Sunday, June 29, 2008

06/29/2008, Sermon (Think of a Sermon as a Dharma Talk)

We have to come to terms with our limitations, make our peace with them. I can’t drink as much wine as I want, or eat as much strawberry pie. Neither can you. Now, we can be overweight if we want to, but we can’t be overweight and avoid diabetes, and high cholesterol, and any number of other conditions and maladies that are going to interfere with our living and limit our life. We can’t live without facing the fact of our limitations. Or denying it. Dismissing it. Discounting it. Being delusional is another limitation that impinges upon our living.

Look. It’s like this. Living asks hard things of us. And not just of us, but of every living thing. If you think we have it bad, just try being a coral reef. Or a buzzard. If you haven’t looked lately, check it out. No one is standing in the line to trade lives with coral reefs and buzzards. If you would like to do so, you could just walk right up to the counter and plop your life down, and take up one of theirs. But, you better walk slowly, and think about it. I’m thinking that if you don’t like life as a human being, you’re going to hate it as a coral reef or a buzzard. Talk about limitations. Coral reefs hardly ever go anywhere, and buzzards eat the same old things every day all their lives long. But, don’t let me talk you out of it. If your heart is set on it, go for it. You may learn to love it, over time.

But, that’s the same task that is before you right now, with your life as a human being, learning to love it, over time. To do that, you have to take your limitations into account, come to terms with the terms under which your life is lived, make your peace with them, and choose to live anyway, nevertheless, even so—as well as you can given the nature and circumstances of your life. We live within the limits that restrict our living. That is where life is lived. If we are going to be alive anywhere, we have to be alive exactly there.

“Well, shoot,” you might say. “Why even try? Why go to all the trouble of living? We’re all just going to die.” You could take that tack. Death is quite the limitation. And, it’s a trick coming to terms with that one, making our peace with that one. Maybe we are all “just waiting to die,” but Bill Hamilton says it’s what we do in the meantime that counts. He’s on target with that one. That’s coming to terms with it. We have to live in the time left for living. And, time spent gloomed-up and bummed-out over death and dying isn’t time spent living.

Death is just another limitation that we have to live with, and around. It is one of the terms and conditions of life. Aging is another. How many are there? Past counting, that’s how many, and new ones are discovered every day. New terms and conditions. New limitations. If we are going to live, we are going to live on life’s terms. That means looking our limitations in the eye and living on, with them and around them, in spite of them, anyway, nevertheless, even so.

You have to be one tough cookie to do that, but we all come from the same batch of dough. Tough cookie dough. Look at all we have been through. Wooly Mammoths and Saber-Tooth Tigers and no toilet paper for thousands of years. It gives me the willies to think of it. Talk about limitations. But we did it. We have what it takes. We have the tough cookie gene within us. We have what it takes to pick ourselves up and do what needs to be done, with and around our limitations. It only takes doing it to know that we can. But, the longer we wait, the less time we have to work with.

We’re burning daylight here. We don’t have any time to waste. Life is for living. How are we going to make the most of the time that is ours? What are we going to do with the time left for living? Part of the problem with answering the question is that we don’t know how much time we have left for living. We like to think we have enough time. So that there is no rush, no hurry, no reason to sort things out and pare things down, and, actually, think about it. Just take the path of least resistance, go with whatever comes up, with whatever someone else suggests that we do, because there is plenty of time to work it all in.

Another part of the problem is that there is so much we have to do that we don’t any time to think about what to do with it. Our days are so crammed with duties, and obligations, and responsibilities that we don’t want one more added to the pile, the one that says we have to decide what we want to do with the little time that is ours. We just want everyone to be happy and to leave us alone!

Past all our excuses and objections, comes the question: What are we going to do with the time left for living? That’s the only time we have in which to be alive. I don’t care how much time you think you have, or how long you think you can put off being alive, or how structured and junked-up your life is. If you are going to live, you are going to have to live in the time left for living. How will you spend that time in the service of life? What have you not done, that you want to do, before you die? What have you not done enough of? What do you want to do more of? How soon can you begin working that into your life? What are you waiting for?

We can live all our lives without actually being alive. Being alive requires conscious intention. It does not happen accidentally. We may brush up against life accidentally, but we do not incorporate life into our lives without meaning to do so, without living so as to be alive, without taking up the practice of life.

You’ve heard of spiritual practices, spiritual disciplines? Well, the practice is being alive. We have to practice being alive. We have to engage in the practice of being alive. It is easy to be dead. It is hard to be alive. Dying is easy. Living is hard. Our practice is life, living, being alive. We have to live so that our hearts are in what we do. It’s called being alive.

Our life is where our heart is. When our heart isn’t in what we are doing, we are thinking about something else, or, not thinking at all, just going through the motions, just doing what we are told, just following orders, just reading from the script, memorizing our lines, stepping in the black footprints all the way to the grave. This is not living. This is being dead before we die.

The trick is to live before we die. To find the things that we can do with all our hearts and do those things. But this is not easy, and it takes the right kind of community to enable us to live with our hearts in what we are doing. That’s because heart is the easiest thing to lose. Dying is easy, remember. Living is hard. The culture exists to separate us from our heart. The right kind of community is necessary to re-connect us and to help us maintain the connection. The culture separates us from our heart by asking us to defend, justify, explain and excuse doing the things our heart is in. “What good does that do?” the culture asks. “Why are you doing that?” “How much money are you making doing that?” It all comes down to money in the culture. Money and convention. If it isn’t conventional, expected, normal, and routine, we shouldn’t do it, no matter how much heart is in it. The right kind of community is necessary to off-set the influence of the culture of the dead and dying.

Two watch words for life are authenticity and integrity, that is, living in ways that are integral with what is deepest, best, and truest about us—with our heart—so that inner and outer are one. That’s how we live in the time left for living. Life is for living. Living is experiencing life. Touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, breathing, dancing, singing, loving life. How long has it been since you had any of those things in your life? What are you waiting for?

Permission? An invitation? Money? How much money does it take, do you think, to touch, taste, smell, hear, see, breathe, dance, sing, love life? How much money do you need in order to put yourself in the presence of life? To be present in the moment of your living?

Life, living, being alive is a spirit, an attitude, an orientation, a perspective, a point of view, a frame of mind. You shift into life. From death to life. Like that. See? And, whatever we do with the time left for living—even if we do the same things we have always done—in the spirit, and attitude, of life, living, and being alive is IT.

We are alive to the extent that we have a spirit of life about us, an attitude of openness to life, an orientation of being present with life. Do the same old things with a new way of seeing and you transform the world. You certainly transform YOUR world! And, you may even work in some things you have never done, or never done enough of, and that would really transform your world!

So, here’s to you and the rest of your life! May you open yourself to and be present in the time left for living! May you touch, and taste, and smell, and hear, and see, and breathe, and dance, and sing, and love life! May you be aware of the time, and do more of what you like, and less of what you don’t like, and understand that you don’t have to get everything done before you do what you love to do! Amen! May it be so! 

Sunday, June 22, 2008

06/22/08, Sermon (Think of a Sermon as a Dharma Talk)

We all have our way of doing it. Life, that is. We all know how it ought to be done. And, how it ought not be done. I have a friend—We’ll call him “Charles,” because that’s his name—who douses eggs, be they scrambled, boiled, poached, or fried, with salt. It doesn’t matter if they came salted from the kitchen. He makes sure. That’s the way he does eggs. We have our own way of doing eggs. And, that’s just the beginning. We have our own way of doing everything.

Every living thing has its way of doing things, its own way of being, its idea of how things ought to be done. Amoebas have their way of doing things, flying fish have their way of doing things, Rhododendron bushes have their way. It is a characteristic fundamental to life that life has its idea of how things ought to be. The problem is ideas of the ought to be collide and clash across the board, around the table.

A rabbit’s idea of how things ought to be clashes with Mr. McGregor’s idea, and with a fox’s idea and a Great Horned Owl’s idea. It doesn’t take much looking to see that we will never agree about how things ought to be. We will not iron it all out, and line it all up, and arrange things nicely and in order, so that everyone is happy. Someone’s good is going to be someone else’s bad. It’s a mess out there. It’s also a mess in here. In this room, and within each one of us. We are a mess. We are a conflicting mass of opposing interests, and desires, and motives, and intentions. What we want interferes with something else we want and we can’t get anything right for long.

And, there is no fix for it. But, there is awareness of it. And, there is accommodation and acceptance, negotiation and compromise. It isn’t all wins and losses. But, some of it is. The idea is to reduce our wins and losses to a minimum and to live toward the ideal of a good that doesn’t restrict the good of any one. This is the ideal of optimal living, which is different from the currently operative idea of maximized living, wherein I live to maximize my good at your expense, and you live to maximize your good at my expense, and whoever has the most money and power wins.

In optimal living, money and power don’t mean what they currently mean. In optimal living, we live with the good of the whole at heart. You’re laughing, I know. We’re in this sanctuary at a cool 70 degrees and no insulation to speak of in the walls and ceiling, and, speaking of ceiling, look at all that air between us and the ceiling, which is also a cool 70-something degrees and no one is even breathing it, and we’re chugging away at consuming electricity, talking about having the good of the whole at heart. Who-okay-whom are we kidding? We are going to grab as much of the good stuff as we can for ourselves and let the starving hordes fight among themselves over the rest. And, we will talk about having the good of the whole at heart, and toss some canned goods to the starving hordes to appease our consciences and say we did what we could. But, the truth is that we have our way of doing things, and they have theirs, and we don’t want to complicate our lives by taking them and theirs too much into consideration.

Yet, optimal living takes everyone’s good into consideration. How much does my way of doing anything impinge upon your way of doing anything? How much does your way of doing anything impinge upon my way of doing anything? How do we stay out of each other’s way? There are those whose way of doing things includes getting everyone to do it their way. How do we get out of their way? How do we get everyone to talk about these matters?

We are forming ourselves into a community here, a community that befriends life. In order to do that, we have to be clear about what constitutes life and how to nurture that, nourish that, and bring it into being. How do we assist life, bring life forth? How do we serve the good that is truly good for all concerned? These are not simple questions. Conflicts of interest occur at every turn. If we are going to commit ourselves to optimal living, we are going to pay a price. We are going to be inconvenienced. And, we are going to have to act unilaterally. We can’t wait for everyone to be on board. When it is our good or “theirs,” and “they” aren’t “on board,” what is in it for us to act with “their” good at heart?

Eventually, we have to deal with the profit motive. With what’s in it for us. With what we stand to gain. Does optimal living profit us? Will it sell? Will they buy it in Peoria? Money is the bottom line, you know. But, what does money know about value? People will buy things they don’t want, can’t use, will never need. Pet Rocks and Spud Guns come to mind. Any product can be packaged to sell. It’s all about presentation. Marketing is the real bottom line. But the push behind marketing is money. Money is the real bottom line.

And, what do we do with money? Have our way. Money is power. Power means we get to do it our way. And, when we can’t do it our way even with money, money enables us to deny reality. Escape, run, hide, pretend. Denying reality is the real bottom line. We create a dream world, a fantasy land, where we don’t have to do any of the things we don’t like to do, and we can do all of the things we do like to do—or, at least, where we fabricate that illusion. Doing it our way is the real bottom line. Getting away from what we don’t like is the real bottom line. Pretending that things aren’t what they are is the real bottom line.

But, there is also recognition, acceptance, accommodation. We could snuggle right up to what we don’t like, make room for it, invite it in. We could look reality squarely in the eye, and say, “Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you! I was hoping you would show up! It’s been too long!” We could adjust ourselves to the conditions, context and circumstances of our lives, and make a place for ourselves in the midst of how things are—without giving up, giving in, giving out. We could.

This is an art, to maintain the spark within the darkness, to maintain our enthusiasm and interest and joy of living in the emptiness, to sing our songs and write our poetry and dance with abandon and delight in the wasteland. What are we thinking? Are we crazy? It’s like this: Heart is the real bottom line.

Living with heart, a heart that understands, a heart with eyes to see and ears to hear, a heart that knows what the deal is and what its chances are and lives—LIVES—on, anyway, nevertheless, even so, using the resources at hand to make life as good as it can be for itself and others. Living like that is exactly what is called for in every situation of life. Where are you going to buy that? What good is money in the search for that?

How are you going to come by eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands, and lives on, and doesn’t quit? It all depends on what you bring to the table, and on what you find at the table. Maybe you have it, and maybe you don’t. Can you bear it? Can you let your life be what it is, even as you work with it to see what it might become? Can you take it? And go on taking it? Not without the right kind of company, you can’t. Not without what you find at the table. None of us can. Not one of us can take it and go on taking it, without eventually coming up against it, without eventually running out of gas.

Eventually, we get to the hard part. To the part where it isn’t any fun. Where we are just slogging away at nothing, and don’t have any idea of why we are doing it. It’s easy to give up when we get to the hard part, and cast about, looking for anything to take our mind off the emptiness and futility of our lives.

What’s so hard about the hard part is the loss of meaning. What something means is always what it means to us, to me, to you, at a particular time and place in our lives. Meaning is not “out there,” in the thing, in the experience, in the doing. It is in “us.” When we do something that has meaning, it has meaning for us.

Meaning comes in two forms. Getting and giving. We can do something because of what we expect to get from doing it, or we can do something as a way of giving what we have to give. When we get to the hard part, the part where it is no fun any more, and emptiness and futility abound, and we have to talk ourselves into getting out of bed, it’s because it isn’t working—it isn’t giving us what we thought we would get (“What’s in this for me? When is it my turn? What am I getting out of all this?”), or we have lost the thread of integrity connecting who we are with what we are doing (“Who am I? What am I about? How is what I’m doing here connected with who I am and what I am about?”).

When we get to the hard part, we have to re-establish our connection with meaning and purpose. We have to ground ourselves in the realization that our lives are the expression of who we are, and take up the work of deliberately living in ways that exhibit, reveal, unfold our “heart/soul/self” in the world.

The hard part exposes the loss of heart, the loss of our connection with our heart. The real hard part of the hard part is the work of finding our way back to the center of ourselves, and living so as to express that in our lives. We may continue doing exactly what we have always done, but now with the focus and intention of revealing ourselves in what is done. The what, and the why, and the how have become one. That makes it easy, no matter how hard it might be. And that is what we get out of our association with the right kind of company.

The right kind of company enables the connection, and the re-connection with heart, soul, self—reminds us who we are and what we are about—and helps us bring forth the life that is our life to live, by helping us be clear about what is being called for and how we might respond appropriately in offering what we have to give to our present situation in life. Clarity is the solution to all of our problems today. And courage. Once we see what is called for, we have to do it. But, clarity cultivates courage. Right seeing is the source of right doing, right acting, right living, and it all flows from right being, from right orientation, right spirit, right attitude, right frame-of-mind. And, that is a function of the right kind of company.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

06/15/08, Sermon (think of a Sermon as a Dharma Talk)

Jesus said, in Luke 12:57, “Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is right?” And, he said, in Luke 9:20, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus puts us in the driver’s seat. Which, of course, is exactly where we belong. And which, of course, is exactly where we do not want to be. With the wheel comes the responsibility for the trip, and we have to have someone to blame. We can’t handle the truth of being wrong. Better to let someone else tell us what to do. Better to follow someone else’s directions to a life of the living dead than to make our own choices and be wrong. And be laughed at. And fail. Oh, the shame of it!

“Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is right?” “Because we might be wrong!” “What’s wrong with being wrong?” “Oh, we might go to hell if we are wrong!” “You are wrong about being wrong and you are creating hell by trying to avoid it.” “No, no! YOU are wrong to say we are wrong! And we are going to have to nail you to a cross for your transgression!”

You can’t challenge people’s deeply held convictions without paying a heavy price. They can’t allow themselves to be wrong, and that’s that. They will do what someone else tells them to do until that person tells them to think for themselves. They cannot think for themselves. They cannot live their own lives. They cannot find their own way to what has meaning and purpose for them. They have to be told what to do!

But, there is no way around it: The disciples must become like the Master in following no master. The secret, and we all know it, but are afraid of it, so we tell ourselves it is lost, and forgotten, and far away, beyond deep seas, across high mountains, and through heavy forests and dark jungles, and is terribly ancient, and written in an unknown script, and has to be translated by those who have been initiated in the ways of the secret and have been taught the code, and they can tell us what to do, so we must listen to them. But all of that is nonsense. The secret is known to us all. It comes down to this: Listen to yourself.

Who knows better the way of your heart than you? Who knows better the way of your life than you? Of course, you protest, deny, denounce, because you don’t trust yourself. You don’t know what you know, or how you know it. You can’t explain it, articulate it, say it, map it, define it, time-line it, write it up and put it in your pocket for handy reference. That’s what knowing means to us. It means knowing ahead of time. It means announcing, declaring, proclaiming, expositioning. It means knowing well in advance, from afar, all the steps in sequence and regular gradations from here to there. That’s knowing. Anything less than that is not having a clue.

Well. You got here, didn’t you? How did that happen? How do you know this is the place to be? What knew to bring you here? To bring you back here? How do you know when it’s time to go to bed? To get out of bed?  What to wear? When to eat lunch and dinner, and what to eat for lunch and dinner? How do you know were to go on vacation? How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you have reached the end of your rope? How do you know what’s next?

How do you know what’s next? This is the heart of the matter. Knowing what’s next is knowing at its best. And, we don’t know how we know. But, we cannot deny that we know. We may not know what is good, what is right, in terms of being able to articulate it, define it, explain it, declare it, say it. But, we know a good apple when we eat one, and a rotten banana when we see one. And, we know when it is time for an apple, or a banana, or a cup of coffee. And, we know when we have had enough. We know what’s next, and what’s not. And, it doesn’t matter how we know. We just know.

Knowing what’s next, and what’s not, is enough to know. We could live the rest of our lives knowing no more than that. But, to know that much is to know more than that. Knowing what’s next, and what’s not, over time will create its own theme, its own direction, its own momentum. Looking back it will appear as though a great plan is working its way out in our lives. All we were doing was the next thing, but things fit together in a way that could not possibly be coincidental. Our knowing is part of a larger knowing that is omniscient, omnipotent, compassionate and wise. It is God’s will that is being worked out in our lives! And, we will develop a religion replete with theology and doctrines based on our experience of God’s Plan being worked out in our lives. We have moved from not knowing anything to knowing Everything About God and God’s Will for Our Lives in one short segment of a lifetime. Amazing, don’t you think, for people who were only intent on doing the next thing? For people who don’t give themselves credit for knowing anything?

We know what we need to know, but we don’t trust ourselves to know anything, because we have been condemned, chastised, criticized, critiqued, judged, belittled, shamed, ridiculed and made fun of for not being what someone else wanted us to be and we are afraid to be ourselves and can’t risk being wrong. We have to please those who have to be pleased and know best, you know. Never mind if we have to die doing it. That’s a small price to pay to get them off our backs.

We try so hard to be perfect that we are not alive to the moment of our living. We try so hard to please our detractors, satisfy our critics, and make happy those who have never been happy, and cannot be happy, that we fail to notice the things that need doing which no one who counts and must be pleased (and knows best) would want us to do. When we see life through the eyes of those who count and must be pleased (and know best), we do not see life through our own eyes, and have no idea of how to live so as to satisfy our own sense of what needs to be done. If we cannot be pleased with our life until those who count and must be pleased (and know best) are pleased with our life, we will never live our own life, the life that is truly pleasing to us.

The trick is to be truly pleased with our life, with the life we are living. Not because someone else is pleased with it, with us, but because it is deeply satisfying and essentially right just as it is. If that is not the case, what would it take for it to be the case? What would need to happen that is not happening, or not happen that is happening for your life to be deeply satisfying and essentially right just as it is? If you don’t know, what is your best guess? What is right about your life? What are you doing that is deeply satisfying and essentially right? What are you most pleased with about your life?

What do you need more of in your life? Less of? How would that help you toward satisfaction and rightness? What is preventing satisfaction and rightness? What is assisting it? What are the forces of life at work in your life? Of death? Of what do you need to be free in order to live a life that is deeply satisfying and essentially right? What symbolic gesture can you make toward a life that is deeply satisfying and essentially right?

When it comes to being alive in the time left for living, we have to reinvent the wheel. Throw the baby out with the bath. Refuse to carry the pathology of the past into our future. We are the wheel. We are the baby. We are the pathology of our past. How do you leave you behind and carry you forward? Here’s how you do it: Take every step with as much awareness, and presence, and attention as you can muster, and practice mustering more with each step. Here’s how you do it: Be clear about what constitutes life for you, and be clearer about it with each step. Here’s a hint for you: Money is not life, security is not life, stability is not life, safety is not life, but neither is poverty, insecurity, instability, and having no place of refuge and safety to call your own. Do not confuse the things that are life with the things that are not life.

Life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, goodness, faithfulness, self-discipline, grace, creativity, insight, vision, clarity, courage, mercy, resiliency, wisdom, caring-presence, laughter, playfulness, awareness, delight, and the like. No one was ever alive who was not present for good in the moment of their living. Who was not a source of life, and light, and peace in the lives of others. Who did not relish, exude, exhibit contradiction, inconsistency, absurdity, nonsense, truth, beauty, compassion, peace and disruption, perfection and imperfection. Who did not live appropriately offering what was called for in each moment of living.

Where do we go from here? What does the situation call for, allow? What needs to happen? What can happen? How do we accommodate ourselves to the needs and possibilities of our situation? Can we separate what needs to happen from what we want to happen?

We have Our Way, the way we wish things were, the way we want things to be. And, there is The Way, the way things are and the way things actually can be. We have to accommodate Our Way with The Way. We work with the way things are to have them become as much like we want them to be as they can be, without interfering with the way anyone else wants them to be. We all have to settle for less than we wish we had. How much less has to be worked out among us.

We have to adjust our ideas (our wishes and wants and dreams) for our lives in order to live well within the possibilities, within the limitations. Our ideas for our lives are always coming up against the limitations. That’s where life is worked out, for better or worse. The nature of that engagement determines the degree to which we live or die. How alive can we be, not getting our way, not having what we want? How well can we accommodate our way, our wants, to the possibilities of our lives? How well can we live within the limitations of life? What does it take to live a full, rich, and happy life? What is a “successful life”? What do we need to be satisfied? To be “really well off”? And to live appropriately offering what is called for in each moment of living?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

06/08/08, Sermon

Are we playing baseball, here, or water skiing? Are we painting the ceiling or burning the building? It helps to know what we are doing, and how to do it. Are we bowling here, or planting tomatoes, or making ice cream? What’s our product? How do we produce it? Package it? Present it? Market it? Sell it? Who are we? What are we about? I wonder if I can get you to buy what I’m selling that we are selling.

Let’s say our product is life, living, being alive. Or, let’s say it’s quality of life, living, and being alive. It’s being as alive as we can be given the context and circumstances and conditions of our life. Our product is bringing people to life in their lives. We are mid-wives of life. We birth people into their own lives. We are the delivery room in which people are born into the rest of their lives. But, what we have to offer isn’t for everyone. You can’t give life to just anyone!

Jesus raised the dead, and left the dead to bury the dead. There you are. There are some types of dead that cannot be raised, that cannot be restored to life. It all depends upon what the dead bring to the table. We can be so dead no one can resurrect us.

The stories about Jesus raising the dead are told not so much to emphasize Jesus’ power over death, but his lack of power over death. The stories are told to emphasize the Pharisees’, and scribes’, and priests’, and religious authorities’ power to be dead. Their power to be dead is greater than Jesus’ power to raise the dead. They are deader than dead.  Jesus can raise the physically dead, but he can’t touch the spiritually dead.

How do you get to be that dead? By doing what you are supposed to do all your life long. By thinking what you are supposed to think, and saying what you are supposed to say, and  believing what you are supposed to believe, and eating what you are supposed to eat, and wearing what you are supposed to wear, and being who you are supposed to be, and being certain that is who and how it is supposed to be done.

The Lao Tse (AKA the Tao Te Ching) says (in chapter 2) “When everyone knows beauty is beauty, this is bad. When everyone knows good is good, this is not good.” In commenting on these verses, Thomas Cleary says, “Chen Jingyuan says this means it is not good for people to take their own ideas for granted, or get too fixed in their ways… When it is forgotten that conventional conceptions are conventional conceptions, and they are taken for objective facts that ‘everyone knows’ and no one questions, then narrow-minded bigotry and blind prejudice can develop unopposed.”

We have to know what we are doing, but once we think we know what we are doing, and become authorities in the matter of how it is to be done, we are dead, and no one can awaken us to the truth of our condition. “Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains” (John 9:40-41). When we see, we have to see that we don’t see, see?

It’s important that we know what we are doing in the sense of knowing whether we are roping steers or ice skating, but once we think we know what we are doing (whether we are roping steers or ice skating), we are lost and it’s all over, and we are dead beyond being brought back to life. This is the great spiritual danger. Thinking that we know what we are doing is the “sin that cannot be forgiven,” that is, it can be forgiven, but the forgiveness has no impact, no effect, upon those who do not recognize their need for forgiveness, and act as though nothing has happened.

We can only hear what we are able to hear. We can only see what we are capable of seeing. We can only understand what our lives up to this point have enabled us to understand. When you talk to us about things that are beyond us, we are going to look at you with Little Orphan Annie eyes. And, you are going to have to talk to us about something else, or go somewhere else and talk to somebody else, or get used to blank expressions and Little Orphan Annie Eyes. There are the dead who can be raised from the dead and the dead who will never be anything but dead. So, Jesus raised the dead, and left the dead to bury the dead.

 It all depends upon what the dead bring to the table—how open are they to being alive? As teachers, we have to work at saying what we have to say so that our listeners can hear what we are saying. As hearers we have to be constantly looking for teachers who can say what we can hear. Teachers teach only what they have to teach. We say only what we have to say. We can’t take anyone beyond where we are. And so the need for a lot of teachers, a lot of resources, a lot of conversations. There is a lot of repetition. There is not much new. We share ourselves with each other, what we know, how we know it, what we think and believe and how we came to think and believe it, what we see and how we see it… We talk about our perspective and our perception and our reality and our world and our life. Maybe people take what they hear and apply it to their own living, maybe not. We can only offer what we have, we can only be who we are. People will either find value in that, or not.

We can try to snooker them into thinking we are more valuable than we are, but our value comes down to the quality of our presence and point of view. Can we be with them in ways that change their lives for the good? In ways that enable their unfolding—that bring them forth into life and being? Can we give them themselves? Can we be with them in ways that allow them to be who they are? That’s the test of those who would be mid-wives of heart, and soul, and self. Can we stand aside and allow them to be who they are?

Our business is life, and that means standing aside and letting life be life on terms other than our own. We are here to bring the dead who can be brought to life to life. Life is our product, how do we go about producing it? How do we make people “more alive”? Eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that understand. Clarity. Awareness. Perception. Perspective. How do we pass these things along? Conversation. The right kind of conversation. The kind of conversation that embraces paradox and contradiction and incompatibility and incongruity and opposition and irony. The kind that questions assumptions, and eschews certitude , and negates platitudes, clich├ęs, and formulas. The kind that brings people to life by requiring them to have their own life—not the life we might have in mind for them—and think for themselves. See for themselves. Hear for themselves. Understand for themselves. Experience for themselves the experience of being alive.

Being alive is experiencing life! It is seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, touching what we touch, tasting what we taste, smelling what we smell, thinking what we think, believing what we believe, knowing what we know—not what someone tells us. Don’t give me someone who can give me her, give me his, experience! Give me someone who can give me MY experience, who can open me to the experience of my own existence!

What do you know because you know it, and not because someone told you? Whatever it is, that is where you are most alive, because it is your own sense of how things are, of what is real, and actual, and true, that is being activated there, and you are being pulled into the experience of your own life. In bringing people to life we help connect them with the experience of their own lives, with what it is to be who they are, where they are, when they are, how they are, why they are. We stand with people and their experience of life and enable them to experience their experience and respond appropriately to it.

This means helping them make their peace with their lives, to come to terms with the context and circumstances, nature and conditions of their life, to accept things as they are, and to begin the process of making life meaningful, enjoyable, and good. Our product is life, and we are successful to the extent that people are more alive after spending time with us. How do we know? How do we measure “liveliness”? We have to take their word for it. It’s entirely subjective. How do they feel about their lives? How has their life changed? What are they doing that they weren’t doing, or not doing that they were doing? How do they rate their own degree of “liveliness”?

Being alive means experiencing our experience, and it also means responding appropriately to our experience—it means living in the context and circumstances of our lives. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? We cannot be alive without answering these questions. What is appropriate to the situation? What is needed? What is called for? What is next? What is the thing that needs to be done? Do that thing and do it properly, do it well, do it right and be done with it. And then, do the next thing in the same way. That’s all there is to it. That’s all that being alive asks of us. But, that is more than we can manage, it seems.

How do we know what to do? So what if we don’t know? Do what we think is appropriate to the situation. If we are wrong, we are wrong. Then, we do what is appropriate to THAT situation, to the situation that arises from our having been wrong. What’s the problem? We don’t have to be right. Who could ever hope to be right all the time? Even a majority of the time? That’s why we have forgiveness and grace. Just make a good faith effort to be alive in the moment of our living, to experience life as we are living it here, and now, and do what is appropriate to the situation. Nothing more can be asked of us than that.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

06/01/08, Sermon

We have to have a life a part. It doesn’t have to be a secret life, but it has to be a separate life—a life separate from our job, and our family, and our friends. We have to have an identity, a life, all our own. Of course, that’s spoken from the mouth of an introvert. If you are an extrovert, you don’t know what I’m talking about. Your only imaginable life IS your job, your family, your friends! You can’t think of life, of living, of being alive without them. Who we are restricts who we can be. We are handicapped by our perspective which is influenced by tendencies beyond our control. We don’t get to choose the things that matter to us, the things that are life itself. They choose us, chose us, you might say, before we were born (Which, of course, is to say there is no such thing as “free will.” We like to think “free will” means being able “to do anything we want to do.” Well. One thing we can’t do is determine what we want to do. We want what we want. We can’t want what we don’t want. Our wants are forced on us. We can’t help wanting what we want. So much for “free will”).

The way we see life pegs us into what Carl Jung called “psychological types.” He posited three pairs of opposite tendencies (Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers added a fourth), and said that we all fall out somewhere along a continuum between them. All of us are tuned to be more or less intuitive and more or less “hands-on.” More or less introverted, or more or less extroverted. More or less practical and logical, or more or less empathetic and personal. More or less concrete, tangible and specific, or more or less general, abstract and metaphorical.

Jung recommended that we find a happy balance between the extremes by recognizing our natural tendency and moving deliberately and consciously in the opposite direction by doing things we are not naturally disposed to do. We supposedly “round ourselves out” by “living against the grain.” My experience with living against the grain leads me to say that we live against the grain by living against the grain. It’s like butting our heads against a wall. We don’t become more extroverted by pretending to be an extrovert, we just pretend to be an extrovert.

I think the best we can do is to be aware of as much as we can be aware of. And, when we hear ourselves recommending our perspective to others, as in when I tell you that we have to have a life apart, catch ourselves in the act, and understand that’s just our psychic tendencies showing through. We have to be conscious without being self-conscious—without being judgmental and ashamed of what we are conscious of. In granting us, and each other, permission to be who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, the right kind of community enables us to see ourselves with the same kind of acceptance. We can gently receive ourselves because the community gently receives us.

This, again, emphasizes the importance of the right kind of company, the right kind of community, and the essential wisdom of “the Presbyterian way.” The Presbyterian way is to understand that all of us are smarter than any one of us, that we make better joint decisions that we make as individuals. We are “rounded out” in the right kind of community. The right kind of community, the right kind of group, enables the individual to see herself, himself, with the awareness of gentle grace, and this awareness is the foundation of our emergence into the world, into our lives. This is the second birth. The second birth is a conscious birth, a birth of consciousness, realization, awakening, seeing, hearing, understanding. It is a recognition of how things are and how we are in relation to them.

The right kind of community recognizes that there is no one way for everyone to be, beyond being awake. Being awake unites with ourselves and deepens our respect for other selves, so that we know where we stop and they start. Being awake enables us to “love one another as we love ourselves.” And, we can only be awake in the right kind of community (The wrong kind of community puts us to sleep and requires that we do nothing to wake ourselves and one another up, by asking questions, for instance).

We are here for our own sake and for the sake of one another. Your blooming, blossoming, becoming is one of my guiding concerns. The other is my own balance and sanity and integrity. How to be true to my own sense of how things need to be and true to my concern for your becoming is the art of relationship and the foundation of the right kind of community. How do we love ourselves and our neighbors in the right way? That’s the question that shapes, forms, the right kind of community, but, we can’t make so much of the structure that we lose community.

The structure cannot get in the way of the experience. We can’t become so engrossed in, enamored with, the rules of listening, for instance, that we fail to hear what is being said. Being the right kind of community comes with working to be the right kind of community over time. We don’t get there by reading a book, watching a video, listening to a lecture, or participating in a study group. But, we don’t get there by not doing these things, by not knowing what we are doing, either. Practice makes perfect IF we are practicing the right things in the right ways.

If we are going to practice anything, practice this: Practice remembering that we aren’t here to make other people into the right kind of community, we are here to make ourselves into the right kind of community. “If they weren’t so… If they would only… If they would just do this and this and this… If they would listen to me and do what I say… what a great community we would be.”

We cannot form the right kind of community thinking about changing anyone but ourselves. If you want someone to change in relation to you, you have to change in relation to them. If someone drives you crazy, change yourself to accommodate them—or give them wide berth! Become more open, more accepting, more understanding, more compassionate, or less available. And, understand the importance of lines and boundaries, and let people know when they cross them. Know what your limits are and say when they have been crossed.

Knowing how to set limits in relationships and maintain the relationship is one of the keys in becoming the right kind of community. Knowing what needs to be said, and saying it in ways that facilitate its being heard is one of the keys in becoming the right kind of community. But, too much thinking gets in the way, and we have to put the rules for living together aside and learn to live together by living together.

We cannot dictate the terms of the right kind of community. There is no one way for communities to be any more than there is one way for individuals to be—beyond being awake. Sitting Zazen on a blue cushion, taking up drumming, going to sweat lodges, and reciting mantras doesn’t make us the right kind of community any more than going to fellowship suppers, doing Bible studies, attending worship services, leading Vacation Bible School, and taking mission trips to Mexico does. The right kind of community helps us listen to our own heart and live our own life within the context and circumstances, nature and conditions of our lives.  It does not mold us into the community’s idea of who, and how, we ought to be.

Forcing is not listening, is not allowing, is not permitting, is not enabling, is not creating a receptive atmosphere for the unfolding of the relationship, for the blooming of the other. Good parenting is not asking a child to be more than she is, than he is. “Would you grow up?” Doesn’t grow anyone up. “Why don’t you act your age?” Doesn’t get anyone to act their age. We grow people up by being grown up ourselves (And not irritated at their immaturity). We get people to act their age by acting our age (And not shaming them for their failure to live on our terms). We wake people up by being awake ourselves (Awake to their inability to be more awake than they are).

We are the measure of the company we keep. We see in others what is lacking in ourselves. If we want them to be more mature in relation to us, we have to be more mature in relation to them. If we want them to be more awake in relation to us, we have to be more awake in relation to them.

In the right kind of community, everyone listens. The aim is to be a deep listener, missing nothing. Deep listeners listen with their eyes, and ears, and hearts—their intuition. They are tuned in and attentive, and they get there by being as aware of their listening as they are of what they are listening to. They listen to themselves listening as much as to the person speaking. Where is the interference? What is “jamming the signals”? What is the speaker stirring to life in the listener that keeps the listener from hearing what the speaker is saying? We can’t listen without hearing ourselves no matter what we are listening to! Can we take it, is the question? We cannot accept in others what we reject in ourselves, or allow in others what we cannot allow in ourselves, or acknowledge in others what we cannot tolerate in ourselves.

Deep listening changes others and changes us. How different are we willing to be? That’s how deeply we can listen. You see, it all depends upon what we bring to the table. Deep listening requires us to hear ourselves, see ourselves, face ourselves.

The primary rule of the right kind of community is No One Has To Do It Right. This is also called The Rule Of Compassion. This is the first rule. The second rule is this: Everyone In Her, In His, Own Time—In Her, In His, Own Way. This is called The Rule Of Individuality. The right kind of community is One, but not the Same One.

We don’t proceed along carefully measured steps, following a prescribed route, through a graduated series of levels, until we arrive, after a lengthy initiation, into The Right Kind Of Community. Here’s how it works: We learn to listen by listening to our listening. We learn to live with awareness by being aware of our living. This is called The Rule Of Awareness. Here’s how it works: What needs to be done isn’t always what we are supposed to do. Here’s how it works: Don’t let your principles interfere with doing what needs to be done. This is called The Rule Of Doing What Needs To Be Done. And what needs to be done is to create a space in which we can be who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are in relationships with others who are doing the same thing. What needs to be done is grounded in grace and compassion and peace, and allows us to know what we know, and think what we think, and feel what we feel, and believe what we believe, and smell what we smell, and taste what we taste, and hear what we hear, and see what we see—and say it all, and be safe with those who can be safe with us.