We like to invent structures and traditions to save us from dying by taking the burden of decision making away from us because we hate the agony of choosing when we don’t know what to do, or when we don’t want to do what we know needs to be done. But. Structures are death in disguise. Nothing is more deadly than being sure we know how things ought to be done.
The tendency is to not want to make mistakes when we are afraid of running out of money and time, but we have to make mistakes, learn from them and adjust our living accordingly. We have to know that we don’t know what we are doing, and do what seems to be the most helpful thing to do in the situation as it arises, whether it has ever been done that way or not.
The only kind of freedom that matters is the freedom to do what we think is truly helpful in the situation as it arises. Here is our mission: We are to find what we think would be helpful in each situation as it arises, and do it. That’s all there is to it. But, of course, there is a catch. The catch is that we have to do what we think would be helpful in good faith. It has to spring out of a sincere desire to be helpful to the situation—to offer to the situation what we truly think would be most helpful to the wholeness, the allness of the situation, to the good of the whole, regardless of its implications for us personally. This is a catch because the more we have at stake in the outcome of our actions, the more we stand to gain (or lose) by acting in a certain way, the less likely we are to exhibit good faith in our dealings with one another, or with the world as a whole.
Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” This sentence captures the essence, the weight, and the shame of human history. We are most likely to live in good faith with one another when we have nothing to lose in the interchange. How many treaty’s did the US government make and break with Native American tribes? Need I say more? As soon as it becomes apparent that our agreements are not in what we perceive to be our best interest, our agreements go to the burning barrel. Burning barrels are 55-gallon steel drums in which people in the rural deep south burned their garbage during the 50’s and 60’s. It may still be going on, indicative of the absence of good faith, as is the practice of dumping appliances—freezers, stoves, kitchen sinks—in the woods, or leaving old cars, trucks, busses and tractors there to rust. The absence of good faith is evident everywhere you look if you look long enough, and often it doesn’t take very long.
The world had no choice but to trust that BP was doing its part. BP was not, and still is not, doing its part. BP did not act, and still is not acting, in good faith. We cannot make rules, regulations, laws or binding agreements so air-tight as to force anyone to act in good faith. How many loop-hole lawyers are there? That’s like asking how many tripod positions there are. There isn’t a big-enough number to say how many there are, that’s how many there are.
There are no loop-holes in good faith. There are no ways to get out of doing what would be truly helpful when we offer ourselves in good faith to one another. And there is nothing to make us offer ourselves in good faith to one another. It depends entirely upon our, you guessed it, good faith.
Our ability to act in good faith is really our ability to act unilaterally in good faith. And that is the condition that kills the likelihood of good faith having a long and happy life. The Native Americans acted in good faith. Think they would do it again, knowing what they know now? Remember the parable of the vineyard workers? The workers were hired at various times during the day and the ones who worked the longest were paid the same as those who worked the shortest. Think that vineyard owner could round up workers on the morning of the following day? Acting in good faith is the shortest-lived human endeavor in the history of human endeavors. “Fool me once, bad on you. Fool me twice, bad on me.” And yet, everything depends on our acting in good faith—acting unilaterally in good faith—in relationship with one another and all others. There are two chances of that happening, as they say, fat and slim. But. There is no hope of anything good ever coming of the whole human experiment if we do not, you and I, begin acting unilaterally in good faith with one another and all others, regardless of the outcome, and carrying that out through the rest of our lives.
Need I remind you of the cross hanging behind me on the sanctuary wall? That is the doorway into the world as it ought to be. Life is on the other side of death. We have to die to our ideas of how life ought to be lived if we are going to come to life and be alive. We don’t get there by waiting for BP, or the US government, or anybody else, to go first. We pick ourselves up and walk right through the doorway that is the cross (picking up each day, in each situation as it arises, the cross that is a threshold) by living with good faith in every situation, doing there what we think will be truly helpful in each moment as it unfolds.
We don’t have to know what will be helpful, we only have to offer what we think will be helpful. When we work at being helpful in good faith, the situation will reflect how helpful we are actually being, and we can adjust our efforts accordingly. We learn as we live, and what we learn is how to live in ways that are truly helpful in our relationships with one another and all others. This is the essential lesson, and it is what we are all here to learn. We learn it by living unilaterally in good faith, doing what we think will be helpful in each situation as it arises, every day, for the rest of our lives, no matter what. Who wants to go first?