Sunday, September 19, 2010

The work that saves the world is becoming who you are.

It is the work of the individual to save the world. We do that, we save the world, by being individuals, by being who we are, and also are, in the world. We pull this off by being true to ourselves, squared up with who we are and who we also are, squared up with our life, with the way things are, with how it is both inside and outside. The work of squaring ourselves up to how it is with us, internally and externally, is the work that brings us forth as individuals and saves the world. This is not easy.

The work of reconciliation, integration, assimilation, individuation, alignment, becoming who we are, doing what is ours to do in each situation as it arises is trumped by many things, and fear and desire are high on the list. The story of the Garden of Eden is the story of turning aside from The Way that is good for the sake of what is also good. Genesis 3:6 reads, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” What is good cancels out what is good.

The good is the enemy of the good. What is the good of the good we call good, of the good we serve? Takes meditative distance to know. To live "from the center" is to live with "meditative distance." It requires focus and concentration to be centered in this here, this now. The farther from the center we live, the greater the attraction to, and influence of, "glass beads and silver mirrors," and other things that catch our eye.

Joseph Campbell was on his college track team and later in life could not attend a track meet without becoming "uncomfortably involved" in the action. We lose the center, the meditative distance, when snared by things we care about. AA doesn't meet in bars, or across the street from bars, or around the corner from bars. There is no immunity. We are not off limits to the "pull of the forbidden fruit." Our work is always at the point of being forgotten and forsaken in favor of all that is “good and pleasing.”

And not only are we distracted by what is attractive and pleasing, but we also have more than we can handle just dealing with the day-to-day ebbs and flows of our life. We build a home in the country long before the subdivision is an idea in some developer's mind, or before the freeway appears on some Department of Transportation design table. No one saw it coming. This is how life is. Life comes out of nowhere to stun and demolish and leave us wondering how in the world we will gather ourselves and respond to THIS.

It takes meditative distance to gather ourselves and face what must be faced. To rise to the occasion. To square ourselves up with the way things are, and do what we can with what we have to work with in responding to THIS. It is not easy, but it is essential that we do the work of offering what is needed to the time and place of our living, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives.

What is being asked of us in each moment, in each situation as it arises? How are we being asked to rise to this occasion, here and now? Ah, but. The objection. The resistance. The very idea! We don't WANT to rise to this, or any, occasion! We want what we want the way we want it when we want it for as long as we want it! And what we want has nothing to do with rising to some occasion! Grr! Snarl! Stomp and Shout (and Pout)!

Our life is asking us to grow up, to square ourselves up with our life, with how it is with us within and without, and we don't want to do it. We don’t want to wake up, grow up, square up, stand up, and do what needs to be done. We want life to bend to our will, to do what we want. We want to be told how to have what we want. We do not want to be told to hand over what we want for the sake of some way that is not our way.

The world is a wasteland that waits for us to understand how things are and reconcile ourselves to it, square ourselves with it. The world is a wasteland waiting for us to hand over what we want for the sake of The Way that is not our idea of any way, much less The Way. Everyone—every thing—suffers in this standoff.

The hero's place, the hero’s role, is not to be the hero with ticker tape parades and fireworks and celebrations long into the night, but to get up each day and rise to the occasion, the occasion she, he, does not want to rise to. THAT is the heroic task. It is never more difficult than doing what is asked of us each day, living in each moment to bring forth the gifts that are ours to give, the genius that is ours to share, in ways that meet the needs of the moment in the way that only we can. But this isn’t the whole of it.

Here’s the rest of the story. The world does not want what we have to offer. That’s the way the world treats its heroes. Jesus is crucified by those he would have gathered under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks. Pay attention here. This is about you. The world does not want us to be who we are, offering what we have to give.

If we are going to become who we are (and who we also are) we have to stand apart from the collective wisdom telling us to not be who we are. But, to do that, to stand apart from the collective is to be seen as Narcissistic, self-indulgent, anti-social. Well. Will we be individuals or not? We will be accused of belonging to "the cult of individuality." Are we going to be individuals or not? The collective will pull all stops in trying to block our development as individuals. Yet, that development is the collective's only hope. Ironic. Paradoxical. And how it is. Square yourself up to it and get yourself going!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Truth as Polarity

Hermes is the messenger of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon, the master of eloquence, interpretation, translation, explanation, right seeing and saying. It is from the word “Hermes” that we get “hermeneutics,” the art of interpreting Biblical texts. I stand before you in the spirit of Hermes to interpret the texts and make plain the truth. It’s what you pay me to do. And, it’s worth noting that the Roman name of Hermes is Mercury, which is also known as Quicksilver, something that shifts, moves, changes quickly, such as the interpretation, understanding, of truth. Now it’s this, now it’s that. Look quickly if you want to see it. It is on the way to becoming something else, perhaps its opposite.

This is the nature of truth. It is not static, but dynamic, changing, shape-shifting, evolving, emerging, unfolding, becoming. And you, we, have to be as quick as it is if we would keep up and know in this moment what is trying to be known here, now. “You don’t keep new wine in old wineskins,” says Jesus, because new wine is still fermenting and will burst the old wineskins that have lost their elasticity and cannot expand to incorporate the new ways of understanding the world, life, ourselves. “It’s a new world, Golda,” says Tevya, and we have to be ready to receive well the world that is changing before our eyes. I don’t think Jesus would have said it in those words, but that’s what he said. This is his theme, the point that he makes over and over. “The way you have thought is not the way to think! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

The Sermon on the Mount, the text in chapters 5, 6 and 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, is Jesus’ vision of what is required to live in the physical, visible, world as envoys, representatives, of the invisible world. Note carefully that it is not warfare that Jesus envisions. The Sermon on the Mount is not the book of Revelation or the message of John the Baptist. It is diametrically opposed to both. It begins with the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…Blessed are you all, right now, exactly as you are!” These words from the man John the Baptist predicted would come “with his winnowing fork in his hand, and clear the threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Jesus’ behavior is so not what John expected that John is reported by Luke (7:18ff) to have sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” What John looked for was not to be delivered in that age, and will not be delivered in some future age. It will not be as we think it will be. This is the nature of truth, which is like quicksilver, turning, changing, becoming more than we ever imagined, something other than we would ever guess.

The nature of truth is reflected in the polarities that define existence: This is the way things are, and this is the way things also are. But which way IS it REALLY?, we ask. Both ways. At the same time. Here’s an example. You know the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus espouses the Golden Rule (which was not original with Jesus by a long stretch): “In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You think that’s clear don’t you? Well, square these two texts with the parable about the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13). Sometimes we love our neighbor as we love ourselves and sometimes we say, “Who made me your caretaker?” (cf. Luke 12:14). Sometimes, we do it this way, and sometimes, we do it that way. And, how do we know when to do what? We take our chances, don’t you know?

The polarities are evident throughout the Sermon on the Mount. After the Beatitudes, which stand in opposition to the apocalyptic expectations of Jesus’ day, Jesus says, “Don’t think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets! I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17), then he spends the rest of the Sermon on the Mount setting aside the popular thinking about the Law and the Prophets. “You have heard it said,” he says time and again, “but I say unto you!” (For instance, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ But I say unto you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you to take your coat, give your cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.’”)

All of which is to say that the truth is expanded, enlarged, deepened by that which is also true, and that we who want things spelled out and made plain have to understand the nature of truth and the task of hermeneutics, interpretation, explanation. We are dealing with quicksilver here, as slippery a substance as there is in the entire collection of substances. Truth will not be nailed down, codified, defined, locked up, walled in, roped, tied and branded. Truth is this AND that. Sometimes it’s like this, and sometimes it’s like that. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Which way IS it? Both ways at the same time. And we live within the polarities, between the opposites, laughing at the very idea of saying how it is really without saying how it also is really. And, if we strive for consistency and constancy and one way only-ness (the RIGHT way, of course), we only show that we don’t have a clue.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I call these things poems

What’s Important

by Jim Dollar

Anything can sound good

to those who aren’t clear

about what’s important.

We can follow the

bright lights down

winding trails

into the deep woods

and wake up wishing

for a hypnotist

to tell us we’re a duck

and feed us corn

out of his hand

so we can be happy

a bit longer

and not have to worry

about what matters

like where we are going

and what we mean

by going there.

Whisper softly to us.

we pray.

Tell us you are God,

or know God,

or talked to God

once on the phone,

and have the latest word

about what we must do

to be pain free

and unburdened

by the weight

of our lives.

The Young Girls

by Jim Dollar

What became of them, do you think,

all those young girls

with dreams

and straight A’s on every

spelling test?

How many were divorced

with children,

diagnosed with breast cancer,

disposed to develop a taste for the

night life

with nothing to show for it

but a fat diamond

or two

and a regular place on the

society pages?

We passed each other notes

in homeroom

and walked away

to do what we could

with our lives

without appreciating the


of good company,

or honoring the


we were glad to

leave behind.


by Jim Dollar

Wolves are just what they are.

Hungry or not they do what wolves do.

You would never mistake a wolf for a milk cow, say

Or a pizza delivery person.

A pizza delivery person

Could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing,

But not a wolf.

A wolf would not parade around in sheep’s clothing,

Baaing and munching grass,

Wondering when to make its move.

Red Toenails

by Jim Dollar

I love bright red polished toenails,

and deep maroon ones.

I love it that a woman

would take the time to paint her toenails.

What could the purpose possibly be?

I love the senseless pursuit of beauty in all forms.

Don’t you?

We Know

by Jim Dollar

We act like we know

exactly what it would take.

This job,

that spouse,

that area of town,

this neighborhood,

this car,

these friends,

those clubs…

It is as though

life is a big house

in the country

and we are interior designers.

We are sure we can get it right,


with different furniture,

new paint,

this wall taken out

and a new bathroom

up stairs.


by Jim Dollar

If we are driving in heavy fog,

we acquiesce to the fog.

We do not dictate to the fog.

We do not drive like we want to,

fog or no fog.

We do not impose our will on the fog.

We do not say, “Damn the fog! Full speed ahead!”

Here’s one for you:

We are driving in heavy fog.