Sunday, May 18, 2008

05/18/08, Sermon

We owe it to ourselves to find out how alive we can be in the time left for living. And, we owe it to one another to create the kind of space here, the kind of atmosphere, the kind of community that nurtures life and brings life forth into the world. The work of the church is the work of life—the work of coming to life, being alive. It is the work of becoming the kind of community that enables life, enhances life, and brings life to life in those who come its way. That is our work in this place.

We do that work by waking one another up to the reality of the life that is our life to live. So far as we know (the abundance of speculation not withstanding), we have one golden shot at life. We should not blow it. We should not miss the opportunity to be alive in the moment of our living. What it means for you to be alive is not the same thing it means for me. I cannot be alive on your terms. You cannot be alive on my terms. No one can tell us how to live our lives, at least not in the specifics and particulars. But, there are some general considerations that apply across the board and around the table.

There is a sense in which we have to discover for ourselves what it means to be alive. We have to bring ourselves to life. We have to birth ourselves. We bring ourselves forth from the womb. We nurture ourselves. We are the only ones who know what it means for us to be alive. Yet, we can only do the work of birthing ourselves in the presence of the right kind of company.

The right kind of company is required because fooling ourselves is what we do best. No, telling ourselves what we want to hear is what we do best. No, shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best. No, wanting what we have no business having is what we do best. No, … well. You get the idea. The right kind of company asks the right kind of questions, and listens us to the truth of who we are.

Clarity about, and alignment with, the center, the core, so that we are who we are, is the key to being a “true human being.” We help people into their lives—we help them find their way—by asking questions. Listening to the answers. Asking more questions. Clarifying their perspective. Enabling them to see better who they are and what they are about. What’s working? What is not working? How do they wish things were working?

Listening to, honoring, respecting everything is the art of life. Ignoring nothing, taking nothing for granted, seeing, hearing, understanding everything. That is the way of knowing what to do. Knowing what to do opens before those who see, hear, and understand all that is to be seen, heard, and understood. Knowing what to do is a matter of seeing, hearing, and understanding what is to be done. Then, it is only a matter of finding the courage necessary to “get up and do (it).”

Clarity and courage are the two keys to living as a true human being, but clarity is not a state of being, but an ever deepening, ever expanding, ever increasing process of recognition. We are never clear. We are always becoming clear. We are never aware, we are always becoming aware. We never see, we are always seeing, hearing, understanding, becoming more who we are than we have ever been.

How would we know a true human being if we saw one? What can’t we do and be a true human being—and be awake, aware, and alive—and see, and hear, and understand? What must we do? If we were to spend the rest of our lives living toward being a true human being, what would we do, how would we do it?

I think we would go slower, be quieter. I think we would do more of what we like to do and less of what we don’t like to do. I think what we do would be more of a natural expression of who we are and less forced, restricted, required—it would be more of a flow and less of a command. I think we would live with increasing integrity, with outer actions aligned with, and expressive of, what is deepest, truest, and best about us. I think we would be who we are, with a gentle, kind, spirit, not hostile, belligerent, or defiant. I think we would pay the price of being who we are with compassion and grace. And, we would pay the price of being unable to be who we are (due to the constraints of place and time, context and circumstance) with compassion and grace. As you can see, my idea of a true human being is a person whose life is centered in who she, who he, is, and who lives that out with gentleness, kindness, compassion and grace.

There are no strategies for living this kind of life, the life of a true human being. We make up the specifics and particulars in the moment of our living. Each next step is a step into the unknown. We have never lived in this here, this now, before. How could we know what to do? We have to take our chances. We make our best guess, and cross our fingers, and close our eyes, and hold our breath, and step unknowing into the unfolding of our lives.

The price of being alive is living within the time and place, the context and circumstances of our lives. This is the world we are born into. This is the time and place of our living. We have to work it out, how to be alive, how to be who we are, here and now. This is not easy. It has never been easy. There is nothing to make it easy. It is our work to do, or to leave undone.

The way we live has implications for others, has impact upon others. How can we be true to ourselves without interfering with their ability to be true to themselves? How can we live our lives without preventing them from living their lives? How do we work things out so that we are all living the life that is our life to live? This is not easy. It becomes doable through conversation. We talk things out.

The key is to keep talking. And, when we reach impasses, declare an impasse without breaking off relationship or closing one another off from caring contact. Always the concern is for an atmosphere in which we can be true to ourselves without interfering with another’s right to be true to herself, to himself. Always the concern is for a sustainable life-style. “With liberty and justice for all.” This is not easy.

What is a sustainable life style? Is that a question that has your name on it? What is the nature of a community capable of sustaining its own life and the lives of those who make it up? Does that question stir anything within? How can the people who gather here assist one another in managing the economic and ecological realities that increasingly impinge upon us all? Is that a question you are interested in answering?

We are facing a future that has never been faced before by any of us. Our future will not be a steady continuation of our past. We are stupid if we come here looking for some spiritual fluff to help us feel better about our lives. We had better be inventing and implementing some practical aids to assist us in living our lives. What do we need that the others can help us with? What does the world need, the culture need, that we can help it with?

We are past the point of being able to entertain ourselves with the latest spiritual fad. This is not a metaphysical diversion to take your minds off your troubles. I’m not here to give you something inspirational and up-lifting to think about during the week. The present is the spring-board into the future. We shape that future by what we make of the here and now. There will be a future. How we influence it, impact it, is our decision to make in the present moment of our living. I’m asking you to form yourselves into an intentional community for influencing the future. More specifically, I’m asking you to form yourselves into an intentional community for anticipating and implementing the kind of future that is necessary for the development of true human beings.

Life is not a spectator sport. We do not live by watching someone else live. Life is not amenable to coaching or instruction. “Is this how you do it?” works with tennis and bull riding, but not with living, not with being alive. How YOU do it is up to YOU. We do not live by listening to someone else tell us how to live. We live by bringing to life our genius, our gift, our self/soul within the context and circumstances of our lives. We do that by trial and error. By experimentation. By living. With our eyes open.

We live to become who we are and we become who we are by living—with our eyes open. Who we are is contingent upon the relationship between ourselves and our lives, our life and our lives, which we work out, over time, in the company of the right kind of people, which it is our work to become.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

05/11/08, Sermon

We are here to be alive, to help one another be alive. We do that by seeing, hearing, and understanding. We do it by looking, listening, knowing. By being seen, and heard, and understood. But, the thing about seeing, hearing, and understanding is that it doesn’t take much for us to think we have seen, heard, and understood enough. Being alive asks us to keep looking after we have seen enough.

Being alive asks hard things of us. That’s why the cross hangs on the wall in the sanctuary. Life is death, death is life. Yin is yang. So, Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you have to pick up your cross daily, and follow me.” The cross he is talking about is the cross of being alive.

We can’t be alive without paying the price of being alive. The price of being alive is the price of seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is the price of knowing how things are, and how things also are. “This is how things are. This is what you can do about it. And that’s that.” The Zen poet Ryokan wrote: “I think I won’t think about it/But, I do think about it/And my sleeves are wet/With my thinking about it.” Thinking about it, knowing about it, is the cross we bear, the price we pay for being alive.

It is easier and much more attractive to not-know, to not-see, not-hear, not-understand. To wrap ourselves in the illusion of perpetual bliss, the fantasy of an ever-expanding economy, the wonder of an endless supply of oil and natural gas, the delusion that shopping is the solution to all of our problems, the apparition of happily ever-after.

It is easier and much more attractive to embrace the culture’s latest offering of diversion, distraction, denial. To chant the culture’s mantra: Buy! Spend! Amass! And Consume! To believe the culture’s promise that we are only one major purchase away from the life of our dreams. But, the truth is we are not born to serve the economy. We are not slaves to the prospect of an ever-increasing standard of living. Wealth is not an end worthy of us, and luxury is not a substitute for being alive.

Seeing, hearing, and understanding enable clarity, and require courage. We have to live with what we know.  Where do we find what it takes to look life-as-it-is in the eye and live on, with heart, and soul, and compassion, and peace any way, nevertheless, even so? We step here into the realm of faith, of trusting ourselves to the way things are in spite of harsh evidence suggesting this is not a trustworthy place. And, that takes courage, and courage is an inside job.

Courage comes from knowing what needs to be done, from coming to terms with what is ours to do. It comes from sitting with the facts. From understanding what is being asked of us. From realizing that there is no one here but us, and that if we don’t do it, it won’t be done, and picking ourselves up, and stepping into our lives, and doing what must be done there because that’s what living requires.

This is the fundamental decision. No one can make it for us. We stand between life and death and choose, to live and pay the price of living, or to die and pay the price of dying. We are here to be alive. Why die before our time? Each must decide for herself, for himself, but why not live in the time we have left for living? Why be dead one minute longer than we have to be? Why NOT summons the courage and step into life and be alive?

Trusting ourselves to life is not only about facing all that is ugly, frightening, depressing, disheartening and the like, but also about trusting ourselves to our own sense of direction, trusting ourselves to the outcome of our own choosing and deciding.

How long has it been since you had a thought of your own, or acted on it? Since you decided for yourself how you were going to spend your time? What would you do with an afternoon? What are the things you are not doing because they aren’t somebody’s idea of who you should be, of how things ought to be done?

We are talking here about the work of being alive. How alive can you be in the time left for living? How does being alive coexist with being responsible? How do we take care of business in both worlds? How does being responsible in one world keep us from tending our responsibilities in the other world? We have to be alive, and we have to pay the bills. How do the bills we pay help us to be alive? Are we paying the right bills?

There is good mothering and there is bad mothering (Happy Mother’s Day). Bad mothering comes in different styles. Bad mothering can be good fathering. There is good fathering and bad fathering (Happy Father’s Day). Bad fathering comes in different styles. Bad fathering can be good mothering. 

We are here to mother our own lives, to nurture our own lives, to bring our own lives forth from our own womb. And, we are here to father our own lives, to tend the structures and forms that make life possible. How do we maintain the forms of life without becoming lifeless keepers of the traditions and customs (the formalities) of life? How do we father and mother our lives into being? This is the work being alive, managing the necessities of life in both worlds. Fathering AND mothering our life into being.

How much life do we allow ourselves to have before we begin to rein ourselves in for having too much fun? Where do we go for fun? Whose idea of fun is it? Is it more like grabbing the gusto or rocking a baby? More like bungee jumping or walking through the aromas of spring? Where would we go, what would we do to be the most alive we could be between now and the time we go to bed? Whose idea of “being alive” is being served in going there and doing that? Who says that’s “really living”?

One of the things that can keep us from being alive is the idea of what’s in it for us. What do we get out of it? What’s the advantage? The gain? How do we stand to benefit? Bad mothering, don’t you see? Having to justify being alive, takes the life right out of it. What do you do for no reason beyond the wonder, the joy, the pleasure, the experience of doing it?

What is death? What is life? We have to think about these things to know. One of the tasks of life is thinking about what it takes to be alive. Life is not automatic. We have to work at it, at living, at being alive. It takes a lot of looking to be able to see. A lot of listening to be able to hear. A lot of asking the right questions to be able to understand. A lot of asking, seeking, knocking to be able to find what we need to do what needs to be done. Our work is the work of being alive. Our work is the work of resurrection. It is the work of being born again—reborn into the lives that are our lives to live. It is the work of rising from the dead.

Another of the tasks of life is identifying the next step, the next thing. At times, there is a definite sequence, a specific order in which things happen. At other times, it’s improvisation all the way. What do we do? We take the next step, and see where that leads. We cannot map out the life that is ours to live. It unfolds before us. We bring it forth incrementally. It doesn’t happen according to design, but according to opportunity, according to possibility. Who knows who we will be when we grow up, or at any stage along the way? It’s an adventure, don’t you see? The search for the Holy Grail! We are the Grail we seek! It is slowly revealed to us who we are over time. And, we are always surprised and amazed to discover “Thou art That”!

What is the flow of life, what is the nature of that flow—is it from life to life? From death to life? From death to death? From life to death? What is the movement? What has momentum? Do we need to resist or assist the flow, the momentum? Do we need to interrupt it? Maintain it? How shall we exert our influence? Redirection? Continuation? Cessation? It takes listening to it to know. We have to create listening rooms—living rooms—in our lives—time and space in our living to listen to our lives, and to our body’s reaction to our lives.

Our body is our guide. We come complete with fully functioning and quite reliable internal guidance systems. Not that we can’t jam the signals or dismiss the communication or short-circuit the wiring. Nicotine and alcohol and sugar (and opium, and heroin, and cocaine—and ten thousand other possibilities), can re-route the body’s wisdom and carry us into places we have no business being. But even in the grip of addiction, something knows, and something knows that something knows. But, we look away. Dismiss the knowing. Go on with our lives.

What we want for, and from, our lives can over-ride what our lives want for, and from, us. We can not-care about what “something knows.” We can live out of the mantra, “Damn the shoreline! Full speed ahead!” We don’t have to pay attention to what “something knows.”

It takes a lot of living, sometimes, to wake up, become aware, and be alive. We might think of all the false starts, wrong turns, and dead ends—all the times we were sure we knew what we were doing, or didn’t care whether we knew or not—as labor pains. As preparation for delivery, for the birth of our own soul-self, for the experience of, finally, being alive.

Monday, May 05, 2008

05/04/08, Sermon

If we take the doctrines off the table, we need to be clear about what goes on the table. I’m suggesting that we put life there. At the center of the table is the heart of life. What we are about is life, learning to live, learning to be alive. That doesn’t come naturally. We are not alive just by being 98.6 and breathing. Our work is to develop the art of being alive.

The temptation is strong to go off on a lengthy rant about the culture as the enemy of life, and its propensity to distract us, as it does, from the primary task of life, and living, and being alive, by offering wonderful nothings and calling that “really living.” We sell our souls for silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads. But, I will resist the inclination and offer instead the suggestion that the challenge is to be clear about what constitutes the heart of life. What is the center and focus of life? We live for what? To do what? What does it mean to be alive?

The foundation, I think, is seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is participating with awareness—as those who are seeing, hearing, and understanding—in the choreography—in the ecology—of life. In the experience of frogs croaking, birds flying, spring coming and going. We eat, we drink, we sleep, we work… We participate fully in the wonder of being alive, and are alive to the extent that we enter into the experience as full participants. Not escaping, not denying, not distracting ourselves with brightly colored diversions, not pretending that things are something other than what they are.

What else could there be beyond living this moment with awareness? Loving what is to be loved, grieving what is to be grieved, mourning what is to be mourned, rejoicing in what is to be rejoiced, enjoying what is to be enjoyed, doing what is to be done? Ah, doing what needs to be done. How do we know? In light of what do we determine what needs to be done? Who needs to be happy with our living? Whom do we need to please? Posers, these. These are the kinds of questions a community of innocence exists to help us ask, and answer.

I say “community of innocence” because the community I have in mind has no plan, no agenda, no scheme for righting one another and the world beyond seeing, hearing, and understanding. The Way opens before those who are open to The Way, who see The Way. Everybody else looks at us and says, “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are?” A community of innocence says, “How might we be of help to you along The Way?”

A community of innocence listens us to the heart of the matter, and, in so doing, enables us to hear what we are saying. A community of innocence questions everything, including the questions themselves, and, in so doing, enables us to understand what we are hearing ourselves say. A community of innocence engages us in conversation that engages us with life, and is as fresh and as new as the ideas and possibilities it generates. A community of innocence embraces paradox and contradiction, finds the way by not-knowing what it is looking for or what it is doing, and transforms the world by not-doing anything to change a thing about the way things are.

To live together as a community of innocence, we have to be self-directed, self-motivated, self-correcting, self-disciplined, and self-limiting. This is a problem. It’s all up to us. No one can do it for us. We have to engage in regular conversation with one another about who we are and what we are about, individually and collectively, in order to deepen our awareness and continue to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand.

At any point, we can only see what we have seen, hear what we have heard, understand what we have understood, up to that point. In order to see more than we have seen, hear more than we have heard, understand more than we have understood, we have to engage in conversation with those whose perspective is different from our own. We are expanded, enlarged, by those who are different. Who see, and hear, and understand from a different point of view, from a different place on the map.

The most we can do for one another is listen, is see, hear, and understand. When we understand another, we help her, we help him, understand herself, himself. That’s the gift of life. Perception. Seeing rightly. The accurate perception of how things are is the key to integrity, to aligning ourselves, our lives, with the true drift of our soul, the deep nature of heart, soul, self, in this time, in this place. There is no static state of being. We are always “on the move.” And, we become who we are to the extent that we perceive who we are—see, hear, understand who we are—know who we are. We get to ourselves by being listened to who we are.

The work of a community of innocence is the work of bringing life forth. Being born again. Being alive. Enabling others to be alive. Assisting one another in the process of birth, of living, of being alive. We are never fully alive. We are never alive enough. Never as alive as we might be. There is always more life possible. Deeper life, fuller life, increasingly abundant life. “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” There you are. That’s it. That’s why we are here. We are here that we all might have life and have it abundantly.

That is all that enlightenment is about, being alive. Enlightened, we are alive. That’s all. That is all there is to be, alive. That’s the meaning of life, to be alive. We think it’s about having, possessing, owning, achieving, accomplishing, consuming, amassing, collecting, controlling… It’s just about living. “What is the meaning of life?” is not the question. “What does it mean to be alive?” is the question. What does it take to be alive? What do we have to do to be alive—fully, richly, deeply alive? How alive can we be in the time left for living?” These are the questions a community of innocence is equipped to help us ask and answer by enabling us to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands.

Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are all products of conversation—the right kind of conversation with the right kind of people. We are here to learn how to engage in the right kind of conversation, and become, thereby, the right kind of people. We are not here to make everyone alike. Like-minded-ness isn't about ideology. It's about understanding the importance of conversation, and continuing to engage one another in conversation, especially those who don't think much like us at all. Like-minded-ness is a joint commitment to the development, and deepening, of perspective. It doesn’t mean thinking alike, or agreeing about much of anything beyond the importance of thinking our own thoughts, and allowing and encouraging different ways of seeing, hearing and understanding.

Communities of innocence understand that there is no one way things ought to be. Everything has its own integrity, its own way of being. To say, “That’s the way things are,” is to say, “That’s the way horses are,” on one level, and “That’s the way this particular horse is,” on another, and “That’s the way this particular horse is in this particular time and place,” on another. “That’s the way things are” is the way things are with this horse in this moment in this place. It will be different tomorrow.

There are as many ways of being as there are horses, and people and things. How many worlds are there? There are worlds we don’t know anything about. In this very sanctuary. Not to mention this city, this state, this nation. This world. There are worlds within worlds. Worlds we don’t have any business knowing anything about because they aren’t OUR worlds. We are restricted to our worlds, and we die if we are removed from our worlds and forced to live in some other world, like caged animals on exhibit in a zoo, or, worse, a circus.

As I wrote this, I was looking out the window at a surfer paddling out to meet the waves. My wife was in the room sleeping, a group of bikers was having breakfast before hitting the road. Take me out of this world, my world, of laptop writing, and put me in the surfer’s world, or my wife’s world, or the bikers’ world, and I begin to die. Keep me there, in any of those other worlds, and I am dead, dead, dead. They do fine in their worlds. I do fine in my world. We have to know which worlds we inhabit, and inhabit them.

We can’t take someone else’s recipe for how to do it and do it in our world. We have to figure out how to do it in our world. We have to figure out how to be alive in our world. We have to figure out how we would do it and do it that way. We have to do it the way that is integral with who we are, and how we are. We cannot follow someone else’s path. We have to find our own path, make our own path.

So, how ought things be done? Who is to say? How would we know if she, if he, knows what she, what he, is talking about? Whom do we trust to know how things ought to be done? Whom do we trust to take everything into account? I don’t think we can figure it out. We figure life out by living with our eyes open. We just do the next thing and see where it leads. We just do something and make adjustments as necessary until we as right as we can.

I watched the surfers out in the ocean waiting for the right wave. I was sitting at a table drinking coffee waiting for the right word. They were decked out in surfing paraphernalia, I was decked out in writing paraphernalia. Our worlds are different, yet the same. The way things are in one world is the way things are in all worlds. You just have to back out far enough to see it.

“Seeing it” is part of the way things are in all worlds. All worlds require us to “see it.” Seeing, hearing, and understanding—knowing how things are—is the foundation of life in all worlds. Our work is the work of seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is the work of being alive in the time and place of our living. And it takes participation in a community of innocence to pull it off. It takes being a community of innocence to pull it off. I’m getting personal now. If we take the doctrines off the table, and put life on the table, we have to mold ourselves into becoming the kind of community that befriends life, that makes life possible. This isn’t a parlor game. This isn’t some Sunday morning warm up for brunch. This is life. Everything rides on how we live it., and enable others to live it.