Sunday, December 07, 2008

12/07/08 -- We're on our own, and we are not alone

Churches want to grow by increasing the number of people who think like the people in churches think, not by changing the way the people in churches think. Churches think of growth and growing in terms of numbers, not in terms of shifting perspective, deepening understanding, broadening horizons, enlarging hearts, or thinking differently. How differently can the people think and still be "the church"? That depends on how they think about being "the church." See?

How we think about something has to change if we are to grow on the level where growth-as-transformation occurs. We think “outside the box” by getting outside the box. By asking scandalous questions, by saying outrageous things, by being heretical, and by changing our own minds about the things we think there, outside the box.

No one has the corner on “right thinking.” No one knows how we should think, how we are supposed to think, what we can and cannot think. But, we can’t think this way and be the church. Churches can’t change the way they think because one of the things they think is that the way they think is the only way to think. Churches clutch their doctrines and catechisms proclaiming, “This isn’t how we see things—this is how things ARE!” No one who thinks that way can be talked into thinking differently.

We change the way the church thinks by changing the way we think, and letting that be that. Insofar as we are the church, we are changing the way the church thinks as we change the way we think. Even if we could change the way THE church thinks, by the time the process was complete, we would have changed the way we thought when the process started, and would have to start all over to get THE church caught up. We can only think the way we think and let the outcome be the outcome.

Changing the way we think changes the way we live (and, of course, vice versa), changes the way we assess what is important, the way we determine what to do, and transforms our lives. We can’t do that kind of thing in a willy-nilly sort of way, just because it’s Tuesday morning and someone thinks we should. Before we can change the way we think, the way we think has to come up against it. Against what, you ask. The end of the line. We have to be dangling at the end of the rope before we can change our mind about what’s important. And, even then, we resist. Better to die, we say, than to change the way we think.

Changing the way we think is like dying. And, not changing the way we think is like dying. To die or not to die is not the question. What form will our dying take is the question. There is the death that leads to death and the death that leads to life. How would you like to die is the question, and the church, which likes to avoid questions, doesn’t know it is answering the question by refusing to answer the question.

It’s like this: The things I have to say can only be heard by those who can hear them. I don’t say them to be heard. I say them because they are the things I have to say. I have to say them. They are not mine to say or not say. I don’t have them and can say them or not. I must say them. I am compelled to say them. I HAVE TO say them. Whether anyone hears them or not. Even if when they hear them they respond with, “Why don’t you go fly a kite?”

This isn’t to say I just blurt things out without filtering them through silence, conversation, and reflection. It takes a while to know what I have to say and to say it and to gauge whether it was, or is, worth saying. And all of that is part of the experience of participation in the right kind of community. But, the point here is the saying is not conditional upon the hearing. If we only said what could be heard, we would say only the things that have always been said, which is what keeps the church in business.

The thing about hearing, seeing, and understanding is that once you begin to get it, you can’t give it away. You have to live with having it and being unable to do anything with it beyond implementing it in your own life. You get it, you live it. That’s that. The benefit, such as it is, is living well, living with integrity and authenticity. There is no advantage to you or to anyone else to your living well. You just live well, with integrity and authenticity. And the whole world is blessed, you included, but in a way that it doesn’t know it’s blessed. You, of course, recognize that you are blessed, because you get it, and getting it means that you get not being able to do anything with it, except live well, and you know what a blessing and a joy living well is for itself alone. It’s like flying a kite. You don’t fly a kite to accomplish anything thereby. You fly a kite to fly a kite. Not to do anything with it. So, you are already flying a kite when they tell you to go fly a kite.

This is the crucial point where the matter of changing the way we think is concerned. I can't give you anything. You can't give me anything. We can't give anyone else anything. What do we pay a preacher (teacher, guru, advisor, spiritual director, guide) for? They are paid to say "I can't give you anything.” Not giving you anything means giving you everything you need, like their trust in your ability to find your way, their confidence that you have what you need, their reassuring, caring, presence when it seems impossibly difficult, their questions for clarification and understanding, and an environment in which you can sound out your ideas about the way for you, and gain greater clarity than you could ever achieve on your own, and know that while you are on your own, you are not alone. This is the stuff life is made of.

We are on our own, but we are not alone. We are not alone in the work of being alive. Being alive has nothing to do with the realization of our dreams and desires, with our goals and ambition. It has to do only with being alive in the moment we are living and living their with integrity and authenticity. Waking up, enlightenment, realization, satori, and the like are not about getting, having, owning, possessing, acquiring, amassing, avoiding. They are not about pleasure and prosperity and wealth and power and control. They are not about fortune and glory. They are about being alive, here and now, genuinely being ourselves in the time and place, context and circumstances of our living.

The path we hear so much about is not a way from here to there but a way from here to here. We don't GO anywhere. We don't go ANYWHERE. We just wake up to where we are. See it for what it is. Understand how things are and what is being asked of us, and let it be as it is, how it is, where it is, when it is, why it is, because it is, with equanimity, peace, and acceptance, and do what needs to be done there as only we can do it. That's where the path leads. To doing what needs to be done, offering what we have to give as only we can give it, and doing it with the right spirit, in the right frame of mind. This is Christ-like-ness. Buddha-hood. The way of the True Human Being. Zen living. Life in the fullest, deepest, richest sense of the word.

We are on our own, and we are not alone. The assistance we get is assistance with bringing life to life, with bringing ourselves to life. It has nothing to do with our dreams and desires, unless our dreams and desires are about coming to life, being alive wherever and whenever and however we are. Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” There is That Which Knows. We are not alone, but listening, know something of what That Which Knows knows. It isn’t what we have in mind.

What we get from God is not what we want. We want “fortune and glory kid, fortune and glory.” We get life (“as a prize of war”). We get to be alive in the time and place of our living. We want a different time and place, a better time and place. Who can be alive in this old time and place? How come other people get the good times and places? How come we get stuck with these old times and places and this old God? Oh, for a God that is God the way we want God to be! “Won’t you rend the heavens and come down!” “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

We throw God away in the search for God the way we want God to be. We run past the treasure in search of the treasure. We throw life away in the effort to have life as we want life to be. We spend our time coming up with explanations for life being the way it is (sin, you know). We spend our time devising formulas for making life into the way we want life to be (mortification, repentance, penitence, obedience and faithfulness, you know). We spend our time not-living and then we die. We have to take a chance on life.

Faith has no content. It is attitude, orientation, perspective—an orientation toward life. Faith is about trusting ourselves to our lives. We are on our own AND we are not alone! The heart, the ground, of life is cognition, awareness, knowing, comprehending, getting it and being okay with it, and responding to it out of what it is asking of us with what we have to offer. What is “it”? “It” is That Which Knows. It is the unnamable drift, or urge, or inclination toward “the good,” toward “what needs to happen now,” toward whatever is being asked for in “the situation as it arises.” What are we trying to do with the situation, achieve in it, accomplish in it? Where does that desire come from? That’s “it”! That’s what in charge of our lives, directing us to life, bringing life to life within us and in the moment of our living.

The formula for successful living is simple: Be aware of the situation and what is being asked of us, and offer to it what we have to give. To do this, we have to take up the practice, work the program. The terms are interchangeable. The practice, the program, is developing eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands. The program, the practice, involves looking, listening, inquiring, asking, seeking knocking, paying attention, being awake, aware, alive. The practice, the program is being curious, heretical, experimenting, exploring, investigating, relishing the freedom to fail, to look stupid, to not know. But, this is not a practice to take up alone.

We are on our own, you know, but we are not alone, and we must not be any more alone than we have to be. The practice, the program, is taken up, conducted, within the company of those who themselves are taking up the practice, working the program. We call this “the community of faith” because it is a community of those who trust themselves to their lives. It is a community of those who know we cannot trust ourselves to find the way alone because, while we are capable of self-direction (following the urge to the good), we are also capable of self-deception (thinking the urge we are following is to the good). We all know by this point in our lives that shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. No, telling ourselves what we want to hear is what we do best. No, fooling ourselves is what we do best. No, wanting what we have no business having is what we do best. You don’t want to leave it up to us to know which of the inner voices to follow.

The church is a part of the conversation and the atmosphere in which the conversation takes place. We talk over our sense of the next step with those who are the church, the community of faith, with us, and together we find the way. Together we help one another in the work of clarification, which reduces the risk of being wrong about the next step, but does not eliminate it. “All synods and councils,” you know, “may err, and many (Nay! All!) have erred.” We can always be wrong about what we think is right. And, so, the constant need to see, and hear, and understand, and change the way we think! Amen! May it be so!

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