Sunday, July 27, 2008

07/27/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

If you have been here for a while, you have noticed that there is an internal debate about whether the right kind of people can actually say they are working to become the right kind of people, much less claim to be the right kind of people, as though saying we are is proof that we are not. So that, one thing the right kind of people don’t do is presume to be the right kind of people, and by not claiming to be, we actually are. If we are going to be the right kind of people and place, we can’t talk about it.

On the other hand, we could talk about it with the full and clear understanding that the right kind of people can easily become the wrong kind of people by being smug about, and proud of, being the right kind of people. We all have had enough of those situations in which all the right kind of people went to First Church and then went to the Country Club for lunch and a swim or a round of golf. And, you became the right kind of person by having the right kind of friends, and belonging to the right kind of clubs, and having the right kind of bank account, with the right kind of people saying the right kind of things about you. It’s wrong to be right in that kind of way.

It’s also wrong to be the kind of people who react so strongly against being the right kind of people in this way that they become the right kind of people in the opposite way—never going to First Church, for instance, or to a country club, or any club the wrong kind of right kind of people would go to, etc. Being careful not to be like the man in the temple who was proud that he wasn’t like the other man in the temple (cf. Luke 18:5-15). It’s easy to be the right kind of person in the wrong kind of way.

But, it’s important to be the right kind of person in the right kind of way. Spiritual practice is practice designed to have us become the right kind of people in the right kind of way. We practice being the right kind of person in the company of those who are practicing being the right kind of person. The only true spiritual practice is that of being the right kind of person. All the other practices, the praying, the walking the labyrinth, the sweat lodges, the chanting and the meditation, all lead to the clarity and peace, compassion and grace, that are essential for being the right kind of person. There is nothing beyond being the right kind of person to have, or get, or aspire to, or be.

The right kind of person receives well what comes her, what comes his, way. The right kind of person is a gracious host, hostess. The right kind of person has a gentle way of remaining who they are through the vicissitudes of time and the ebbs and flows of life. They have learned Paul’s secret of being content “in all things.” They have a calming influence, a grounding, balancing effect, and welcome everything, “Come in, come in. So glad to see you! Pull up a chair. Tell me your story.”

The right kind of person is home to the right kind of perspective. Right seeing, right hearing, right understanding, right thinking, right doing, right being. That is the goal and focus, outcome, purpose, and result of spiritual practice. It is who we are and what we are about. Being and becoming the right kind of person—the kind of person we ought to be, the kind of person the situation needs us to be.

We become who we ought to be by imagining who we ought to be, creating a mental model of who we ought to be, and emulating the model in our lives. It’s the “law of attraction,” or the “power of affirmation,” being worked out in our lives. Not that we attract what we want, but we become what attracts us, by incorporating the attractive qualities in our way with life. We become who we say we are. We align ourselves with what we say is important.

We become a writer, for instance, by acting like a writer, by writing. This isn’t to say that what we write will be worth reading, or that we will become a best selling author, or that we will make our living writing. It’s just to say that we become a writer by writing. We don’t become a writer by talking about writing, even by talking about writing with those who write, or by intending to write something, some day.

We live the dream. We dream the dream and live the dream by acting as though the dream were our reality. We make it real, or approximately real, by living as though it is. Who we are is, in part, a function of who we wish we were, of who we want to be. The image molds the person to fit the image.

We become children of God, or children of Satan, by practicing our part. Christ-like-ness has its role, its script, and the-very-Devil-himself has its role, its script. We become who we practice being. Alcoholics become alcoholics by practicing until they are alcoholics. Firemen become firemen by practicing being firemen. We are here to practice being the right kind of people. For Christians, this means becoming who Christ was.

Now, there is also some hesitation, nay, some resistance in this group to saying that we are Christians. “Not me.” “Nope, not me either.” The wave goes around the room. What do you think it means to be a Christian? What is it about being a Christian that you want no part of? How could you have a problem with being who Jesus was? Here’s the scoop: The word “Christian” means “Little Christ.” We become “Little Christ’s” who grow up to be “Big Christ’s” by practicing, regularly, consistently, constantly, deliberately, intentionally the qualities and values of “The Christ.” “The Christ” becomes the model we emulate, as Jesus did, in seeing and treating all people as children of God. “The Christ in me greets, acknowledges, recognizes, honors, respects, appreciates, loves, cares for, etc. the Christ in you.” We are Christian to the extent that we emulate the model of The Christ in our lives, as Jesus did. We become who Jesus was, are Christians, to the extent that our daily practice is to become “Christ-like” in our living.

The word “Christ” means “the anointed one.” Anointed by God. For what purpose? To do what? To bring God to life in the lives of the people, to represent God on the earth, to be who God is. “The Father and I are one,” said Jesus (John 10:30). “He (that is, Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation,” says Paul (Colossians 1:15), and “In him (that is, Jesus), the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19). But, don’t think this “image of God,” this “being who God is,” is unique to Jesus. It is who we are all created and called to be: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:22-2:1). The Christ is the one who exemplifies “the fullness of God” in her, in his, way of life.

Ah, but, I can tell by the looks on your faces that I’m going to have to talk to you about God. I don’t know if you have noticed, but God has changed over the years. The way we once thought about God is no longer the way we think about God. We cannot think about God the way we once thought about God because we no longer live the way we once lived. The way we live structures the way we think. Our life experience shapes our reality. Our understanding of the way the world works flows from the way we experience the world working. We don’t pray to be saved from the measles, or from polio, for instance. We get a shot, or a sugar cube.

It used to be that we tried to get God on our side against all that we were up against by making sacrifices and offerings, undertaking pilgrimages, and otherwise proving our devotion and worthiness of divine intervention. God was big, mighty, all-mighty, and able to do anything if only God would. Our job was to get God to give us what we needed by doing whatever we could think of to earn God’s favor. Things began to change about the time of the Maccabean Revolt (167 BCE). As good people died and faithful martyrs were killed, the question of What Is God Thinking? became central in the lives of the faithful. Heaven and Hell were invented to justify the suffering of good at the hands of evil. Things would be put right in the world to come. The way we thought about God was changing.

The way we thought about God was significantly transformed in the 20th century. We experienced World War for the first, and second, time. The Holocaust. Two atomic bombs. The absurdity of the horror of life being made up to us in the afterlife was too much to be ignored. Thinking people began to think, “If this is the best God can do, God is incompetent. And, if this is not the best God can do, God is negligent, or, perhaps, malevolent.” The idea of a personal, loving, gracious and compassionate God “working his (sic) purpose out as year succeeds to year” became incomprehensible. And, we began to talk of “the death of God.”

But. The idea of The Ought To Be, of That Which Ought To be, would not—will not die. It is the idea of The Ought To Be which led to the idea of the death of God, which is really the death of the old way of thinking about God. There is a universal sense of the rightness of things, of the right order of things, of the right way of things, which is highlighted by Aldous Huxley in “The Perennial Philosophy.” Joseph Campbell says “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” That is one aspect of Ought-To-Be-Ness. There are others. Children should not die before their parents. War is stupid. Compassion is the path of life together. The list is long. We know what is right, what Ought To Be, without recourse to heavenly decrees, either celestial or divine.

It is our sense of the Ought-To-Be-Ness of things that connects us with what Joseph Campbell calls “the Mythic Vision.” In the grip of “the Mythic Vision,” we are pulled out of ourselves and live past all self-centered concerns in the service of something greater than ourselves. That something is beyond being named or conceptualized, but we have named it “God,” and we have conceptualized it as “Godliness.” The qualities of Godliness are what The Christ exists to make manifest in the world of normal, apparent reality. We bring God to life by taking up the practice of Godliness, by living in the service of the Ought-To-Be-Ness of things, by being the right kind of people, living the right kind of life, in the right kind of way. By being True Human Beings. By being who Jesus was.

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