Sunday, September 21, 2008

09/21/08, Sermon/Dharama Talk

Everyone is looking to arrange things to their advantage. That’s what religion is for. Gives us an edge. Religion is about getting God on our side. Religion is our way of getting what we want from God. We give to God so that God will give to us. What does God want? That’s the question at the heart of all religion. And, we expect our religious leaders to tell us what to do to make God happy so that God will bless us and make us happy. We pour over the scriptures to find what will make God happy so that God will make us happy. It’s all about being blessed and happy. We will do anything—we will kill goats and cattle and virgins and witches—in order to be blessed and happy.  Things get out of hand, of course, when I have to make you make God happy so that God will make me happy.

It works like this. My religion won’t let me play cards or drink wine because God wouldn’t be happy if I did. And, it won’t let you either. If anybody is playing cards or drinking wine God is not happy. If God ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. My religion won’t let me think that evolution is the way we got here, and it won’t let you either. My religion won’t let me have an abortion, and it won’t let you either. My religion won’t let me be gay, and it won’t let you either. You see the problem. Or, I hope you do. If you don’t see the problem, that’s a real problem.

I don’t know how we are going to work this out.  Our view of what it takes to make God happy keeps anyone from having a chance at happiness—if you think of happiness as being self-determined, inter-directed, free-thinking and fully capable of living a life of our own choosing.  If you think of happiness as carefully toeing some line and being afraid of your stray thoughts and marching to someone else’s tune and never having a mind or a life of your own, well that’s a strange way of being happy, and, I suppose, that you would think my way of being happy is strange as well. How would we know whose way of being happy is REALLY strange? What we see depends upon how we look, and who gets to make the call regarding how we are supposed to look?

We are stuck with our ways of seeing, don’t you see? With our ways of determining happiness and strangeness? Our way of seeing impacts everything. Where are we going to draw the line? How are we going to teach our children to see, and to live, in ways that do not make enemies of other people’s children? How are we going to see differently and live together? How differently can we see and still live together? Hitler wanted to kill everyone who wasn’t like him. Genocide, they call it. If you aren’t like us, you are fair game, and have to die. You have to do it like we do it or too bad for you.

We can’t live like that. Yet, we are not far from living like that. Our idea of national security requires us to kill people we deem a threat to our national security. How secure do we have to be? If we are convinced that God has to be happy, and won’t be happy, until everyone believes like we believe and lives like we live how can anyone be safe around us? Yet, how can we hope to live together if we are not all safe around each other?

We have talked here before about the world as a life boat, and we are all in the boat together. I don’t know how we are going to manage life in the life boat for everyone. We have to figure ways of getting along. Of granting one another space. Of honoring one another’s ways. But no one can build a fire in the life boat to sacrifice animals to their gods. No one can eat anyone else. You get the idea. There have to be regulations keeping people from doing harm to other people. Physical, emotional, psychological harm. Who is to say where abusive behavior starts and “the way we do things” stops? How do men get to treat women? How do straight people get to treat gays? These things have to be worked out. We are all in the life boat, and some of us want to throw others of us overboard.

In the days of the old westerns, the Durango Kid could tell Blackie, “This town ain’t big enough for both of us, Blackie. You better be on the afternoon stage.” Well, there is no afternoon stage. There is no town. There is only the life boat. And we are all in it together. And, we can’t spend our time throwing each other over board. How do we keep bitterness, and resentment, and hatred in check? How do we create an environment in which everyone is safe? How do we get beyond thinking that in order for God to be happy everyone has to do it like we do it? How can we create a space for people to do it like they do it without thinking that everyone ought to do it like us? How do we live together in ways we all like? What do we do when minority rights run afoul of majority rule?

The rancor that characterizes the presidential election bespeaks of a general absence of gracious and generosity, compassion and kindness world-wide. We don’t like those who aren’t like us, and we are well beyond being nice and “just getting along.” Republicans have their way of seeing and Democrats have their way of seeing, and their way of seeing has dreadful implications for each other. How can Democrats live with the way Republicans see things? How can Republicans live with the way Democrats see things? How can we all agree about how we see things? It’s a mess with no solution.

How we see things impacts everything. We don’t live over here and see things over there. We live on the basis of the way we see things, ascribe value, determine meaning. Seeing things isn’t like a hobby, or a pass time, that we can either do or not do. It isn’t like playing golf or going to the movies. It is who we are and how we live, and it shapes—it determines—everything about us.

What do we think is important? What do we think needs to happen? What do we think life is “all about”? What do we think should, and should not, be? Our answers to these questions begin to define our perspective, our point of view, our way of seeing/thinking—our way of evaluating, of valuing, the context and circumstances of our lives. A perspective is a way of ascertaining, ascribing, assigning value and meaning  to what is—a way of declaring what should and should not be.

When we talk about “those people” and the way “they” do things, we are describing our perspective, our way of thinking how things should be done. It is not about “them” and “their evil (or stupid) ways,” but about us and our way of seeing. What is “evil” or “stupid” to us is sacred to “them.” We are talking about how things are seen, thought about, valued and done. And what makes us/them think that is the way to see, think, value, and do?

What makes us think that our way of thinking is the way to think? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Self-evident? Any thinking person would think the way we think! Death to those who don’t! How do we all get far enough away from our perspectives to talk about our perspectives? To evaluate our way of making evaluation? To see our seeing and think about our thinking? Well, that’s what we are trying to do here.

We are trying to create an environment in which everyone is free to meet her or his own needs and do the things that he or she likes to do without interfering with anyone else’s ability to meet her or his needs and do what he or she likes to do. What do you need and like to do? How does that interfere with what someone else needs and likes to do?

We are trying to create an environment in which everyone understands, in the words of Frasier Snowden, “The only true philosophical question is, ‘Where do you draw the line?’” How much for you? How much for me? When is it your turn? When is it my turn? When your good is my bad, or my good is your bad, what do we do? What do we do when our way of doing things, thinking about things, seeing things, clashes with their way of doing things, thinking about things, seeing things? We talk it out. We work it out.

There is no way of living that does not clash with someone else’s way of living. How do we work it out? How do we decide what to do and what to not do? How do we live together? We are working out for ourselves in relationship with each other what it means to be alive. What constitutes life for each of us? How can we live in the service of what is life for us without clashing with one another? Where do we limit ourselves? Where do we limit another? Where do we establish boundaries? How do we maintain them? Within the group and between the group and another group, other groups? We are working that out. We will always be working that out. We will never get it nailed down. To nail it down is to die. The “rules of engagement” are always being negotiated. Made up. Revised. There can be no policies put in place to save us from the agony of working out again what must be worked out for us to live well together.

The key to life together is not having to win. Being able to live together, and this gets us back to where we came in, without having to have the advantage, without having to have our way. “Love your enemies.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” All the old moral guidelines have us living with everyone, even our enemies, with no more concern for our ways than for theirs.  But, no less either.

Here is the test: Can we have a way without having to have it? Can we step aside, give way, stand back? Without relinquishing our way, our perspective, our point of view? Can we lose the election, for instance, and be good sports about it and continue to work for the way of life that is important to us? Can we lose the election, for instance, without losing heart—without being defeated, or dejected, or despondent, or despairing? Can we win and be decent human beings? Can we make how we treat one another more important than winning or losing? Can we make honoring one another’s perspective more important than imposing our will on the world, yet not relinquish our will for the world? We have to work toward ends that are important to us without destroying the village in the effort to save it. That means having a way without having to have it. It means playing the game without having to win it, and not allowing losing it to cause us to quit working diligently in the service of our idea of the good, which has to include the good of those who don’t do it our way!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

09/14/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

I love sex. Don’t you? And I hate visiting the in-laws and changing diapers. Don’t you? And it’s one thing, don’t you see? And, if you think you can separate sex from marriage without some other implications that are equally bad or worse, well give it a spin. But, I’m here to tell you there are things about that that are worse than in-laws and diapers. But, don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.

I’m confident that what you will discover is that we cannot compartmentalize life. Good and Bad. Right and Wrong. The Axis of Evil and the Kingdom of Light. Don’t you see that all of our problems stem from trying to have no problems? Flow from striving incessantly to have all Good and no Bad? Sex without all that goes with sex?

Everything comes with something else attached. The encumbrances and inconveniences and the incompatibilities, aggravations and the unacceptability’s are all a part of the one wad we call life. It’s all one thing. The good and the bad, the loved and the unloved. The photography and the Presbytery meetings. One thing. Not two. It isn't this OR that. See? We live with this and we live with that. The in-laws are part of the marriage. Weight gain comes with eating ice cream. My shoulder hurts from carrying the tripod. See? Here's what I recommend: In the middle of what you don't like, think about what you do like, and treat yourself to a walk on the beach, or a romp with the dogs, or a sit in your rocker as soon as possible. Look forward to the next good thing. In the midst of the not-good. That's what I say.

But don’t think you can have the good without the not-good. They are one thing. Good and not-good. They flow into and out of each other. They belong to each other, like yin and yang. And, whether it’s good or bad depends on the time of day, and the day of the week, and the point in our life, and what mood we are in, and 10,000 other things. Good is never more than a slight perspective shift away from bad. Bad is never more than a slight perspective shift away from good. Good? Bad? It’s never more than our present way of seeing, thinking, perceiving, understanding, interpreting, evaluating our situation in life. Neither good nor bad exists out there, a thing apart. “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet , Act II, scene ii).

Ambivalence is at the very heart of things. When we look, with eyes that see, we see “both sides” to everything. “On the one hand this, on the other hand that.” We can make a case for it all, and have, saying that God allows evil so that good can come of it. We can’t bring ourselves to say that God DOES evil, only allows evil. Seeing as I do, I say if you can do something about evil, and don’t do it, that’s doing evil, but that sounds heretical to those who don’t see as I do. We justify evil, pain, and suffering by saying that God uses such things to bring about good. But, nothing is more at the heart of the way things are than good and evil flowing into and out of each other. We don’t need God for that.

It’s all a mix of good and evil. My good is your bad. Your good is my bad. It’s all a matter of perspective. Point of view. Way of seeing. If we stopped thinking, and lived like a flour sack (which is a metaphor that is completely wasted on those of you born, say, after 1948), we wouldn’t care if we were a flour sack or an apron or a dress or a quilt. All the same to us. But, we do think, and we are not flour sacks, and it matters to us what happens to us, even though what happens to us is a mix of both good and bad. The best of times and the worst of times are not so far apart. It’s only a matter of seeing that sees that it is so.

Seeing plays such an important role—the central role—in our attitude, outlook, and mood-of-the-moment, that you would think we would spend more time thinking about our thinking, looking at how we are looking, seeing our seeing, expanding our perspective to take our perspective into account. Then, instead of talking about gays, say, or Moslems, or anyone who isn’t like we are, or people who talk about gays, or Moslems, or anyone who isn’t like they are, we would talk about how we see gays, and Moslems, and anyone who isn’t like we are, and anyone who talks about anyone else. We would talk about how we see things, and what influences us to see things as we do, and what prevents us from seeing things differently. We would explore perception, and perspective, and ambivalence, and ambiguity, and we would understand that everything is an ink blot, on the one hand, and an optical illusion, on the other, and that how we see things says more about us than it says about the things or people we see—because things are really only mirrors, and all we ever see is ourselves.

We are our perspective. Our point of view. Our way of seeing and assessing what is important, what counts, matters, makes a difference. Our way of understanding how things ought to be done. There is nothing more to us than that. We are perceiving beings. We are how we see things. Our perspective forms us, shapes us, creates us, makes us who we are. We are who we are, how we are because of the way we see the world. Change the way we see and everything else changes as well. All there is is seeing and changing how we see. See? We talk about growth and growing. All growth and growing amount to is changing the way we see things. See? But, if that is all there is, then there is no one way to see, no one way we all ought to see, because the challenge is always changing how we see. See? Ah, but. Changing the way we see is quite the trick.

What keeps our perspective in place? What restricts how we see things? What are the blinders that limit our living? Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake,” and Nancy Regan’s, “Just say no,” expose the limits of these women’s perspective. They couldn’t see the problem they were addressing because of their limited perspective, because of their presumptions and inferences and their simple equivalency of worlds. They treated their world as the only world, as though the people in that other world—the world of poverty, hunger, despair and drugs—were like the people in their world, or should be.

This is the same error George Bush made when he launched the war and tried to give democracy to Iraq. He thought the Iraqis were just like us. We have to appreciate differences in points of view to have a chance. I don’t know how you get us to that point. I don’t know how you wake up Marie Antoinette, or Nancy Regan, or George Bush.  I don’t know how you wake up anyone before the time of their awakening. I don’t know how we wake ourselves up. I do know that we have to work on developing a perspective that takes itself into account. We do that by asking, seeking, and knocking. By looking, listening, inquiring. By never being quite satisfied with anything that passes for an answer. By never enshrining anything as The Answer, except, perhaps, the perpetual tendency to ask the next question and see where it leads.

But, we can only see the way we see. We can only think the way we think. There is no “one size fits all” way of seeing or thinking, and that’s just as well because we couldn’t see the way we are supposed to see, or think the way we are supposed to think, just because we are supposed to. But, because we think we are supposed to see and think in certain ways, we shut down the way we see and think, and opt for the preferred way of seeing and thinking, and lose our self, our soul, our perspective, our LIFE, in the process.

Nothing is more natural to us, more automatic—more “us”—than the way we think, see, and do. We are our perspective. What are we apart from our perspective? When we separate ourselves from the way we think, see, and do, what of “us” remains? The fear of Nothing keeps us locked in place and robs us of the freedom to wander among the perspectives of the world and invite those enslaved to them to lay down their burden and come out and play. To play with their perspectives, and with those of their neighbors. How do we play with our perspectives, and with the perspective of one another? By not taking them seriously! My happy view of heaven, you’ll remember, is a pub where we are all gathered about tables, laughing over our favorite brew, saying to one another, “Tell us again what you thought was important!” The things we think are important make us enemies and send us to war.

We are killed by the things we take seriously. How can we be sure that the things we treat seriously are serious things? The more seriously we take something, the more “at the heart” of our perspective it is, the less able we are to “see it as it is,” to separate ourselves from it, to play with it. “This isn’t how I see things, this is how things ARE!”

How we see things is who WE are. We change as our way of seeing things changes. We become different as our way of perceiving the world, our lives, reality becomes different. Our perspective is the avenue to life, the way of resurrection and birth. Or, unchanging, it is the burial grounds of the living dead. The hope for us all is the changing of our perspective. Our work is the work of transforming the way we see.

We enable shifts in perspective not so much by what we say as by how we listen to what is said. We listen one another into seeing. We don’t talk one another into seeing (He said, talking). This place is about the airing of perspective. We come here to see our seeing. And to see that the way we see is just the way we see, here and now, and has nothing to do with what we see, with what is seen, or with the way we will see tomorrow, or next year.

The most we can do for one another is honor each other’s perspective, treat kindly who we are and how we see things. We can offer one another the possibility of seeing things differently, but we cannot force the shift before its time. The best we can do is see differently while honoring the right of others to see as they do. That way, their seeing has as much chance to impact ours as our seeing has of impacting theirs. And, we can grow together by playing with our perspectives, and laughing at what we think is important.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

09/07/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

There is a photographic saying, “Light doesn’t wait.” You can’t fool around thinking the light is going to be there when you are ready for it. You have to always be ready for it. You have to get up early and go wait for the light. The light is not going to wait for you. Neither is life. Life is not going to wait for you. You can’t put living off until you are in the mood for it. You can’t wait until you are all ready, with everything in its place, and all the flat surfaces neat and tidy and the door sills dusted, before you begin living. If you are going to live, you have to live NOW, in the middle of the mess.

We think we have to get it right before we can begin to live, as though life exists as a realm apart, in a world where everything is as it should be, and if things are NOT as they should be, well, who can live with that? If we are in a prisoner of war camp, for instance, it is clear that we cannot LIVE there. Or if we are homeless, or if we have a terminal illness (Who could LIVE with a terminal illness?), or if we are laboring beneath the burdens of living, with this stink old job and this stinky old house, we cannot possibly live. Living happens when everything is just fine in our lives. We cannot be expected to live if everything is not just fine in our lives.

Living, as everyone knows, depends upon our dream for our life being worked out in our lives. Then, we can really live. With things going our way, nothing can stop us. Big deal. It’s easy for nothing to stop us when there is nothing to stop us. But let something come along. Let something derail us. Let the pianos and anvils begin to drop out of the sky. Let the Wall appear right out of nowhere in the middle of our path. Let reality plant a big wet one right on our kisser. Then, let’s see how we do. Let’s see how we do with nothing going our way.

This is the deal: Living cannot hinge on everything, or even anything, going our way. Life doesn’t wait for things to go our way. If we are going to live, we are going to have to live right in the middle of the mess. If we are going to live, we can’t let anything stop us. All the stuff that we don’t like about our lives, all the things that are in our way, keeping us from doing what we like to do, we can’t let it stop us. It is up to us to not let anything stop us. It is up to us to live in the midst of the mess, to live in the solid dead center of death itself, to live with all that is Not Life draping itself all over us and getting in our way.

Walk through the woods. Nothing there is what you would call real happy with anything else there. Everything there is in direct competition with everything else there, for water and sunlight and oxygen. The oak trees and the maples are not best friends. The pines and the dogwoods do not socialize or inquire about each other’s children. The different varieties of mosses are at war with each other, struggling for dominion over the same six foot square plot of ground. It's like this everywhere you look.

The world is not a friendly place. Do not think that the universe, or anything in the universe (except, perhaps, on their good days, the people who care deeply about you) has your best interest at heart. Do not think that if you are a good person and do what is right your life will line up for you, and ask you what it can do for you, and if you need anything, and if not it will be back to check on you again in a little while. Life does not depend on things going our way. And, I’m not talking about only physical, biological, 98.6 and breathing life. I’m talking about Real Life, Abundant Life, Life packed down and overflowing, being alive and loving it Life. LIFE does not depend on things going our way. We can live in the midst of nothing going our way. I know you do not believe it, but it is so.

LIFE is fully compatible with Not-Life, call it Death. LIFE is fully compatible with Death. You could look it up. LIFE and Death co-exist like oak trees and maples, pines and dogwoods, and all the moss varieties, and have from the very beginning. Life and Death come blended together as inseparable aspects of the way of things. We have to LIVE in the midst of Death, in the midst of all that drains us and depletes us and takes all the fun out of it for us. We can’t let IT stop us!

That’s why we come together here once a week. To remember and remind one another to not let IT stop us. To remember and remind one another to Live On, Anyway, Nevertheless, Even So! You’re mighty right it’s hard! Don’t let it stop you! Don’t let the fact that it is hard keep you from being alive, keep you from living in the time left for living, in the midst of all you have to live with. Live with it. In spite of it. Don’t let it stop you!

The challenge, the work, is always to be alive in the time left for living, in the midst of things that do not support life, that are Not Life, that are Death. We have to come alive, to be alive, in the midst of Death. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it always has been. The way it always will be.

Look. It’s like this: The Life-potential of a photo is only good as long as I'm taking, or enjoying, the photo. When I step away from the scene, or from enjoying the photo, IT gets me (“IT” being whatever takes the life out of me at any particular place in time). And the fight is on. The fight for balance and sanity and remembering "I can do this." We can do this. In a place we don't want to be. With people we don't want to be with. Dealing with things we don't want in our lives. We can do it.

 The essential determination, the primary focus and commitment is to not let it stop us. To not let it stop us from doing what we came to do. From enjoying what is to be enjoyed. From finding the life that is ours to live--in the midst of all that is not life for us. There isn't Life and Not Life as two separate entities. There is Life-And-Not-Life as one thing. We have to live in the tangle of stuff that kills us, or is trying to. No kidding. I knew you weren't going to like that. The mosses don't like it either, or wouldn't, if they knew what was going on. But they don't let not liking it stop them. There is a moral here, don't you see? Don't Let It Stop You!

Don’t let it stop you from Life, and Living, and Being Alive! If we are reasonably awake and aware, we know, each one of us knows, when life stopped for us, or could have. Something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. Some trauma, some blow, some disappointment, and we were undone, and quit, or might have. Well, it’s places like that where we have to remember and remind one another, “Don’t let it stop you!”

Our work is to be alive in the midst of death. To live in the smack, dab, middle of that which mocks life, and laughs at life, and suggests in a thousand ways that it isn’t worth being alive. Our place is to take up the challenge, and to LIVE in the face of all that would say, “Why bother?” Ours is the work of being alive when it would be easy to surrender to the forces of death and die. Dying is easy. Living is hard. It takes effort to be alive. It doesn’t happen accidentally. We do not find life. We generate life. We create life.

We don’t wait for Life to be delivered, or for our lives to turn a corner one day and there is Life, waiting on us, handing out blessings and joys, and making us glad, finally, to be alive. Glad to be alive is not something that comes to our door and knocks and says, “I was just in the neighborhood and wanted to see if you would like to come out and play.” It doesn’t call us on the phone and say, “You have been selected to receive a lifetime membership in the Joy Club.” It doesn’t track us down, look us up, thrust itself upon us because we were patient, are deserving, kept the rules and did everything right in a “well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master” kind of way.

Life is an inside job. We take the raw materials and build a life worth living from them. We create Life by the way we live, by the spirit and attitude and outlook and perspective with which we walk into, and through, the day, every day, regardless of what we find there. We bring ourselves to life by investing ourselves in the moment at hand and working to bring to life there what needs to be brought to life there.

Being alive is being alive in the moment of our living, being alive in the now, being alive to the moment, to the now, to what is possible, here and now, to what is happening, to what is trying to happen, to what needs to happen, and assisting that, as we are able, brining forth life, the life that is possible here and now, in the moment of our living. Being alive is bringing life to life in the moment of our living. Birthing life. Being mid-wives, being mothers, of the moment. Making the moment more than it would ever be without us. Being alive is birthing moments. Birthing life in the moment of our living.

We do that simply by being alive to the moment of our living. Being awake and aware. Being present. Paying attention. What is happening? What is trying to happen? What needs to happen? What is being asked of us? Where are we being asked to come alive, to participate in the coming to be—in the birthing—of what is trying to be born?

Sometimes it is obvious. Sometimes it is not apparent at all. But, openness to the moment and what needs to happen there, what needs to happen here and now, is the orientation, the perspective, that serves life and is life. There is a lot about our lives that simply has to be endured, and always will be. If we can square up to that, accept it and let it be because it is, we have it made as much as we can have it made, and can open ourselves to the possibilities of life and create life by the way we choose to live in the time that is ours upon the earth.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Of Virgins and Dead Horses, 09/05/2008

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is updating the Heidelberg Catechism to make it more gay and woman friendly. This is called beating a dead horse. Or, ignoring the dead one on the dining room table. Either way, it is death we are not dealing with. What is dead is an idea of God that has outlived its relevance. And, when we try to make relevant what is not relevant, we cast ourselves into the role of throwing more virgins into the volcano while the drought continues in the land.

Revising the wording of the old creeds, catechisms, and confessions equates to finding better virgins to give to the gods. We need to revise our thinking about the gods. We need to realize we cannot think about the gods—or about God—the way we once did. We need to throw the gods—and God—into the volcano. We need to take ALL the creeds, and catechisms, and confessions, and doctrines off the table, and start over with an empty table, as it was in the beginning.

When I say ALL the doctrines, I mean every last one. All the Christian doctrines, and all the Jewish doctrines, and all the Moslem doctrines, and all the Hindu doctrines, and all the Buddhist doctrines, and all the Mormon doctrines, and all the Baha'i doctrines, and all the Krishna doctrines, and all the Astrology doctrines, and all the New Age doctrines, and all the rest of the doctrines. Take them all to the volcano. Push them in. Come back to the table, pull up a chair, identify with each other what is important, what has value, what counts, matters, makes a difference in our lives, in our relationships with each other, and in the world.

Of course, it will never happen. We—all of us, worldwide—will continue to beat the dead horse and ignore the stench coming from the dining room. We have too much invested in what we call truth to recognize what is true and live in response to it. We will shore up the structure as it teeters and topples, add more whitewash to the tomb, and send out search committees looking for the right kind of virgins, while the drought continues in the land.