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.

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