Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unconscious Cows

I place before you this morning three things: The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me!” The central proclamation of first century Christians: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” And, Julie Strope. As we see how these three things are really One, as is the case with every triune configuration when perceived with hearts that understand, we will see what is ours to do in the time left to us.

The First Commandment admonishes all adherents: Do not do it as you see it being done about you! There were nothing but “other gods” in those days, and in these. And the First Commandment calls us away from the way our neighbors are doing things to consider for ourselves how things truly need to be done, so that we might do it.

The declaration “Jesus Christ is Lord” was only half of the formula for first century believers. The other half, always implied and sometimes stated, if only under one’s breath, was “And Caesar is NOT Lord!” In this way, the early church carried forward the Old Testament dharma: “Do not do it as you see it being done about you!”

And, of course, this leads us to Julie Strope. Of all the things you could think to say about Julie Strope, never would you say that she did anything the way it was being done around her. This is the single characteristic essential for the salvation of the world, and Julie has embodied it beautifully, and has lived before us as a wonderful example of how it is to be done.

Jesus stood before the Pharisees, looked them in the eye, and asked, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” And he asked his disciples point blank, “Who do YOU say that I am?” It is the independent judgment of individual human beings that keeps things balanced and sane, that makes the world livable, that enables life. When we stop thinking for ourselves and stop making up our own minds about what is important and how we will live our lives, things take a quick turn for the worse, and we follow one another like unconscious cows down worn paths to the pasture and back to the barn without ever being alive and present in the life we are living.

Who could be alive and present in the life we are living? Who could stand it? Who could be awake and alive for life as it is being lived around us? It seems obvious that we have to make ourselves unconscious—that we have to put ourselves to sleep—just to make it through our days. DO NOT DO IT AS YOU SEE IT BEING DONE ABOUT YOU! This is the spiritual task, quest, path, journey: Bearing the pain of waking up and living our own lives!

Our work is deciding how to live our own lives in the time and place—within the context and circumstances—of our living. This is our spiritual work and our calling, to bring forth who we are within the hard and fast realities of physical existence. This is the work of incarnation, giving the spiritual “I am” physical, tangible, actual existence in the world of normal, apparent, reality. We cannot hand this responsibility over to some external authority, some culture, some group, some guru, some guide, and go where we are told to go and do what we are supposed to do. DO NOT DO IT AS YOU SEE IT BEING DONE ABOUT YOU!

Our life is all we have to work with. It is the only tool at our disposal in the task of bringing forth who we were born, and who we are called, and who we are built, to be. If we just follow the other cows to the pasture and back to the barn all our lives long we will live and die as an unconscious cow.

That will never be said of Julie Strope. May it never be said of any of us! May it be said of us that we made the decisions that were needed to be made in order to live our own life, and may the life we live as our own be the life that is ours to live, the life with our name on it. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stay On The Beam!

The value of any religion is the degree to which it connects us with who we are and the life that is our life to live. The spiritual life is the life that is unique to us, the life we are called to incarnate, bring forth, give birth to within the physical world of normal, apparent, reality. The spiritual ground of our existence, is the truth of who we are which demands expression in the world of physical existence. We are to do what brings us forth! Religion that is helpful helps us find the path with our name on it, helps us find the way that leads to ourselves and the life that is ours to live. Religion that is not helpful conceals the way, blocks the path, tells us it knows best, cuts us off from ourselves and assimilates us into the norms and the corporate mind of the religion.

All religions have their rules to live by. Jesus speaks of those rules when he says, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (& Mama Gurus)!" There are no black footprints! There is no blueprint! There are no shortcuts to the life that is your life to live! The only rule to live by is: STAY ON THE BEAM! Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” The only thing to know is when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.

When are you "on the beam"? What gets you off of it? What pretends to be better than the beam? What competes with the beam? How are you going to live in the time left for living? What are you going to do with your life? What is LIFE for you? How much will you LIVE? How will you LIVE within the context and circumstances of your life? These are essential spiritual questions.

We don't need organized religion to help us answer these questions, to help us to stay on the beam, but we need the church as it ought to be! Those who help us look, listen, know, do!

I'm your Mama (Guru)! Listen to me when I say: “DON'T LISTEN TO ME! LISTEN TO YOU!” Learning to listen to yourself is the heart of the spiritual journey. Who helps you hear what you have to say? To whom do you talk in order to hear yourself speak? In order to speak the truth that must be said, heard, lived? That person is, those people are, the church for you. Your church is the people in your life who help you stay on the beam. That is the "soul" purpose of the church, keeping folks on the beam!

Spirituality is not about what you think or believe but what you do. How you live. How well you live aligned with the life that is your LIFE. You cannot do what someone else (the Mama Gurus) tells you to do. Your spiritual practice is living YOUR life! Our LIFE is our spiritual practice. We practice LIVING until we get it down. And practice it after we get it down because we love it, because it is life for us.

What constitutes LIFE for you? How does the way you are living assist the experience of LIFE? Prevent it? How must you change the way you live in order to LIVE? These are essential spiritual questions. What are you going to do to do what is yours to do? To do what has, is, LIFE for you? When will you take up the work of being who you are, of doing what is yours to do? What do you intend, what do you mean, with the life you are living? How closely aligned is your present life with the “beam,” with the life that is your life to live? These are essential spiritual questions. Who helps you ask and answer them?

Our lives are self-adjusting, self-directing, self-correcting internal guidance systems when we live them with time for observation, reflection, examination and exploration. We have to take the time to listen to our lives, to listen to ourselves speak about our lives, to find the images that reflect our lives and listen to them. We are generally unaware of the images and symbols that carry the meaning of our lives and can point us to that meaning when we allow it. But, we are all aware of our symptoms. Symptom must become image! We have to sit with our symptoms and allow the image to immerge and speak or move, to say what it has to say, to show us what it would have us see. This sounds crazy, but it isn’t crazy. It is spiritual. It is spiritual work to listen to our images, to hear what they have to say.

We have to avail ourselves of the guidance that is available to us if we would find our way to the beam, to the path, with our name on it, to the Holy Grail, to the life that is our life to live. This means listening to our body’s response to our experience and finding the images which interpret and express the meaning of that response so that we might commune with our intuition and instinct and STAY ON THE BEAM! Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hey, wait a minute!

There are two fundamental religious orientations. Every religion in the world falls into one or the other category of thought about God. The religion either says: “There is no God but the God we say is God!” Or it says: “There is more to God than we know of God.” Between the two orientations lies a world of difference.

Jews, Christians and Muslims opt for “There is no God but the God we say is God,” which makes for difficult going along the road together, and has led to all manner of persecutions and pogroms and jihads and religious wars and religious wars disguised as political wars over the years.

Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists and other perspectives of the east opt for “There is more to God than we know of God.” Adherents of each religion (And Buddhism claims not to be a religion but there are those prayer flags to consider, and those votive offerings to explain, and that entire pantheon of gods to take into account) may hold other religious perspectives in low esteem (Vietnamese Buddhists don’t use singing bowls to call them to meditation as Tibetan Buddhists do, and are somewhat smug about it), but they don’t have standing armies to protect themselves from one another, or to use in doing one another in.

The two views of God are the primary and essential point of theological demarcation. Everything hinges on the choice we make about God at the beginning. The paths that diverge at that point are very different all along the way. “There is no God but the God we say is God,” closes doors and demands conversion or eternal damnatkion, assimilation or excommunication, agreement or the designation of heretic or infidel. “There is more to God than we know of God” opens doors, invites inquiry and conversation, welcomes divergent views, and laughs at the idea that anyone or any group could ever know enough of God to wrap God up in a creed, or catechism, or book of confessions and brandish it about as though it were the last word, or even the next-to-last word.

So, guess where I stand in the matter. Where I stand in the matter makes it impossible for me to stand before you as the spokesperson for a denomination that knows what you should think about God and places me before you to tell you what that is. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant. It’s a Hindu story. Not a Jewish story, or a Christian story, or a Muslim story. There is more to the elephant than we know of the elephant. But, as we share our perspectives, our life experience, we are enlarged, deepened, expanded, stretched, in our own understanding of the elephant, and grow in our understanding of things spiritual.

But the nature of this growth requires more of us than listening to a monologue once a week, or whenever the mood strikes you. A monologue is a skimming stone. We need a good conversation to take us beneath the surface. So, I’ve created a Beyond 920 Group to oversee the offerings of programs and courses that will open us to the world of spiritual development and that world to us. It’s the next phase of the 920 experience, and will use the atmosphere we have produced here to enable us to be more than we could ever be on our own. And this without compulsion or force or threat of excommunication! Stay tuned, more will be coming soon.

In the meantime, there is the matter of ourselves and our perspective to take into account. The greatest impediment to the development of our spiritual life is our understanding of life, what we think it means to be alive, what we do to feel alive. The way we live is the greatest determinant of the quality and depth of our spiritual life. If we want to grow spiritually, we have to change the way we live.

The spiritual life is not compatible with just any life. We cannot live just any old way and be spiritual. We have to acquiesce to the life that is ours to live but. We cannot hurry that move. Everything in its own time is the foundational spiritual law. We may have to wait awhile before we are ready for the spiritual life. We may have to try other lives on. See how they fit. Live them to their hollow, empty core.

No one can argue us out of our idea of where life is to be found. We have to find out for ourselves if we are right about it. Gay Paree, or its current equivalent, may be working for us. We cannot be spiritual before its time. We cannot live the spiritual life until we have given up on the other lives. The spiritual life waits for the shift in perspective required to see, hear, and understand—to know what is important and do it. Takes time. We have to be at the end of our rope, at the end of the line, before we can change our minds about what is important.

What's the hurry? If the life you are living is filled with meaning and enthusiasm and keeps you interested in what you are doing, live it! If we are in the middle of Gay Paree, eyes wide open, mouth agape, no one can talk us out of it. We have to see the emptiness before we can move on. Yet, in Gay Paree there must be those who talk of moving on, of what is beyond Gay Paree, even when there is none to listen, none to hear. We cannot wait until we have a receptive audience to say what is ours to say. The emperor gets by with no clothes forever when there is collusion.

Someone has to say, "Hey, wait a minute!" for the illusion to begin to fade. “Wal Mart isn't IT. Gay Paree is a sham. Glass beads and shiny plastic. See?” Wal Mart and Gay Paree ARE IT at some point for some of us. And at any point, there is always more to think and see than we are capable of thinking and seeing. We can only think what we are capable of thinking at any point in our lives, only see what we are able to see.

We shouldn't put too much at stake on how we think, see, at any point in our lives. We will turn a corner and think, see, things differently. There is more to God than we know of God. We begin the work of knowing more of God than we know of God, and of anything else—we take up the work of thinking and seeing beyond where we think and see—by seeing the discrepancies in what we think and see, and thinking about them.

Always the discrepancies, the discordances, the contradictions! They wake us up, pull us forward, move us beyond where we are. We have to see our seeing in order to see more than we see. We have to think about our thinking in order to think beyond where we are. Our thinking and our seeing will carry us to the heart of the life that is our life to live, to the path with our name on it, IF we see our seeing and think about our thinking.

Anything is possible with everything on the table, and everything must be always on the table. We must be always standing around the table, looking at what is on the table, talking about what is on the table, saying what we see, and what we also see and working to reconcile the discrepancies.

No matter what we think is so, we have to look for what else is so, for the truth beyond the truth we call truth, for the God beyond the God we say is God. When we think there is no truth beyond the truth we call truth, no God beyond the God we say is God, we are as good as dead. Are dead.

The right kind of company, and the church as it ought to be, is always saying, "Hey wait a minute! How does this square with that?", pointing out the discrepancies, forcing the work of life. The work that deepens us is the work of recognizing and reconciling ourselves with the contradictions at work in our lives. It takes us all to do that work. On our own, we are too shallow to splash. Too lazy to spot the contradictions or come to terms with them.

When we wake up, we wake up to the truth of contradiction and conflict, and to the work of squaring ourselves with how things are. Wholeness, becoming whole, integrity, is the work of recognition and reconciliation. We do not dissolve the tension between opposites but live consciously within it, maintaining it. We live the contradictions, doing one thing in its turn, in its time, with an eye always on the other thing, always honoring the opposition.

You have heard me say that I want to be the best (fill in the blank: father, husband, minister, etc) in all the world and I don't want to be a (fill in the blank) at all. Both sides of the equation are eternally true. Neither cancels out the other. I live in the tension between them constantly, consciously.

And I don’t think, “Oh, I must be a really bad person, a hypocrite, a liar, because I don’t REALLY want what I say I want! Or because I don’t know what I REALLY want!” I REALLY want opposite, mutually exclusive things! And I’m not wrong or bad for doing it! I just REALLY want mutually exclusive things! I “want to have my cake and eat it, too”! So do you.

The trend is to talk us out of our contradictions, to talk us into being one way only. As if! Denying the other side doesn't disappear it! It only makes us crazy, and symptomatic! The work is to be conscious of our contraries and to live them out as appropriately as possible. We need an environment which helps us do that. We have to square ourselves up to our opposing sides and work out their appropriate expression in our lives. Not easy, but very interesting! Where do we go to talk about the work of squaring ourselves up to our contradictions? Who helps us with it? The church as it needs to be! May that be who we are!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

No Advanced Degrees in Spiritual Development!

There are no graduate degrees in spiritual development. There is only you and the life that is yours to live. Live it! That’s it! Oh, but! That’s not what we want to hear! We want to talk about God so that we might understand the nature of the divine/human encounter and be prepared. We want to be informed about how things are on the spiritual plane. We want a steadily graduated series of lectures, with flow charts and definitions (but don’t call them doctrines and don’t use churchy language) to explain the intricacies of the invisible world. But, we don’t want to be told to DO anything!

We seek knowledge of the spiritual life to keep from living the life that is ours to live. But, that IS the spiritual life! Our LIFE is spiritual when it is lived aligned with our (that word again) destiny. When we reduce the spiritual problem to it’s simplest form it comes down to the matter of getting us together with our life, the life that is our life to live. Spirituality is a two part process. There is you and there is your life. Our spiritual work is getting us together with our life. It is not easy.

Our life comes in three manifestations. There is the life that is our life to live, our destiny. There is the life that we wish were our life to live. And there is the life we think we have to live. We have to work out the life we actually live from among these three possibilities. It is no wonder we put off the work that is ours to do: getting together with, living aligned with, the life that is our life to live! No wonder we seek knowledge, read books, sign up for retreats, take pilgrimages! Anything to put off the work required to ferret out the life that is our life to live and live it!

We seek the advanced degrees in spiritual development to keep us from doing what is ours to do: Living the life with our name on it. We drag it out, having to get ourselves square with life, putting the life we wish were our life to live aside, and aligning ourselves with the life that is ours to live. That’s the work. That’s all there is to it, but it’s too much for us. So, we demur. We defer. We put it off. We read another book. Sign up for another workshop. Go to another lecture. Take another pilgrimage. Anything to avoid doing what is ours to do. Anything to not have to worry about living the life that is ours to live.

No one can decide for us what is ours to do, or do for us what is ours to do. No one can relieve us of the burden that is ours, knowing and doing what is ours to do, but we seek relief! "Mama Guru! Tell us what to do!" And, of course, Mama Guru doesn't want to do what is his, hers, to do and is glad for the distraction we provide and happy to tell us what to do. Mama Guru’s are everywhere with advice and counsel. They will read your palms, or your tea leaves, or your stars, or your dreams and tell you what to do.

None of us does what is ours to do, and when someone does we call him, her, a bodhisattva or Christ or Buddha, for doing what is theirs to do, for living their life. Because we recognize the wonder of it, and are blessed by it, but we turn away from doing it ourselves. It’s too hard, too demanding, too risky, too much fraught with uncertainty and insecurity and instability. Who knows what might be asked of us, or might happen to us, or where we might wind up?! Of course, if you think about it, those are the ingredients of a Great Adventure. But, we don’t think about it. We look away. We look for Mama Guru.

Call me Mama Guru. Call me your Mama. And listen to me. It is not hard, really. What is really hard is to NOT be who we are, who we are called to be. How would it look, say, from your death bed, to think of the life you didn’t live because you wanted to be safe and secure, insulated, protected? Why don’t you see how much you can live of the life that is yours to live in the time left for living? Come on. How about it? I’ll tell you all you need to know.

The only knowledge required for spiritual development, growth, is the knowledge of what needs to be done and what of that is ours to do. Simple. Nothing to it. Being clear about the next step is all the clarity you will ever need. Knowing what to do next is all you need to know. Knowing what's important is all you need to know. Knowing what needs doing is all you need to know. You can save a lot of time for living the life that is yours to live in the time left for living by not worrying about all the advice from the experts. Stop reading. Start living. The knowledge that is required for spiritual growth has nothing to do with concepts and doctrines and beliefs and ideas. Know what to do now! Do it! That’s all there is to it!

We can miss the point of our lives all our lives long. We keep missing it denying that we are missing it because it's too painful to confess that we are missing it, have missed it. But don’t think you can’t go back and pick something of it up, of the life that is yours to live. You can! There is time yet left for living. See what you can do. In the church of our experience this is called sin (missing the point) and repentance (turning around). It is getting back on track. Getting back on track has nothing to do with doctrine or belief but with finding our way to the life that is ours to live and living it.

We have the rest of our lives to get together with the life that is our life to live, the one with our name on it. You know what that is called: The search for the holy grail. The holy grail is the life that is our life to live, the container of us, the vehicle of ourselves, the carrier of who we are, the shape of our self. It is who we are built, who we are called, to be.

And, how do we know who that is, who we are called to be? How do we know what life is the life that is ours to live? Glad you asked. We know when the potato salad is too salty and when the tea is not sweet enough. And we know when we are living the life that is our life to live, and when we are not. Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” We only have to know what we know. That means we have to pay attention. We have to be quiet and listen.

The kind of listening that is required in the search for the holy grail is prayer. Prayer is not usually thought of as listening. We do anything BUT listen when we pray. We talk, talk, talk, hardly stopping to breathe. Confession, petition, intercession, praise and thanksgiving. Those constitute the five types of prayer. Nothing about listening anywhere. But, we have to listen for what we have to say. Then we have to listen to what we have to say. Then we have to listen for what else there is to say. Listening is the ground of prayer, the environment in which prayer is prayed.

Prayer is seeing, hearing, understanding. Prayer reveals all, exposes all. We can’t hide anything in prayer. Who do we think we are kidding? Prayer is not diplomacy, positioning, posturing, flattery, sweet talk, smooth talk, or adulation as though God is some powerful old fool. Prayer is the plain statement of all the truth we are capable of telling at every point in our lives. It is our way of hearing what we have to say. When we pray, we over-hear what we have to say and, holding nothing back, explore what else there is to say to the point of seeing all.

We pray ourselves to the point of seeing, hearing, and understanding, and, thus, knowing. We follow that up with doing and being. We live to become the person we know we need to be, living the life we know we need to live out of the awareness that is generated by prayerful listening to all we have to say. There you are. Seeing, hearing and understanding call for the realignment of ourselves with our lives. Seeing how things are, we know what to do about how things are.

And don’t even think about what’s in it for us. The what are we going to get out of it, out of living the life that is ours to live, is the deal killer. What do we think there is beyond having lived the life that is ours to live? The photograph is what I get out of photography! Life is what we get out of living! What more could there be? We spend our lives getting ourselves together with our lives. What we have to show for our effort is an interesting, meaningful life.

This is to say that no conditions apply. We do not negotiate or bargain our way to our destiny! No “If then therefore” clauses! We step into the rest of the time we have for living bent on living OUR life, the life with our name on it, no matter what! We hand ourselves over to our life and allow it to have its way with us. Anything is possible with everything on the table. So, everything is on the table. Nothing is off limits.

The butterfly has to escape the cocoon, has to escape the caterpillar, has to move beyond what got it to where it is, in order to be itself. We have to grow beyond what got us where we are if we hope to be who we are and live the lives that are our lives to live. Spiritual growth is a painful dying to what has gone before in order to live as fully as possible in the time left for living. May we do it with our eyes dancing and our arms spread wide!