Sunday, July 19, 2009

Living our lives and becoming who we are 07/19/09

The church has always understood disenfranchisement in political and economic terms. The church likes to “speak truth to power” (government and business) about its political and economic oppression and disenfranchisement of the people, conveniently ignoring its own position of power in the lives of the people, and its spiritual, emotional and psychological oppression and disenfranchisement of them.

It is time for us to understand oppression and disenfranchisement in emotional, psychological and spiritual terms. Who speaks for/to the emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually disenfranchised? The church is the embodiment of their disenfranchisement, the power behind the diminishment of the spirit of the people. Yet, who speaks truth to power where the church is concerned? The church prides itself as the conscience of government and business, but who is the conscience of the church?

What is the mechanism by which the church rights itself? Sees itself, evaluates its own impact, changes its mind, alters its course? Who conducts a performance review of the church? What is the structure by which the church is changed for the better? How does the church examine itself?

How does the church determine which beliefs are worth believing? Which practices are worth practicing? How many beliefs and/or practices have been jettisoned over the years, politely put aside without any official declaration as to their unworthiness of our allegiance or even affiliation? How much of what they believed/did in the early church, or the church of the Middle Ages, or the church of the Reformation, does the church continue to believe/do? We should make a list. Things Once Believed And Practiced But No Longer Believed Or Practiced. That would reflect how foolish it is to believe that the things we believe are sacrosanct, beyond question, worthy of eternal veneration and submission, that the practices we practice must always be practiced.

Life is not static. The more rigid our beliefs and practices are, the more dead we are. The more resistant we are to examining our beliefs and practices in terms of what is helpful in living the life that is ours to live, the more dead we are.

Our work is that of living our life and becoming who we are, which involves us in the process of dialog with our shadow and becoming who we also are. What are the tools required to do the work that is ours to do? Helping us answer this question is the prerogative of the church.

The church rights itself through on-going dialogue with a broad range of perspectives in the service of inquiry and exploration into the truth of our experience and our evolving understanding of what is helpful in living the lives that are our lives to live. What we believe and what we do is informed and transformed by that dialogue. The core of our perception of who we are and what we are about is dynamic and alive, changing, evolving, becoming.

This is the nature of relationship with transcendence—it calls us beyond ourselves into an ever-deepening engagement with mystery. We don’t know who we are or what our life is in an intellectual, rational, logical way. We know who we are and what our life is experientially, as we step into the mystery of finding our way to what is right for us.

What does it take, really, to do the work that is ours to do, to live the life that is ours to live, to be who we are? Living a meaningful life means doing what is meaningful to us with our life. No one can say what that is for us. No one knows what that is but us. Listen to yourself. Stop looking for directions in stars and tealeaves and secret signs. Direct your own life. Follow your own intuition, your own passion. Do what is meaningful to you! You know what is meaningful and what is not. Live toward what is meaningful. This is not difficult. Your sense of what is meaningful is the operative force in your life. Don't be duped by the bright lights of Gay Paree. Follow meaningful.

Ah, but. We don’t get out of the gate before we need help finding our way to the life that is our life to live. It is not enough to tell us to do what is meaningful, to follow meaningful. If it were only a matter of doing what resonates with us, that would be one thing, but what tantalizes us trumps what resonates with us. And we are carried off with those cartoon-like hypnotic eyes locked onto the object of our fascination into the distant regions of the wasteland. We think something meaningful is resonating with us when we are mesmerized by the sights and sounds of Las Vegas, and Bourbon Street, and Gay Paree.

A different kind of problem with doing what is meaningful is finding the personal strength and authority to live our own lives. We are hesitant to let ourselves care about what is meaningful to us. What would our family say? What would the neighbors think? We have to care about what we are supposed to care about, and everyone knows what that is. So we shape ourselves around someone else’s idea of what is important and call that being alive.

It’s complicated. We cannot just be told to find our way to the life that is our life to live by doing what is meaningful. Yet, that’s the way, as fraught as it is with potholes and pitfalls. We have to trust ourselves to what is meaningful even when we mistake enticement and temptation for meaningful. We have to risk being wrong in our search for what is meaningful. And we have to find the courage to do what we think is meaningful regardless of what Those Who Know Best (Truman Capote) think we should do.

This is not easy. And the church has to be on our side encouraging us, nourishing us, nurturing us, sustaining us, enabling us to do what is difficult: Listen to all of the voices within until we can discern the voice that knows what it is talking about—and follow that voice through Gethsemane to Golgotha if need be in doing what needs to be done no matter what.

Here is the heart of the matter: We don’t choose what is meaningful to us, it chooses us. So. What do we care about? How do we express it? How would anyone know we care about it? What does caring about it say about us? About who we are? About who we are not? What do we care about is the question. We can wonder if it’s worth caring about later. For now, it is enough to know what we care about. And to care about it. To do what is meaningful until we see that it is a sham, and we were wrong. Then we have to start over with the next apparently-meaningful thing and give ourselves to it and see what happens.

This is the wonder: We don’t have to be right about it being MEANINGFUL. We just have to be right about it being meaningful to us. We cannot do what someone else thinks should be meaningful. “You’re a boy in the deep south. You should like guns. Here’s a gun. Go shoot something.” We have to listen within for the voice that knows what it is talking about, and take our orders from that source.

What if we are wrong? Guess again! We are here to get guessing down! To become better guessers over time! Guessing wisely is wisdom! We guess our way along the way! Who knows what they are doing? We can’t wait to live our life until we know what we are doing. We start right now by doing what is meaningful. And we can’t wait to be sure. We guess and go!

We are looking for meaningful. Not easy. Not exciting. Not sexy. Not entertaining. Meaningful. Don’t forget what we’re looking for. Not comfort. Not security. Meaningful. Sacrifice everything in the service of meaningful. Meaningful to us, of course. We make the call.

We avoid being stuck by assuming personal responsibility for our own life and living in the service of our evolving idea of what is important, of what is meaningful. And this is heroic stuff all the way. Where did Odysseus find what it took to face the Cyclops? That’s were we find what it takes to face our lives and to live OUR lives.

The revolution is simply reclaiming our lives, making our own choices and our own mistakes, living toward ends that are meaningful to us. It comes down to this: Listening for the voice that knows what it’s talking about, watching for the white rabbit, trusting our instinct and intuition, and letting the outcome be the outcome. Getting it wrong is just a step on the way to getting it right, and getting it right is just a matter of time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to engage our lives is the question. 07/12/09

The church is the great destroyer of lives, the subversive supplanter of civilizations. Or would be, if it believed it’s own message, which is “Wake up! Live the life that is yours to live!” If everyone lived his or her own life it would transform the world. If any of us did it, it would shake the foundations. That’s the revolution, living your own life, the life that is yours to live—which is not to be confused with the life you want to live, would like to live, wish you could live. What the world most needs is for you to live the life with your name on it. The church as it ought to be would be enabling us to do that.

How to engage our lives is the question. How to live the life that is ours to live. There are many distractions to take our minds off the business of sitting down, shutting up, being quiet, looking and listening, watching and waiting.

We wait for the path to appear before us, for the white rabbit to grace us with a glimpse, even as we work to pay the bills and mow the lawn. We do the things that need to be done while we wait to see what NEEDS to be done. Waiting is a test of our faith, courage and resolve. We have to believe in something. I recommend the path and the white rabbit. We wait for the path to open, for the white rabbit to appear.

We look and listen our way to where we need to be. We don’t think our way there. We listen for what’s next. We look for what needs to be done. We don’t think up these things. We spend our time waiting to see, to hear, and then acting upon the obvious. Of course! Why didn’t I see this, hear this, before?

We have to live out of our feel for what needs to be done even if it makes no sense and seems to be a waste of time. Everything hangs on our doing what needs to be done—on what we say needs to be done—whether it matters to anyone else, or makes any discernible difference in the way the world works, or not. Our task is to do what is meaningful to us. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone else.

Gandhi said something along the lines of “Of course your contribution will be insignificant, but it is essential that you make it. No one can do it for you, and if you don’t do it, it won’t be done. Nothing is more important than that we do what is ours to do.” I couldn’t have said it better.

But we cannot look for recognition and results, outcomes and payoffs, to provide us with the necessary motivation for doing what is ours to do. The motivation is entirely internal. We do what we do because we need to do it—because it needs us to do it! The external recognition, acknowledgment, appreciation, etc. is quite beside the point and can distract us from the essential focus which is doing what needs to be done—what we need to do—no matter what. Our response to the lack of external reinforcement is “Oh well,” and a return to the matter of attending the internal directive. The absence of external reinforcement can be seen as a test of our resolve to align ourselves with the inner directive no matter what.

The problem is that the life that is our life to live—the work that is our work to do—isn’t what we think it should be. The life we get is not the life we have in mind. We are always called beyond ourselves. It is never our idea for ourselves, for our lives, we are asked to serve. We are here for more than our own life, our own pleasure and happiness. We have to trust ourselves to the life that is ours to live even when it seems like it is all for nothing. Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off.” Being on the beam becomes tedious and boring and it looks like nothing is happening and we are going nowhere fast and we long for excitement, and adventure so, off the beam we go.

We are always looking for the exit. It doesn’t take long for us to be done with this life and be ready for something else. We look for things to help us escape our life. We hate our life. We want out of our life. We want some other, better, finer, easier life instead. Happiness is always another life. But not the life with our name on it. We aren’t about to go to Nineveh. We have to be really desperate to go there!

We look for things to take our mind off the life we are living. Romance. Wealth. Prosperity. Winning the lottery, you know. Dreams of how it will be when we have it made. We need to look for things to engage us with our life. For things to deepen, expand, enlarge our lives. For things that will enable us to live our lives. But, that’s the last thing we want to do.

We’re playing a game called “We’re not playing a game!” The game we are not playing is designed to keep our mind off the life we are not living, the life that is our life to live. The problem is how to get us together with the life that has our name on it, that is our life to live. We want the excitement and the glory of Gay Paree. We want to enjoy our lives. We wouldn’t mind living the life with our name on it if could also be the life we have in mind, the life we wish we could live.

Sad to say, the adventure we get is never the adventure we have in mind. The beam we get is never the beam we want. We have to trust ourselves to the beam, and do the work that is ours to do, and let that be that. But wait. We don’t know what the work is that is ours to do, right? We would do it if we knew what it was, but we don’t know, so we can’t do it, right?

I don’t buy it. We know what we have to do (or are afraid we might know), and what we have no business doing. Boarding the boat, Jonah knows Nineveh has his name written all over it. All this talk about not knowing what to do with our lives is just an excuse to keep us from doing what we don’t want to do. When it comes to not living the life that is our life to live, any excuse will do. It’s another way of boarding the boat, or another way of missing the boat, same thing.

Our only hope is to go on doing it our way. Boarding the boat, or missing it. Sailing away from Nineveh as fast as the wind will blow. Our salvation is the great spiritual truth that no matter how far we go, or how long we’re gone, we’re just walking around the block. This is another way of saying, “Nothing is wasted.” Everything works together to wake us up. If we can wake up, we will wake up.

The process requires us to help one another see the way we see. I'm here to help you see the way you see. You're here to help me see the way I see. From seeing the way we see comes all things. When we finally see our way of seeing for what it is, we start listening and looking, asking, seeking and knocking, watching and waiting. And, at that point things change.

Things change when we begin listening within for the voice that knows what it is talking about. This is what being still and quiet and attentive does for us, it opens us to the truth of our lives, of the life that is ours to live. What carries the force? The ephemeral weight of necessity? That is so negligible that we can dismiss it, discount it, overlook it, ignore it, not know it when we hear it yet is so powerful that it runs the universe by its authority and holds the world in its hands? That is the voice that knows what it is talking about. And it is our place, our responsibility to hear it and align ourselves with it. Everything depends on it. Everything is on the line. Everything rides on our knowing “the time of our visitation” and doing right by the moment at hand in a “Thy will not mine be done” kind of way.

The spiritual practice of listening deeply connects us with our spirit which knows more than we do about who we are and what we are about and the life that is life. But when the path opens and the white rabbit appears, we have to follow. We can't be saying, "That wasn't what I had in mind!"

“(We) can do all things through (that which strengthens us),” is the old scriptural formula for living out of the power within us. It is not a power for our good, but for the good of the whole. The boon is not for us but for the world. If we can come to terms with that, we have it made.
The talk of prosperity and abundance feeds the cultural/capitalist bias toward what’s in it for me. The subversive counter to that orientation is the idea that we have what we need to do what needs to be done, which has nothing to do with having what we want. What we want has no necessary connection with the life that is ours to live. “You have your life as a prize of war” (Jer. 45:5). Our booty is our life, is the experience of being alive, is the knowledge that we did what was ours to do. In a “Well done, good and faithful servant” kind of way.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

We are free to choose the life that has chosen us! 07/05/09

We think freedom means doing whatever we want, whatever we choose, whatever we please. But we are not free to choose what we want, to choose our choices, to choose what pleases us. How free is that? We cannot be told what we cannot hear. We are imprisoned behind bars we cannot see.

Each of finds our own path to freedom. It begins with our waking up to how un-free we are. The more conscious we are of our bondage, the more we can exercise what freedom of choice we do have in the service of the life that is ours to live. We cannot choose any life. But we can choose to align ourselves with our life, the life with our name on it, for better and worse, in sickness and in health, from this day forward for as long as we shall live. This is our freedom, to choose the life that is ours to live, to submit to, to serve, a will beyond our will.

We get a sense of this “will beyond our will” in encounters with the numinous and through our experience with resonation. We do not make up what resonates with us. We do not decide what catches our eye. Our freedom consists of whether we will respond, to what extent we follow.
Our freedom consists of the latitude to determine to whom, or to what, we will give ourselves—to decide in light of what we shall live. Our freedom is to choose our own direction, to chart our own course, to find our own path, to decide for ourselves who will direct our steps, who will be our guide—in a “Thy will, not mine be done,” kind of way. Our freedom is the freedom of self-determination. And we make a mockery of it by handing ourselves over to the culture, to the norms and codes and structures governing how things ought to be, by working to live as life is “supposed to be” lived and going where they tell us to.

If we are just like those around us, how free is that? How free are we to voice an opinion that is not the opinion of those we run with? How free are we to see things differently from the way they are seen by those in our “in crowd”? How free are we to think, feel, or believe something that is not supposed to be thought, felt or believed? How free are we to speak with our own voice, to sing our own song, to live out of the foundation of our own authority—apart from any script, any set of established norms, any influence from the guiding voices of Those Who Know Best? Whose opinion matters most? Whose opinion do you live to trash? These are the people who are running your life. How are they doing? Our lives are empty because we've been digging dry wells where someone else told us there was water.

What is meaningful is rarely easy. Here’s the catch, what’s easy is rarely easy. We think we are saving ourselves time and trouble when we opt for easy over meaningful. We think if it’s easy, it will be meaningful enough. We sell out for easy. That’s the story of our lives, of the life of the species. We think easy is easy, but easy is hard. This is the thing we will not learn. Easy is hard. Short is long. Fast is slow. We don’t get it. We think we can have what we want: easy and meaningful. Sorry to be the one to tell you: Only in our dreams.

We stand between meaningful and easy and sacrifice meaningful for the sake of easy every time. And whine because life is empty. No kidding. Our only hope for a meaningful life is to live the life that is our life to live. We find our way to the life that is meaningful by asking, seeking and knocking. By searching, inquiring, experimenting, challenging. By doubting, questioning, exploring. By listening, and looking, and waiting attentively, expectantly, patiently. By being awake, aware, alive. By waking up, being conscious, in a community of the right kind of people.

The right kind of community, is a “we” composed of “I’s” who are being true to themselves in respectful acknowledgement of the “otherness of the other I’s” who are being true to themselves. A “we” is not a merger, or a blend, of “I’s,” but an association of “I’s” who use the “otherness of the other I’s” to bring forth what is also true and, in so doing, expand, enlarge and deepen each other. A “we” is formed around “I’s” who are becoming larger, more complex, more complete, more whole, more integrated thanks to the other “I’s” whose perspective is necessary for the development of the individual “I’s” and of the “we.”

The right kind of community is not “one big happy family,” where everyone silences her or his own voice for the sake of the harmony of the whole, but is, rather, a cacophony of voices learning to integrate themselves into a symphonic arrangement of individuals participating in the wonder of the whole that is produced by the “otherness” of each other. We bring out the best in each other by being true to ourselves, singing our own song, speaking our own voice, honoring our own perspective without striving for dominance or control. We are not here to quell, or crush, convert or quieten the other, but to listen to the other and to be transformed (deepened, expanded, enlarged) by the experience of “the otherness of the other” (James Hollis), by our “disinterested” (in the sense of our striving to force our way on the other, to have the other recognize how brilliant, wonderful, and right we are) interchange with the other, with all the others.

The right kind of community enhances the “self-ness,” the “otherness,” of each member of the community. If anyone feels diminished or dismissed or discounted or silenced or ignored, the community suffers. If anyone gives up self to belong to the community, the community ceases to exist. The health of the community is a reflection of the health—emotional/spiritual—of the individuals comprising the community. Our emotional/spiritual health is an indicator of our degree of alignment with the truth of our own soul, of our living (and speaking and being) in sync with our heart’s true desire. If we forsake that for the sake of the peace of the community, we die and the community dies, though the fa├žade might live on for years or generations. Keeping up appearances is what we do best. But the right kind of community catches us in the act of “being nice,” calls our hand, and insists that we speak truthfully, reminding us that means hearing what is also true. The dialectic is not between what is true and what is not true but between what is true and what is also true!

Without this kind of compensating and confirming community of Others, the way we see things becomes the way things are. We slip easily over the edge and become lost in our own constructs, increasingly out of touch and disconnected. The right kind of solitude is possible only in the right kind of community. It takes both to produce the right kind of awareness, the kind that perceives what is true and what is also true, and lives in the tension, on the boundary, between yin and yang.

We have to listen to ourselves, but we cannot listen only to ourselves. The right kind of community of Others challenges us, confronts us, opposes us and provides the counterbalance to our subjectively biased view of the way things are. It takes an Other to introduce us to what is also true.

Listening to an opposite point of view doesn’t negate or cancel out our own. Oppositional is not adversarial but expansive. It asks us to take into account the “other side,” that which is also true. Every perspective is true as far as it goes, as far as it can see, up to a point, and needs to be enlarged by other perspectives which see more than any one person can see alone. All of us together can see more, can see better, than any of us alone can see. But hearing other points of view is not easy.

We are always changed against our will. We resist it all the way. We are the young child snatched from Mother’s arms and thrown screaming into the rite of initiation from which we emerge transformed. Spiritual growth is not for those who do not have what it takes to die. Again and again. Spiritual growth is for those who have run out of other options. We need the contrary voices to deepen us, enlarge us, expand us, wake us up, grow us up, round us out, and develop within us the capacity for true human-being-hood. On our own, we are narrow, shallow, blank-eyed (or wild-eyed) and empty.

Every church needs to have the capacity to define, to re-imagine itself, to be redesigned anew from the start all over again at any point in its life. Of course, there is no starting over in life, but, on the other hand, we are always starting over, beginning again. “O God of second chances and new beginnings, here I am again,” goes the old prayer. As it is with us, so it is with the church. And we need the capacity to redesign ourselves from the ground up, to re-think what it means to be the church in each generation. We have to have the freedom to bring to life now what needs to be brought to live now. To think what needs to be thought now. To believe in what needs to be believed in now. We cannot take what was meaningful to our ancestors and give it to their descendants. Nobody can hand us meaning. We have to create what is meaningful for ourselves in the moment of our living. And the church needs to provide the atmosphere in which this work to find what is meaningful is encouraged and sustained. May it be certainly so!