Sunday, September 16, 2007

09/16/07, Sermon

We don’t realize how much is being synchronized so that we might function normally in the world. There are some intricate balances that are being maintained at all times. Who is in charge? Who is orchestrating, directing, the action? It’s mostly unconscious, out of our awareness. “We” are just along for the ride! This was brought home to me last week when I had a bout with a bad sandwich, which I didn’t know was bad, but something knew. And, after my body got rid of the culprit, I not only did not want to repeat that particular sandwich experience ever again, but, food in its entirety was repulsive. It is as though my body was saying, “No more! If I can’t trust you any better than that, I’m not having any of it ever again!”

Well. Just try to function in the world without proper nutrition! You don’t think straight without proper nutrition. I couldn’t connect any dots. I would go to bed without taking my cholesterol medication, making coffee, or brushing my teeth. What does my body think it’s doing? It has to eat! Who is in charge here? What is he, or she, thinking? Kick my body back in, will you? Give me an appetite! How long do you expect me to wait around, subsisting on a diet of yogurt and dry toast, until you come to your senses?

Our bodies can turn against us. Disease, or a bad sandwich, can wreck the internal balancing mechanism. Our digestive system can shut down. Our auto-immune system can attack good cells and ignore the bad ones. We can hallucinate ourselves into a world no one can enter but us. Schizophrenics, and bi-polar victims, and psychotics have slipped out of balance. Their Synchronizer took an extended leave of absence, leaving no one at the controls.

I see that as more evidence of the reality of the Psyche. When the flow of life, when the internal harmony, is disrupted by a significant trauma, or maybe just a bump in the road (like a bad sandwich), things can be a long time falling back into place. And, they may never return to “normal.” Maybe “abnormal” becomes the “new normal,” and everyone in our lives has to adjust to a “balance” that is more “extreme” than “smoothly running.”

What can we do about it? What can we do when we are not in charge of the operation of what constitutes “us” in the world? What can we do when no one who might be in charge asks our opinion, or consults us in any way, or considers our ideas and suggestions? How can we bring consciousness to bear upon the unconscious processes? I can force myself to eat, but I can’t keep from throwing up. Now, there’s a pickle for you! What can be done to restore harmonious interaction of “the self” and get ourselves to a reasonably acceptable level of functioning in the world? Honor the Psyche! Bear the pain! Wait it out! Accept what comes! I know my body doesn’t want to eat, and I know my body has to eat. I honor the Psyche by attending my body and giving it what it will eat. If that is yogurt and dry toast, then, that’s that. How long can I live on yogurt and dry toast? I don’t know. How long will it take before my body moves on to something more substantial? I don’t know. But, I know I can’t force-feed myself without it coming back at me. My body has the lead here. I’m just along for the ride.

Learning, and accepting, my place in the world of the Psyche is the fundamental lesson. How might consciousness serve unconsciousness? What does unconsciousness “have in mind”? How might consciousness assist the unconscious processes? Who is in charge here? Who is in control? Toward what end are “we” living? How might “we” be better coordinated in the work to realize that end? How does consciousness commune with unconsciousness for the good of the whole? How do we wake up to the reality of the Psyche? Metaphor. Images. Stories. Ink blots. Art. Music. Dreams. Play. Nature. Silence. Meditation. Retreats. Reflection. Walk-a-bouts. Wool-gathering. Day-dreaming. Writing. Conversation. Slips-of-the-tongue. The list is long.

The human predicament is that we know what we want, but we don’t know what to want, and we don’t want what we should want. We want what we have no business having. Which, of course, is the essence of sin. Wanting what we should want is the essence of right-living and peace. It is our life’s work to align ourselves with the right things, to align ourselves with what might be called “the way of the Psyche.”

The Psyche’s agenda, so to speak, seems to be on the order of things like: wholeness, integrity, completion, fulfillment, harmony, concord, and peace. The Psyche is not concerned about our personal advantage. Jesus can die, for instance, in the service of his alignment with the Psyche, in the service of a greater good than his own, personal good. What is good for us may not be good at all, and thus, the factor determining action is not what’s in it for us, or what we stand to gain or lose, or what the advantage or benefit to us might be, but what integrity requires, what wholeness and peace demand.

I am well-integrated in the mountains or desert with a camera, yet, I would be radically disintegrated on a tour bus with forty other photographers, or at a week-long photography convention. Some experiences reconnect us and help us get it together, and some experiences fragment us and tear us apart. Neither the Army nor an ashram would be good for me. I do not live well on someone else’s terms, on someone else’s schedule. In some places we are splintered, in some places we are whole. It helps to know where we belong, and where we have no business being.

Our work is wholeness, authenticity, realness. But, being authentic, genuine, and real does not mean telling people what we think or saying what’s on our minds. That’s nothing more than bad manners. The work of authenticity is the work of bringing ourselves to life in the world. It is the work of waking up and becoming a true human being.

Yet, it is never enough to be awake, personally and individually. Enlightenment is not for our edification. It is for the transformation of the world. As Tom Jackson reminded us last week, waking up implicates us in the process of waking others up—to the extent that they can be awakened—by identifying, and supporting, and participating in institutions and traditions that offer alternative ways of seeing and living in the popular culture of our day. Alternative, enlightened and enlightening, movements are everywhere. It is just a matter of realizing that and linking up with them in the work of redefining the legitimate goals and purposes of life, and transforming—waking up—the world.

This social side of what we might call salvation, of what is awakening and enlightenment, has often been neglected in favor of a religion of personal piety and individual realization. Whether it is accepting Jesus, or achieving satori, the work is private and the impact on culture and society is more symbolic than substantive. We might outlaw alcohol, for example, but leave the darker, deeper matters of racism, wealth-and-poverty, and inequality, unaddressed and undisturbed.

The culture is always happy for people to get religion or become enlightened because that occupies the people’s attention while the culture is busy reducing their freedom and limiting their lives, and binding them to the service of the culture. Whom does the culture serve? Who benefits from the way life is lived? Who is harmed by it? In the west, do we exist for the economy, or does the economy exist for us? Do we serve the economy, or does the economy serve us? Who benefits from the economy? Who is harmed by it?

When Clinton said, “It’s about the economy, stupid,” he meant we will do anything to be wealthy. We will do anything to feel wealthy. We will do anything to be apparently wealthy. The economy owns us, and we will not do anything to hurt our economic chances, no matter how saved or enlightened we may be. The culture doesn’t care about our religion because it knows our real religion is our economic self-interest, and we will not allow ourselves to be any more awake than we can afford to be.

Jesus said, “No one can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have and follow me.” Jesus was dead-on, but now he’s just dead. And all the talk about his resurrection and his getting us to heaven when we die keeps him dead, and keeps us from having to deal with the deep truth of his counter-cultural challenge to the powers and principalities that force apparent life down one path and keep real life from branching off onto others.

The writer of John’s gospel had Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” John wasn’t putting Jesus forth as the only alternative to all the other religions in the world. John was putting Jesus forth as the only alternative to the predominant culture of the world. John is having Jesus talk to Caesar here. John is having Jesus say, “Rome doesn’t know beans about what is important. If you do it Caesar’s way, you will be lost and gone forever. I am the way, the truth, and the life. Stop serving the culture—stop serving the idea of your own personal wealth—and serve God.” Ah, but, we want all this and heaven, too, so, we bow to God and marry Caesar. And, the call is the same one that rolls through the ages: “Wake up! Realize what you are doing!”

Our work is that of waking up, waking ourselves up, waking each other up, catching ourselves in the act of sleeping on the job. Tools for the work are fresh eyes, “beginner’s eyes.” Ah, now that’s the trick! Looking at what we have always seen and seeing it differently! Who can do that on cue, on schedule? What’s the formula for seeing something else, something more? Where DOES seeing come from? How DOES seeing happen? It occurs, more often than not, don’t you know, just by fooling around. We stumble our way into enlightenment, and wake ourselves up by tripping over the cat, or going for a walk with the dog, or taking a shower. Which makes it an inexact science, and puts the outcome quite beyond our control. Nothing is more important or less manageable than waking up. And, that’s what’s waiting on us—to wake ourselves up and everyone else as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

09/09/07, Sermon

Wake up! Realize what you’re doing! That should be the mantra of our lives. That is the foundational awareness, and is basic to the identity of, the definition of, the self, us, who we are. We know who we are by knowing what we are doing—and by doing mostly, if not only, those things that “ring true” to, that “square up” with, the drift of our heart and soul, and reflect, express, who we are for all to see.

We are here to wake up, realize what we are doing, and reclaim our life—the life that is ours to live! No more mindlessly following the black foot prints! No more doing what we are told just because we are told to do it! No more doing what is done because it has always been done that way and that’s what’s supposed to be done and that’s the way we are supposed to do it!

Ah, but. There is a reason things are the way they are, you know. The reason is that it’s easier that way. Things would be different if it weren’t so difficult. Living our own lives is the hardest thing in the whole book of things. Knowing what we are doing and being responsible for making clear choices, recognizing and solving our own problems every day for the rest of our lives, and dealing successfully with the opposition and resistance that comes our way in response to the way we are in the world, well, that is more of a burden that most people care to carry. It’s easier to just fall in line, read from the script, and make no waves. It’s easier to be dead than alive.

Waking up and realizing what we are doing comes with a price tag attached. It is the price of being alive. It is the cross Jesus is talking about when he says, “Those of you who would be my disciple, pick up your cross daily and follow me.” Now, you have to understand the deal about discipleship. You have to understand what is at stake in following Jesus. This is the real cross: “The disciples become like the master in following no master.” When you follow Jesus, you reclaim your life. You take your life back, and become, not who Jesus was, but who you are. When you follow Jesus, who was exactly who Jesus was, you have to become exactly who you are. There are no black footprints! So, you follow Jesus by following no one, don’t you see? By finding your own way, making your own path!

But, there is a cross. It is the price of being alive. It is the agony of living our own lives, of being true to ourselves, of waking up and realizing what we are doing, and doing mostly, if not only, those things that “ring true” to the drift of our heart and soul, and reflect, express who we are for all to see. The price is what it costs us to stand apart from the culturally imposed ideal in order to “be true to ourselves” and live the life that is authentically ours to live. The culture thinks we were born to support the economy, take our place in the cultural organization, be a “good company woman, or man,” a “good team player,” and go shopping a lot. The culture dangles trinkets before our eyes, and robs us of our soul.

Our life task is to determine, decide, discover, discern who we are and what we are going to do about it. How does what we are doing express, exhibit, relate to who we are? In what ways does what we are doing bury, conceal, hide, deny who we are? The glitter and sheen of the culture’s beads and mirrors can distract us from the essential matters, and lead us away from the service of heart and soul. Diversions abound. What is the legitimate core, focus, center of our life? What is the “organizing principle” around which “we” coalesce? The central identity by which we recognize ourselves? The spiritual quest, the spiritual journey, the search for the Holy Grail is the adventure of seeking our own heart, our own soul, living the life that is ours to live.

There should be a course on the order of “Life 101” taught in every Jr. High School and church in the land. We have to learn to live. Life does not come naturally. When John had Jesus say, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly,” we understood that to mean eternal life in heaven with God and the saints and the angels after our biological death. That’s wrong. Abundant life has to do with a simple shift in perspective, seeing through what the world offers as life to the solid core of life, to what actually constitutes life, true life, “abundant life.”

John also has Jesus say, “Not as the world gives, do I give unto you,” and “My kingdom is not of this world.” Again, we think Jesus is talking about the heavenly regions. But, Jesus is talking about life, about being alive, and saying that the basis of life, the solid ground of life, is not what the culture, the world, sets us up to believe that it is.

The question Jesus lived to answer was not, “How can I get these people to heaven when they die?”, but, “What does it mean to be alive in this life, right here, right now?” Think a yellow Hummer will do it? How about another yellow Hummer? Maybe a red one for the weekend? What does the culture, the world, say it takes to “really live”? What is the culture’s idea of “abundant life”? Jesus stood apart from all of it.

Jesus’ idea was that life was a function of integrity, of being grounded in what is deepest, truest, and best about us, of being true to ourselves—loving ourselves—in relationship with one another and with God. We lose our lives, in Jesus’ view, when we try to save our lives, when we store up things for ourselves, when we live with our advantage, our gain, our boon as our primary concern. But, when we live in the service of our gift, our genius, our talent, our calling, using what we have at hand in doing what needs to be done (which is not necessarily what we want to do or what we think we ought to do), there is life, abundant life, spilling out, over-flowing, blessing all.

We do not find the Grail by thinking our way to it, in the comfort of our recliner, with something to sip on at our side. We do not find ourselves by thinking about ourselves. We find ourselves the way we find God—by living our way there. And, when we find ourselves, we find God. When we find God, we find ourselves. We live our way to the discovery of ourselves, of God. The trick is to do it—to live—with our eyes open.

The process of waking up is exactly the story of the species and of our individual lives. It consists of living and being aware of our living, talking about our living, examining our living, opening ourselves to the experience of being alive. Crucial to the process of waking up is being alert to the inconsistencies, and incongruities, and contradictions, and discrepancies at work in our lives. We say one thing but do another. What’s going on there? When we do what we think we want to do and our bodies develop symptoms, what’s going on there? When we do what we think we are supposed to do and keep meeting resistance and opposition, what’s going on there? Where do we go to explore these questions? With whom do we process our lives?

The failure of the Bush administration is the failure to process its experience, the failure to wake up and realize what it’s doing. Global warming is what it is today because Bush refused to wake up and realize what was happening. Every pickle you have ever found yourself in would have been less severe if you had realized sooner what you were doing and what was going on. We will not wake up. It’s too hard to wake up. It asks too much of us to wake up. It’s so much easier to drive with the accelerator to the floorboard, asleep at the wheel.

How long before we learn the lessons of life: Easy is hard. Short is long. Fast is slow. Immediate gratification accrues compound interest by the minute to be paid out over long our lifetime and that of our children’s children. But. We don’t want to hear it. Don’t wake us up with the facts! Let us dream our way sleepwalking to oblivion! Anything more than that requires too much of us! So. What about the dream world? What’s it like there?

Security, right? And, comfort. Peace of mind. Denial. Diversion. Distraction. In the Dream World, we are the center of the universe. Everything exists for our pleasure, serves our ends, works to our advantage. We can do whatever strikes our fancy without impact or repercussion. In the Dream World, we can eat whatever we want, exercise as little as we want, weigh as much as we want because diabetes and heart disease and strokes happen to someone else. In the Dream World, we can smoke, and drink too much, and drive too fast, and have sex with whomever we can talk into having sex with us because there are no consequences, and medical science is working feverishly to produce a pill to fix everything. In the Dream World, we can live lavishly, excessively, charge everything to some credit card, and when it maxes out get a new credit card, because there is no day of reckoning, no comeuppance, no end to the dream, and no one and no thing to take into account.

What are we thinking? Oh, that’s right! We are NOT thinking! We are DREAMING! And we are angry at Bush for dreaming with us. He’s the one who is supposed to be thinking, curing global warming, fixing the economy, finding more fossil fuel, so that we can go on with our endless fantasy of life like we like it in the Dream World.

And, the solution would be what, exactly? How do you cure those who don’t want to be cured? How do you fix those who don’t want anyone tampering with their controls? How do you wake people up who are perfectly happy dreaming of endless ease, perpetual comfort, and complete security, with the accelerator to the floorboard, asleep at the wheel?

If we are to Wake up! Realize what we are doing! We are going to have to pay attention. We are going to have to become increasingly aware of who we are and what we are about and how that is expressed in the way we live. We are going to have to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Then, it is only a matter of living with essential integrity by doing things that are integral with, aligned with, in synch with, what is deepest, truest and best about us. "You shall not cease from exploration /And the end of all our exploring /Will be to arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time." (T.S. Elliot in Little Gidding V, from 'Four Quartets' 1942).