Monday, January 22, 2007

01/21/07, Sermon

The right kind of company gives you, you. Brings you to life. Doesn’t tamper with your controls. Listens you to a deeper level of understanding your own interests, and aptitudes, and desires, and knacks, and inclinations, and instincts, and perceptions, and perspective, and capacities, and capabilities. Connects you with your own gifts, your own genius. Encourages you to “do what’s you”—to find your own heart, and live your own life—in right relationship with those about you. Where do you go to be listened to the truth of your own self, your own soul? You need to go there more often.

The right kind of people are holy people. The overriding characteristic of holiness, whether in places or in people, is that, in its presence, we become whole. Wholeness is an indicator of holiness. And, wholeness does not mean perfection, but recognition and integration. Wholeness is a healing of the fragmentation within and without.

The path to wholeness, the way of integration, begins with the recognition and acceptance, with compassion and understanding, the contradictions and discrepancies within and without. We live on the boundary between yin and yang. We see with a kind of seeing that sees how things are and how things also are, with a deep-seated confidence in our ability to find our own way to our own heart over time. Holiness knows we don’t have to be whole on its, or any, time table. That the time it takes to become whole is the time it takes to become whole. That all paths eventually lead to the recognition, realization, reconciliation, and reunion of the self we are and the self, or selves, we also are. That “awake” is not a state of being, but a growing awareness of our lives and our place in them, of the moment and its antecedents and implications, of how things are and what we can do about them. That what is important to us is a function of where we have been and how we have responded to it and where we think we want to go from here—of what we like and don’t like—of what we want and don’t want, of how we see and evaluate what is seen.

What should be important? What should we like? What should we want? What should we care about? What should we serve? What should we think? What should we feel? What should we believe? What should we do? How should we live? Who should we be? Who is to say? How would we know if they know what they are talking about? What determines the operative “shoulds” that govern our lives?

I suggest that we think about these questions in terms of life or death. Does our life serve life or death? Whose life is served by the life we live? In what ways does our living bring life to life in ourselves and others? Who dies, who lives? Christianity’s contribution to the pot of religious stew is the recognition that in living we die, and in dying we live. Our challenge is to die the right kind of death, to die a death that produces life, not just to die. What is the nature of our dying? Of our sacrifice? What do we die for? What does our dying bring to life?

One of the 10,000 spiritual laws is that the gun is always to somebody’s head, the cross is always on somebody’s back. This means we have to give up “this” to get “that.” Somebody is always sacrificing herself, himself, for someone else. Parents sacrifice themselves for their children, children for parents, one spouse for the other spouse. We are always handing ourselves over to something, to someone. Soldiers sacrifice themselves for their country, or for their sense of honor and duty. Workers sacrifice themselves for their jobs. We are always giving ourselves up to something or other. And, if we don’t, we do.

If we refuse to sacrifice ourselves for anything, that, too is a sacrifice of sorts. We die by refusing to die. We become cold, and hard, and bitter, and rigid, and die even though we might continue to go through the motions of living, because we refuse to pay the price of right relationship by sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the relationship. We cannot be good company without sacrificing ourselves—without letting go of something that is important to us for the sake of something that is more important, namely, the company we offer to those about us. We cannot live without dying, and we cannot do all the dying—we cannot die all the time.

It would be easy enough if the rule were simple and straight-forward: You have to always sacrifice yourself for the sake of the relationship no matter what. But, the complicating factor is that there is no relationship if the others in relationship with you don’t care, and don’t reciprocate. There is no relationship if the others in relationship with you aren’t sacrificing themselves for the sake of the relationship. Then, you are dying for nothing. The relationship is not capable of life, and cannot sustain life, and will only drain you dry.

What do you then? Then, you wake up, and consider your options, and make what you think is your best choice among the choices available to you. “This is the way it is. And, this is what can be done about it. And, that’s that.” You may continue to die in the relationship that isn’t a relationship, for a number of reasons, but, now, you are dying for yourself and not for the relationship. And, the right kind of death has life-potential even in the most life-less of circumstances. Where is your best chance at life? When to stay is to die, and to leave is to die, where is your best chance at life?

We are here to live, not to die! But, we pay a price to be alive. In living, we die, and, in dying, we live—if it is the right kind of death! Ah, to die rightly, now that’s the problem! And, that’s the catch. Which ditch to die in? There are no answers to that one. We figure it out for ourselves, one ditch at a time.

Where do we draw the line? Frasier Snowden says “The only true philosophical question is, ‘Where do you draw the line?’” It’s philosophical because the answer isn’t “out there,” like, “What’s the phone number of the water department?” Or, “Where did you put the umbrella?” It is “in here,” like “What is worth doing with my life?” Or, “What does it mean to be alive?” Where do we draw the line? We make the call. For better or worse. And learn as we go.

Being good company and living in right relationship depend upon good line drawing. We have to know where we stand in relation to someone else, and where they stand in relation to us. We have to know where we stop and they start. We have to know what we will do and what we will not do for the sake of the relationship. I will not pay your car note or your house payment, for instance. And, I will not keep your dog, or let you borrow my camera. You’re on your own when it comes to a number of things you might like me to “die” and do for you. Sorry.

Not really. Our capacity for right relationship with one another hinges on two things, on our ability to say, “No,” and on our ability to take “No,” for an answer. Can we say, “No”? Can we take “No,” for an answer? Let me be more specific. When was the last time you said “No” about something that deeply mattered? When was the last time you took “No” for an answer about something that deeply mattered? Can you draw a line? Can you honor a line that is drawn? And maintain relationship?

If a relationship can tolerate lines, it is well on the way to being a “right relationship.” If we are always avoiding lines, acting as if there are no lines, refusing to draw lines—if we are never saying “No,” or taking “No” for an answer—we may be “making nice,” or we may be controlling or being controlled, but we aren’t in “right relationship.” Right relationship cares about us and cares about the relationship, but not at the expense of the relationship. We die for the relationship—all parties in the relationship die in various times, and places, and ways for each other—but the relationship does not die for the sake of the people in the relationship. If the relationship dies, it’s all over.

The relationship dies if one person does all the dying, or if no one ever dies, for the sake of the relationship. In right relationship, everyone gets to draw lines, and everyone gets to honor the lines the others draw. Everyone gets to say “No,” and everyone gets to take “No” for an answer. Everyone dies and everyone comes to life. When who does what is the merry dance of relationship.

And, in order to dance the dance, we all have to have the room we need to make the adjustments, and the accommodations, and the alterations that relationship requires us to make. Nothing is forced in right relationship. Everybody has room to work in right relationship. No one ever says anything on the order of, “If you love me you will like spinach right now!” If the spinach line needs to be drawn, it will be drawn differently. It will be drawn in ways that give others room to deal with spinach in their own ways. Maybe I don’t eat spinach in the others’ presence. Or in the house. We work it out with room to work. The room to work is essential. And, when everybody can’t get their way, somebody dies for the sake of the relationship. And, the same person can’t do all the dying. Or, the relationship is dead.

So, the relationship factors itself into our lives. We live in order to be alive, and we cannot be alive apart from our participation in right relationship, and right relationship requires us to understand the formula: in living we die, in dying we live, if it is the right kind of death. If it is the kind of death that serves life, and brings life to life. Which means, of course, that in right relationship, there is a sense in which all die when any die, and all are made alive when any live.
There are no winners and losers in right relationship; no one up and one down positions. All die, and all are made alive, when all care as deeply for the others as they care for themselves.

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