no business having, and that “There is a time to be born, and a time to die…” And advises it’s adherents something to this effect: “If it don’t fit, don’t force it, just relax and let it go—just ‘cause you want it, doesn’t mean it will be so.”

Softness overcomes hardness, and force creates resistance. Jesus recommends the way of being a seed in the earth, yeast in the dough, light in the darkness, and tells his followers to “turn and become like children,” not warriors, or combatants, or even “Christian solders.” We live in relation to our lives much like a river lives in relation to its channel. The river takes the way that is open to it. The river cuts the channel and the channel shapes the river. Which is in charge, in control, in command, at the helm? It is the wrong question. And it is wrong to think that our lives are ours to do with as we will, or that we can make anything happen, or keep anything from happening, if we just try hard enough.

We belong to our lives as much as our lives belong to us. We are limited by the time and place of our living, bound to the possibilities and opportunities of the way things are. Our choices are our choices, and the consequences are the consequences. Our degree of “success” with life is as much about who we become through the process of living our lives as about what we make happen. How well we live is as much about who we show ourselves to be as about what we achieve, accomplish, do. The work of the Spirit is evident in things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, goodness, faithfulness and self-discipline”—which are possible for all of us within every circumstance and any condition of life.

What we do is colored by how we do it. The how is more important than the what. The who is our work which impacts the world. Our work is the work of being “at one” with the heart of creation. “Thou will be done!” It is the work of godliness, the work of being true human beings, the work of artful living—and allowing our lives to take shape around that. “Do your work, and step back,” says Lao Tzu, “the true path to peace.” How we say “No!” is as important as that we say “No!” How we say “Yes!” is as crucial as what we say “Yes! to.

We are stuck on the what, and think our lives are about arranging things “out there,” in the environment, to suit ourselves. We think we are here to fix things up, coordinate colors, eradicate poverty, and homelessness, and war, and institute something on the order of a grand society, where everyone can have happy little lives in the suburbs, or in the wilderness, or wherever their little hearts desire. And, of course, as we work hard at wishing the grand life in the suburbs and wilderness into being, we treat one another in the worst kind of way.

We are cold, and sniping, and harsh, and snarly. We talk about one another unmercifully, and insist that everyone do it our way or else. The How is the one thing we can do something about, but we throw it aside, and focus on the What. But, the What is not the glorious wonder we give it credit for being. The question is who will we show ourselves to be through the process of living our lives?

We can live as decent human beings no matter what our circumstances are. We can treat one another with acceptance, and respect, and goodwill, and loving-kindness regardless of our place in life or our living conditions. This doesn’t mean we will be best friends with everyone, or even like everyone. It means we can draw our lines with compassion and separate ourselves from those who are not good places to be with generosity and consideration. We can take up the practice of being decent human beings. We can be loving without being victimized and used.

Too often, love is just another weapon, or a carrot, we use to get people to do what we want. “If you want me to love you,” we say in a thousand ways, “you have to do it the way I want it done.” And, we say it sweetly, so we think it isn’t the same as saying, “If you are going to eat here with your feet under this table, you are going to cut your hair and get that ring out of your nose.”

Of course, we justify our actions by saying there must be rules, and standards of behavior, and limits, and boundaries. We have to establish what goes and what doesn’t go. And, that is true. We will not tolerate certain language, for instance, certain jokes, racial slurs, lying, stealing, physical or emotional abuse, etc. There are lines within which relationship can exist and beyond which it cannot exist. And, here we engage the What and the How in a different way.

Everything rides on What we take seriously and How we express that in our lives. What are the appropriate lines? How will we establish and enforce them? We can set limits in ways that are decently humane, and we can set limits in ways that are dehumanizing and brutal. To live well, we have to be aware of both the What and the How, and step with mindfulness into the service of each. That is, I think, the way of Jesus.

A case can be made for the life of Jesus being simply about What to take seriously and How to express that in our lives—about the limits and the way they were set in his world. Jesus lived to call into question both the What and the How. And, died in the service of his idea of what and how things ought to be.

Jesus’ words were directed to the Jews, not to the Romans. Jesus’ work was to reform the way the Jewish leaders were governing life among the Jewish people. He honed in on the central problem affecting the lives of the people—the temple tax. If you wanted to secure the blessings of God for yourself and your family you had to make the proper sacrifices and worship in the proper way in the temple. In order to be admitted to the temple, you had to be current with your temple tax. That’s a good deal for the temple and those who administer the affairs of the temple. That’s a bad deal if you are destitute, or living on the edge of destitution, or just have a hard time making ends meet.

If you couldn’t pay the temple tax, you were considered to be a sinner and cursed by God. It was a nice, tight little circle of reasoning. God blessed those who found favor with God, and cursed those who were sinful. If you could pay the temple tax, it was obvious that God looked favorably upon you. If you could not, it was obvious that God knew you were a sinner, which made you fair game for the righteous people of God.

We get a beautiful snapshot of this with the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, where the Pharisee thanks God that he is not like that publican over there. And, Jesus said it was the publican that God favored and not the Pharisee. You can imagine the impact that had on the Jewish social order. That was the thrust of everything Jesus did.

Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes and the radically poor “people of the land.” Jesus forgave sins, and said that, in so doing, he was acting in the spirit and name of God. And, to top it off, Jesus healed people as if to give weight to his words, as if to validate his claim to be speaking and living in behalf of God. How could God heal sinners if they were out of favor with God? Not only that, but Jesus healed people on the Sabbath! How could God favor someone who deliberately broke the laws of God?

It was too much for the Jewish authorities to assimilate. They had to kill Jesus in order to restore their own equilibrium, and that of Jewish society. Jesus was executed for calling into question the What and the How. Radical stuff. Revolutionary stuff. It doesn’t get more subversive and iconoclastic than this. When we examine what we are doing and how we are doing it—when we question What is to be taken seriously and How it is to be expressed in our lives—when we scrutinize what we think ought to be done and how we think it ought to be done—we open ourselves to the possibilities. And, when we become aware of the possibilities, anything can happen, everything is on the table, and nothing is off limits. Which makes that the scariest place of them all to be, and the most fertile and alive. And that, of course, is exactly the place we need to be, for our sake and the sake of the world.

Monday, November 19, 2007

11/18/07, Sermon

It can be very difficult for the church to be the church. The church, you might say by definition, stands over against society and culture and the political structures of existence, by doing it the way it ought to be done. In the Bible, you have a clear view of how the church sees itself. There, you have “church” and you have “world,” with “world” being the catch-phrase for the way it ought NOT to be done.

The church has the inside track to the way things ought to be, and is to live in the midst of the way things ought NOT be in ways that call that way into question and exhibit the “ought to be” in all its relationships and transactions. Nothing is more solidly Biblical than the idea of a people called to a way of life that demonstrates explicitly the way life ought to be lived within the swirl of the way life ought not be lived. This is the calling and the mission of the church.

If you are going to send out missionaries, don’t send them out talking, talking, talking. Send them out living, living, living. The Mission is the same for us all: To demonstrate the way life ought to be lived by living that way, from the heart, in all of our relationships and transactions. Just go live among the people in ways that are right. That’s all there is to it. And the church has never done it very often, very long, very well.

The church has made a mockery of its mission. The church has lost the way, left the path, said “to the seers, ‘Do not see’; and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.’” (Isaiah 30:10-11)

The people called to be the church have always wanted to do it the way it was being done in the culture and society within which the church is called to be the church. The people called to be the church wanted a king because the other nations had kings. The people called to be the church worshiped the Baal’s and the idols of their neighbors. The people called to be the church did it the way their neighbors were doing it. And, even when they did not, they didn’t do what ought to be done the way it ought to be done. Their hearts and souls weren’t in it. So, Isaiah could say, “These people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13).

Jeremiah continues the theme with this pronouncement: “From the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:10c-11). Amos chimes in with these familiar words, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Jesus makes exactly the same condemnation of the people called to be the church in his day. Jesus’ mission was the same as the mission of the prophets before him, the same as our mission, the same as the mission of the people called to be the church since people have been called to be the church, namely TO BE THE CHURCH! To do it the way it ought to be done in the midst of those doing it the way it ought not be done.

Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He associated with those thought to be “sinners.” He forgave sins and told those burdened by the idea of their sinfulness that they were accepted and loved by God and by him. He healed on the Sabbath and broke the Law in ways that kept the spirit of the Law intact (Not a not an iota, not a dot, of that spirit did Jesus alter or ignore [cf. Matt. 5:18]). And, he called those charged with the oversight and administration of the church to repent and begin doing it the way it ought to be done. He said they were “white-washed tombs,” going through the motions of purity and obedience without their heart being in what they were doing.

And, they killed him for it, as they had killed all those before him who came doing what he did. So, he could say, at the end of his career, of his work, of his mission to BE the church: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem—the city that kills prophets and stones those sent to it…” (Matthew 23:37). And, it wasn’t long after that that the church failed, again, to be the church, failed, again, to do it the way it ought to be done, for the sake of what the church perceived to be its own self-interest, its own future in the world.

Here’s the thing: To have a future, the church must give up its future, just as Jesus did. The church has to live its life being the church, not so that it will have a future, but so that it will be the church. The future of the church depends upon the church living as though it has no future, as though it only has this moment right now in which to do what needs to be done, in which to live the way life ought to be lived.

The church has sold its soul for the sake of its future. Once its future is solid and secure, THEN it will be the church. Until then, it must be careful, guard its interests, cover its bases, watch its step, and hold its cards close to its vest. Does that sound like Jesus to you? Is that the way Jesus did it? Jesus never allowed the future to rob him of his present. He lived in the moment the way the moment ought to be lived, and let the future be the future. He took care of the present, and let the future take care of itself. "Do not worry about tomorrow," he counseled. "But let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day."

That's much too radical and risky for us. And, once we shy away from radical and risky, we shy away from being the church. To be the church is to be radical and risky, and controversial. It is to be who Jesus was. It is to call a fox a fox and a white-washed tomb a white-washed tomb. It is to acknowledge what is real, and say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done. It is to step into the political and social arenas. It is to address injustice, and unconsciousness, and abject wrong-headed-ness. It is to do more than tut-tut about racism. It is to sponsor dismantling racism worships. It is to see who is being left out of the process and invite them in. It is to say, "No! No! No!" to death in all its glorious guises, and "Yes! Yes! Yes!" to life in all its harshness and pain.

Just try that and pay the bills! The church cannot be the church and pay the bills. Jesus never got ahead, and probably couldn't make ends meet. The inheritance he left was the cloak on his back.

No Mega-Church is politically and socially corrective. Every Mega-Church knows which side its bread is buttered on, and plays to the preferences of its constituency. Every Mega-Church focuses on personal piety, individual salvation, and how to be a better person, which comes down to how to keep things as they are only make them better. Keeping things as they are, only with more prosperity, for instance, is very important. No Mega-Church upsets apple carts, rocks boats, makes waves, or calls the status quo into question. That kind of behavior wakes people up, forces them to confront their comforting illusions, disturbs and disorients them, and they will not have it. People will not pay you to tell them what they do not want to hear.

People do not want to wake up. They do not want to think about their thinking, believing, and doing. They do not want to question their assumptions. Change their minds. They want to settle into comfortable routines. They want to be lulled to sleep with gentle reassurance and constant repetition. They want to be told the same old, same old, with the same old hypnotic rhythm and cadence and inflection, so they can disengage, shift into neutral, and drift off into dreamland.
The church can't be the church without waking people up, challenging the status quo, calling attention to the gap between how things are and how things ought to be, saying what needs to be said and doing what needs to be done. But, who is going to pay you to do that? You see the problem.

If the church is going to be the church, it has to reduce its bills and swing for the fences. It can't be expanding its programs, and launching building campaigns, and buying busses. It has to be refining its vision, engaging reality, waking itself up. Which, of course, it cannot do. No one wants to wake up. Dreamland is the place to be.

So. The work of the church begins with working to be the church ourselves, working to wake ourselves up, working to bring the church to life in our own personal lives. And that means facing the truth of how it is with us, the truth of how things are in our own lives, the truth of how things really ought to be and the truth of how we feel about that, and what we wish were true instead, and confronting the difference between how we wish things were and how things truly need to be.

We do not often or easily go from the way we wish things were, the way we want things to be, to the way things truly need to be. The easy thing is to assume that things need to be the way we want them to be. But, that’s dreamland. That’s the place from which we are having to wake up. And this is exactly the work to be the church, confronting the difference between the way we wish things were and the way things truly need to be. It is the work of maturation. The work of being a true human being. The work of doing what ought to be done the way it ought to be done whether we want to or not, for the sake of how things ought to be.

Monday, November 12, 2007

11/11/07, Sermon

How should things be? Who is to say? There you have it: The Religious Problem. We all have different ideas about how things should be. We all have different ideas about who is to say. Who will referee the debate? We have different ideas about that, as well.

We can’t agree about what constitutes a successful life. Ideas abound. We go to war over differences of opinion about the way life should be lived. It comes down to being alive. What are the conditions required to be alive? What does it take to be alive? What keeps us from being alive? What limits our living?How do we think life should be lived? Our answers to these questions puts us in a certain position relative to the answers of everyone else to these questions. The happy truth is that we will not agree. How do we find common ground with those who disagree with us, and each other, about how life should be lived? How do we create a space that is big enough for everybody?

I don’t know how we find common ground. There has to be common ground. You can't put George Bush in a room with Osama ben Laden and expect anything but war. How do we reach accord with those who are diametrically opposed to all we think, believe, and stand for? Irreconcilable differences. We can be too far apart to have anything to say to each other. We could talk, for instance, about gay rights and privileges until we are dead with those who disagree with us and nothing will change. We have to recognize our incompatibilities and let them stand. How different can we be and still get along? We have to figure ways around the stand-offs. Blowing each other, or shunning each other, up is stupid.

Here is what it comes down to: There is the way things are, and there is the way we feel about the way things are, and there is the way we think things should be. Now, we create a lot of trouble for ourselves between the way things are and the way we feel about the way things are and the way we think things should be. Life happens in that space. We should be aware of it. As it is, we are not aware of it.

Life consists of the struggle in the space between the way things are and the way we feel about the way things are and the way we think things should be. We struggle with the way things are, trying to make them into what we want them to be, so that we can feel better about them. This struggle is the whole scope of life as we know it. It constitutes the essence of bad religion, the heart of which is feeling better about the way things are and arranging things to suit ourselves. We have made a religion out of feeling better and getting what we want, but it is nothing more than happy advice giving about how to feel better and get what we want.

All the happy advice-givers hand out suggestions for feeling better about our lives. We can manifest our destiny or let be what is. Either way, the outcome is that we feel better about our lives. We can’t manifest our destiny or let be what is and still be miserable. The whole point is to feel good about whatever is going on.

If we feel good, we don’t have a problem. If we don’t have a problem, we have no reason to seek out and listen to the advice-givers. Why would we care what they think if things are going well, we feel good, and have no problems? What could they give us that we don’t already have? Who needs advisors, then? In order to have a place in our lives, advisors have to find a problem with our lives, point it out to us in ways that make us feel bad, and then tell us what to do about it in order to live better lives and feel better about the lives we are living, so they can feel better about their own lives.

What would become of all of the advisors with no one to advise? All those who would save us have to have someone to save. We are too stupid to figure it out for ourselves. They have to tell us what to do. Where would we be without them? They need us to buy their books, listen to their lectures, ask them questions so they can write their advice columns in the papers. Where would they be without us?

It has become quite the industry, advice-giving. The self-help section of bookstores is twice the size of the religious section, unless, of course, it is a religious bookstore. But, even in religious sections and bookstores, most of the books, including the Bible studies, have a get-fixed-up-and-feel-better-about-your-life theme. It’s big business, fixing people up and helping them feel better about their lives.

It’s always been that way. It is the religious problem. We have given people religion to help them feel better about their lives. And, if we came upon a people who were feeling pretty good about their lives, we gave them religion to help them feel bad about their lives (Hell and Satan and Eternal Damnation, you know) so that we could give them more religion to help them feel good about their lives (Forgiveness and Deliverance and Redemption and Salvation and Everlasting Joy and Happiness, you know).

It would appear that we are witnessing the demise of religion, but it is really the proliferation of religion, bad religion. You can’t say religion has demised. Religion has mushroomed. Religion has morphed and mutated and multiplied. Religion is everywhere, it’s all over the place, you can’t get away from it. It’s taken over. Bad religion, that is. Official, Orthodox, Doctrinal Christianity has demised, but the heart of bad religion, the core, is as vibrant and healthy and present as ever. That heart is this: “Something is wrong with you. You need to be fixed. Just do what I say and you will feel better about your life. And, to keep the sound advice coming, be sure to buy my books, and my tapes, and make regular, hefty, donations to Feel Good Ministries. Amen. Can I have an Amen? Amen!”

We cannot feel good about our lives and be awake. Bad religion puts us to sleep. It’s a mess out there. You cannot possibly live with awareness and compassion in the midst of absurdity and feel good about it. If you do, you are sick, and should feel really bad about feeling good. How good you feel about your life is a marker indicating just how deeply into denial you are. If you are going to feel good about anything, feel good about how bad you feel.” We have to realize that how things are is the result of our trying to feel better about how things are by making them more like we think they should be. To make things better, we have to stop trying to improve them. We don’t feel better by making things different. We feel better by, well, feeling what we are feeling.

It’s like this: One of the great truths of our existence is that feelings change. We can make them linger, sometimes for the entire length of our lives, by nursing them, and nurturing them, and getting stuck in them, but, if we don’t do that, they change. We get stuck in what we feel when we become so enamored with it that we can’t let it go. Feeling miserable, for example, becomes a way of life. And we rehash without end the Awful Event that marked us forever and made us this way. Feeling cheery also can become a way of life, and we all have known the Polly Annals with their rose colored glasses and their propensity to look on the bright side of things and find the silver lining and encase themselves in denial behind their happy face. So, feelings don’t have to change, but they will if we let them.

We let them change by treating them like kindergarten kids. Nothing changes with the speed of the moods of a room full of kindergarteners. You can’t manage any of it. You just keep them from hurting each other and watch how fast their feelings change. That’s the trick in dealing with your own moods. Don’t do anything stupid in the grip of a mood, and watch it change. When you are in the grip of a mood, go sit down with it and a cup of coffee and let it rant—TO you, not THROUGH you. Big difference. You are just sitting with the mood, being with the mood, listening to the mood. You are there to get to know it in depth, and hear it out. Just like you might with a kindergartener who can’t go swimming because it’s raining.

You have to be with the mood for as long as it takes for the mood to begin to shift. This will probably be longer than you want it to be, but it will never be as long as you are afraid it might be. You cannot hurry a mood along just because it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable and you are ready for it to go. If you are miserable, for example, you have to be miserable for as long as it takes for your misery to subside, and to shift over into the next mood in line. When you are miserable, be miserable. When you are sad, be sad. When you are afraid, be afraid. When you are lonely, be lonely. When you are happy, be happy. When you are exuberant, be exuberant. When you are peaceful, serene, at ease, be peaceful, serene, at ease. Do you see the pattern here?

This is absolutely all there is to it. When you understand this, there is nothing left to understand. When you are hungry, be hungry. When you are tired, be tired. See? And, you thought it was hard. We make it hard by trying to NOT BE what we are, or by trying to ALWAYS BE what we are. We are always trying to push away or clutch something tightly to us. The key is to JUST BE with whatever is with us, to JUST BE what we are. And, to allow it to change as it changes. To let come what’s coming and to let go what’s going.

Where would the world be without the pathos of time’s passing? I think that is our primary gift to the world, certainly to the experience of life, noticing the coming and the going, opening ourselves to it, allowing it to come and go with awareness and understanding, patience and grace.

This is basic to the experience of life, essential to life. It is the essence of being alive as human beings. Noticing. Noting. Knowing. The going-ness of things. Even the coming is a going. Can we bear it? Can we bear the realization, the knowing, and the sadness, the pathos it engenders? Can we receive the moment in full recognition of what it is, gently, lovingly, as one might receive a new-born child, honoring the wonder of this that will not last? Can we be alive like that? Being alive like that is the common ground that makes life possible for us all.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

If you have been paying attention, you know that I’m all into self-determination, and self-realization, and self-expression, and self-direction, and self-discovery, and self-orientation, and self-correction—but not entirely, not at the expense of other people. That’s where it gets tricky. We have to be true to ourselves within the circumstances and context of our lives. Finding the way means finding the way of being a self in loving relationship, in right relationship, with other selves. If you think that’s easy, give it a spin!

How much for me? How much for you? You don’t get the answers to those questions in the back of the book! There is no book! There is just working it out in the present moment of our lives. Working it out is painful. Something is always unfair to someone. Someone is always having to pay more of a price than someone else. Someone is always giving up, giving in, giving way, stepping aside for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of someone else, for the sake of paying the bills. We can’t live like two-year-olds and find the way. We have to be a lot older than that to have a chance.

The Toddler’s Creed, you’ll remember, goes something like this: “If I have it, it’s mine. If you have it and I want it, it’s mine. If I put it down, leave it alone, it’s mine. If you put it down, and I pick it up, it’s mine. If I gave it to you and you’re having more fun with it than I was, it’s mine. If it breaks, it’s yours.” That’s the orientation we have to grow out of if we are going to be a self in right relationship with other selves.

We live our lives in relationship with one another, not in a vacuum, not in a cave, not in the woods or on a mountain top. We have to decide what our life is asking of us and then figure out how we can do that within the context and circumstances—within the relationships—that constitute life for us. Where do others stop and we start? And, who says so, who draws the line? We do. How do we know if we are right? We don’t.

We step into the moment and do what can be done there, and do it again in the next moment. We trust our lives to unfold in their own time according to their own direction, and try to not mess things up by interfering too much with the drift and direction things are taking. But that’s a problem, because there are duties and obligations and responsibilities to consider, not to mention local, state and federal laws and IRS regulations. And so it is said, “Straight is the way, and narrow is the gate, that leads to life.” It’s a fine little line that we walk on a slippery surface, trying to determine when, and where, and how to do what.

We find the way with eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. The all-weather secret to seeing, hearing and understanding is being able to set self-interest aside. If we are too much invested in having our way, in getting what we want, in doing what we like, we will never be able to find the way to the good of those concerned amid the tangle of relationships that make up our lives.

An equal danger, of course, is the complete abdication of ourselves. It is easier, much less of a struggle, if we just disappear, if we have no interest at all, if we just “go with the flow,” and are carried along by the will and ways of others. Which is, in a way, having our way by not having a way. We avoid conflict and maintain peace and harmony, but only apparently so. The price if such harmony is the complete loss of self, the loss of soul. To live like this is to not live at all. It is to die the wrong kind of death, and to walk through our lives hollow-eyed and lifeless, awaiting further instruction and the arrival of the undertaker to make our death official.

Much more difficult is the way of life. That is the way of seeing, hearing, and understanding, the way of living open to the reality of each moment, aware of what needs to be done there to serve the good of those concerned. Here’s how that works: The most reliable tool for behavior modification ever invented is not a gun or a whip, but a mirror. When we see ourselves, we change. Awareness is alteration. Even when awareness is affirmation it is alteration, because it enables us to embrace who we are. Affirmed, we relax. Something shifts. And, we can step into the fray, confident, centered, steady, ready, at peace.

Seeing things changes things. Want to change something? Just see it, exactly as it is. Nothing remains what it was when it is seen for what it is. Seeing a thing changes our relationship with the thing, if not the thing, and that changes the thing to the extent that it no longer holds the place it once held in our lives. Things are different with the thing. Things can happen now that couldn’t happen before. Things have changed.

If things are static, unchanging, we have to wonder what we are not seeing, or, what we are seeing that isn’t so. When we fail to see our assumptions, presumptions, and inferences, we fail to see the thing itself. We have to stand aside from what we think we see in order to see. Nothing is quite as freeing and transformative as a perspective that takes itself into account. Seeing our seeing changes what is seen. Changing the way we see changes what we see, changes who is seeing. Seeing clearly is one of the central gifts of finding the heart of life in silence and stillness.

Finding the heart of life is a meditative practice in which we can settle into the heart of what is truly important, ground ourselves at the center, find "the still point of the turning world," and maintain a calm sense of equilibrium regardless of what might be happening in our lives. At the center, we see into the heart of things, understand how things are, know what is needed, and make the necessary response without being undone and overwhelmed by the chaotic turmoil of existence. With practice, we can live with “meditative presence,” apart from any kind of official time and place for meditation, doing what needs to be done with grace and compassion, and creating an oasis of sorts in a parched and lifeless land. Seeing things changes things, but it takes being at the center to see in ways that make transformation possible.

Seeing from the center sees into the center of all things, and knows them for what they are, as they are. If we would see, we have to seek the center. Finding the center is a function of stillness and silence. Living from the center is meditative presence in the midst of life in its ordinariness. The whiz of life around us is like the whiz of thoughts inside our heads. “Monkey mind” and “monkey life” is the same experience, and is treated in the same way, “Now this, now this.” “ just this, just this.” It is nothing to get lost in, captivated by, fascinated with. It is “just life,” “just this.” And, it will soon be followed by something else.

Practicing meditative presence is about being attentively, mindfully aware of and present in the moment of our living. We can practice being fully present anywhere, any time, any how. We can survive the complete loss of everything simply by being simply present in the moment of our living, in the now that is at hand. Of course, there is a catch or two. The practice of being fully present is, in part, the practice of adjusting ourselves to how things are and what can be done about it. We never have complete freedom of movement. We are always constrained by something. We can always imagine a better world than the world we live in. And, we are always having to come to terms with “This is the way things are, and this is what can be done about it, and that’s that.”

It doesn’t matter what we want, or wish, or desire. We have to step aside and deal with the possibilities and limitations of the moment in which we live. There will always be restrictions to take into account. We cannot live without considering the impact and consequences of our living. What does the “now” mean for the “yet to be”? What implications does the “here and now” have for the “then and there”? We have to be aware of the future we are creating by our response to the present, by our actions in the present. There is more with us in each moment, more to be considered and taken into account, than meets the eye.

Thus, the importance of seeing from the center into the depths. It is quite the art, this quietly seeking to see. It is the end of impulsive, reactionary living. Now, we bring stillness with us into the moment, and listen, look, waiting to hear, see. This is the essence of meditative presence, this waiting in stillness to see beneath the surface. Being fully present in the moment of our living means being fully awake and aware there, seeing, hearing and understanding, open to what is open to us. And, it means bearing the pain of realization.

We cannot see without being open to, and bearing, the pain of realization. We cannot be fully alive and be immune to the impact of life. There is no living without bearing the pain of being alive. And, yet, there is the realization of that which is also true. We are corks on the water, leaves in the wind, AND we are anchored to and grounded in the immovable center. We grieve our losses, mourn our desolation, are crushed, yet untouched at the same time.

In living at the center, we observe the destruction, experience the raw power of the waves and wind, watch ourselves come apart, with an understanding that accepts it all, that says yes to everything, even our coming apart. Of course, we come apart. Who wouldn’t? Who can bear the complete loss of everything without losing it? We wouldn’t be human if that were the case! At the center, watching ourselves lose it with compassion, understanding and acceptance for ourselves losing it, we act also to hold things together. We are in the storm, but not of it. Observing the pain diminishes it. When we are conscious of our pain, we carry it differently. Simply saying, “Well, of course,” to our pain, causes it to shift a bit, and we bear it a little better.

Practicing meditative presence in each moment and living from the center in all that we do, does not decrease the number of difficulties we encounter, or change the facts which face us. It enables us to see those difficulties, those facts, as they are, and allows us to do what we can in response to them. That includes crying, grieving and mourning. We do not live as unfeeling, uncaring, ascetics. Nor, do we live as depleted spirits in a fetal position. We deal with what comes our way as true human beings, seeing, hearing, understanding, and bringing the best we have to offer to life in each moment of our living. Amen! May it be so!

Monday, October 22, 2007

10/21/07, Sermon

We don’t get there by following commandments and believing doctrines. This isn’t to dismiss commandments or to suggest that we can get along without doctrines. The Ten Commandments, for example, or the Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism, are perfectly wonderful descriptions of a life of right-relationship. Throw in “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Do not remove your neighbor’s land mark,” and you have a beautiful picture of what the right kind of community would look like. But, you don’t produce that community by keeping the commandments.

The commandments are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what is happening when things are right between, among, us. They do not prescribe what must happen in order for things to be right between, among us. They are not the path to rightness. Robotic, hypnotic, adherence to the law does not produce eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. Commandments are good for stiffness and rigidity and fear of stepping off the straight-and-narrow, but they are not conducive to life, and living, and being alive.

The same can be said for doctrines. Buddhism has the Doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, plus a wide assortment of additional doctrines (Like the Accumulation of Merit). Christianity has amassed a sizeable number itself. In the few years that we have been together, we have developed quite a collection of our own doctrines. There is the Doctrine of Being Alive, and the Doctrine of Bearing the Pain (which we will talk more about in a bit). The Doctrine of Stumbling Around. The Doctrine of Reversing Our Way Forward (Also stated: “Without backing up, we would never get anywhere”). The doctrines are everywhere, but they are all organic. Their truth, like all truth (Which is another doctrine), is recognized in the living, not in the teaching, of it. Life is the teacher, being alive is the lesson.

We cannot teach anyone to be alive any more than we can teach her, or him, to be spontaneous, or to be intuitive, or to be funny, or to be awake. But, we can be alive ourselves, and we can give everyone permission to be alive (spontaneous, intuitive, funny, awake). We can help everyone discover the barriers to being alive (etc.). We can remind everyone that life is the teacher and being alive is the lesson, but, beyond that we can only sit around, tell stories, and laugh and cry together, then get up and do what is ours to do.

Here’s the path that everyone is looking for, the way to authenticity and realness, the directions to the Holy Grail, the instructions for becoming a true human being: Love what is to be loved. Mourn what is to be mourned. Grieve what is to be grieved. Enjoy what is to be enjoyed. Do what is to be done. Question what is to be questioned. Reject what is to be rejected. Encourage what is to be encouraged. Affirm what is to be affirmed… Get the idea? LIVE YOUR LIFE! Be awake, aware, and alive. That’s all there is to it. The point of life is to live. The meaning of life is to be alive. This is not a difficult concept. But, I think we must be afraid of it, so few of us actually embrace it and apply it. Most of us walk away, shaking our heads, saying, “There must be more to it than that!”

Well. You can believe that if you want to, but there isn’t any more to it than that. Yet, believing it has threatening implications for the culture, if not civilization as a whole. The economic structure of the empire crumbles once we understand there is nothing more to it than that! Nothing is more subversive, or a greater threat to the status quo, than eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands, than knowing that life is the teacher and being alive is the lesson.

Who is going to buy all those Hummers if we are sitting around telling stories, laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep and doing what is ours to do? If we begin to fill the void within with life, living, and being alive, what becomes of all the vendors hawking tinsel and fine plastic? This whole being alive idea is as incendiary, as revolutionary, as turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple. And that was the act that got Jesus executed. Beware of being alive, it will require you to die.

But, we can’t let the dying thing stop us, or, the fear of dying! The right kind of death leads to resurrection and new life and being alive, and that is exactly what the world is dying for—the life that is the result of the right kind of death. This gets us back to the Doctrine of Bearing the Pain. Kate Sullivan says pain is part of life, but suffering is not. In this, Kate stands apart from the Buddha, who said that life is suffering. Kate would say to the Buddha, “No. Life is painful, sometimes, but suffering is our choice. We can choose to add suffering to the pain, or not. We can make what’s bad worse by how we deal with it, relate to it. See?” And, the Buddha would have to do the palm to forehead “I could have had a V-8” gesture, and invite Kate in for dinner to hear what else she had to say. The Buddha and the Buddette.

Like the Buddha, we confuse pain with suffering. We run from pain when we should simply decline suffering. We must bear the pain, but refuse to carry the suffering. Pain, yes. Suffering, no. It’s the path to life, and light, and peace everlasting.

Pain and aggravation are regular encounters on our way through this world. Grief, loss and sorrow are real and regular aspects of the journey. Suffering is when we refuse to live after a loss. “Look what life has done to me!”, we say. “How can I live after this?” And we wrap our suffering around us and dwell on the unfairness of lot, and live to exhibit our mournfulness and bear the evidence of our burden for all to see. “Woe, woe, poor me! Poor me!”

The pain of some losses can indeed live with us like a cold stone in our stomach forever, but that doesn’t have to keep us from being alive. We can bear the pain without suffering. We can acknowledge the awfulness of our loss, every day. Some pain remains as real as the moment we got the news. Our grief is as fresh as the knock on the door, the ringing of the phone. The flashbacks still stagger us in the aisles of Harris Teeter, and driving to work, and walking along the beach. We cannot get away from the burden of the pain we carry, and life will never be normal again because we will never be free of our loss. We can bear our pain mindfully and mindfully choose to live anyway, nevertheless, even so!

We can wrap our arms around life and live boldly, joyfully, in memory of all we have lost. We can live defiantly, courageously, determinedly, deliberately! We can live a life those we have lost would be proud of us for living! We can carry them consciously with us into life, and live as much for them as for ourselves, living harder for two (or three, or however many) than we ever would dare to live for one. Our lives can be a living testimony to the goodness of life in spite of our loss, even though our pain remains present and real. We can live with pain, without suffering. It’s a perfect conundrum, or koan, or paradox, or contradiction. And, it takes us to the heart of spiritual truth, which is the heart of reality, which is the heart of life itself.

Living fully, completely, unreservedly in this world of pain, anguish, and agony is a bold statement about the essential nature of that which is at the heart of reality. Living is governed by life, not death, and we will not die before we are dead. Thus, we say, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

We suffer when we expand our pain, deepen it, enlarge and enhance it through the things we think and say about it. We nurse our pain into suffering. We allow our pain to keep us from living, from being alive. “But, how can we live, having lost as much as we have lost—having seen all that we have seen? How can we do anything but go through the motions of life? How can we ever live again with our heart in what we are doing when our heart has been broken, crushed, taken out and thrown away?”

We have to know that heart is the easiest thing to lose, and that painful encounters are challenges to our ability to live with heart, anyway, nevertheless, even so! Being alive is not easy. Living will take the life right out of you. There is much that will take heart away from us if we allow it. And so the need for a certain set to the jaw, a certain glint in the eye, a certain disposition of soul that says, “I am not going to die until I’m dead.”

We can bear the pain of life without being overcome by it, without succumbing to it. We can live defiantly in the face of the worse life can do. We can live with heart without losing heart. We can extend grace, nurture compassion, manifest peace, show mercy, create hope, and provide a healing space by the quality of our presence in the world. We can soften the blows of life by our response to those blows, and bring others to life by the way we live with them.

“The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” says Joseph Campbell. Life is contagious. Pass it on. We pass it on by refusing to be undone by the difficulty of picking ourselves up and doing our best with the time that is left for living. It is not easy. There are no answers, or strategies, or solutions, or fixes. It’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. Do what you can. Do what can be done. And, let that be that. We can’t begin to straighten the mess out. We cannot make things like they ought to be, because we cannot make people who they ought to be. We will not get the cooperation we need to make all things good. Do what you can to make something good. Do what can be done to make things as good as they can be. Don’t look at the big picture or think in terms of “making progress.” Just do what you can. Just do what can be done to bring life to life in the moment of your living. And, you will have done enough.

Monday, October 15, 2007

10/14/07, Sermon

I don’t buy the Principle of Non-Interference. Lao Tsu can let things go their natural course if he wants to, but the Crab Grass and the Johnson Grass are going to take over the cotton, and the Cut Worms are going to destroy the tomato patch, and if you don’t build a reservoir or two (or three, or four), you’re going to be in trouble when it stops raining. The natural course would involve not shaving, not bathing, not cutting your hair or brushing your teeth and never taking the dog to the vet or the kids to the doctor. You wouldn’t ice down a sprain, or heat water for tea. You wouldn’t off-set astigmatism with reading glasses, or have laser surgery to remove cataracts. You and Lao Tsu can let things take their natural course, but I’m against it, and am going to do what I can to make things as good as they can be for as long as possible.

The trouble with that, though, is this: We don’t know where to stop with the improvements. We can make the best better. Paradise wasn’t good enough for Adam and Eve. “Here, sweetie, a bite of this will make it even better!” We’ve been rearranging the world to suit ourselves ever since.
We’re never satisfied for long. It’s what we are proudest of about us. “Progress,” we call it. We moved from the caves to the high rises in only a hand full of years, geologically speaking. “Look what we’ve done!”, we say, as though we’ve done something.

The Aborigines who wander through the outback with their families, with nothing to show for their journeying, appear to be happier with their lives and better adjusted to their world than we are. Not that they know what they have and remain immune to the allure of the lights and the thrill of fine plastic. Our culture is deceptively attractive. You can’t keep them on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paree.

But gay Paree is a lie. An illusion. There is a hole in the soul of all of us in the land of lights and plastic. A hole that cannot be filled with development, alteration, improvement, transformation of the world in which we live. Because we only know what it takes to live in that world. We do not know what it takes to be, you know what’s coming, alive.

Easier living does not equate to being alive. What is better does not have any correlation with what is good. Lights and plastic serve the eyes, but what serves the heart? What does it take to be alive, to live well, to be at-one with heart and soul? These are the questions the church exists to answer.

The church is the mid-wife of the soul. The church is the only reliable guide to the heart of life. The church knows the secret. The church knows what it takes. The church understands. The church is our hedge against the complete loss of soul in the world of lights and plastic. The church’s place in our lives is to align our living with what brings us to life and makes us alive. The church connects us with heart and soul, awakens our spirit, nurtures and nourishes us into the wonder and joy of being fully alive.

It does that by asking us questions that deepen our awareness and enlarge our perspective. Questions like, “When you buy something, is it a prop or a tool? How does it help you do what you came to do? To do what you do best? To do what you enjoy doing most?”

“Where do you spend your time? Where do you spend your money? Where do you wish you could spend your time and money? What’s keeping you from doing that?”

“What percentage of your bills goes for the cost of living and what percentage goes for the cost of being alive? Do you understand the difference between living and being alive? How much time and money do you devote exclusively to being alive in a day, week, month?”

“What are you living for? What exactly does it take to do what you are living for? How much more do you have than you need? What do you need that you don’t have? What is forcing you to have what you don’t need and keeping you from having what you do need? What is standing between you and being alive?”

The things standing between us and being alive may be external things, or internal things, or a combination of both. We become aware of them by taking a reading of our “vital signs.” We are familiar with vital signs on a strictly physical level, blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate, mobility, consciousness. But, they exist on a spiritual/emotional level as well: Enthusiasm, passion, zest, sense of humor, laughter, alertness, “presence,” capacity for investment in—and engagement with—the moment of living, joy of life. Vital signs are absolutely 100% trustworthy predictors of the depth and quality of heart and soul.

If our vital signs are non-existent, if we are listless, depressed, unmotivated, detached, remote, unavailable, disinterested, uncaring and unresponsive, we have to begin the search for what is standing between us and being alive, for what is preventing us from doing the things that bring us to life, and are life.

The church is the path to life in the world. It exists to serve life, enable life, nurture and nourish life. The church is an oasis in the desert, a light in the darkness of lights and plastic, a way-station in the wilderness, a “well-spring of living water,” a table offering the bread of life and the cup of renewal, the source of resurrection and new life.

Or not. We know it isn’t so. We are here because of the failure of the church to be the church in our lives and in the world. We know that the church has opted out of its calling, that it has become an extension of the society, of the culture, of the civilization—a conduit and expression of the very things it is here to challenge and transform. We know that the church is as “lite” and as plastic as it gets (“Too shallow to splash,” as they say in the deep south). Which makes it our task to save the church and the world. We do that by waking both the church and the world up to the importance of being alive, here and now, in the time left for living. We do that by being awake and alive ourselves.

The terms are interchangeable. We can’t be awake without being alive, or alive without being awake. And, we can’t be awake and alive without bearing the pain of existence. It hurts to see, and hear, and understand! Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands will break your heart! It is an agony to look into the heart of things and know how empty things are! We live in a wasteland of lights and plastic, and distract ourselves from the truth of our own emptiness with newer models and brighter colors of nothing.

But, it is better to be mesmerized by the sweet promise of happiness being only one more major purchase away—it is better to be hypnotized by the kaleidoscopic combination of lights and plastic—than to face the reality of nothing at the center and know the truth of emptiness at the core. The bad news is that’s where life begins. In the wilderness is the way of life.

This is foundational to the Christian take on how things work: The right kind of death leads to resurrection and new life. In dying the right kind of death, we are born again into abundant life. In opening ourselves to the emptiness of our lives and bearing the pain, the cross, of piercing the illusion of what life is all about, we take up the way of life and know the true joy of being alive. It is paradoxical, and contradicts all that we presume to be good and true, and is very much in-keeping with Lao Tsu’s advice to let nature take its course.

Letting nature take its course is to embrace the lovely lie, crash into the wall of reality, wake up to the emptiness of all we thought was life, die to the illusion of being able to save ourselves from the pain of existence with our attachments and possessions, bear the pain all the way to the heart of the matter, and discover, at the core, the wonder of who we are and what is ours to do.

The natural course is to wake up to the emptiness of all that promises fulfillment and ecstasy. The natural course is to know that being with our lives as they are, doing what is ours to do while not neglecting what needs to be done, is essential goodness, incapable of being improved by the addition of lights and plastic.