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.

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