Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sermon/Dharma Talk, 08/24/2008

Here’s the deal: It isn’t how we wish it were. It isn’t how we want it to be. And, of course, you say, “No kidding. We got up early to hear this?” Well. Here’s the kicker. It isn’t how we think it is.

You know the parable of the Starthrower. Surely you do. Everybody does. It is one of the internet’s favorite sources of inspiration and encouragement. The Starthrower has surpassed Horatio Alger as the cultural icon of optimism and positive thinking. You CAN—YOU can—make a difference by doing one seemingly insignificant thing at a time! We CAN—WE can—right wrongs and restore harmony and make the world like we want it to be just by doing the next thing right. TV commercials have picked up on the theme, and we have people all over the world seeing other people do something right and good and doing it themselves so that it is passed along, and in the space of a thirty second spot the world is transformed before our eyes. The Starthrower is the champion of our lives and the hope of the future and we all are to be like him. It is so heart warming, so inspiring and hopeful to know that we all are the Starthrower and life is our beach.

This is truer than we think, but not like we think. We ARE the Starthower. But, with a twist the story doesn’t envision. Come with me from the shallows of internet inspiration into the depths and realness of life. Here’s the deal: An adult starfish consumes roughly 200 oysters and clams a year and can live up to 35 years. That’s 7,000 oysters and clams. Starfish are also responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and for the decimation of other coral reefs world wide. A female starfish can produce hundreds of millions of eggs a year. Life for the starfish is death for oysters, clams and coral reefs. We ARE—WE are—the Starthrower. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We stand on the beach covered with starfish. The sun is coming up. What do we do? How can we live with ourselves no matter what we do? THAT is the moral of the Starthrower story. And THAT is where we all are.

We live with ambiguity and uncertainty, ambivalence and indecision—and everything is on the line! We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and we cannot unhook ourselves in order to be free. “Being ourselves while still accepting others is one of the hardest things we can do,” says Sheldon Kopp. Being true to ourselves while living in caring relationships with others is practically impossible. How much for us? How much for them? What do we do when our good is their bad? When their good is our bad? We all have, or had, jobs that we don’t like which keep us from doing what we do like. We all are stuck in places we don’t want to be that keep us from being where we want to be. And there is “No Exit.” And, we are kidding ourselves if we think not.

Kidding ourselves is what we do best. And, we must kid ourselves because we, in the words of Col. Nathan P. Jessup, “can’t handle the truth!” We hate it. We reject it. We refuse to consider it. We will NOT be in a life with No Exit! We CANNOT be there! We cannot live like that. And so, you know, we do what we do best. We kid ourselves. We tell ourselves stories to make our lives bearable. Lies. We lie to ourselves about how it is with us. We deny how it is with us. We dismiss the reality of how it is with us. We discount the weight of our lack of options and the truth of our lives. We distract ourselves with silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads. We divert ourselves with happy fantasies. We lay down smoke screens and confuse ourselves by replacing how it is with how we wish it were and how we want it to be.

“Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on? Could it be a faded rose from days gone by? And did I hear you say he was meeting you here today to take you to his mansion in the sky?” Or, how about this one: “Counting flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo, now don’t tell me I have nothing to do”? We’ve created a culture of distraction, dismissal and denial because we cannot handle life as it is, on the beach among the starfish.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an experiment for you. Start talking about how it is difficult to be you. About what you don’t like about your life. About what you can’t tolerate. See how people respond. I’d bet you $20 if I still did that kind of thing, that they will tell you that you don’t have anything to complain about. They will immediately point out 25 or 30 people who have it worse than you do. You can’t have it bad if someone has it worse. If you don’t have it bad you have to feel better. You have to feel good about someone else having it bad, about someone else having it worse than you do. Get happy! You have to be happy! If you don’t get happy quickly no one will have anything to do with you!

Or, here’s another thing you can try. Notice how our inspirational stories are always simple and absolute. Good and evil are never scrambled together like eggs, or blended and poured into a glass like a whiskey sour or a margarita. Solutions are never tempered with dilemmas and difficulties. Horatio Alger triumphs over every obstacle. The Starthrower rescues starfish, he doesn’t kill oysters and clams and coral reefs. And everything always works out nicely in the end. There may be temporary setbacks, but ultimately there is glory, and joy, and easy living beyond imagining. This is not how things actually are, but it is how we wish things were, how we want things to be, and we believe that if we can just get it together it will be that way for us.

Look, it’s like this: Life is a mixed bag, a mixed blessing. “Fortune and glory” come with a price tag attached. We have to give up this to get that, and that is not always what we think it will be. We feel short-changed and cheated from time to time, and can’t imagine living out the rest of our lives on life’s terms, stuck between mutually disagreeable options, and forced to choose which path we don’t want to walk. Life for the starfish is death for oysters, clams and coral reefs. We cannot tell people what they do not want to hear. We cannot change the minds of people who are sure that their way of seeing is the way to see. And we cannot live with ourselves without trying. But, how long can we try to do what cannot be done without flaming out into dry, lifeless, cinders?

Look, it’s like this: You’re playing in the sand box with your shovel and your pail while your mother and father are sitting at the kitchen table working out the details of their divorce. You are planting tomatoes and thinking about what’s for dinner when Genghis Khan comes riding over the hill, when the Vikings sail into the harbor, when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers, when the earthquake destroys the village, when the tsunami rolls ashore, when your doctor calls with the lab report…

Life is lived between disasters, in the midst of upheaval, disruption, chaos. But, that’s no way to live! What kind of life is that? Who wants to live like that? Give us “peace like a river”! Let us “lay down our burdens”! Allow us to be like that “lucky ol’ sun with nothing to do but roll around heaven all day”! Surely there is a formula, a recipe, a plan for making our lives like we want them to be! A way of getting God on our side so that things are always as we wish they were! Ah, don’t you see it coming? Religion, dogma and true belief. Our hedge against the encroaching realities.

We live in the world in light of how we want things to be, in light of how we wish things were. We live as though the world is what we want it to be, or, as though it can be if we believe the right things and live in the right ways. We yearn for the way to the world we want to live in. And, we are easy marks for those promising deliverance and direction and salvation. We take what they give us, believe what they say, and do as we are told. And Genghis Khan still rides over the hill. And we blame ourselves for not believing properly or living correctly. And, we redouble our efforts. And Genghis Khan still rides over the hill. We should change the way we play the game.

Look, it’s like this: Instead of telling ourselves that we can have anything we want, or that we can do anything we choose, or that we can change the world to suit ourselves, or that just one person with a good heart and a willing disposition can transform the shape of history, or that all we have to do is try-try-try and our lives will turn out exactly like a Hollywood script, we might tell ourselves that we are in a Prisoner of War camp with no chance of escape or release. There are no distractions or diversions. We cannot wrap ourselves in fantasies about our lives and our future. There is only life with our fellow prisoners to acknowledge and perfect. We can live together in ways that are truly good for one another. But it won’t make a difference in terms of anything beyond the relationships we establish and develop. The difference, such as it is, lies in how we treat each other, lies in what we manage to bring to life between us, among us. We are not changing the world so much as we are creating a world within the POW camp by the power of our creative engagement with each other.

We bring a world to life by bringing life to life in each other. How do we bring life to life in a POW camp? With no hope of escape or release? With nothing to look forward to beyond a tomorrow that was just like yesterday? How can we live together there to keep tomorrow fresh and new and nothing like yesterday? How can we help one another bear the burden of the POW camp, of the beach, where life for the starfish is death for oysters, and clams and coral reefs, where we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and it doesn’t matter what we do because something is going to die regardless?

In the POW camp, or on the beach, it doesn’t matter what we do and everything rides on what we do, on how we engage one another and face together the facts that define our lives. There, we no longer do “this” so “that” will happen, but because “this” needs to happen now. We do “this” because we enjoy it, or because it is important to someone else that we do it, or because it is an expression of who we are and we come alive in it and through it. We live not to get something or accomplish something with what we do, but to come alive, be alive—to be blessed and be a blessing by and in the company we keep, and share the joy of life with one another. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Table Reflections

1) Everyone is welcome to come or not come to the table.

2) At the table, everyone is equal. There is no hierarchy, no pecking order. We are one, across the board, around the table.

3) Everyone receives and serves.

4) Table fellowship is the heart of what we are about. Commensality. Easy acceptance. Caring presence. Grace. Mercy. Peace. We are here that you might have life and have it abundantly. You are here that we might have life and have it abundantly. We bring forth life in each other by the quality of our being with each other. And, the words of Rumi guard the fellowship: “If you are not here with us faithfully, you are doing terrible damage.”

5) Anything is possible with everything on the table. What are you willing to put on the table? What are you unwilling to put on the table? What are the assumptions that you consider sacrosanct? The expectations you regard as holy and beyond examination? Put them on the table. What is your sense of how things ought to be? Place it on the table.

6) We have to empty ourselves of our ideas of how things ought to be in order to be open to how things truly need to be. We have to start with nothing. t all depends upon what we bring to the table, upon the spirit with which we come to the table. We have to be hungry in order to be fed. We have to be thirsty in order to drink fully. If we cannot come empty to the table, we cannot be fed.

            We have to empty ourselves of everything. Convictions, certitude, beliefs, opinions, assumptions, expectations, desires, biases, attachment to the way it is supposed to be, and supposed to be done. Everything has to go as we come to the table. Coming to the table is an exercise in emptying, an engagement with emptiness. The work of the spiritual journey is emptying ourselves of all that cannot satisfy so that we might be fulfilled and made whole. The table represents, symbolizes, the fulfillment, the wholeness, that is available to us as we empty ourselves of our ideas of what our life ought to be, and are receptive and open to the life that is ours to live. This might have nothing to do with what we do for a living, or with what we wish for ourselves. How we earn our money has no necessary connection with the life that is ours to live, with what we must do to be alive, and whole, and well. We empty ourselves of it all, and wait to see, to find, what truly feeds us, fills us, makes us whole.

On Bread and Wine

The bread and wine are yin and yang. Not that bread is yin and wine is yang, but that bread is yin and yang and wine is yin and yang. Dual oneness. Oneness that is not sameness. The physical and spiritual aspects of existence.

The bread and wine represent the physical requirements of life in the world, yet, in this place, and, with awareness, in every place, they remind us that there is more to life than eating and drinking. The bread and wine are the elements of life, and of life-beyond-life. They are life, and they are life becoming Life, life becoming alive in the deepest, best, truest sense of the word.

How we live determines how alive we are. The spirit with which we eat and drink—the awareness, the mindfulness, the knowing-ness—opens us to the possibilities of life in each moment of living. The bread is the bread of life. The wine is the elixir of life. The bread and wine are the essence of life lived to the fullest, and ask us with each bite, each sip, why are we living, what does it mean to be alive.

It is not enough to live. We must also become alive. We must bring life forth in ourselves and one another. And so, we eat and drink together, communally, not privately, and endeavor to be the right kind of company. Together, we eat and drink in order to take up the work of becoming aware of what it means to be alive, and to live as those who are alive in each moment.

So, we eat and drink here as a way of participating in an intentional metaphor embracing the physical and spiritual aspects of life. We eat to live and live to do what? Live to serve life how? The bread and wine awaken us to the importance of knowing what is truly important and aligning ourselves, our lives, with it, in the great integrity of being. Yin and yang, physical and spiritual, coming together in us, becoming apparent in us, being made real through us. Life being brought forth in life: Incarnation. The true work of soul.

On Worship

In the Presbyterian System, “the Reformed Tradition,” as it is called, worship consists of these “elements”: Adoration (Praise), Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon, Thanksgiving, Declaration of Faith, an Offering, Proclamation of the Word, Response to the Word Proclaimed with Prayers of Intercession and Petition, Song, and Service. Worship is also “corporate,” something we all do together, and “regular,” that is “weekly.” You schedule it. Dress for it. Know when it starts and stops. And, it better stop on time.

I, of course, have a different idea. Worship is what knocks you off your feet with awe and wonder. Worship is a visceral experience, a “whole body” kind of thing. Which, of course, makes sex a lot more like worship than anything that happens on Sunday morning. You can’t plan worship, in spite of the fact that all over the country “worship teams” spend an inordinate amount of time planning worship each week. You can’t set it up before hand. You can’t check off the “elements” one by one and say you have worshipped when the benediction is spoken.

Worship comes out of nowhere to wake you up with amazement and surprise. You encounter that which connects you at the level of the heart with the heart of life itself. The first thing that goes is your sense of time. There is no “order of worship.” You do not know what is next, or care. The moment—the now—opens into eternity, and that magical hot dog vendor in Chicago, or is it New York, or Boston, has “made you one with everything.” There are no words for the experience. It cannot be “said.” Or duplicated. Or arranged. You have been transformed by connection with a power beyond your power to produce either the connection or the transformation. And, you can only acknowledge, with humility and wonder, the Beyond to which we sense we somehow belong.

The experience may be corporate, but some standing there may hear only thunder and miss the angels speaking. The experience of worship depends exclusively upon eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. With those eyes, ears, and hearts in place, worship is everywhere, all the time. Without them, worship is nowhere, ever. But some experiences can be so overwhelmingly worshipful as to produce the eyes, ears, and hearts necessary for the perception of the experience among all but the very dead.

Worship wakes us up to the reality at the heart of life, to the truth of the Beyond to which we belong. It rarely ever happens on a Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings, we can remember it happening, and remind ourselves that it can happen, and underscore the importance of engaging in the practices, the disciplines, of developing eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. We can do what we can do to prepare ourselves for worship, but the experience itself comes upon us from Beyond.

 Worship can no longer be something we do to, for, or about God, as though God is Up There and is capable of being appeased, or placated, or mollified, or influenced, or swayed, or captivated by our prostrations and petitions. We can gather to remember that we are not alone, to remind ourselves that there is more to us than meets the eye, to open ourselves to the wonder and awe of the mystery of being, to enhance and deepen the connection that exists among us and between us and all sentient beings, to be present with what is present with us, and to participate in life as those who are interested in finding the way rather than finding the ways to have their way.

It is an amazing process, this “harmonization of being,” wherein we take the givens of our lives and turn them into what they might become—without making our personal gain or advantage the focus and goal of our living. And, we are right to sing out with joy and gladness at the wonder of life, living, and being alive, and aware, and awake, and open to the process and participation in it. But, we don’t have to posit an intelligent, invisible, personal, and personable, creator and director of the process—a divine Who, who has to be pleased or else. We can if we want to, but it isn’t required.

The point of being who we are is to be awake and alive. The point of being awake and alive is to be who we are. The point is not esoteric. It is very practical. We are to wake up, and be alive, and be who we are. This can be done only in relationship with those who also are waking up, coming to life, and being who they are. This is the spiritual task, and the spiritual community.

It is spiritual because it connects us with an essence that cannot be seen, or touched, or weighed, or measured, yet is sensed as real and present and compelling. The line between who we are and who we are not is a spiritual line. When we are being who we are, we are connecting with the spirit of “us.” We are being spirit-of-us-filled. We are being spiritual.

Whether or not there is some Great Spirit beyond us with plans, and purposes, and dreams, etc., is, well, beyond us. We can speculate and ponder, imagine and wonder, but we know our spirit, our heart, our self (And where does that line lie?) comes alive in certain times, and places, and circumstances, and activities, and in the presence of certain people—and dies in certain others. Our work is to bring our spirit to life in our lives. We must be who we are. We cannot be who we are not. Our task, or one of them, is to help each other find and be who we are, and not be who we are not.

Worship, then, for me, has to do with realization and recognition. It is the acknowledgement of, and the alignment of ourselves with, the Way of Being, the Way of Life. It is the Wow of Oneness, of All-ness, of Thou Art That-ness. It is what we do in response to our perception of our connection with each other and the living, vibrant core of life and being. Worship, in this sense, is the term for the lives of those who are awake, aware and alive.



Sunday, August 17, 2008

08/17/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what’s right. Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what is important. Don’t let your principles keep you from doing what needs to be done. How’s that for a principle?

Don’t think your principles are the most important thing. Everything serves something else. There is no supreme value operative in the Universe. Love? Who is to say? What is loving about any line that is drawn, any limit that is set? Yet, what is loving about life without lines? Who draws the lines?

Jesus raised the dead, and Jesus left the dead to bury the dead. The loving thing is not always so obviously loving. Besides, who are you going to love? Your enemy? Your neighbor? If your neighbor is killing your enemy, what does love do? Wring its hands? Look away? Insert itself between neighbor and enemy so your neighbor kills you and then your enemy? Do you think if enough people die, everyone will wake up eventually and no one will kill anyone again after that ever?

Or, maybe you go for Justice? Who is to say? What is just about any line? What is just about life without lines? Who draws the lines? What is just when your good is my bad? Do we take turns? Do we take a vote? What is just about waiting your turn? How long do you wait? Who decides when it’s your turn? Who can you trust with your best interest? Who CANNOT trust you with their best interest?

Or, maybe you go for Mercy? Who is to say? What is merciful about any line? What is merciful about life without lines? Who draws the lines? Who determines what is merciful? You get the drift here, I’m sure.

Here’s the way to do it: Place all the values on the table. Live with the table at the forefront of heart and mind. And do what you please. Do what you feel like doing. Do what you think needs to be done the way it needs to be done in every situation “as it arises.” And, don’t let your principles keep you from doing what is important, what is right, what needs to be done, the way it needs to be done. Don’t live to make anyone happy, even yourself. Especially yourself.

How’s that for a principle? Making somebody happy, generally ourselves (even if we live to make someone else happy, it’s because our happiness depends upon theirs, so we are making ourselves happy when we make them happy, even if what we do to make them happy has dreadful implications for us) is the primary motive behind all that we do. If we don’t live to make anyone happy, even ourselves, then what? What is the point, then? Upon what basis do we decide what to do, then?

It’s like this: The things that are good to do would be good to do whether they make anyone happy or not. Our best interest is not always served by the things that make us happy. Sugar makes us happy. Sugar is the Great Satan. Our best interest is not served by consuming sugar, certainly not in the quantities that we consume it. We are not happy, it seems, unless we are excessively indulgent. “All you can eat” is the idea. Gorge ourselves. Weigh ten times the legal limit. And do not exercise whatever you do. We are not happy exercising. And, we live to be happy. You’re getting the drift, here, I’m sure.

Take happiness off the table! Do not live with your happiness—or anyone’s—in mind! Happiness is not the point! Do not live to be happy! How’s that for something you don’t hear every day? It’s going to take some work to wean ourselves away from the idea that our happiness (or someone’s) is the sole purpose of existence. If you are looking for a spiritual practice, you can’t beat this one. It’s our life’s work, developing an immunity to the need to be happy, to the practice of allowing our happiness to be the foundational consideration determining how we live in the world.

This doesn’t mean we are to embrace unhappiness. I am not saying we are to live to be unhappy. I’m saying neither happiness nor unhappiness—neither striving to be happy nor striving to avoid unhappiness—are an appropriate center, ground, and focus of our lives. I’m saying don’t worry about it. I’m saying don’t even think about it. I’m saying don’t take either one seriously.

Hmm. I don’t know if we can do it. I don’t know if we can imagine a good that is not concerned with, or connected to, our good. Whose good is served by the good we call good? How can something be good for us, or anyone, if it does not make us, or someone, happy? Maybe we could start a list of the things that are good that don’t make anyone happy. Changing the oil. Repairing the roof. Mowing the lawn. Dentist visits. The list is long of things that must be done because they need to be done even though we are not especially happy to do them. Relieved, maybe, to have done them, but not happy about any of it.

Happiness and unhappiness come and go. The steady work is being what the situation requires, needs, whether we are happy or not. Mood doesn’t direct the action. Things don’t ride on how we feel. If the phone rings in the middle of a heated argument with our spouse, partner, parent, child, we can answer it and talk to our boss in a tone of voice that would never suggest what we are up to, away from the phone. We can rise above mood. We can operate indifferently to mood. We can, in the words of Alcoholics Anonymous, “fake it until we make it.” No kidding. Imagine that.

Of course, immediately the cry goes up, “What about integrity? What about transparency? What about congruency? What about being true to ourselves?” The response is the same to them all: “Live the contradictions!” We can not want to do what needs to be done the way it needs to be done, and we can do it. Takes a little maturity. Takes a little heart. Takes a little resolve. But, it can be done. We can be what the grandchildren need us to be whether we want to or not. Doing it is a true gift to the grandchildren. Doing it generally is a true gift to the world.

What needs to happen? How does it need to happen? Do that thing in that way and be responsible for the consequences, deciding in the midst of the consequences what needs to happen and how it needs to happen, and doing that thing in that way and being responsible for the consequences, etc., ad nauseam, forever, amen.

How do we know? We don’t know. See? We live in the service of what is right, and good, and important without knowing if it is really right, and good, and important. See? The consequences will reveal how we need to adjust our living in the service of what is needed. Let the consequences of your living determine how you live. Let the consequences shape your life. Decide after you have done something whether you need to keep doing it, whether you were right about it needing to be done. If not, redeem what can be redeemed and live on.

If we only care about getting our needs met, poor us. And, poor everybody else. And, if we never care about getting our needs met, poor us. And, poor everybody else. We have to care about doing our part. Our needs have to be met enough to enable us to do our part, but no more than that. We can’t be storing up extra of whatever it is we think we need against some imagined future deficit. We can’t soak up more attention, for instance, than we actually need to do our part, just because we relish attention. We can’t be an attention junkie and do our part, and help other people do their part. We have care more about doing our part than we care about what we get from doing our part—than we care about what we get.

Doing our part means doing our part with our heart in what we are doing. If we don’t feel like loving it, we have to do it as though we love it, we have to fake loving it, so no one, not even ourselves, knows we don’t love it. We have to do it as though our heart is in it. This is called not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing. If we are going to fake it, we have to fake ourselves in order to really fake it. We have to do our part so well not even we know whether our heart is in it or not. If our heart isn’t in doing our part, our heart has to be in pretending to do our part. If our heart isn’t at least there, we can’t do our part.

We might think of sin as not doing our part. As doing some other part. As doing the part we wish were our part. Sin is living some other life than the life that is our life to live. Or, it’s doing our part partially. It’s playing at doing our part. Pretending to do our part. Faking it, incorrectly, not in the AA sense of the word. Being poor fakers. Being shysters. Pretending that we are not pretending, but knowing full well that we are pretending. In Biblical terms, sin is “missing the mark.” It’s shooting in the direction of the target, but missing the bull’s-eye. Maybe even missing the target. Maybe, not even shooting in the direction of the target. Maybe, not even trying. Sin is not coming close to doing our part. Or, just coming close, but stopping short of nailing it. We have to nail it. We have to perfect it. We have to shine. We have to do it as well as we can do it, and do it again tomorrow, and again the day after that, all the way to the grave. To not do it like that is sin. To do it is to do what needs to be done the way it needs to be done, with our heart in it, whether we want to or not.

The perspective that blesses the day sees what is needed and what is possible, understands what can be done, and does it, without resistance, or resentment, as a way of being present with, and participating in, the nature of the day. We offer what we have to give to the day, assisting what needs to happen and opposing what needs to not-happen, and helping the day toward the best of all that is possible. Of course, our idea of the best may not actually be the best, but we can only work with what is ours to work with, and make adjustments as necessary, as we come to see things differently. The consequences shape our living. We can only do what we think needs to be done, the way we think it needs to be done, and shift our thinking as new information comes our way. Right seeing is a life-long acquisition. We learn to see rightly by seeing wrongly—and seeing that we see wrongly—over time.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

08/10/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

I don’t care what you do, there are going to be people who find fault with you. Try as you will, you won’t please everyone. No matter how hard you work at being likeable, there will be those who don’t like you. So. Do what you do because that’s what you think needs to be done, the way you think it need to be done (which is to say do it your way, the way YOU would do it), and not to get anyone on your side.

Okay. A little clarification. You have heard me say, “The Way is not the way to what we want.” And, “The Way is not the way we want it to be.” And, “The Way is not what we have in mind.” And, now, I’m saying, “Do what you think needs to be done and do it your way.” Which way is The Way? Is it our way, or not?

The Way is very much contrary to our way, and we find The Way by doing things our way. Don’t blame me for the contradictions and paradoxes. That’s just the way it is. I’m only reporting the facts here. Speaking of here, here’s the catch: We find the way by doing it our way and being responsible for the consequences. We have to pay the price of doing what we want with our lives. The price is having no one to blame but us. We do it to ourselves.

Ah, but we so want a scapegoat! If we had only had better parents! If we had only had better choices! If we had only had better advisors! If we had only had more cooperation! If we had only been loved! The list is rather long of all the reasons we turned out as we did. And, no where on the list is any reference to ourselves, no hint that we bear any, much less all, responsibility for who stands before you talking, who sits before me listening. We had nothing to do with becoming who we are, did we?

We had everything to do with becoming who we are, didn’t we? But, we can’t say that, can we? We’ve done all that we have done because we thought that was the way to get what we wanted, but we have refused to be responsible for the consequences that resulted in the life we have lived. We have done all that we have done because we thought that was the way to get what we wanted, but it didn’t turn out like we thought it would, and we are not accountable. The trick is to own up to the tricks we’ve tried to get our way—to say, “This is what we have tried, and it hasn’t worked out so well, so we are going to try something else, and we will be responsible for how it works out, and make more adjustments as necessary until we begin to live reasonably sane and healthy lives.”

Being responsible for our lives means knowing that we don’t know what we are doing. It means understanding, in the words of Sheldon Kopp, “All of our important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data. It is enough if we accept our freedom, take our best shot, do what we can, face the consequences of our acts, and make no excuses. It may not be fair that we get to have total responsibility for our own life without total control over it, but it seems to me that for good or for bad, that’s just the way it is. “Always, the challenge is to do the best we can with the information and resources available to us.”

We can’t anticipate every outcome, or envision all the consequences of our choices and actions, or so finely tune our lives as to navigate around all the potholes, dead ends and cliff edges. We can do everything exactly as everyone thinks it should be done, and, still, catastrophe! And, many times, we can only make our best guess regarding what needs to be done, and how. We are just lucky to make it through a day, given the information and resources we have to work with. So we do our best and go on, doing our best to deal with the consequences of doing our best, all our lives long.

We live as those who are liable for our lives, as those who are responsible for the consequences of our actions and choices, as those who understand it is up to us to deal with the outcomes that are generated by the way we live. Our lives are what we make them. No more pretending. No more hiding. No more denying. Now we know that everything hangs on our having eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. And, how do we get those babies? By looking closely, listening intently, and asking the questions that are begging to be asked as we make our way through the world.

Sometimes we have to speak and then think about what to say. Sometimes we have to think about what to say and then speak. There are no rules without exceptions. How do we know what to do? How are we supposed to live? Don’t worry about it. It will become clear over time. Just live. And adjust your living to take the consequences of your living into account.

We are self-guided, self-directed, self-adjusting, mechanisms. We got to where we are today by feeling our way along. Experimentation. We used to drown witches. We don’t do that any more. We used to burn heretics at the stake. We don’t do that any more. We used to sacrifice our first-born sons and our virgin daughters. We don’t do that any more.

Of course, we didn’t just get smart one day, and quit. It takes a revolution to turn things around. Revolutions are not always armed conflicts, but the old does not give way easily to the new. Violent confrontations seem to be the way of substantive transformation and change. And, uprisings are avoided, or restricted, only by negotiation, concession and compromise.

We can admire the non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr., but his cause was the beneficiary of rioting in the streets. The establishment does not read its mail or its email. If you want to get its attention you have to do more than call it up and tell it you would like to talk.

Which is to say that change happens, but it doesn’t happen easily, and it doesn’t happen by the time we would like for it to happen, and it takes work, commitment, and dedication to the cause over time. “No sacrifice is too small or too great for the Revolution!” Well. Who has the heart for that? We want to protest the war by getting a parade permit and packing a lunch, and being home for dinner. And, even if they throw us in jail, we are out over-night, and are careful not to violate the conditions of our release, which means we make sure we aren’t thrown in jail again until the probationary period expires. We like the idea of change, but we have a hard time taking something personally that isn’t personal. We are still too comfortable to care enough about change to be called Revolutionaries.

We can’t hope to be Revolutionaries without being at the end of the rope. We have to be fed up to lay it all on the line. We can’t just not like something, we have to HATE IT. The fuel for the fire of transformation is the passion for change.

This is true on a social/political/cultural level and at the level of our private lives. Beer can change into furniture in the houses of alcoholics, but not without what we might call violence to one’s body and one’s life, not without pain. Alcoholics don’t just wake up one day dry. We may not like the way our lives are working, but that doesn’t mean we will have what it takes to change. What does it take to change? Being fed up. Being at the end of our rope. Reaching our limit. Crashing into the wall. Having enough. Having enough to say, “I’m not going to live like this any more,” and mean it.

When we talk like this, we are talking Revolution! Now, revolution makes things suddenly different, but not necessarily suddenly better. We have to stick it out. We have to realize that we are in it for the long term. We have to “work the program” every day for the rest of our lives, asking of every situation, “What needs to happen here? How does it need to happen?”, and do there what we think needs to be done the way it needs to be done, the way we would do it.

In order to do that consistently, we have to really be fed up. We can’t just wish we were fed up. We can’t just like the idea of being fed up. We can’t just think that maybe we might be fed up. Revolution asks a lot of us, over time. Living differently isn’t all roses, rainbows and white picket fences. So, we have to remember what we are about: Revolution! And, we have to be about it, over time.

Being stuck is wishing things were different but not caring enough about transformation to make the change. We wish we were fed up. We know we ought to be fed up. But, we are not fed up. We want to feel better without doing what it takes to get better. And we will do anything to change our lives except the one thing required to change our lives. We will take courses, read books, attend lectures and seminars, seek the council of gurus, listen to tapes, pay a therapist, but we won’t stop doing whatever it is that we are doing to keep things as they are—we won’t do whatever it is that we must do to make things change. We suffer a lot, but our lives don’t change, because we accommodate ourselves to our suffering, and add rope to the end of the rope and dangle, unchanging, forever.

We’re back to responsibility, don’t you see? Being responsible for our own lives. Being responsible for our own revolution. Forget trying to get everyone on board! Forget trying to make everyone happy! Forget trying to get permission from all the right people before anything is done! Stomp on the egg shells! Rock the boat! Upset the apple cart! Make waves! Begin to live, if only in small, symbolic ways, in ways that you think are important, doing what you think needs to be done in the way you think it needs to be done, and assuming full responsibility for the consequences—and dealing with the consequences in ways you think they need to be dealt with, and assuming full responsibility for those consequences, and dealing with them in ways you think they need to be dealt with, and so on and so forth, from now on forever, Amen.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

08/03/08, Sermon/Dharma Talk

We think there is a way to go about it, a way to do it, that will make it easy. Maybe it’s a matter of keeping the rules. You know, doing the right things, the things that are supposed to be done the way they supposed to be done. We do things everyone thinks they ought to be done without understanding, or questioning. We keep rules we don’t understand because we think keeping the rules will make it easy, and we can relax and enjoy our lives.

Maybe it’s a matter of getting good grades. We turn in our assignments on time and volunteer for everything that has an extra point attached to it. We never talk in class, have perfect attendance, and are horrified if we make less than a 95 on anything. Because we think getting good grades will make it easy. Maybe it’s a matter of believing the right beliefs. You wouldn’t believe the things we have believed because someone told us they were the right things to believe, because we believed believing them would make it easy.

Maybe it’s a matter of being approved. We check our appearance throughout the day, make sure our tie still matches our shirt, and that we don’t have blue socks with black shoes. We drive the right cars, and live in the right neighborhoods, and cut the lawn to the right height at the right times, and make sure our children are well-behaved, and work hard to keep up appearances in order to be approved because we think that will make it easy.

Maybe it’s a matter of making enough money, of eating the right number of calories, and the right amount of fiber, and walking the right number of miles, and praying the right prayers, and meditating with the right mantra, and reading the right books, and, well, the list is rather endless. And, there are several different lists, actually, but we are confident that if we find the right one and apply it with the right amount of diligence and concentration it will all fall into place for us, make beautiful sense, and be easy. If we only can figure out the right way to do it and do it that way, it will be easy. We know it will be.

Okay. Here’s your assignment. Explore easy. If it were easy, how would it be different from the way it is? What is presently hard? What would have to happen for it to be easy? What will it take to make that happen? Will keeping the rules do it? Making enough money? Believing the right beliefs? Being approved? Having good grades? Tell me again. What is hard that you want to be easy? What would it take to make that happen? What exactly do you need for your life to be easy? What needs to happen for you to have what you need for your life to be easy?

Sheldon Kopp says we have to run our own lives as well as we can and take the consequences as they come without making any excuses (He also says, “Being neurotic is being able to act badly without feeling responsible for what you do”). There are people who think they can be liked, accepted, loved, if they make other people happy. And, they think they can make other people happy by living in certain ways, doing certain things. And, they live their lives like a puppet on a string. But, no one is happy with their performance, certainly not themselves.

The key to being liked is to let yourself be liked by those who like you, and to let yourself be un-liked by those who don’t like you. Jesus said it like this: “Those who are with us are with us, and those who are against us are against us” (Or words to that effect). Sheldon Kopp says, “You can’t make anyone love you. You just have to reveal who you are and take your chances.” It’s the wisdom of the chorus of a song by Sawyer Brown: “Some girls don’t like boys like me, ah, but some girls do!”

We only make ourselves crazy trying to make everyone like us—or just all the important ones. The important ones may not like us. That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with us. It just means there are people who don’t like us. We have to recognize that as the way it is and let it be, because it is. We may try to make everyone like us to off-set the fact that our father, or our mother, or both, didn’t like us, when we only have to let our father, or our mother, or both, not like us. “Some girls don’t like boys like me.” Leave them to their likes and their dislikes, and walk on, enjoying the company of those that do.

Babies have no trouble being themselves. When we are born, we are who we are around everyone. It doesn’t take us long to learn that isn’t permitted. By the time we are 13, no one knows who we are, not even ourselves. We spend the first 13 years of our life learning to not be who we are, to be someone else instead. In order to be liked, or to survive, we have to be someone else. We have to disappear and become Who We Are Supposed To Be. We spend the rest of our lives trying to remember who we were when we were born, who we were born to be.

Sheldon Kopp says that our only real power lies in taking charge of our own life, enjoying being who we are, and making our life as meaningful for ourselves as we can, whatever others may or may not expect of us, or think about us. Are we looking for applause? Approval? Are we living our lives with one eye on who is watching us live our lives? Who do we live trying to please? Whose approval is important for us to receive? Are we living our lives in order to be seen living our lives? If no one were watching, what would we do? If no one knew what we did, what would we do? What are the things that matter to us because they matter to us, and no one else? The things we would do because they are important to us whether anyone is watching or not? These are the things we have to do first. They form the foundation. If we have them going for us, we will be less dependent upon the applause.

What are we going to do with the time that is ours? I recommend spending it on things that are important to us. I recommend doing more of what we like to do, and less of what we don’t like to do. I recommend doing more of what interests us and less of what doesn’t. I recommend spending as little time as possible being dead before we die. I know you think this sounds selfish and self-centered, and I know you think that’s the wrong thing to be, but don’t close me off too quickly. The issue here is exactly the same as the one on the airlines when the flight attendant tells you to place the oxygen mask on your face first, and then take care of whoever else might be in your charge. We cannot be of any help to anyone if we are living out of an emotional deficit. Growing up is about taking care of ourselves in the right kinds of ways.

Here is the recipe, the model, the way of doing it for the rest of your life: We have to take everything into account and do what we feel like doing, and let the outcome be the outcome, and be responsible for the consequences, and respond to what happens by taking everything into account and doing what we feel like doing. Etc., ad nauseam, forever. Get it?

If what you are doing isn’t doing it for you, why do it? Why not do something else instead? What’s keeping you locked in place when you should be somewhere else? No one is alive who is only what other people think she, think he, should be. To be alive, we have to have a life of our own. We have to soothe ourselves, calm ourselves, take care of ourselves in the right kind of way. Maybe, it’s just a stamp collection, or a beehive, but it is ours and we don’t do it the way anyone thinks we ought to do it. We do it the way WE do it. It’s ours. And, in that space, we don’t think about how other people would do it, or expect us to. To be alive, we have to have our own space and a life to call our own.

There is more to us all than meets the eye, or needs to be. Nothing is more pointless than a person who has become the norm and is transparently exactly who she, or he, is supposed to be. We have to have a life no one knows about. We have to leave town from time to time, go to the beach or the mountains, and not tell anyone where we are going or what we do there. Maybe we only sleep late, or get up early and look for shells or watch the sun rise. Maybe we don’t do anything worth talking about, but we don’t talk about it. It’s ours. We have some private space that no one knows about but us. We have a secret side. There is more to us than meets the eye. We have depth. We are three dimensional. And alive.

All the interesting people have a life, a perspective, a way of seeing and being in the world that sets them apart. They are alive, and they are alive in their own way. They are interested in something beyond themselves. Interesting people are interested people, but they aren’t interested in being interesting. The people who strive to be interesting by having all the qualities of interesting people are only boring. Interesting people don’t try to be interesting. They don’t try to be visible. They disappear into the ordinariness of their own lives, doing what interests them, unable to see why anyone would be interested in them or what interests them, and become interesting thereby. Interesting, don’t you think?

But, here’s the deal. Two things: In order to be interesting and alive, in order to have a life, we have to trust ourselves to make our own choices. We cannot think that there is someone else who will take care of us and tell us what to do and protect us from mistakes and wrong turns and bad judgment. We are on our own here. Our lives are ours to live, for better or worse. Look around. There is no one here who knows better than you do how to live your life. Who are you going to look to to tell you what to do, and when to do it, and how to do it, and when to quit doing it?  Who knows more about what you need to do, how you need to be, than you do? That’s the first thing.

The second thing is that there is no end to it. Sheldon Knopp says, “Nothing important gets solved once and for all, finally and forever.” We don’t get it figured out, solved, resolved, taken care of, finished and completed. We don’t get “all our ducks in a row.” We don’t get all our problems worked out. We don’t get over one hump before here comes another one. There are no grown ups. We never get beyond the need to grow up. Here we go again!