Sunday, June 24, 2007

06/24/07, Sermon

The way is the way of the true human being, the way of true human-being-ness, the way of being truly human. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? You’d think everyone would be rushing to get in that line, to find that way, to do whatever it takes to become a true human being. Ah, but. Things are not what you might expect them to be.

Being a true human being has very little to commend it. Yoda, remember, in the Star Wars epic, was a very advanced spiritual being who lived in a hole in the ground. Want to trade your life for Yoda’s? I don’t think so. And, if you complain that Yoda wasn't human, we can talk about Obi-Wan Kenobi. Same thing. Only the holes were a little different. I don't think you would trade for either!

I think you probably like your life pretty much the way you have it, except for the bills, and maybe the frailties of age, and the people who get in your way. If you could keep things as they are, only make them better, you’d go for it. But, to hand it all over for a hole in the ground, probably not. The bad news is that true human-being-ness will not pay the bills. And, even true human beings have to deal with the aches and pains of age. And people get in their way. Just ask Jesus, or Socrates.

The problem with true human-being-ness is that it is subversive, revolutionary, transformative, and unsettling. It calls everything into question, itself included. The life of a true human being stands in dramatic contrast to the culture’s idea of what it means to be alive. If enough of us began to live the life of a true human being, the economy would crash, the American Way of Life would be on the brink of extinction, and national security would be up for grabs. Everything hangs on our being good little boys and girls who buy, spend, amass and consume, without ever pausing to consider, in the words of Mark Hendren’s fine mother, that we are “spending money we don’t have to buy things we don’t want to impress people we don’t know.” If we woke up and moved into today’s equivalent of a hole in the ground, it would all be over.

True human beings live in their culture without being a part of things there. They are a step or two removed from the cultural assumptions and suppositions that everyone else takes for granted. They are a different kind of bird. For one thing, they need a lot less to live a life of true human-being-ness than the culture’s economy needs them to need. Which gives rise to the question: How many true human beings can the economy sustain before it crumbles? It is a question no culture has ever had to take seriously because the good life in any culture is always apparently quite better than the kind of life a true human being is led to live. There has never been a rush to do it the way true human beings would do it. There never will be. Who wants to live in a hole in the ground?

There is nothing attractive about the life of a true human being. Certainly nothing so obviously compelling about it that we would hand over this life to have it. “Do your work and step back,” advises Lao Tsu. “The only path,” he says, “to serenity.” “Serenity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” we say, insisting, willing, demanding, forcing our work to accomplish what we want it to accomplish in the time allocated for its accomplishment. THAT is the only way to get ahead in this life, and have it made, and retire early, and avoid living in a hole in the ground.

“Offer what you have to give and let nature take its course,” says Lao Tsu. But we have our schemes and plans for rerouting nature’s course to the route we have in mind for it. We blow up a mountain range, drain an ocean, and wa-la, wonderland! “Take only photographs,” says John Muir, “and leave only footprints.” But, we think a McDonald’s would do well in the spot that grove of Redwoods currently occupies, and a Wal-Mart with that creek running through the home and garden section would be great.

American Indians could live in harmony with the land, and the animals, and the seasons, but we genetically alter everything so that it is more in line with our ideas for it. And, we are working on ways to eat all we want without weight gain or exercise, which is the real American Dream. The life of a true human being, with its offer of a serene hole in the ground, is no threat to the culture of mass consumption and endless belching.

The culture has no worries, because there will never be more than a hand-full of people devoted to the way of being truly alive. It’s too difficult. It’s not as much fun as going with what delights the eyes and thrills the senses. Engaging in disengagement through sensual overload to the complete exclusion of everything keeps us from worrying about anything. We just plug in and fly. It’s great. There is nothing about true human-being-ness that can compete with the level of diversion, distraction and denial that is practiced and promoted by the culture of wonderful things. That culture is alive and well.

Yet, that culture is also dead and lifeless because it is devoid of what true human-being-ness has to offer. The gift of true human-being-ness is a perspective that does not take itself seriously. It is a perspective that takes it all in, hides from nothing, sees everything, and laughs—not in a cynical, despairing, hollow kind of way, but in a way that truly delights in the oddities and paradoxes and contradictions of life.

For example, in this world, we have to give up this to get that, and we don’t always know what is worth having. We don’t always know where we are better off, what is optimal, or even beneficial. A true human being can see the humor in that predicament.

What makes us think that the things we care about are worth caring about? What makes us think that the things we love are worth loving? That the things we think about are worth thinking about? That the things we do are worth doing? Why are we the way we are and not some other way instead? How different can we be? How different should we be? On what basis do we decide?

We will never think our way to answers to these kinds of questions. But, we know when our dentures don’t fit, and when a glass of cold water or a cold beer hits the spot, and how much better off we are for taking a timely bathroom break. We know some things about what is good, and what is not, and can trust ourselves to settle into a life that is good-enough if we stay grounded in the reality of all the ways our lives are impacting life. We have to care about what we care about with our eyes open to its impact and implications until we find ourselves caring about something else, or not caring about it any longer. We find the way to where we need to be over time. It only takes walking with our eyes open.

We don’t have to know what to do, what’s best, or even what’s good. We only have to start somewhere, doing something, and make alterations toward something better as those things occur to us, become obvious, over time. We only have to be aware of what we are doing and what its impact is, its implications are. We figure things out over time. It is not the knowing what to do that saves us, but the figuring out what to do as we do it, the making it up as we go.
Our lives are self-correcting, self-guiding, self-stabilizing survival machines. We are equipped to assess and evaluate, adjust, amend, revamp or scrap and start all over. We can tell when something is working and when it is not working—IF we don’t hypnotize ourselves into a stupor with a sweet little repetitive story about things being the way we wish things were and want them to be, to the complete exclusion of how things actually are.

Compassion and awareness keep things on track in service of the true good of all. Compassion and awareness are the primary characteristics of true human beings. Grace, kindness, civility, and a passion for fair play (also called justice), aren’t far behind. With these qualities at work in our lives, we have everything we need to live in the service of the true good of all.

That is not to say we are going to usher in the kingdom in all its glory in our lifetime. It is to say that we are going to be faithful servants of the good all our lives long. And, it is to say that we will be recognized as true human beings by those who are blessed by our presence-for-the-good in their lives. And, that is all that can be asked of any of us, ever.

The practice of true human-being-hood is the practice of compassion, awareness, grace, kindness, civility, and justice. It results in the experience of peace and joy and goodness. In the presence of a true human being, we calm down, settle into the reality of the present moment, and wake up to the wonder of love. Loving presence is produced by the blend of the qualities of true human-being-ness. To know a true human being is to know love, and to be loved, for no reason.

Love is not something we work to achieve or deserve, but is simply given freely to all comers by true human beings. True human beings are lovingly present for good in the lives of all people. Not that all people are capable of receiving love, or goodness, when they are offered, or of recognizing a true human being when they are in the presence of one. Some people, it seems, do not know a gift when they see one. But, some people do. And, to those who have what it takes, as the good book says, more will be given.

We begin where we are, and we grow in our capacity to recognize and receive the gifts of true human-being-ness. Over time, our own inclination toward true human-being-hood begins to stir, and we take up the practice of the qualities of true human beings—which is also the practice of right relationship with self, and neighbor, and the world in which we live. And everything is blessed by those who are simply intent on doing what is theirs to do in the way it ought to be done, then stepping back and letting the outcome be the outcome.

Monday, June 18, 2007

06/15/07, Sermon

We don’t always recognize a door when it opens before us. We have our idea of an open door, and spend our time looking for what we have in mind, and don’t see what’s there. We think we know what we need, and pour our lives into trying to arrange the future of our dreams, and ignore the path to a different future because it doesn’t meet our specifications for The Way Futures Ought To Be.

Of course, we don’t know what future is the best of all possible futures, or even what it will take to have a life worth living. The good we serve is the good we imagine to be good, but there are goods beyond our capacity to imagine, and we cannot serve what we do not see.

The Holy Grail—true life, abundant life, the life that is our life to live in a future worthy of us—is hidden away, and we have no clue as to where it is, or how to find it. Now, when we don’t know which path is The Path, or which door is The Door, we better stop looking with these eyes, and stop listening with these ears, and stop trying to think our way forward with this head which thinks it knows what is good. We had better stop following the guides we think are the only guides into the life we are sure we want to live. And, we had better start developing those eyes that see, those ears that hear, and that heart that understands. The trouble is, that is too much like dying!

Giving up, handing over, letting go of our ideas about the good, surrendering the future of our dreams, trading in these eyes and these ears for those eyes and those ears, this head for that heart, who can do that? The search for the Grail is as arduous as it is because the task is that of dying. Dying to our idea of the good so that the truly good might bless us with its goodness. This is the theme of all the journeys of the spirit. Death and Resurrection. Don’t think it doesn’t apply to us, here and now. The journey forward is a journey into death and dying. The path to the empty tomb winds through Gethsemane and across the face of Golgotha. The spiritual quest is no walk in the park.

The journey to the heart of truth is a journey into the heart of darkness, and requires us to understand that we don’t know a thing about the nature of the future that has our name on it. We have to get out of our way if we hope to find the way to the Grail. Before we can get to the Grail, we have to change our ideas about what it means to be fully alive. We don’t know what it means. We are looking for an easy path to the future of our dreams, and are not interested in a different future, and would not call it “life” if it were handed to us on a silver platter with our name engraved on it. You see the problem. Before we can be served by that which is uniquely suited to bring us to life, we have to change our minds about what it means to be alive. We have to know that we don’t know what it means, and wait to see. It is very difficult to see what we are not looking for.

Our preferences, and our disinclinations, and our desires get in our way, and keep us from recognizing what is in our best interest. We cannot see the way to the future with our name on it because we have a different future in mind. How do we sit before our future with no preferences to interfere with our ability to perceive the way that is opening before us? How do we stop trying to serve ourselves, trying to deliver the future of our dreams to ourselves, so that the Grail might present us with life? How do we give up the good we have in mind, in order to be graced by the good we would never consider to be good? How do we suspend the techniques, strategies, approaches, ploys and gimmicks that we use to get our way, and simply step into the darkness, trusting that the way that is The Way will open before us? How do we take control of our lives from our left brain and give it to our right?

You see why the search for the Holy Grail is so difficult, maddening, and fraught with peril. We are the enemy we meet along the way. No one knows our weaknesses, deficiencies, and insufficiencies better than us! Who better to defeat us than ourselves?! And, who better to overcome the resistance within than, ourselves?!

How do we know what to do? Where are we better off? What is optimal? When is a mistake not a mistake? Our left-brain, rational, logical, intellectual side wants to know. But, there are no maps to the Grail site. No directions. No instructions. No plan of action. The left brain will never find the way. Because we can only get there by fooling around.

Fooling around is what our right brain does best. When you fool around, completely content with fooling around, absolutely intent upon fooling around, with your heart set entirely on fooling around, magic happens. A pattern begins to emerge. Boom! As, John Madden would say. A door opens. A path appears in the wilderness. A horse trots up saddled and ready for the journey. And, just like that, we are off on the Great Adventure!

The Adventure that of developing eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands, is comprised of three simple, yet unending, tasks, all of which must be carried out in the spirit of fooling around: asking, seeking, and knocking. On the Adventure, we turn over leaves and stones, and probe into dark corners. We peer and poke. We wander about and fool around. Mostly, we fool around. The Search for the Holy Grail is really Enlightenment by Fooling Around.

But, it’s a very special kind of fooling around. It is fooling around with our attention completely attuned to what we are doing. We fool around mindfully, consciously, as though we are being paid to knock on doors and make inquiry regarding the point, the purpose, and the nature of life. We don’t know what it means to be alive, or where true life, abundant life, is to be found. And, so we ask, seek, and knock.

“What’s wrong with you?” is one of the essential questions in the search for the Holy Grail. Implied in that question are other questions: “What would it take for you to be well? What does it mean to Be Alive? What is keeping you from being fully, wholly, completely alive? Upon what does your vitality depend? What are you waiting for before you begin to live?”

Another essential Grail question is “Who does the Grail serve?” This is another way of asking, “What’s the point? What is the meaning of the search? What am I getting out of all this? What do I truly need? What am I after? What am I about? What do I have to do with you? What do you have to do with me? Where do I stop and you start? What do our lives mean for each other? How can we be of most help to each other? How do we know when we are living well? What does it mean to be successful? How do we gauge the quality of our lives?”

There are no definitive, absolute, certain and sure answers to any of these questions. All of our answers are tentative and conditional, and subject to change without notice. So, we are always asking them and wondering what the answers are now, in this moment of our lives. We are always finding, and re-finding, the Grail—always discovering anew what it means to be alive in the time of our living, and what the implications of life are for each other and for all of our relationships.

The tasks of life, the requirements for life, living, and being alive, change over time. Which means that the fundamental task, the Great Work, so to speak, is being open to grace in the moment of our living. We have to be open to the doors that are opening to us. We have to recognize the doors that are inviting us to step through into a future we would never imagine on our own. Developing eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart that understands is about being open to grace.

It’s about not closing ourselves off to possibilities and opportunities that may come disguised as, well, the complete loss of everything, or the complete opposite of everything we think of as valuable, good and worthy. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. Joseph was sold into slavery. We can’t tell what something means just by looking. We have to get into it to see.

Eyes to see means seeing more than meets the eye. Means seeing beneath the surface, past the obvious. Means seeing what is there, and what is also there, and what has the potential to be there if we are creative and cooperative. Eyes to see are always looking to see what is to be seen—looking to see more than can be seen by those who think they already know what’s there.
Eyes to see turn things over, pick things up, look under and around and behind things ordinary eyes see through, or look past, and take for granted. We learn to see that way by being free enough to fool around.

We see things differently by fooling around, by not being serious, by not being locked into “the right way” of seeing, or living, or being. By walking backwards, and standing on our heads, and dancing at funerals, and mourning at weddings, and asking things like, “Is it better to succeed or to fail?” Or, “Is it better to have what you need, or to not have what you need?”

Eyes that see, see that there is nothing worse than having eyes that think they see. Eyes that see are always looking for different things to see, and different ways in which to see them. Hearts that understand, understand that nothing is only what it is, that everything is more than it appears to be, and opens, if we allow it, into paths of wonder winding through strange worlds and carrying us into the company of light-bearers and life-givers, with whom laughter is the norm, and joy is the daily fare.

Monday, June 11, 2007

06/10/07, Sermon

If I did certain things regularly, I would do them well. Graphic design in PhotoShop, for example. I could do that very well if I understood PhotoShop. But why learn to use the program when you don’t use the program enough to remember what you learn about using the program? See what I mean? You have to do things regularly to do them well. If you are not going to do them regularly, you really can’t expect to do them very well.

Which transitions very nicely into dealing well with things when they don’t go our way. We have to practice with the little things if we hope to handle the big things well. We have to regularly do well with things not going our way, if we hope to do well with the major collapses, failures, disappointments, and catastrophes.

If you can handle well running out of milk or misplacing the car keys, you’ll have a better chance of handling losing your job or your partner leaving. “How do you get to Carnage Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice!” Practice with the small things, the daily things, the waiting in line things, the stopping in traffic things, the not having the right change things, and you’ll be ready for the haymaker landing right on the chops and knocking you for a loop things.

And when we practice, what we are practicing is being aware. Being intensely and intently aware of the right things in the right ways—being aware of your awareness, for instance—changes everything. But, not necessarily for the better. We have to be aware of that, as well. Sometimes when people are enraged, particularly with us, they become even more enraged when we don’t play their game by doing our part and becoming enraged back, or by not saying what they think they are setting us up to say. So, not being enraged back is no easy path to calm and peaceful resolution. It’s good practice for handling things that don’t go our way. But, it is not a technique for getting things to go our way.

Understand this: Things are not going to go our way. We simply have to be big enough to understand that, and accept that, and embrace that, and allow that to be. “This is the way things are. And, this is what you can do about it. And, that’s that.” Get it? Mostly, what we can do about it is accept the fact that we can’t do enough about it to turn it around and have it go our way. There is no strategy for making life be what we want it to be. We live in a world that is not the world we wish we lived in.

And, I know what you are thinking. Don’t tell me you aren’t. “What good is having a way if you can’t have it?” Nailed you, didn’t I? Well, I’m afraid we can’t help having a way, we can only help having to have it.

Having a way is the basic survival instinct. Every living thing has a way. Plants move to the light. Paramecium move away from toxins. We know what we like, but it is not always a good thing to have what we want. When what we like is something like cocaine and heroin, and sometimes something like alcohol, gambling, and chocolate, we get in real trouble right fast. What we like isn’t always as good for us as we would like for it to be. We have a way, and sometimes that serves us well, and sometimes, having a way gets in our way. Particularly, when we try to have our way anyway.

This is where awareness is very helpful. We have to have a way, but we don’t have to have our way. We can be aware of our way, and set it aside. Setting our way aside is a healthy, and helpful, survival tool as having a way. “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” How do we know? All it takes is time and attention. We watch. We wait. We see what happens. We talk with the right kind of others about what happened and what we did in response to what happened. We get their perspective. We examine our own perspective. Something shifts and we do things differently. And, if we are of reasonable intelligence, we develop a sense of when and how to do what over time.

It’s called the spiritual journey. Sometimes, it’s called wising up. Sometimes, it’s just called growing up. But it comes down to knowing when and how to do what. You get that down, and there is nothing else to know, or get, or do. You will have arrived, and can move to the mountain top, and speak in riddles to would-be disciples.

Knowing when and how to do what is all we need to know. It is at the heart of religion at its best. Religion, at its best, doesn’t ply us with things to believe, load us down with doctrines to understand and remember, pile us high with names of the saints to memorize, give us holy scriptures to learn to recite by heart, teach us rituals to perform, and prayers to repeat, and symbols to revere. It just helps us know when and how to do what.

It does that best by telling us a thousand conflicting stories about when and how someone did what, and winking at us, while it waits for us to get it. Jesus raises the dead, and leaves the dead to bury the dead. Get it? The Buddha advises living responsibly after abandoning his wife and children. Get it? Lao Tsu says let things take their natural course and tells rulers to wage war when necessary (NOT letting things take their natural course). Get it? The lesson is simple: Live with the tension! Every path that is the true path leads us into paradox, inconsistency, contradiction, discrepancy and disparity. Every path that is the truth path makes fun of us for thinking there is a path. Laughter at the idea of a Spiritual Master is the gift Spiritual Masters give would-be disciples.

Every path that is the true path is a general direction, not a specific directive. No path that is the true path details exactly what must be done when, and where, and how. There are no black foot steps to follow on the path of life. We have to live in the tension of opposites, between the hands, so to speak, knowing “on the one hand this, on the other hand that,” and deciding what to do, even when the best we can do leaves much to be desired. That’s called living with the tension.
Every path that is the true path comes replete with conundrum and contradiction. We think if something is true it must be one way and not the opposite way as well. We think in terms of well-defined dichotomies. If something is black, it cannot be white. If something is round, it cannot be square. If something is a particle, it cannot be a wave, and nothing can ever be everywhere at once.

We come replete with our either/or categories, and do not do well on the path that is replete with conundrum and contradiction. We keep trying to fit things nicely into our organizational structure, so that we might label them, tell ourselves what they are and how they work, in our rational, logical, left-brained way, and step into our lives with a place for everything and everything in place. Trouble is we don’t live in a rational, logical, left-brained universe.

In this world, things are as they are and as they also are and as they maybe, one day, might be. All at once, at the same time. It makes no sense, and we can’t think about it without becoming dizzy and sick to our stomachs. We cannot wake up and realize that we have fallen down the rabbit hole into a Wonderland that is more like an insane asylum. We have to remain asleep. It is the only way we get by.

How else does one get by in a world where things are not what they seem, or are what they seem and not what they seem? One doesn’t do it by THINKING one’s way by, that’s for sure. Rational, logical, left brains are practically useless in the world at the end of the rabbit hole. Life is a dance in that world. Blind people see and lame people run in that world. If you have to make heads or tails of things, you won’t have much fun in that world. Yet, that’s the world every path that is a true path winds through.

Conundrum and contradiction are on every side in that world. “The Tao that can be said is not the eternal Tao.” “Those who know know that they can’t say.” “Either you can take it or you can’t.” It’s hell or heaven, depending on who and how you are and what you need to be comfortable. But, you won’t get very far along any path that is the true path if you have to have things spelled out and nailed down along the way.

Get it? No formula! Get it? No black foot prints! Get it? No recipe! No standardized way of knowing what to do when and how! We make it up as we go! That realization is the sterling silver gift of religion at its best! We come to know when and how to do what by knowing that we don’t know, that we can’t know, that we can’t be certain, that we have to take another chance again!

That’s the realization which opens us to the moment of our living and requires us to be intently, and intensely, alert to what is happening and how we are responding to what is happening and what needs to happen, and how what needs to happen and what we want to happen are not necessarily the same thing. Did you hear that? What needs to happen and what we want to happen are not necessarily the same thing. We are not here to have our way and get what we want. If that is our idea of happiness, we are not here to be happy.

The Second Rule of Life is: “There is no necessary connection between what is to our advantage and what is beneficial.” Or, to phrase it another way, “There is no particular advantage in doing what is good.” We know what we want and don’t want, what we like and don’t like, but we have a hard time considering what is good apart from what we want and like, and evil apart from what we don’t want and don’t like. It’s time we learned to make the distinction. What we want and like is not necessarily good. What we don’t want and don’t like is not necessarily evil. So, how do we know what is good and what is evil? There is no formula, no recipe, no black foot prints, no standardized way of knowing when and how to do what. Get it? We make it up as we go, and everything hangs on what we decide. Everything. Get it?

Friday, June 08, 2007

06/08/07

Integrity doesn’t mean the absence of paradox, contradiction, discrepancy. Saint is irrevocably wed to Shadow. We are of two, or more, minds about a lot of things, and have to draw the circle wide enough to make room for all of us. There are contraries within, and everyone is welcome to the table. How we manage the conflicting realities is the key. How we work out who does what when determines the smoothness with which our life is lived.

Pretending that we are all goodness and light, and have no truck with darkness, is one thing. Pretending that we are not pretending is quite another. But, why pretend at all? Who could stand our rawness? How would we ever get by in the world being real? The fabric of society is woven with the threads of pretense. We play our roles, act our part, say our lines for the sake of maintaining appearances and keeping the wheels of social intercourse well-oiled and smoothly running, while who we also are is kept on a short leash and told to behave or else. Or else there is chaos and madness and blood everywhere.

We cannot live together as those who just stepped out of the caves and create civilization. The civilized world is a world of pretense and posturing, sham and fa├žade. We maintain order by observing the rules of decorum and being polite. Integrity is recognizing the need for deception and living with a foot in two, or more, worlds. Charles Kuralt was Mr. America while having a long-standing affair. Alan Watts was a bodhisattva and an alcoholic. There is more to us all than meets the eye. And, we have to understand that about each other and allow it to be. And, we have to manage our “other side (sides)” well in order to prevent it (them) from being acted out in ways that do harm and cause damage.

It is important that we act as though we care about one another even when we don’t care at all—that we treat one another lovingly when we don’t feel the least bit loving. If we acted like we felt like acting, civilization would collapse and we would be back in the caves. If you think your true self would be happy with that turn of events, take it into the woods and spend a week there with it being totally real. See how it likes completely transparent reality. And, let it choose between that world or the civilized world of social deception. I’m betting we’ll see you in a week. Or less.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

06/07/07

Where is the movement in our lives? Where is the flow? Going with the flow on one level means going against the flow on another level. To assist one thing is to resist another. What are we assisting? Resisting? In what direction do our inclinations lie? What is keeping us from following them? What is urging us to follow them? Where do we think we would be better off—following, or not?

Our lives take shape around what? Our existence is organized by what? We live toward what? What is the core around which we coalesce? The foundation without which “we” disintegrate, and drift into mindlessness and chaos? What is the nature of our integrity? The forming principle of our lives?

I’m going to call my core element “awakening,” until a better idea comes along. I am here to wake up and to wake others up. I am an “awakening agent.” The ebb and flow of awakening is engagement and detachment. The movement is from extroversion to introversion to extroversion. I go in that I may go out. Experience has to be processed, absorbed, considered, articulated in order for it to be integrated. We have to say what we have seen, and felt, and done in order to wake up to the experience of life, incorporate that experience into conscious awareness, and live knowingly, mindfully, in the world.

The ground of healing, of wholeness, of completion, of fulfillment, of oneness with ourselves, with our core “element,” is wakefulness, awareness, mindful knowing. In order to be fully, wholly, alive, we must live with integrity-of-being—we must live in ways that are integrated with, integral to, “that which is deepest, best, and truest about us,” with who we are at the core. We get to the core by waking up to “what makes us tick.” Then, we devote our lives to the service of the core—as if we have a choice!

To live well, we have to wake up to what life consists of for us, to what brings us to life, fills us with life, makes us alive. For me, it is the process of waking up, and waking others up. The process of waking up is the process of processing our experience, of articulating the impact of experience, of saying what happened, and what we did in response, and how we felt, and what we make of it now that we think about it. It is the process of developing a perspective that takes itself into account, of seeing in a way that allows us to see our seeing, and question our assumptions, and live experimentally, experientially—not merely repeating the past, but bridging the past with a future full of possibilities via a present of mindful awareness.

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The church thinks it is about God—talking about God, explaining God, proclaiming God, serving God, worshiping God, making God happy. Joseph’s brothers thought they were about getting rid of Joseph. The church can’t imagine being the church without God. Joseph’s brothers couldn’t imagine living with Joseph. So, the church says, “God, God, God, God, God…”, and Joseph’s brothers sell Joseph. The joke is squarely on the church and the brothers.

The church does not bring God to life by concentrating on God. The brothers don’t disappear Joseph by sending him away with the caravan. What is the church without God? Without God, the church is waking up. Stretching, yawning, seeing for the first time the way to life. God. God without the doctrines and the dogma and the system and the structure. Life. Truth. Beauty. Hope (not optimism!). Peace. Love. Joy (not happiness). God.

We are surrounded in every moment, well, okay, we encounter every day, evidence of grace. Don’t leap from the experience to the explanation, which becomes doctrine, which becomes dogma. Simply process the experience. Simply allow yourself to shut-up and be wowed. Don’t say what it means. Say what it means to not know what it means. And laugh. And let yourself be kissed by God beyond the doctrines and dogma. And know the God beyond understanding and explanation.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

06/03/07, Sermon

We accommodate ourselves to our lives. We adjust our expectations and desires, our ambitions and our aspirations, our wants and wishes to the current level of available reality. The world as it is rarely matches our idea of how the world should be. We do not live long, or often, in the world we wish we lived in. And, the task of life is reconciling ourselves to the way things are throughout our lives.

The Way is the way of coming to terms with the way things are. Every way that is the true way enables us to make our peace with the world that awaits us every morning and in which we go to sleep each night. The Way is the way of accommodating ourselves to the often harsh and heartless realities of this here, this now. The Way is the way of telling ourselves things we need to hear in order to have what it takes to keep getting up and doing what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done, all our lives long.

It is the task of religion to adjust us to the world. It is the work of spirituality to enable us to face what faces us, and do what must be done, day in and day out, for as long as we are alive. The test of any system of faith, of any way that claims to be The Way, is not whether it is true but whether it works. Does it allow its adherents to adapt to the changing circumstances and conditions of their lives? Does it provide them with what they need to live in the world on the world’s terms even when those terms change in the middle of their lives? How flexible, inventive, creative, and resilient does it allow them to be? Can the world deliver a blow from which it cannot recover?

The history of religion is replete with examples of religions that could not cope with a world that turned out to be radically different from the way the religion said that it was. You don’t hear much these days of the Ra’s, the Baal’s, and the Sun God of lore. The cosmology, the way of thinking about the world and how the world worked and the way things are, came up against realities the religions couldn’t account for and the religions died. If a religion is going to have the last word, or the next word for the next generation, it has to be able to think on its feet and make things up “on the fly.” If a religion is going to be successful, it has to enable its adherents to deal successfully with whatever life delivers.

Every way that is the true way finds a way of facing what must be faced and doing what must be done. Every way that is a true way finds a way of living with what must be lived with on the boundary between denial and despair, without going over into either, while maintaining compassion, hope (which has nothing to do with optimism), courage, will, spirit, heart, and determination.

Every way that is the true way points the way to life, and living, and being alive within all of the circumstances and conditions of life. Living water, abundant life, are terms at the heart of Jesus’ message and ministry. He was about life, and living, and being alive. Lao Tsu says that those who are grounded in The Way have no fear of the next moment, or of what might happen down the road. What do we need to have what we need to face any situation with spirit, and soul, and heart? What do we need to be fully alive in the time of our living, no matter what?

Asking, “What do we need? What would be helpful?” opens the way to being fully alive in the midst of the worst life can do. Every way that is the true way enables these questions to be asked. No way that is the true way offers a canned collection of things to believe, rituals to perform, prayers to say, and thoughts to avoid. Every way that is the true way encourages the search for what is good, for what needs to be done, for what is helpful even amid situations that seem to make a mockery of all those things.

Which is to say that we participate in the creation of the way that becomes The Way for us in the here and now of our lives. No way that is the true way comes to us in prefab form, in a one-size-fits-all presentation. No way that is the true way can be prepared in advance, bottled and stored away until we come along to buy it from the back of a wagon at a traveling Gospel show. Every way that is the true way opens us to this moment that we are living right now, and enables us to live here, now, as well as it is possible to live here, now—to be alive in the moment, to the moment, and open to what is being asked of us, offered to us, in it, by it.

Every way that is the true way enables us to size things up and see how things are and live fully, in relationship with those things, no matter what. Every way that is the true way enables us to know what’s what and to go on with our lives. Enables us to detach from the way we want things to be and live with the way things are—without going over into denial or despair. Helps us to live with the discrepancy between the world we live in and the world we wish we lived in.

There is much to not like about the world we live in. There is much to wish were different. And, some things can be changed. And, sometimes, making things better here makes things worse there. It’s hard to know where we are better off, or what is optimal. That, too, is part of the way it is in the world in which we live. And, every way that is a true way enables us to recognize all that we don’t like about the way things are, and go on with our lives, “anyway, nevertheless, even so.”

It would be a lot more fun, of course, if everything went our way. The Way is not about fun. It is about equanimity, peace, tranquility, accord, harmony, concordance with the way of things. The Way is about aligning ourselves with the way of things. It is not about being euphoric, enraptured, and over-joyed at the idea of doing what we have to to. It’s about doing what we have to do with as much enthusiasm for the task as we can muster. It’s about doing what needs to be done in the way in which it needs to be done because it needs to be done. But, we may not be happy to do it.

The Way is the way of accommodation, accordance, reconciliation, allowance, permission, alignment, recognition, and the like. It is the way of making room for what we don’t like, the way of adjusting ourselves to nature and circumstances of our lives, the way of accepting the way things are and what we can do, and not do, about them, the way of making our peace with, and going on with, our lives.

There is so much we wait out, put up with, live around, accept. It helps to not think about some things, to not see them. To know they are there, but to tuck in them into the background, and go on with our lives. We find our way around grief, loss and sorrow, migraine headaches and arthritis and missing teeth. The Way could be thought of as The Way Around, or The Way Without, because we live our lives without all that we need, and with much that we don’t need and don’t want. And, we find a way.

We’re still here. After all those years and all the things we have put up with and lived through, here we are. That may be the best thing that can be said about us. “We came out of nowhere with nothing, and made it through all those years, and all the things that happened to us—much of which they brought on ourselves—and we are still here.” Survival, then, becomes our mark, our legacy, evidence of our success as a species. And the roaches are laughing. By the standard of survival, they are more successful than we are.

Let ‘em laugh. They haven’t had to think about it. We’ve had to learn to not think about it. Roaches have an advantage. No emotional baggage. No attachment. Nothing to worry about but making more roaches. We have to struggle with meaning, and purpose, morality, ethics. Roaches just reproduce. Give them all the stuff we carry around and see how they do.

We carry it best by not carrying it at all, by choosing to not carry it, to not think about it, at least, to not dwell on it: “This is the way things are. This is what you can do about it. And, that’s that.” The Way is not about getting our way, or having our way, or forcing our way. The Way is not about Our Way. Our Way gets in the way and keeps us away from The Way.

Once we get attached to what we want, to how we like it, to the way we wish it were, or the way we think it ought to be, our troubles begin. The Way is about recognizing and coming to terms with what we can have and what we cannot have: “You can wear the red shirt or the green shirt, but you have to wear a shirt.” “This is the way things are, and this is what you can do about it, and that’s that.”

We spend a lot of time trying to have what cannot be had, what we have no business having. Carl Jung, or someone like him, said all of our trouble comes from willing what cannot be willed, or something like that. That’s it. The Way puts us in accord with the way things are, with what can be willed and what cannot be willed. It takes emotional resistance and attachment out of the picture, and says, “Here it is. This is it. Get used to it. Come to terms with it. Make your peace with it. Because here it is, and this is it.”