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!

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