Monday, February 26, 2007

02/25/07, Sermon

We live close to the edge at all times. Thin is the line, fine is the balance, between having it made and having nothing at all. Nothing is guaranteed. Everything can change in a flash. Can change so rapidly, so radically, so completely, that we have a hard time going on, and may not go on. We can be overwhelmed. Undone. We can lose so much that we lose the point, and see no reason to keep going.

Don’t think so? I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll start taking things away from you, and we’ll see how much we have to remove before we get to your will to live, to your ability to get up and keep going. How much of what constitutes life for us can disappear before we no longer have what it takes to face the day?

Native Americans lost everything that made up life as a Native American in the space of a few generations. The life of the Indian Nations today is an empty shell compared to what it once was. The spirit of life diminishes when our way of life is disrupted.

Human history is replete with stories of the extinction of peoples, and cultures, and civilizations of the world. Wars, plagues, famine, earthquakes, volcanoes have changed the way of life of people to such an extent that it destroyed their life as a people. Those who survive, survive in the company of those who survive.

Life is never a personal and private affair. Life is entirely lodged in our relationships. The quality of our living depends upon the quality of our relationships. Life is grounded in our culture, in our tribe, in our place with those who are with us in our lives. We cannot live apart from those who serve us as the conduits of life, who connect us with the heart of life, and provide us with what it takes to be alive. Without a place of our own in the right kind of company, we don’t stand a chance.

But, the company of others is too close to nothing for most of us to be comfortable with. We would like more of a buffer between ourselves and the edge. We want God on our side. And, do everything we can think of to arrange divine protection and oversight.

We undertake excruciatingly long pilgrimages of depravation and hardship to prove our devotion to the god, to the goddess, and merit his, or her, benevolence and grace. We observe the proscribed rituals, follow the rules of conduct that have been passed along through the centuries, pray the prayers, make the offerings, so that we might receive the blessing, and, perhaps, enter into the eternal bliss of the god, or goddess. We give in order to get. If we can make the god, or the goddess, happy, maybe he, or she, will make us happy in return.

There never was a god, or goddess, who didn’t have something to offer. Who didn’t stand ready to broker a deal. Who didn’t hold one hand out, palm up, with the other hidden behind his, or her, back, in the eternal posture of, “If you give to me, then I will give to you, and oh, how happy we will be!” We are certain of how the system works: The more we suffer in the service of the god, of the goddess, the more pained we are by our allegiance and devotion, the more likely we are to attract their favor and be rewarded.

Religion is a buffer we place between ourselves and our lives. Our lives are hard—and, even if they are easy, and we have it made, without a worry in the world, we worry that it will disappear, and know that it might—and so we crawl on our hands and knees to the holy sites to pray the prayers, and make the offerings, and receive the blessings of ease and bliss.

What’s the blessing? What do we want the god to hand over? What do we need the goddess for? What do we want that we cannot get for ourselves? We want stability, predictability, a comfortably dependable future. We want our lives to ease up on us. We want happiness and peace and prosperity. We want a land flowing with milk and honey. We want to plant a vineyard and eat, or drink, its fruit. We want our children to grow up healthy and whole. We want the bandits and the thieves to take up honest work. We want the bear to eat straw like the ox, and the lion to lie down with the lamb. We want to live free of fear and worry, and enjoy our days upon the earth. And, we trudge to the sacred sites with our prayers and offerings, hoping for the blessing. We do not ask for much, and our hearts are pure, maybe this year…

The gift, it turns out, is never what we thought it would be. Seeking the god, the goddess, we find one another. Pilgrims are regularly blessed, but the blessing comes not at the end of the journey, but is found along the way. The blessing is the pilgrimage made in the company of pilgrims. The blessing is the company they keep.

The blessing is the spirit engendered by the association of like-minded people. The blessing is the experience of solidarity, and compassion, and kindness, and peace. Pilgrims care for one another, and help one another along the way. Pilgrims share their bread and their cup, welcome the stranger, make room around the fire for any who join the circle. Pilgrims become what they seek. The journey provides what the destination promises. We are blessed by those searching for the blessing. The god, or goddess, comes to life in the lives of those come to do homage.

Pilgrimage underscores the abiding presence of that which we seek. It is not “over there,” or “up there,” or “down there.” It is here, always here, among us, waiting to come to life in us and through us, as we take up the work of right relationship and offer to one another—find in one another—the gifts we seek from the god.

We need each other. We need the warmth of caring presence. We desperately need what we can only get from association with, from participation in, the right kind of company. Participation in the life of a community is essential for life. We have to have a place to belong. We cannot LIVE alone. Isolation, which is quite different from solitude, kills the soul. We are here, in part, to help one another keep our soul alive. Let’s start with the premise—because we have to start with some premise—that the purpose of life is to be alive—to live fully, deeply, mindfully, well—and that we need each other in order to do that. We need each other in very specific ways.

Awareness, for one thing. We can’t be alive without being awake and aware. We need each other in order to wake up. We need each other to be open to the experience of the moment. To be interested in and connected with what is going on around us, with what is happening. To be attached, invested. We cannot be alive and be disconnected, disinterested, divested, detached.

Connection, interest, attachment, and investment depend upon our living in relationships that allow and encourage authenticity, integrity, congruence and compassion. And, that depends upon our ability and freedom to see what we see, and hear what we hear, and feel what we feel, and think what we think, and smell what we smell, and taste what we taste, and know what we know, and love what we love, and do what is ours to do. We are alive to the extent that we are true to ourselves in these ways—to the extent that the company we keep allows and enables us to be true to ourselves in these ways.

Right relationship requires the right amount of emotional distance among those in relationship. We have to be clear about where we stop and the others start. When we begin living someone else’s life, because that’s what it takes to be wealthy, for example, or popular, or married. When we start liking what someone else says like, and doing what someone else says do, and thinking what someone else says think… We experience the disconnection that is at the center of lifelessness, and do not care whether we live or die. Right relationship enables the connection to that which is deepest, truest, and best about us and allows for the expression of the authenticity that is the heart of life, and is life, and is required for the experience of life, and living, and being alive.

Monday, February 19, 2007

02/18/07, Sermon

It comes down to deciding how we are going to live our lives and living them that way. We are awash in conflict and fragmentation because we will not bear the pain of decision. Make up your mind! That’s all it comes down to. Oh, but, we want to “feel good about it.”

You can forget feeling good about it. When have you ever felt good about anything for longer than overnight? How long does it take for second-guessing to set in? For you to change your mind about what you thought was important, and to wish you had gone with white tile in the bathroom and not the midnight blue? Feelings change. Quickly. Don’t let your feelings determine what you do. Do what needs to be done and tell your feelings to fall in line. That’s my best advice.

Ah, but, what needs to be done? That’s the question, isn’t it? At least, we are down to the question. At least, we are standing on the brink of the realization that all our woes come down to indecision, to waffling, to wanting more than we can have, to standing before the candy counter, hypnotized and immobilized by the burden of choice, unable to decide.

What needs to be done? How do we know? In light of what do we decide? Who are we? What are we about? Toward what do we live? It’s easier to go with what feels good in the moment. “If it feels good do it.” Never mind what IS good.

What IS good asks hard things of us. What IS good is rarely ever any fun. What IS good would have us walk past the candy counter and take several trips around the block, in the blowing cold, because exercise IS good, even when we don’t feel good about it, or want to do it.

What IS good? What needs to be done? We often don’t want to know. We are the monkey with his hand in the coconut, determined to have our way if it kills us. We are the emphysema patient asking the medical personnel to remove the oxygen and give us a cigarette. We die, don’t you see, by refusing to die. We die in the service of our wants, wishes, and feelings, and refuse to die in the service of what IS good. We refuse to understand that what IS good may very well not be good for us, at least, not in the way we would like for it to be.

For instance, to lose weight can be a very good thing, yet that has implications for us that are not so good. It means that we will have to exercise and go on a diet. To go on a diet means to quit eating what, and when, and how much we want to eat. To not lose weight means heart disease, and diabetes, and a host of other equally unpleasant and undesirable things. What’s it going to be? Our lives come down to what’s it going to be? We whine a lot, moan, groan, and complain a lot. Gripe and mope around a lot. But, a good many of our problems come down to deciding what it’s going to be and letting that be that. “This is the way things are. And this is what can be done about it. And that’s that.”

Ah, but. We want it to be different. We want to eat what we want to eat without gaining weight. We want to stay in shape without exercising. We don’t want to give up this in order to have that. We don’t want what we want to interfere with, rule out, exclude what we also want. And we most certainly, definitely, absolutely, positively don’t want to have to decide. Anything. Ever.

A sizeable portion of our problem with life comes down to our refusing to choose how we are going to live our life and consciously disciplining ourselves to actually live out that choice. Spiritual practice is nothing more than the discipline of placing our life in the service of our will-to-the-good. You think Jesus didn’t have other options? You think the Buddha had to be the Buddha? These guys could have walked away at any point. The only thing that kept them centered in The Way was their commitment to The Way which was expressed constantly in their practice of The Way.

Young Catholic women are joining convents and becoming nuns today in record numbers. The Order provides them with a vision of The Way and a practice of maintaining their commitment to it. They decide what it’s going to be, how it’s going to be, and discipline their lives to serve their will-to-the-good. The decision and the practice are critical.

The decision provides focus and direction, and the practice keeps us centered when doubt and second-guessing come into play. The decision is to quit drinking, and AA is the practice. The decision is to lose weight, and Weight Watchers is the practice. The decision is to exercise, and the Happy Hikers of the Triad is the practice. We decide how we are going to live our lives and hang out with the right kind of company in order to stay focused on the decision and put it into practice.

I have no business telling you how to live your life. I do think I have the responsibility of pointing out certain realities to you if I see you engaging in self-destructive behavior and heading for the edge of the cliff, but I don’t think it is my place to lock you up until you come to your senses. There is a limit as to what I can do for you. There is a point at which the old bumper sticker prayer is applicable: “Save us, O God, from those who would save us!”

Your life is your life and how you live it is your business. We can help each other be clear about our choices, but we cannot try to force, or even influence, another to make the choice we want her, or him, to make. Clarity is crucial. The Buddha spent all those years seeking enlightenment. What he was actually seeking was clarity. Clarity is enlightening. Enlightenment is clarifying. Once we see clearly, the way is obvious.

Emotional turmoil, upheaval, angst, anxiety, confusion, fragmentation, division, uncertainty and the like is all evidence of a lack of clarity. Once we see clearly how things are and what must be done, there is instantaneous peace and resolution. We are enlightened. And can proceed. But, we cannot proceed alone. The decision regarding what to do and how to do it requires a practice that enables us to discipline our life in the service of our will-to-the-good, and that means placing ourselves in the right kind of company. We don’t have to join a convent, but we do have to find a group, a tribe, a family that is the right kind of family, and make our home with them.

It isn’t going to be easy, but it can be done. We are working to become that kind of community, and that may be as close as we get. Finding a place that is working to be the kind of community we need may be the best we can do. You cannot think that this place is what you need. Or, that it will always be what you need. We are only working to become what you need. No one here is the right kind of person. No one here has it figured out. No one here is the Master, the Guru, the Guide. We are finding the way of being the right kind of company together. We are learning what it takes to be a good place to be. If you can’t be patient with what you take to be our failures, insufficiencies, and deficiencies, you may need to search out a more advanced group of the right kind of people, and move on.

You also have to do your part in being a good place for us to be. It’s a two-way street, kindness, compassion, generosity, hospitality, grace, mercy, peace. If you are a natural grump and don’t feel particularly loving or gracious or kind, you only have to follow the AA principle and “Fake it until you make it.” If you work hard enough at being a decent human being, you can actually become one over time.

Which is the foundation of what we are about here. We are working hard enough at being decent human beings—at being the right kind of company—and trusting that will become actual, tangible, real and true over time. Do not think that is in place and running. We are learning the rules of right relationship as we go. You know the Number One Rule For Right Relationship. It has a positive and a negative form. What Is Hateful To You, Do Not Do To Others is the negative wording. Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You is the positive frame. It has three corollaries: Love One Another. Love Your Neighbor As You Love Yourself. Love Your Enemies.

After this, there are the Big Five: Show Up, Pay Attention, Be True To Yourself, Don’t Take It Personally, and Don’t Be Attached To (or: Have Anything At Stake In) The Outcome. Then, there are the Lesser Four which govern personal disclosures (what is happening in our personal lives and how we feel about it) and our response to them. They are: 1) The Confidentiality Rule (Everything Said Here Stays Here. Everything said here one week stays here that week. We won’t ask anyone to update us on something she, or he, has talked about in the past. If anyone wants to say more about something she, or he, said in a previous meeting, she, or he, can be trusted to do that without inquiry from others. And no one will take the reserve of the group as an indication of a lack of interest or concern.) 2) The Fix-it Rule (No Fixing. No Saving. No Advising. No Setting Each Other Straight. No Confronting. No Correcting. No Converting. No Condemning. No Telling Another What We Think He, or She, Needs To Hear.) 3) The Pass On Anything At Any Time Rule. (No one has to say anything ever. You can pass on anything at any time. “I think I’ll pass on that,” is always an appropriate response.) 4) The Comfort Rule (The comfort rule always applies. Live to be appropriately comfortable at all times.)

Once these are all understood and in place, we begin to find the way together, continuing to learn as we go how to take care of one another in ways that are truly helpful, and how to be as concerned for the other’s good as we are for our own. At that point, we are not far from the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, Paradise, Heaven, Nirvana, Milk and Honey, and the lion lying down with the lamb.

Friday, February 16, 2007


When we wake up, we wake up to conflict, contradiction, opposition, resistance, tension, uncertainty, indecision, antithesis, anguish, agony, heartache, suffering, pain… We talk about “authenticity, integrity, congruence and compassion,” the way we talk about “roses, rainbows, and white picket fences,” all wistful and dreamy-eyed, as though once we are there everything will be just wonderful. Well. The roses require pruning and fertilizing and watering and weeding. The rainbows only come out after storms with rain, sometimes hail and lightening and tornadoes. And, the white picket fences have to be painted and repaired. Even roses, rainbows, and white picket fences are not all roses, rainbows and white picket fences.

We pay a price. In living we die, and in dying we live. The price of living with authenticity, integrity, congruence and compassion, is awareness and decision. When we wake up, we wake up to conflict, and decide.

Oh, but it is so hard to decide. Oh, but we don’t know what to do. Oh, but whine, whine, whine. We only have one life to live. How are we going to live it? We decide. We decide to be who we are.

We think “who we are” is some mystical, magical, gift from God that is hidden away within us, and that it is our life task to “find ourselves” and “be who we are,” as though our “are-ness” is an indelible imprint that pre-exists us and is waiting somewhere apart from us to be discovered and embraced. That assumption is so common and so unquestioned that my work is uphill for sure here, but… We are who we say we are. We are who we choose to be within the parameters of aptitude and intelligence and interests and upbringing and opportunity... Who we are is not some mystery to be discovered but a decision to be made.

In order for the choice to be effective in our lives, it has to be ratified by those around us. I can’t just proclaim myself a pianist or an auto mechanic and get by with it. You have to agree. We have to be confirmed in our decision by witnesses who declare that we are who we say we are. Otherwise, we are children riding a broom claiming to be cowboys or witches.

Our identity is something we work out in the right kind of community over time. I say I am a writer, or a baseball player, and work at writing and baseball playing, and become who I say I am. Or not. If not, the process starts all over, with me saying I am an insurance salesman or a race car driver. I say I am a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Buddhist. I say I am a decent human being. I say I am loving, and kind, and compassionate. And, I work to be those things, and if enough of you agree that I am those things, then I am. And, if enough of you disagree, then I am not.

My identity is something that you and I create together over time. But, it is not something that exists apart from me and you. We work together to make each other who we are. Our identity is a function of awareness and decision, of decision and awareness. We are who we say we are—who we, individually, and we, collectively, say we, individually, are. Where there is agreement, there is identity. Where there is disagreement, there is identity-crisis.

When we go off on “vision quests” to “find ourselves,” it is usually the result of an “identity-crisis.” We don’t want to be who we have always said we are, or who those around us have always said we are, so we sit under a bo tree until we decide who we “really are,” and then find a community to ratify and confirm our decision.

The community needs to be perceptive and dis-interested, which is to say detached, with no stake in our being who we say we are. The less perceptive and more invested a community is in who we say we are, the more likely they are to agree with us. But, without the coronation of a community, we are children on a broom.

The life we live comes down to awareness and decision. We wake up to conflict and contradiction, and decide what we are going to do, how we are going to live, who we are going to be. Or not. And that, too, is a decision.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


What’s the greater miracle, coincidence or design?


It comes down to right relationship. To doing right by one another. To living the moment well. And, by way of implication and extension, all moments flowing from this one. We live in this moment so as to impact all moments for the good of all. Which means, of course, a restriction of the freedom of all. The good of all restricts the freedom of all. I am no longer free to act with my best interest in mind when I am concerned about your best interest. How does my best interest impact your best interest? How does my good interfere with your good? What is good for all? What good is money if I am not free to spend it in ways that are good for ME?

Right relationship puts ME on an equal basis with YOU. We care about each other as much as we care about ourselves. If you haven’t tried to fly that kite in a while, take it out and see if you can get it air borne. It’s easier to talk about flying it, and leave it in the top of the closet or hanging from a rafter in the attic or a beam in the basement. We are sure it could be flown, but not today. We’ll wait until we get all our ducks in a row and everything squared away and our lives just like we want them to be, then we will go fly the kite.

The practice of right relationship, with its restriction of our freedom, of our good, for the sake of the freedom and good of the other, is a kite that will not be flown. We will not live together in ways that are mutually good. I will not sacrifice my good for the sake of your good. Power and control are about my good over yours, or yours over mine. Position determines the advantage. If I have something you want or need, you will have to give me something I want or need in exchange for it. What’s fair is fair. Tit for tat. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Pork barrel politics. Politics. Getting more for you than you give to them. Winning. Coming out ahead. The way the world works.

The practice of right relationship is a spiritual discipline. It takes us to the heart of what is important, discloses our demons, reveals covert resistance, exposes hidden agendas, puts everything on the table, and invites us to consider what we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the other’s good. It is, as you might guess, eye-opening. Much easier, much less disconcerting, as you might guess, to leave it tucked quietly away in the closet, or the attic, or the basement, for someone else to find, and fly.


How we live in the moment has implications for all the moments flowing from this one. How caring can we be, here and now? How compassionate? How genuine, authentic, real, true? How clearly can we express who we are and how it is with us? What impinges upon us in the moment? What pressures are being brought to bear on us by the moment? What colors our sense of the good? What are we trying to get in the moment? Gain from the moment? Do with the moment? What is at stake in the moment? What needs to happen? What governs our sense of what needs to happen? Toward what shall we live in the moment? Whose good is served by the good we serve in the moment?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


The solution, across the board, is to shut up and wait. And watch, alert to the arrival of that which is coming. That is certainly true with writing. Writing is a matter of receiving more than creating. We don’t think anything up and write it down. We hear, sense, what needs to be said, and say it. Writing is as much the art of listening as it is of saying. What is said is what is heard. And, the hearing is inevitable once the waiting is in place.

So, sit down, shut up, wait, and write what you think you hear. See where it goes. Write without judgment, without appraisal, without evaluation, without expectation, without editing, without having to “get it right.” Just write what you think you hear. What you think needs to be said. Even if it makes no sense.

Write until you reach what seems like a natural stopping place, until you feel as though you are “written out.” Then stop, put it aside, and come back tomorrow, or at your next scheduled time to write.

It helps me to schedule writing times. I go from about 6:30 to about 8:00 am, Monday through Friday, and sometimes on Saturday. Occasionally in the afternoon during the week. I made a commitment to write with the Writer within, and I show up and wait. I don’t have to write, mind you. I simply have to show up and wait. I always write, but I am under no pressure to write. I’m not afraid of not writing. My place is to wait. The Writer within has to write. I only listen, and follow the path of words that have energy, or flow.

That’s how it works for me. I don’t know how it will work for you, but my hunch is that you can’t wait until you feel like writing to write. Writers write whether they feel like writing or not. Writing is a discipline, not a mood. If you want to write, write. It’s the easiest thing in the world. Show up, sit down, shut up, and wait. What could be easier than that?


There is such the need to believe in magic—in the world of magic—in a magical universe—with hexes, and curses, and charms, and wands, and wizards, and wizettes, and warlocks, and witches, whirling around doing battle for control of us and our world. It’s never about the whales and the fishes. It’s always about us.

We are the cause of the fixation and obsession of the gods and demons and stars. They can’t get their minds off of us. Their world revolves around ours. We may be at their mercy, but we are the whole point of their lives. Where would they be without us?

So, we make up our fanciful stories, and give ourselves a place in their world we don’t have in our own. It’s compensation for being irrelevant and dispensable and incapable of providing ourselves or those we love with a dependable, trustworthy, present and future. It’s hell being us and conscious of our plight. We have to take our comfort where we find it. And, we tell ourselves stories to explain our pain and hold out the hope of attaining the power we need to give ourselves what we want. Who can look truth in the eye and live on? Give us witches and warlocks, demons and gods! Not an ephemeral existence on the exposed surface of an exploding rock! We can’t handle no real future and no actual control.


Enjoy what can be enjoyed while it can be enjoyed. That’s my best advice. If you can’t enjoy anything about this moment, what can you do in this moment to position yourself to enjoy something about the next one, or the one after that? Upon what does your joy depend? I have to be relatively pain-free and invested in the moment, in what I’m doing in the moment, in what is happening in the moment. If the moment doesn’t offer something I can invest myself—my time and attention and energy—in, I’m not going to enjoy it.

We have to construct enjoyable moments. We cannot depend on them “just happening.” What do you like to do? Do it. Do it more often, for longer periods of time. Build things to look forward to into each day. And, be conscious of enjoying them while you are doing them.

You are not going to live always, you know. You can’t wait for the joy to begin on its own. You have to do what you can to have a good time while you still have time. And, don’t be putting it off, because you don’t know how much time you have. That’s my best advice.


We can anticipate some things, but we can’t know where some other things are going. My life, for instance. I have no idea where it’s going. I write and take photographs for no apparent reason beyond enjoying writing and taking photographs. The endeavors don’t seem to be going anywhere. I plan on living out my days doing what it takes to pay the bills and enjoy the time that is mine. I don’t think I’m going anywhere. What would I do there I can’t do here?

Monday, February 12, 2007

02/11/07, Sermon

The church doesn’t exist to make the congregation happy. The church exists to wake the congregation up. Of course, the congregation is at once the church and the congregation. The congregation is, you might say, divided against itself. It resists its own efforts to wake itself up, and wants nothing more than to remain asleep at the wheel. This is the division, the fragmentation, the incongruity that is the source of all our woes. It is the only thing standing between us and being fully, deeply, joyfully alive.

The scriptures lay it all out. The ideal is right relationship. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What’s so hard about that? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” What’s so hard about that? Everything, it seems. In the Bible, the right kind of community is called the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, and Paradise. And, Paradise is never good enough for us.

Peggy Lee walks through Paradise, looks around, and asks, “Is this all there is?” Peggy Lee, of course, lives in each one of us. We walk into Paradise, looking for more. Looking for what’s in it for us. Looking for excitement, and thrills, and gusto. Looking for the advantage. Wondering where the pay-off is.

Trying to turn Paradise into personal gain, we do unto others BEFORE they do unto us. We use our neighbor as we use ourselves. We let nothing stand between us and what is important. But, we lose sight of what is important, and aren’t satisfied with any of the stuff we think we have to have. It is at this point that we all could use the church in our lives.

The church exists to wake us up. To help us sort things out. To enable us to find our way back to what is important. To encourage us in the work of bringing to life the wisdom within, growing into discernment, knowing what is good, and doing it. It sounds interesting, but we really don’t have much time to spend on it. Can’t they just tell us what we need to know so that we can get on with our lives?

This is were we need to wake up. Our lives don’t exist apart from knowing what is good and doing it. You see the problem. We want our lives to go better without anything changing about them. We want to feel better about what we are doing without doing anything different. We still want the excitement, and the thrills, and the gusto. We just want to be more satisfied, content, happy.

Here’s the bad news. We have to come to terms with the discontent. Peggy Lee is discontented in Paradise, for goodness sake! Don’t think the church is going to exorcise the demon of discontent for you. Here’s the stinking furry deal: Shelton Knopp says, “We have to solve our own problems every day for the rest of our lives.” Don’t think you are going to feel good about having to do that!

There is no escape from the weight of our lives! We have to come to terms with our lives, and make our peace with our lives, and live our lives! Getting that is enlightenment. After we are enlightened, we step into our lives, and live them, as well as they can be lived, one day at a time.
From the standpoint of enlightenment, “everything is transformed and nothing changes.” We wake up in the same lives, with the same choices, and the same obstacles, and the same duties, and responsibilities, and obligations. With the same degree of cooperation. The same amount of debt. The same amount of income. The same assets. The same liabilities. Do you know how long we can stay awake in lives like these without the encouraging presence of the right kind of company? We do not have what it takes to live these lives that are ours to live without the church-as-it-should-be. Which is to say, without the right kind of company.

That is because what is important is context sensitive. It depends on where we are and who we are with, and what mood we are in. It changes as we move through our lives. We cannot be counted on to remember, and live in light of, what is important in one place, with one set of people, when we are in another place, with another set of people.

In an AA meeting, surrounded by recovering alcoholics, under the watchful eye of our sponsor, we know that sobriety is important, essential, a matter of life or death, and our utmost concern without doubt or hesitation. Driving by a bar on our way home from the meeting, a beer becomes important. In the bar, surrounded by a host of folks who have just become the best drinking buddies in all the world, all the beer we can drink is important.

As our context and mood of the moment changes, our idea of what is important changes. We cannot live long cut off from the right kind of company without losing the path, forgetting the way, and taking up a way of life that has no connection with life, but is death in a thin disguise. When we hit the wall, land in the gutter, or dangle at the end of our rope, we wake up and say, “I’ve been such a fool! Why didn’t I see it coming? Why did I ignore the warning signs? Why do I keep shooting myself in the foot? Why do I keep telling myself what I want to hear? When will I ever learn?”

What we have to learn is that we cannot do it alone. We certainly cannot do it in the company of the wrong kind of people. We can only do it in the abiding presence of the right kind of company. We have to know who they are, and where to find them, and hang out with them. I have to warn you, however, they are BOOOORING!!!

Being fully, completely, wholly alive is boring. Think of the most alive people you have ever known. Boring. They had no life. The Dali Lama? Boring. Boring, Boring, Boring. How long can you sit, meditating, before you have to scream? How long can you wear the same orange outfit, day after day, before you have to yank it off and streak around the courtyard just to spice things up? Peggy Lee walks through Paradise and says, “Boy, is this place boring!” We cannot handle the way of life living requires us to live. We cannot live the kind of life being alive requires us to live.

Living well asks hard things of us. We can only do it in the company of the right kind of people. The right kind of people are a buffer for us, and a mirror. As a buffer, they put themselves between us and what you might call “temptation.” Or, what you might call “the Peggy Lee Syndrome.” The right kind of company protects us from those who would lead us astray by enabling us to see them. In ourselves.

We are our own worst enemy. Whose side are we on, anyway? We are what we hate. Or, to put it another way, we hate in others what we fear in ourselves. Thou Art That. Get it? When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he didn’t mean only those people over there. Healing the divisions begins with the divisions within.

The Buddha and all the Dali Lamas lived and died in a region that produced Martial Arts and Genghis Kahn. Wake up to contradiction, paradox, split and division. Violence and non-violence vie for space in the same region, in the same body. Blood-thirsty-ness and loving-kindness do business in the same soul. “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” “Love your enemies.”

The right kind of company enables us to face squarely the opposites within. Enables us to see who we are, and who we also are. Enables us to decide what is important and how to live in light of it, in spite of wishing we didn’t have to. Enables us to bear the pain, and pay the price, and maintain the tension of internal opposition in light of the enlightening realization: In living we die, and in dying we live.

The formula for abundant life is this: Authenticity, Integrity, Congruence, Compassion. Or, this: Right Seeing, Right Thinking, Right Doing, Right Being. And, it is not easy. It is as far from picnics in the park, and strolls down the lane, and light-hearted walks through rolling meadows and along gently flowing streams as it gets. Embrace contradiction and paradox. Bear the pain. That is the path of holiness and life. The truth is what is true, and what is also true.

The church does not exist to make the congregation happy, but to wake the congregation up. The church mirrors us to us. It enables us to see ourselves as we are, and as we also are. It points out the discrepancies, and the inconsistencies, and the conflicts, and bears with us as we bear the pain of realization, recognition, and decision about what is important and what we are going to do about it. And, as we solve our own problems every day for the rest of our lives.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


We don’t know what is coming. We can anticipate a number of possibilities, but we cannot be sure of what is going to happen when. It takes “getting into it” to know. We make up our response as we engage what meets us in the moment. Preparation means being flexible enough to adapt “on the fly” to the situation as it unfolds before us. Expectation and presumption can lock us into a narrow range of action that is incapable of the breadth of adjustment necessary to deal with what we find. “Do not judge,” means “know that you don’t know,” “take nothing for granted,” and “be ready for anything.”

That being said, it is also worth noting that veterans of the interview process have a knack of turning any question to their advantage. They do not answer questions they do not want to answer, but they take those questions and use them as spring boards into what they want to say. They step into each interview with a clear idea of the points they want to make, and take the questions in directions they want the interview to go through what they choose to emphasize, or abstract, and what they choose to ignore.

What can we do within the context of the moment, with the materials at hand, to turn the moment to “the good”? What is at stake? What do we stand to gain? To lose? In light of what do we live? What are we trying to accomplish, achieve, do? What do we want to happen? What do we want to not happen? How can we achieve our ends within the givens of our lives? How can we modify our ends so that they become achievable within the givens of our lives?

Life is a series of negotiations between what we want and what we can have. And, nothing good can happen before its time. The mess that you see around you is the result of things being forced before their time. You cannot speed up the butterfly’s escape from the cocoon. There are no short-cuts to the way things need to be. The struggle is a necessary part of the process. If something is worth doing, it is worth seeing through over time. Or, as Churchill and Gandhi have both been credited with saying, “Nothing worth doing is accomplished in a single life-time.”

Living well involves knowing what needs to happen in a particular situation and living in the service of our vision. If the Vikings are wrecking the country, the Vikings need to be stopped. How would you stop a Viking? What do you need to do what is needed? We may have to live with “the Viking problem” for a while before we find a workable “solution.” And, the “solution” will generate its own “problems,” and so it goes. We do not live long in a place that is “problem-free.”

We do not know what is coming. Or, what we will do about it when it arrives. But, we will think of something. Thinking of something is what we do best. It helps to be clear about what we want and flexible enough to modify what we want in negotiation with what we can have. And to be patient with the process of transforming the context of our lives over time.

Homeless people have no clear sense of the process of transformation. There is no clear sense of that process in evidence on Native American reservations. Hopelessness and helplessness pervade the atmosphere in these populations. What do we want? What is keeping us from having it? What can we do about that? How can we live within the givens of our lives to maximize the potential for good? Who is going to help us ask, and answer, the questions?

Our context is not going to give us what we want. Our context does not have our best interest at heart. The Vikings are wrecking the country. THAT’s the context in which we live. The Vikings are always on the loose. We have to recognize the nature of the way things are and do what can be done about it.

“But what can WE do?” is the cry of helplessness and hopelessness. “What CAN we do?” is the question that opens the door to a future free of Vikings. What price are we willing to pay to create a future that is better than our past? How patient can we be with the process? What do we need to do what needs to be done? When do we start?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

02/04/07, Sermon

Our choices limit our choices. We give up this to get that. This is called the agony of how things are. We cannot have it all. Some things are mutually exclusive. We have to decide. In light of what do we make the decision? We are always surrendering something, handing over something, walking away from something, for the sake of something else. What is the overriding concern around which all our other concerns revolve? What is central? Primary? “God,” if you will? What do we care most about? That’s what governs our lives. What we care most about and the decision we make—the commitment we make—to care about what we care most about even when we don’t care at all about it.

Let’s say we care about each other, and about our relationship, and decide to marry. Marriage is the commitment we make—not to each other, but to the relationship, to the marriage. Before we are married, the relationship is one of convenience and mutual satisfaction. Either of us can walk out at any time. “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.” When we get married, the relationship becomes the core value around which our lives revolve. When we get married, we promise to be married, no matter what, regardless of inconvenience or dissatisfaction, even when something better comes along, for no other reason than because we said we would. We promise to do what it takes to be married, even when we don’t feel like it or want to.

“But, we didn’t know what we were doing,” we say, having second thoughts. “We take it back! We made a mistake! We were wrong! We were young and stupid! It’s too hard! We can’t do it! It’s not worth it! We don’t care any more!” We always fail to understand how difficult it is to be married. To merge lives. To care more about the relationship than we care for, well, practically anything.

Being married asks hard things of us, and it takes both of us to be married. One person cannot be married alone. One person alone cannot tend the relationship. It takes two people to be married. But one person alone CAN keep a bad situation from becoming a really awful catastrophe. We don’t give ourselves enough credit. We can, on our own, just like the cowboys in the old westerns turning a stampeding herd of cattle, turn an argument from going over the cliff, or keep a disagreement from escalating into a nuclear holocaust. But, we cannot, on our own, be married. It takes both of us to do that, to be married, to make marriage work.

And, we have to realize that the commitment is to the relationship, not to each other. To keep the relationship healthy, we have to care about the relationship, to care for the relationship. We have to do the work of relationship. And, we have no idea of what that means. No one ever explains it to us, or shows us how to do it. The only guidance we have to go by is our parents’ marriage. Well. You know how helpful that is. We are on our own, together, in a relationship we don’t begin to know how to maintain, for life. Where do we get the help we need to do that?

Or, how’s this: Let’s say we don’t get married, but decide to join the church, a church, any church. We don’t know any more about being the church than we do about being married. It’s still a matter of learning to live in right relationship with each other, yet, no one teaches us how to do that. We don’t know how to take care of relationship. We don’t know how to tend relationship. We don’t know how to live together in right relationship, and, they don’t talk about that in church.

They tell us to “love one another,” but that generally means keeping our mouths shut and making someone else happy. Maurice Allen says his experience with church comes down to “doing what he says do the way he says do it.” With “he” being the minister. My experience is somewhat different. It comes down to doing what they say do the way they say do it. With “they” being the congregation. We are all here, it seems, to make someone else happy.

Churches are worse than marriages when it comes to doing the work of right relationship. Because no one in church understands that it’s about relationship with each other. They think it’s about relationship with God. About faith, and doctrine, and discipleship (shutting up and doing what you’re told), and prayer, and Bible study. And they treat one another terribly, while talking all the time about love, and charity, and grace. It’s like your parents beating you and telling you they love you. And you can’t comment on the disparity because the No Comment Rule is always in place.

The No Comment Rule is the primary rule governing wrong relationships. We cannot comment on what is happening, or not happening. We certainly cannot comment on what we want, or don’t want, to happen. We most certainly cannot ever ask for what we want. That’s selfish! And, if we do comment, we are discounted, or ignored, or belittled, or abused. Commenting in the wrong kind of relationship is worse than not commenting. Nothing changes for the better, ever, and we have to leave, or be utterly miserable, and, perhaps, destroyed.

The primary rule for right relationship is: Comment, comment, comment. Everybody gets to talk about the relationship, and everybody gets to be heard. The secondary rule for right relationship is: Everybody gets to be treated with respect, and honor, and appreciation, and gratitude. After that, there are 10,000 other rules, which we are always uncovering, and understanding, and applying. But, the essential prerequisite for the church as it ought to be (The Church of Right Relationship, if you will) is just enough structure for us to be able to do the work of being a good place to be. And, what do we get out of it, out of doing that work, out of tending relationships, and being the right kind of company? We get ourselves, that’s what we get. The right kind of company, the right kind of relationship, gives us, us. We get to be who we are.

It comes down to you and your life, to me and my life, to us and our lives. We are here to help one another to live life to the fullest. We are here to live, and to help each other live, the lives that are ours to live. What do you need to live YOUR life, the life that is yours to live? What do you need to do the things that are yours to do? What is keeping you from your life? What is standing between you and your life? How can you utilize the resources at your disposal to live the life that is yours to live? How can you help the rest of us live the lives that are ours to live? How can we help you live the life that is yours to live?

Don’t think this some new age elixir I’m handing out here. It’s hell, what I’m talking about. It will wring you out to dry. It’s like being married, only worse. The life that is yours to live will require you to set yourself aside. No kidding. It isn’t all roses, and rainbows, and white picket fences. Self-actualization means self-abdication. Self-denial. You have to give up this in order to get that all the way! What do you think the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha are about? Ho, ho. How’s that for what you do not want to hear? Too bad. The life that is yours to live is not just yours to live when you are in the mood to live it. The life that is yours to live is not just yours to live when you feel like it. It is yours to live all the time, whether you want to or not. But, we don’t want to! It’s hard! We were wrong when we thought it would be fun! We can’t do it! It isn’t worth it! …You know the story.

Look around. See the mess the world is in? It’s that way because no one wants to do what is theirs to do. No one wants to live the life that is theirs to live. You know what sin is? The easy way out. Refusing to pay the price. Refusing to bear the pain. Losing sight of what is important.
When we lose sight of what is important, we try to will what cannot be willed. We try to have what cannot be had. We try to force what cannot be forced. We try to make happen what we want to happen, and keep from happening what we don’t want to happen. Or, we give up. We surrender. Capitulate. Cave in. Collapse. Die. Lose heart. Lose our soul. Lose our will to live. Lose the point. Lose our purpose. Lose our spirit. Lose our enthusiasm. Lose our fight. And we just don’t care any more. And, we come here grasping for straws, hoping that someone will give us some reason to go on, because we have had it. Well, YOU are the reason to go on!

Let’s say you are a poet, that your business is poetry, that your life is poetry, or art, or drawing, or sketching, or painting. And, let’s say you’re 7 years old and your parents are too poor to have the luxury of paper in the house for you to write on, draw on, paint on. And, there’s never enough food. What are you going to do? Give up? Forget it? Forget about writing and drawing? Just because it isn’t easy, being who you are? Just because it’s hard? What are you thinking? If you give up YOU, what do you have left? YOU are IT, don’t you see? You can’t abandon YOU! Bide your time. Look for your openings. Write, draw, paint where you can. Take care of your relationship with YOU. It’s your life’s work.

I have come to think of myself as a photographer, as one who sees with a camera. It took me about 20 years to begin to get a glimmer of that. I didn’t know it upon arrival. And, by 20, I had other things on my mind. Things like college, and marriage, and seminary, and children, and congregations. And, 30 years later, I began to see the camera as a way of seeing. You might say that’s 50 years of having no paper in the house.

The moth circles around the flame, even when it doesn’t know there is a flame. What’s the flame, is the question. What is your LIFE, is the question. What are you circling around whether you know it or not?

I’m not suggesting that you should forsake all, abandon your family, quit your job, run away from home, and pour yourself into what you think maybe is your LIFE. I mean wake up. At least begin to wake up. Pay attention. Be aware. Wake up to what the flame is and work it into your life some way, somehow. There may be long stretches of time in which there is no paper in the house. The flame may burn low during those stretches. But, don’t forget the flame! As if! You belong to the flame! You only have to recognize it for what it is, and let it become what it can be in your life. You only have to let your LIFE become what it can be in your life.

It comes down to your and your relationship with your life. We are here to be fully alive, to live the lives that are ours to live, and to help each other do that. What do you, what do we, need to live the life that is yours, that is ours, to live? What do you, do we, need to wake up, come to life, be alive in the life you, we, are living? That’s the question. There is much about our circumstances to distract us, divert us, disorient us, and lead us astray. When we lose the way, when we lose sight of what is important, we only have to remember. We need a community of the right kind of people to help us remember. To get us back on track in the service of what is important: finding the flame and letting our lives take shape around it.