Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sermon at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church

Luke 9:23-25Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves?”

Homer, in The Odyssey, has Odysseus say: "I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship / and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim."

A sermon should help you with your life and help you with your relationship with God. These are not two things. These are one thing. Jacob Bronowski said, “If you want to know the truth, you have to live in certain ways.” He meant you have to live truthfully. You can’t know the truth if you are kidding yourself about wanting to know the truth, if you aren’t willing to look the truth straight in the eye. If, in the words of Col. Nathan P. Jessup in the movie A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth,” you’ll never know the truth.

We cannot say we are seeking the truth when we are seeking only to confirm our convictions, whether those convictions pertain to the superiority of the Arian race or to the superiority of orthodox Christian dogma. If we live in the service of truth, we have to be open to what our explorations uncover, to what our experience shows us to be true, no matter what our preferences might be. We have to stand apart from our assumptions and prejudices—our prejudgments—in order to know the truth. We have to take the blinders off and live in ways that are truthful—in ways that do not deny or hide from any aspect of truth—if we want to know the truth.

The Bronowski principle applies to knowing God. If we want to know God, we have to live in certain ways. If we want to know God, we have to live a godly life, but. This does not mean what you think it means.

You think a godly life is morally pure. Not so. Jesus was called a glutton and a wine bibber, and a son of Satan. Jesus was accused of blasphemy, heresy and sedition. Jesus was out of accord with every Book of Order of his day. Jesus was as far from the traditional understanding of moral purity as a person could be. The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, were morally pure to the core—as to keeping the Law they were perfect—and they knew nothing of God.

A godly life has nothing to do with moral purity. A godly life has everything to do with living so aligned with the life that is truly our life to live, with the life that needs us to live it because only we can live it—so intent on doing what truly needs to be done in the situation as it arises—that God couldn’t live it any better than we are living it, couldn’t do it any better than we are doing it. When we live like that—living the life that is our life to live and doing what truly needs to be done in the situation as it arises—we say along with Jesus, “The Father and I are one.” We are one with the Father when we are one with the life that is our life to live.

When a sermon helps you live the life that is your life to live, it helps you with your relationship with God. When it helps you with your relationship with God, it helps you with the life that is your life to live. Our life flows from our relationship with God, our relationship with God flows from our life. The two things are one. But, there is a problem.

The problem is that the life that is our life to live is not the life we have in mind for ourselves. This was Adam’s and Eve’s problem, and it is our problem. We suffer from a conflict of interest at the core. There is the life we are built for—the life that needs us to live it—and there is the life we want to live, the life we dream of living, the life we wish were our life to live. Which life will it be? Whose side are we on?

This is a tough one, this whose side are we on question, but if we get it right, it’s smooth sailing all the way. It’s a hard one to get right because we think we know what we are doing. We think we know best. We think we have our true interest at heart. All of this in complete denial of the evidence to the contrary, which establishes without the slightest doubt that fooling ourselves is what we do best, no, telling ourselves what we want to hear is what we do best, no, letting ourselves off the hook is what we do best, no, shooting ourselves in the foot is what we do best... If anything is clear about us it is that we do not have our own best interest at heart but we are sure that we do. It is hard for us to give that up, to hand that over, to say, along with Jesus, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” This is the hardest thing. We need help with it. And that’s exactly what we get, the help we need, if we have what it takes to take what is offered.

Carl Jung says, “In every one of us there is another whom we do not know.” I call this other within our “Invisible Twin.” Our Invisible Twin knows who we are and who we are to be, what the life is that is our life to live, and what kind of help we need to live it—and is there to offer it, but. We want nothing to do with this invisible other. We want what we want and not what we ought to want. This is my definition of sin, by the way, wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. I have another definition of sin that means the same thing: Sin is being wrong about what’s important. We think the wrong things are important. It takes a lot of living to get all of this straight. We are stubborn to a fault, and are sure that what we want IS important, so it takes a while.

And all the while, our Invisible Twin knows what’s what—what we ought to want, what’s truly important, what we ought to be doing with our lives. But, we’ll have none of it. We know what we want and we will have it or else. This makes the transition from the life that we want to live to the life that is truly ours to live like dying. It is a terrible thing to get to the point of saying along with Jesus, “Thy will, not mine be done.” We have to be at the end of our rope to say that, to hit bottom. We have to die to say that—not literally, but metaphorically. It is a handing over of ourselves, of all that we have thought was important. It is a surrender, a recognition that we aren’t all that smart after all and need help with our lives. It is at this point that our Invisible Twin provides us with exactly the help we need.

Who is this Invisible Twin? You could call him Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ within. Or you could call her Mary, the Mother of God. Or you could call this Twin the Holy Spirit that blows where it will. Or you could call our Twin, as Jesus did, “the Father.” Our Twin is as close to God as we can get, and is as much of God as we may be able to know. Our Invisible Twin stands ready to help us with all that we need to live the life that is our life to live, to do what needs to be done in serving what is truly important in each situation as it arises, all our life long. “In each of us there is another, whom we do not know.” And it is our responsibility to know her, to know him, to know what she knows, to know what he knows, and with her help, with his help, to find the life that is truly our life to live and live it.

Now, the life that is our life to live may have nothing to do with what we do to pay the bills. We may pay the bills with one life and live the life that is truly our life to live with another life. We pay the bills with our day job and do the work that is truly ours to do on the side, after hours, as we are able. We have to work it out, when to do what. Working it out involves integrating the opposites, reconciling the contradictions, managing our responsibilities, coming to terms with how things are and how they also are... This is not easy. This is the Hero’s Journey, the Spiritual Quest—not a soft stroll through the flowers of spring.

All of the epic hero stories are about this very thing. They are about us, the life that is our life to live, and the life we wish were ours to live. We stand between two lives, which do we choose? Whose side are we on? The struggle here is with ourselves. This is Jesus in the wilderness struggling with which life he is going to live, and again in Gethsemane, same struggle. Which life is it going to be? Joseph Campbell said, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” The Cyclops has many manifestations. Deciding which life we are going to live in the moment of our living is one manifestation of the Cyclops in our life. Struggling to live the life that is our life to live within the terms and conditions of our life is another manifestation of the Cyclops. We have no reason to expect it to be easy. Luke Skywalker against the Dark Side, Harry Potter against Voldemort, Frodo against Sauron, and you against all that is not easy about your life. This is how things are. Do not let it get you down.

You have all you need to do what needs to be done in each situation as it arises. You have an Invisible Twin who is quite able to help you in the work that is yours to do. You can rely upon her, upon him, entirely. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” And he said, “I will not abandon you or leave you desolate.” Jesus came to connect us with the life that is our life to live by living out before us the life that was his life to live, trusting us to get the idea. True life, abundant life, is found in living the life that needs us to live it, the life that we are built to live, born to live—the life that only we can live. Our work, the Hero’s Journey and the Spiritual Quest—all these are the same thing—is to find our life and live it. No other life will do.

Jesus does not offer us abundant life so that we can go our merry way doing the things that are important to us. Those who would be his disciples must pick up their cross daily and follow him—and their cross is the burden of living the life that is their life to live, not some other, better, brighter, shinier life. Our cross is bringing forth the life that needs us to live it within the terms and conditions of life as it is. The cross is a metaphor for how difficult it is to integrate the opposites and reconcile the contradictions and work it all out. The help that we get from the invisible world does not make things easy—it enables us to do what is hard.

Your parents divorce, or your job is outsourced to India, or the lab report confirms a malignancy. Makes you want to quit. Makes you want to take off your glove and slam it into the dust and say, “If you don’t stop hitting me these hard ground balls, I’m done with this game!” Look, this is heroic stuff that we are doing. Frodo felt the same way we feel. So did Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker and Jesus. But, when we put on the uniform, and pick up the glove, and step onto the field, we have to expect hard ground balls, and be ready for one right after another. When we get out of bed each morning and step into our lives, we have to expect it to not be easy. This is hero’s work we are doing. Of course, it will not be easy!

James Hollis says that his experience playing tackle on his high school football team taught him that no matter how badly he got run over by the opposing lineman on the last play, he had to get up and get ready for the next play. This is how our life is. This is the way things are. It isn’t fair and it isn’t fun much of the time, but this is it—we have to live the life that needs us to live it within this context and these circumstances. And do it every day for the rest of our lives. The good news is that we have all we need to do it IF we will believe that we do, and trust it to be so, and act like it is.

Joseph Campbell says, “We know when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” That’s all we need to know. When we are living the life that needs us to live it, we are on the beam. When we are doing what truly needs us to do it in each situation as it arises, we are on the beam. When we are on the beam we find what we need to live the life that only we can live. We may not find more than we need, but we will find what we need. This is the lesson of the manna in the wilderness, and of Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you desolate.” It does not apply to us when we live any old way we want, only when we step on the beam and say from the heart, “Thy will, not mine, be done,” and live to align ourselves with what our Invisible Twin knows is the path with our name on it.

If you are going to believe in anything, believe in the beam, in the life that needs you to live it, in the path with your name on it, and in the “invisible means of support” that is always with us to assist us along the way. Trust that you will have all you need as you work to find your life and live it—to stay on the beam. Your life may not be easy, but the world will be transformed by your work, and your life will be interesting and meaningful all the way—which would never have been the case if you had lolled poolside the whole time, ordering fruit smoothies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ground Rules for A

Community of Innocence

Communities of Innocence are innocent in the sense that they have no interest, investment, or stake in their members—they do not seek to exploit us in any way. The community simply receives us well, listens to us attentively, asks us questions that enable us to say what we have to say, and tells us what it has learned through its experience that may be helpful in our situation. That's it. What we do with all of this is up to us. Progress along the path cannot be hurried. We proceed at our own pace, in our own time, waking up as we are able. The community of innocence does not try to hurry us along, but accompanies us kindly, with compassion, having nothing to gain and nothing to lose. We speak to hear what we have to say, not to tell others what they need to hear. We find the way together by listening one another to the truth of our lives.

Parker Palmer says, “There are ‘two key Quaker convictions’ upon which this approach is based: Our guidance comes not from external authority but from our Inner Teacher; and we need community to help us clarify and amplify the Inner Teacher’s voice. And Rumi says, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.”

The Confidentiality Rule:

Everything Said Here Stays Here. Everything said here one week stays here that week. We won’t ask anyone to update us on something she, or he, has talked about in the past. If anyone wants to say more about something she, or he, said in a previous conversation, she, or he, can be trusted to do that without inquiry from others. And no one will take the reserve of the group as an indication of a lack of interest or concern.

The Don’t Fix-it Rule:

No Fixing

No Saving

No Advising

No Setting Anyone Straight

No Confronting

No Correcting

No Converting

No Condemning

No Excommunicating

No Telling Another What We Think He, or She, Needs To Hear

The Pass On Anything

At Any Time Rule:

No one has to say anything ever. You can pass on anything at any time. “I think I’ll pass on that,” is always an appropriate response.

The Comfort Rule:

The comfort rule always applies. Live to be appropriately comfortable at all times.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Good Advice 0001

Be aware of what you throw away. Notice every time you dismiss something that catches your eye, or reject something that appears to be useless or repulsive. Every variety of light is the perfect light for some subject. The work of photography is finding the subject that is suited for the light we have to work with. Everything has a hidden side. Your task is to find the blessing.
Photography is about going back to the good places, looking again at what you have seen a hundred times already. Don't think you have seen anything worth seeing just because you've looked it over once or twice. Anything worth seeing once is worth looking at again. Go look. See what happens. It's your arrogance that lets you get by with thinking you know what you will see and it won't be much. Allow yourself to be fooled. Again and again.

What we see is a function of how we look, of what we look at, of what we look for, of the filters we place between ourselves and what's there, before us, waiting to be seen. We have to be receptive to receive what is being offered to us.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life Comes Around

by Jim Dollar

Life is always coming along, coming around, winking at us, flirting with us, asking us if we want to hang out with it for a while.

Is this thing really life or just another pretty face? It's hard to know up front. We have to hang out with it for a while.

Or we can turn it down and go back to reading our book. If it's life, it will come back around in time.

The trouble with putting life off is that we get out of the practice of being alive and settle into being mostly dead. It’s easier to stay dead that way.

Once we get used to being dead, we don't notice life when it walks right up and plants a big, juicy, wet one right on our kisser.

We don't want to get used to being dead. We always want to be looking for life, waiting for life, ready for life, wondering what's taking so long.

While we wait for life to come around, we have to practice being alive, doing the things that are life for us, that have a charge to them.

We have to keep some charged things lying about so we can take them up and practice being alive. Cameras are charged for me. I take photos.

Ideas are charged for me. I write things down. Cooking is charged. I stir something up. Outside is charged. I take a walk. I practice being alive, waiting for life.

I want to stay sharp, keep my edge, ready to tag along with life when it comes around, winking, blowing kisses, saying, "How 'bout me, honey?”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Sermon at Milton Presbyterian Church

We want the Water of Life so that we might do what we want to do: live the life we have in mind. The gift of water is connected with the gift of life. Water for the life we are to live comes forth from that life as we live it. This is the message of the water from the rock. We will find what we need when we live in the service of what has need of us, but we may never have more than we need. This is the message of the manna in the wilderness. Within this life, there is that life. Within that one, this one. We pull that one into this one, live this one on the basis of that one—find what we need to live this one in our association with that one, like water from the rock.

To drink the water Jesus offers we have to become who Jesus was. Jesus does not quench our thirst so that we can go our merry way about the things that are important to us. Those who would be his disciples must pick up their cross daily and follow him—and their cross is the burden of bringing forth their, our, Gift, our Genius, our destiny. Our cross is the price we pay to serve the Gift, the Genius, that is ours to serve—the price we pay to live the life that is ours to live within the here and now of our lives.

All of the epic hero stories are about us, the Gift, and our life. We struggle to bring forth our Gift, our Genius, within the context and circumstances of our life the way Ulysses struggled with the Cyclops. But, we avoid the struggle by putting our service to the Gift on hold until our ducks are in a row, money is in the bank, the kids are out of college, the world is receptive. The truth is that we have no intention of serving the Gift. We have bigger fish to fry. We have our wishes, wants, desires, ambitions, interests, inclinations, etc. to serve.

I talk about serving the Gift with no profit in mind and someone else talks about the Law of Attraction with nothing but profit in mind. Who has the audience? Whoever promises profit profits. Profit at any price is the rule of life. If a profit can be made, a profit will be made. The Gift has to be profitable for us to be interested, it has to benefit us in some immediate, substantial way. There is a problem here.

The problem is that the Gift is NOT profitable! But. We cannot buy with all our profits what the Gift will give you: Meaning. Life. We cannot purchase meaning, life with all of the money we dream of having. The wealth we long for is meaningless. The woman at the well longed for the water of life. The water of life is the service of the Gift, bringing forth the Genius that is ours to give to the world.

The hero goes off on his/her journey, experiences all the trials of heroship, returns with the boon, the Gift, and cannot give it away. Nobody wants it. Jesus stands weeping over Jerusalem: “How often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.” This is the real trial, serving the Gift when no one is interested in what you have to offer. Nobody buys your books, listens, cares. It's just another trial. Another test. You, we, are here to serve the Gift, to bring it forth, to trust ourselves to it no matter what. In the stories of the hero, the boon, the treasure, must always be retrieved from the lair of dragons. To give the Gift we must face the dragons named, So What? Who Cares? Why Try? All of the trials the hero faces test the hero's faith in the Gift and strengthen her/his resolve to serve the Gift no matter what.

Four synonymous terms for "Gift" are "Genius," "Work," "Life," and "Destiny." Our Gift is our Genius is our Work is our Life is our Destiny. The world around us has no conception of Gift, Genius, Work, Life, Destiny. Wealth, Prosperity, Profit, Money are the things it understands.We are not here to convert the world, to wake the world up. We are here to be awake, to be alive, to do our work. The rest is distraction.

Making disciples of all nations is clearly NOT what Jesus was about. The disciples always subvert the work of the master. True disciples BECOME the master, live out of their own authority, don't say, "The Master said..." but say what they have to say. We say what we have to say, do what we have to do, and let it stand or fall. We aren't here to establish our work, but to do it and let it go. But if it doesn't last it doesn't mean anything, right? Wrong. The doing is meaningful. We do what is meaningful to us, what is life for us.

The Gift we bring forth is our Self. The boon we offer to the world is us. Joseph Campbell said, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” Our living brings the world to life. The Gift we give to the world is not something they can put on a shelf and bow to daily. It is the realization of their own Gift to bring out.

All we can be is awake, aware, alive. There is nothing beyond that to know, or do, or have, or be. Being awake wakes others up of they can be awakened. That's it. To think we have to be recognized, worshiped, adored fails the test. It's another trial. We only have to be awake, aware, alive, here and now. Our work may be a service to humankind, but we are not here to serve humankind. We are here to wake up, to be aware and alive.

The work is realization, awareness, waking up, and it comes about through a specific, particular, focus, expression, endeavor. Something we do. We are here to wake ourselves up through something we do. The something we do is our work but the real work is waking up.

Our common task is this: Claim the Gift, open it, share it with the world, and don’t be upset or surprised when they don’t receive it. Your place is to live the Gift in the world, to share the Gift with the world, to bless the world with the Gift. And, if they don’t choose to be blessed, so be it. Your place is not to be recognized, rewarded, accorded places of honor and held in high esteem.

We have to protect the Gift, guard the Gift, defend the Gift, serve the Gift, do right by the Gift at all costs, in all times and places. We cannot take the Gift for granted, ignore it, treat it poorly. We must honor the Gift by serving the Gift in each moment of life.

Truth does not exist in the abstract but in the minute particulars of our lives. It is the truth of how things are and also are. The truth of how things need to be. The truth of what is important. The truth of what can be done. The truth of what needs to be done. The truth of who we are being asked to be by the nature and circumstances of our lives, by the here and now of existence, to make things more like they ought to be, need to be, than they are.

We will always have what we need to do what needs to be done, but. We will not always want to do it. Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is our prayer in every place: “Thy will, not mine be done.” We grow up against our will. Amen! May it be so!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Preached to the Milton Presbyterian Church, Milton, NC

There are themes that run through all I say. One theme is this: I’m here to connect you with God and with your lives. These are not two things. This is one thing. As I connect you with God, I connect you with your life. As I connect you with your life, I connect you with God. God and your life are one thing. You can’t have one without the other. Your life is an expression of God. As you live the life that is your life to live, God becomes visible, is made known.

One of the problems with the church of our experience is that it has disconnected God from our lives. It has told us, taught us, to believe in God apart from our lives. Our lives are “down here,” with us, all own doing, and God is “up there,” “the man upstairs,” you know. Well. There is no man. There are no stairs. God is in our lives, in the life that is our life to live. God comes wrapped up in the life that is truly our life to live. If we want to know God, we have to live in certain ways. We cannot live any way we please. We cannot live any old old life we settle for. We must live the life that is ours, the life that we are called to live. When we embrace that life, our life, we embrace God. This is one theme.

Another theme is that I’m here to tell you to Wake UP! Grow UP! Square Yourself Up With Your Life As It Is And As It Must Be! This is the deep work that is ours to do. We must do it because there is no one but us to do it. The work is difficult—it is so difficult it is called the Hero’s Journey—because we don’t want to do it. We do not want our life as it is or as it must be. We want a different better life. We have ideas, aspirations, dreams, goals, ambitions, and neither life as it is nor life as it must be compliments what we have in mind. Which is why I’m here to tell you to Wake UP! Grow UP! Square Yourself Up With Your Life As It Is And As It Must Be!

Your life as it is is the context and circumstances within which you live. You live in Milton, North Carolina. You do not live in Charlotte or New York or London or Paris. Your life here is different than it would be if you lived somewhere else. You have different choices. Different options. Different opportunities. You were born when and where you were born. Your parents were your parents. All the facts that have governed your life are your facts to square yourself up with. They are different from each others’ facts, from my facts, but we all have the same work to do of squaring ourselves up with the facts that we have had to work with, deal with, all our lives long. We never complete that work. It is always to be done.

These facts of our lives, the time and place of our living, our choices and opportunities, etc. are our fate. They are the things we were born into. The things we cannot help, like the color of our hair or the size of our footprint, or how fast we can run the hundred yard, or now the hundred meter, dash. And we have to square ourselves up with them because they are what they are, and together they form the context and circumstances of our lives.

Now, within that context and those circumstances—within the fate that is ours—we are called to live out our life as it must be. This is our destiny. Our destiny is who we are called to become. Our destiny is what we are capable of doing with our fate, with the facts that determine so much of our life. They don’t determine all of our life, unless we let them, unless we cave into the facts and give into our fate and surrender hopelessly to the context and circumstances of our living in a “Who cares? Why try? What difference does it make?” kind of way.

I am here to remind you that God is with us within the context and circumstances of our lives, within the fate that defines our living, the facts that limit our lives, to enable and assist us in embracing and serving our destiny and becoming who we are capable of being within the limits and boundaries of our lives. And here we are back to the first theme, connecting with God and connecting with our lives and becoming who we are asked to be within the context and circumstances of our life. This is our work. And we are not alone in that work. God is with us in that work to do the work.

This is the thing. God is with us to do the work. God is not with us so that we might live any way we choose, so that we can fritter away our time in trivial pursuits, in entertaining pastimes—so that we can hang out at the mall or take trips and cruses until we die. God is with us for the specific purpose of doing the work of becoming who we are, bringing forth the gifts and the genius that are ours to bring forth in blessing the world. Which is exactly what Abraham’s journey to the Land of Promise is all about.

This is the hero’s journey, the hero’s task. Abraham leaves home in search of home. He leaves his physical home in search of the home of his spirit, his soul. He is in search of where he belongs, in search of what he belongs to. Where we belong—what we belong to—is the Promised Land, which is also the Kingdom of God, which is The New Jerusalem, which is where we and God are as one. This does not exist in some far off future, but is right here and right now when we take up the search for the gift we have been given, for the life we are called to live, for the work that is ours to do, for where we belong, for what we belong to. To take up this search is to, in Jesus’ words, “have life and have it abundantly.” It is to live the life we are called to live, bringing ourselves—the self we are created to be—and God forth into the world of normal, apparent reality.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


We like to quit when things get hard and the fun runs out and we run aground and look around and see no reason for going on. He called her from a hotel phone to ask how she was doing and all. “Why hell no I didn’t walk all the way from Salinas! I got on a plane and into a cab, guitar and all. I sang my way here just like I said I would.” “That’s nice,” she said, “But it won’t do you no good, cause you’re still drinking. You had one before you called. Some people quit the wrong things, but I quit the right one. I wish you well and love you, too, but we’re always leaving something and I left you when you ran out of chances and I ran out of rebounds. And now you’re in a hotel and I’m in a home with a son in the backyard and a daughter due in May, and I hope they grow up to always get themselves walked outta there when it’s time to go and don’t look back wondering how happy they might have been if they’d stayed through one more night of being treated like you treated me.” “I should’ve had another one,” he said. “You should’ve squared yourself up to how it is and known what’s what and that is you can’t get things back like you wish they were. Let it go and go on with it, with wherever it’s going and what happens next. Whatever that is, I hope it’s good for you, but it won’t be me because I had enough when I said I had and walked away.” “Have enough when you say you have and walk away. Could be a song in there,” he said. “If anybody could write it, you could,” she said before wishing him well forever again for the last time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Put everything on the table and consider the table. Find the center of all the contradictions, reconcile the contraries, integrate the opposites by regarding everything with compassion and allowing what needs to happen to become apparent over time. Right action cannot be hurried, but flows naturally from right seeing, right hearing, right understanding.

The flow of The Way, of Life, is this: Right Seeing, Right Hearing, Right Understanding, Right Knowing, Right Doing, Right Being.

We bring compassion to life in offsetting the ruthlessness of life, in compensating for the way nature works and giving mercy, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, justice and peace a place in the world. We are yang to the world’s yin. Together, we produce and serve Tao, and all is one.

Friday, February 11, 2011


That which can be known is both open and closed. The surest fact is shrouded in mystery. Everything is a doorway into the unknown and unknowable. We look and think we see, we look again and see we do not see. We swim in an ocean without shore or floor, trusting ourselves to the waves and relishing the wonder of more than we can know, see, or say.

Facts are to truth as words are to music.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Maintaining right relationship between our “reach” and our “grasp” keeps us vitally stabilized between how things are and how things need to be. In each situation there are forces encouraging and opposing movement and growth, transformation and alteration. What needs to happen here, now? It takes listening to know, and then only time will tell if we heard correctly and heeded well.

Friday, February 04, 2011


More work is done in silence, with silence, than in 10,000 lecture halls and instructional centers.

Life is lived in the space between mutually exclusive opposites. The opposites are without and within. The psyche is at odds with itself. Nothing is one way only. Good and Evil are a perspective shift from becoming the other. We live within the tension of extremes, and in bearing the pain create new possibilities born of the anguish of immobilization. Truth is contradictory. The way things are is counterbalanced by the way things also are, and the two together produce a third, unimaginable, unpredictable, miracle child called The Way, which is found by those who have what it takes to live on the boundary between yin and yang, waiting for the darkness to produce the light necessary to see.

Truth is symmetrical. The polarities of existence are basic to existence. Consciousness integrates the opposites by bringing them together and requiring each to acknowledge the other and seeing where it goes from there. Complimentary opposites are not the essence of contradiction, but of life.

Permission to be is the primary gift. It recognizes the interplay of all that is—of that which is true and that which is also true—and seeks, not eradication but integration, synchronization, harmony, wholeness, completion.

There is how things are (yin) and how things also are (yang), and that is how things are (Tao). Yin plus yang equals Tao.

We live on the boundary between yin and yang, embracing contraries, integrating opposites, reconciling contradictions, serving/producing Tao.

When we do not serve/produce Tao, there is the way things are and there is the way we wish things were, the way we want things to be. When we serve the way we want things to be, we produce a world that is not conducive to life.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Last One

I don’t know what to do with The Last Sunday. So, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing on all the previous Sundays and trust you to take what you want and leave the rest behind.

Nothing is more important than finding and serving your own destiny. Destiny? Did somebody say Destiny? That’s too restrictive! Too limiting! We want to be free to do what we want when we want for as long as we want and then do something else we want. Destiny locks us too much into a life not of our own choosing. But that’s how it is with destiny. We do not choose our destiny, our destiny chooses us like the wand chooses the wizard. It is a radical, subversive, thing to seek and serve our destiny.

Destiny? Oh well, whatever. How 'bout those Packers? Those Steelers? Let's go bowling, Dude. Destiny doesn’t have a chance with us. Our eyes are on other things.

The right of the people to seek and serve their own destiny shall not be infringed! Where has that ever been decreed? We can’t have people serving their own destiny. It would wreck the economy. Tell them to go shopping. Forget their destiny. They should buy whatever makes them happy.

What does happy have to do with it? In returning the ring to the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo is not happy. In serving the Force and resisting the powers of the Dark Side, Luke is not happy. In sitting beneath the Bodhi Tree and refusing the pleasures of the world, the Buddha is not happy. In taking the path with his name on it to Gethsemane and Golgotha, Jesus is not happy. What makes us happy is not the guide to life. Life asks hard things of us.

What sacrifices are we willing to make for the sake of The Beam, the path, the way with our name on it, the life that is our life to live? Sacrifices? Did someone say Sacrifices? We are not interested in sacrifices. We just want to know how to get things to go our way.

Our life is trying, dying, to get our attention. We walk on, unseeing, seeking ends that are pleasing to us. What do we know? Only what we like and don’t like, want and don’t want. That’s no help when it comes to living the life that is ours to live. Who would want to do that? But we are not exactly left in the lurch. There is That Which Knows what is life for us and what is not, That Which Keeps Calling Our Name: Over here! This way! But we walk on. We create our own lonely lurch by walking on.

We aren't here to get things to go our way. What do we know? We are here to go the way that is The Way, the path, the beam, for us. The good news is that it is never too late to start living the life that calls our name, that is our life to live. It is never too late to embrace our destiny. The most important question at any point in our life is "Now what?" What needs to be done here and now? What calls our name here, now?

Our destiny is not some grand conclusion, some glorious achievement. Our destiny is bringing forth who we are in the mundane moments of our lives. Our destiny expresses itself, comes forth, in our response to each situation as it arises, in who we show ourselves to be in each moment. We become who we are in listening to what calls our name in each situation, each moment, as it unfolds before us, and offering our gifts there as needed. Each moment, each situation, offers us another opportunity to align ourselves with our destiny and become who we are, then and there, here and now.

Do you have it in you to be who you are, where you are, when you are, how you are? Not who you would like to be. Not who you wish you were. Who you are. Become who you are! Can you? Can you do it? Can you hand yourself over to yourself? Can you trust yourself to your own sense of direction no matter where the trail goes? Alexis Carrel says we cannot remake ourselves without suffering, for we are both the marble and the sculptor. We are entirely up to us, but every moment calls us forth anew.

Is it a white rabbit, or a red herring, or a wild goose? It takes going to know. We will learn a lot no matter what we follow. We don't know where we are going, what we are doing. Fooling ourselves is what we do best. Are we going or not? Anyone can stay home, safe in the comfortable routines and familiar patterns of life. It's a fool who leaves home searching for home. Are you coming or not? Our life wants to know. Is dying to know.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It is all up to us and those who help us

Well, let’s see… I’ll leave you with what? Hmm… I think, each other. Can’t beat that. I’ll leave you with all of you. That’s all you need. Whoever, okay, whomever, pinned the piece in the handout about the candles this morning did a wonderful job condensing these monologues in to one short statement. You are up to you, and you, and you… Each of you brings forth who you are in the company of those who receive you well and, in so doing, encourage you and sustain you in the work—and in the joy—of being you.

You bring yourself forth in the service of that which is truly important to you. This company encourages you in that work, in the work of knowing and doing what is truly important to you. One thing leads to another, you know, and as you do this important thing, you find yourself led into the next important thing, and before long, you have built—created—a life of true value by doing the things that are important to you. Our work is to craft a life of worth and value by the way we live—by living in the service of things that are important to us—by living on The Beam, the path, the way with our name on it.

We do not find what is important to us, what we truly care about, by thinking about it. We “take up” a lot of things along the lines of “I think I’ll take up oil painting, or golf, or bird watching,” but it’s an idle pastime that we are taking up. Our heart isn’t in it. We are just hanging out with oil painting, or golf, or bird watching, in the absence of something worth our time. I “took up” the alto saxophone once. That lasted until I encountered sharps and flats. I didn’t care that much about alto saxophones.

However, the camera, writing, and walking in the woods have been essentially important to me over time. I care about these things, and go to a good bit of trouble and expense to serve them, and have crafted a life of worth and value (to me) around them. This doesn’t mean that my life is valuable and worthy in an absolute sense, only in a relative sense, as it relates to me. But if I am—if my life is—to have a chance of being worthy and valuable to you, my life and I have to be worthy and valuable to me. I owe it to me to live a life that I hold to be worthy and valuable. If I try to live a life that you, or Those Who Know Best, would hold to be worthy and valuable, I might hate myself and my life even if you, or they, loved it.

And so, the question: What is important to you that no one told you ought to be important? If the only things that are important to you are the things other people have told you ought to be important, then what is important to you is listening to, and pleasing, other people.

Here we come upon the importance of the right kind of company in helping us determine what is worthy and valuable, and live our lives in light of what is truly important to us. Those Who Know Best and Those Who Must Be Pleased are not the right kind of company. The right kind of company is a community of innocence with nothing at stake in our choice of what is important, other than it not be harmful to us or others.

“What are you doing that is truly valuable to you?” A community of innocence asks questions like that. “What are you doing that your soul loves?” These are the questions that put us on the right track, on the beam, on the path, the way, with our name on it. A community of innocence is good for helping us find the way to The Way by asking the right questions and being interested in our replies.

We don't know where value comes from—or values, for that matter—why some things are important to us and not other things. But we cannot deny that we ascribe value to things. What are the things of high value to us? How often do we do the things of high value? Why don't we spend more time doing those things? Why do we spend so much time doing things we don't like, things of low value to us, and so little time doing things we do like, things of high value? Here's what you can do for me, call it a going away present: Do more of the things with high value for you and less of the things with low, or no, value.

Of the free-time you have left for living, how much of it will you spend doing what you like and how much doing what you don't like? Our life's value to us is the degree to which we spend our time doing the things that are important to us, that have value for us. It comes down to clarity and courage. Being clear about what is important to us and being courageous enough to live in its service.

There is a price to be paid for doing what is important to us, and a price to be paid for not doing what is important to us. Which price to pay? What price are we willing to pay to do what is important to us? Our call to make is what price we are going to pay to live, to be alive, in the time left for living. These folks here with you will help you make that call by caring about you in the right kind of way and listening you to the truth of what matters most to you and encouraging you to do it. I leave you all in good company.

Friday, January 21, 2011


What we see is the surface of the unseen.

What we see are metaphors for the mystery. In pointing out the facts, discovering the operating principles, and giving names to all we know, we congratulate ourselves for our knowledge but are splashing in tidal pools oblivious to the great sea of mystery that remains unexplored and waiting for us to swim in its waves.

The truth is always more than can be told. We can pursue truth but we cannot pen truth in and say, “Here it is! This is it!” After we’ve understood all that can be understood, there is still more to understand.

We have to be deliberate in the use of metaphors as a way of saying what cannot be said. Words are an indirect medium in the work to express truth. Music is more direct, and art, and nature.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Start with the Day Job

The first step is to find something you CAN do to support yourself financially, on, or close to, a level at which you are comfortable, that will cause you the least amount of personal turmoil, stress, anguish and pain.

Keep in mind that, while it would be ideal if the work you get paid to do also “feeds your soul,” it may be a better choice for you to find work that feeds your body and provides you with the wherewithal to do what it takes to feed your soul after hours and on weekends.

Of course, there are many voices that will tell you that you should “do what you love” and trust that it will provide you with enough money to live on. My take on this is to say that UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU LOVE enough to make every sacrifice to serve, you would be wise to “find something you CAN do…”

At all times, you have to keep remembering that we have to look for those things which nurture our souls, which “feed” us, “enthuse” us, and fill us with “spirit,” with a passion, and a zeal, and a zest for living. These are the things which attract us, which interest us, which have the power to energize us and provide “life” for us, which motivate us, mobilize us, bring us to life and make us glad we are alive. We don’t often know what they are by thinking about them, but if we are awake, we recognize them when they come along, like white rabbits, nodding to us, winking at us, calling our name.

Monday, January 17, 2011


It comes down to eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that understands, which we develop over time by looking, listening, inquiring—by seeing that we don’t see, perceiving that we haven’t heard, understanding that we don’t have a clue.

The six aspects of life and the process for the unfolding of the way are right seeing, right hearing, right understanding, right knowing, right doing, right being.

Hope is not what we have, it is what we do. Of course, the situation is hopeless. Situations always are. Hope does not live “out there” but “in here.” and we cannot find hope we can only exhibit hope, by being those who are not afraid to live in the situation as it arises, offering there what we have to give, and seeing where it goes.

The one who understands must understand that most people do not care to understand. The understanding one must also understand that her, that his, role is to be a doorstop that keeps open the possibility of understanding for those who are sure they know all they need to know.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Path to the Path

Well. Two thousand down and three to go. Sundays, that is. But it doesn’t mean that because we are down to the final three they are going to be special, like I’ve been saving the best for last. I haven’t been holding out on you. I’ve given you what I’ve had all along. Those of you who have been here all along could say it as well as I can. Here it comes again!

There is you and there is the beam, the path with your name on it, the way that is The Way for you. Everything depends upon you getting on the beam and staying there. We are all here to help you find the beam, the path, The Way and stay on it. We help connect you with the life that is uniquely, individually, your life to live, and then get out of your way. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that you don’t help us help you. You have ideas about the life you want to live, about the life you wish were yours. It’s the Garden of Eden all over again, where there is our life and the life we wish were our life. The solution to the Garden of Eden is the Garden of Gethsemane: “Thy will, not mine, be done,” where the “Thy” is the life that is our life to live, the work that is our work to do. Moving from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane is the spiritual journey. It’s also growing up. Squaring ourselves up to how things are, reconciling ourselves with what is true and what is also true, and taking up the work that is ours to do in living the life that is ours to live, never mind how we wish things were. And we are here to help one another do that work, live that life.

We do that by being a community of innocence. The work of being us, of being who we are, is solitary work. No one can do it for us. The kind of community we need is composed of individuals being themselves. We are here to remind one another that we find the way by getting out of our own way, by opening ourselves to possibilities we would never consider, and following the white rabbit to places we would never go on our own.

The crucial realization is that our life as we are living it isn't working. This could result in suicide, addiction or depression. Or in our waking up to the work that is ours to do. We go one way or the other bases upon our recognition that we aren’t here to have what we want, but to serve what wants us. That is not clear to all of us or to any of us at all times. It is all quite iffy and hangs by a thread. There are no guarantees that we will take up the work that is ours to do and serve the soul that is waiting to come forth into the world.

It is all up to us, but. We are upheld, encouraged and sustained for our work by the communities of innocence which nurture us, knowingly, along the way. Communities of innocence help us with the work of seeing and saying how things are, bearing the impact and imagining fitting responses. The life we live is always a compromise with the facts of life. How alive can we be within the context and circumstances of our lives? It is up to us to work it out, to be as alive as we can be within the context and circumstances of our lives. This is the work of being human. There is nothing more to being human than living aligned with ourselves in light of all that is true in responding appropriately to the time and place of our living.

Helping us to engage reality and respond appropriately in light of all that is true about us is the work of communities of innocence. Communities of innocence help us take into account all that can be taken into account in deciding what to do about how things are. Being conscious of everything pulls the contradictions, the conflicts, the discrepancies, the discordances, into view for us to integrate. On one hand, this. On the other hand, that. Ambivalence and contraries are the matrix of life, the sea in which we all swim.

Consciousness, awareness, is the healing balm that takes all opposites into account and undertakes the work of reconciliation, integration, oneness. To be conscious is to do, to be engaged in, the work of reconciliation, integration. The work of squaring ourselves up to how things are and how they also are.

Consciousness is awareness of all that is true in any moment, and of what needs to be done about it, with it, for the good of all concerned. Consciousness is not a spiritual trick for getting what we want. What we want is the first thing that has to go in the work of consciousness. Nothing blocks awareness like having an agenda. Wanting something keeps us from seeing everything. Being afraid of something keeps us from seeing everything. Nothing blocks awareness like being afraid of what might happen. To be afraid is to have an agenda. Something at stake. Something to gain, something to lose. We have to live as those with nothing at stake, nothing to gain, nothing to lose, in serving the true good of the whole with the life that is ours to live. Ah, but what’s in it for us? We get to be fully alive in the service of our life!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Communities of Innocence

As those of you know who have been here for a while, Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” This means, in part, that you have to care about us, and if you can’t do that, you have to at least live with us in ways that are caring. You have to act like you care about us whether you do or not. And we have to do the same for you. It doesn’t mean that we will pay your car payment or your house note for you, or you for us. But it does mean that we all can count on being cared for here. That we can be seen, listened to, heard, understood and helped to live our lives. Caring is automatic here. That is a part of our commitment to each other—to be with the other in good faith.

Now, look around. Spot the people you do not care for automatically. Work to care for those people, to treat those people caringly. It is part of your covenant with them to be with them here in good faith. We cannot be casual or flip about, or disinterested in, caring for one another. We are upheld and sustained, encouraged and called forth into our lives by the presence of those who love us. We must not dismiss the power of our love in the lives of others, or dismiss the power of their love in our lives.

We have to live in ways that make the world as good a place as possible. Everything hinges on our ability to let things be what they are and do what can be done about it, with it. We are to live in ways that make the world better by the way we live in it. We do that as we care about one another here, in this place, and do what is right by one another.

We all know what is right as it pertains to us. We know when something is right for us and when it is wrong. We know when we are mistreated and when we are honored, respected, cared for. We have no problem nailing what is right and what is not right about the way we are treated. We have to become those who recognize what is right and not right as it pertains to others—and care about them in their situation as we would care about ourselves. And, we have to know when to do what is right by them even at our own expense. We have to know when to stand up for ourselves and when to stand down, when to stand aside, for the sake of others. This is an essential part of the work of growing up, knowing when to stand up for ourselves and when to stand aside for others. This is not something we can get from books or lectures, discussions, resolutions or keeping the rules. We have to trust our own judgment here, our own instinct and intuition and sense of what needs to be done, when, where and how.

But this is frightening, terrifying, painful. Trusting ourselves is not what we do best. Living with uncertainty, insecurity, not-knowing is not what we do best. Running, hiding, denying, pretending, faking it for the sake of safety and security is what we do best. But, if we are not here in good faith, we are doing terrible damage.

We want to run from the moment of uncertainty, of indecision—to hide in comfortable patterns and traditions, to not face what is to be faced, not do what needs to be done. When to do what??? That's what we want to know! We yearn for consistency, constancy, regularity, dependability, predictability. Laws! Rules! Same Old Same Old! The church of our experience! The Tea Party Doctrine! The most difficult truth of life is: Sometimes it's like this and sometimes it's like that. Sometimes we do it this way, sometimes that way. This is more truth than we can handle.

We want to numb the pain of being alive, of bringing ourselves forth, of birthing ourselves anew in each moment, situation, as it arises. Refusing to live, refusing to pay the price of being alive, saves us from the pain of life but we're just hanging out until we die. The pain we would avoid is the birth pangs of our own becoming, which we assist as we step forth into this mess to do what can be done here, now.

We help one another to do the work that is ours to do, squaring up to how things are, doing what we can about it, in each moment, situation. Our work in helping each other do the work that is ours to do is providing communities of innocence for the work that we all must do alone.

Communities of innocence are disinterested in the sense that they have no interest, nothing at stake, in us or the outcomes of our living. Communities of innocence are the source of grace, mercy, and peace in our lives in that they aren't trying to manipulate outcomes. Communities of innocence exist to help us see how things are and help us think our way through what is to be done about it, and do it. And communities of innocence stand at the opposite extreme from the inflammatory rhetoric that castigates and demonizes and puts itself forward as THE way of seeing, thinking, believing, doing, being which is polarizing the world into camps of Good and Evil and creating an atmosphere in which everyone is suspect who is out of line with the Party Line. That would be the Tea Party Line.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said this about the Tucson shootings: "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

We have to oppose inflammatory rhetoric at every point and become aware of the degree to which it impacts our lives. Here follows a prayer of confession that Salem Presbytery recommended to the congregations in the Presbytery on January 9, 2008 in approving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force Report. It becomes increasingly meaningful and appropriate day by day as a watchword for communities of innocence and the work of becoming true human beings:

We acknowledge and confess that we have failed to create an environment that is compassionate, just, and tolerant of the differences which exist among us. We have not learned to oppose what we consider to be evil without becoming evil in our opposition to evil. We too easily “become what we hate” in using violence to confront violence, in allowing our rhetoric to determine our actions, and in using all means necessary in the service of ends we declare to be good. We have closed our eyes to our responsibility to care for those who are belligerent, obnoxious, and inflammatory. We have allowed the anger in others to cultivate anger in ourselves. And, we have failed to create an environment in which our children might live peacefully with the children of those who see things differently than we do. In all of this, we are deeply ashamed, and commit ourselves to the construction of a future in which intolerance is unacceptable and “justice for all” is an abiding reality. We pledge ourselves to the work of making life together truly good on all levels for all people. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Credo, Part VII

Our primary obligation is to our soul. This is fundamental. We are here to serve our soul, not by imposing upon it the practices and standards of religion, but by listening to it and living in sync with its purposes. We serve our soul by exhibiting the values of soul in our lives, by consciously, intentionally, aligning ourselves with its interests and bringing soul to life within the here and now of our living.

Our soul is the interface, the point of contact, of connection, with the invisible world. It stands as a threshold between ourselves and what has always been thought of as God. Soul is the carrier of life that is life, the vitality and the values that form the heart, the core of life. Soul is the vehicle of life and guides us to life. In establishing and maintaining right relationship with soul, we come alive in the truest sense, and live the life that is ours to live.

We collaborate with soul in producing a life that serves the values of soul within the limits and possibilities of physical existence. But when we hit a hard place we think of quitting. We give up too easily, quit too soon. Soul has dealt with restrictions and hardships we cannot imagine, and waits to help us find ways of facing up to and dealing with all that comes our way—in ways that are commensurate with the values of soul.

Within any circumstance, we can serve the values of soul, we can bring to life there what can be brought to life there. In any situation, we can give soul a shot at coming forth, being alive. When it seems to be hopeless, futile, pointless to go on we have to realize it is only our ends that are blocked, our desires that are frustrated. Soul lives for different purposes and calls us to serve those purposes in every situation as it unfolds. Our place is to learn to see life from soul’s point of view.

Our task, our calling, is to bring soul to life within the terms and conditions of life. In each one of us there is a soul that is more or less alive. In some of us soul is mostly dead or completely gone. We have to live in ways that retrieve soul, revive soul, wake soul up, bring our soul to life!

We are here to serve and protect our soul, which is the heart of life and guides us to life. We are best equipped to do that within what I think of as communities of innocence. Innocence is at once vulnerable and invincible. Communities of innocence don’t know any better than to do what is theirs to do in service to soul, and trust that the out come will be what it needs to be—and in that innocent trust there is power to transform, to save, the world.

Communities of innocence have no agenda, no strategy, no purpose beyond supporting the individual work of connecting with, and serving, soul. Communities of innocence help us find our way to our soul and then get out of our way. Communities of innocence have no stake in the outcomes of our lives beyond assisting us in living in sync, aligned, integrated with soul.

Communities of innocence are safe places in the surest sense of the word. Chance the Gardener, or "Chauncey Gardner," the Peter Sellers character in Being There, is an example of safety and security at the heart of innocence. Jesus, the Buddha and the Dali Lama are other examples of safety and security at the heart of innocence.

We build communities of innocence with those people who are safe places for us to be, who do not condemn, convert, advise, direct, exhort, rebuke, chide, ridicule, lecture, etc., but who do indeed challenge us, confront us, question our assumptions, and call us beyond ourselves to a depth and breadth of being we could not manage on our own. The best of the 12-step groups, and the church as it ought to be, rank for me as communities of innocence. Circles of Trust and the Clearness Committee are two places we work to create communities of innocence within this Gathering of Sojourners. It is a work that is worthy of the best effort we can put forth. Essential to that work is “good faith” on the part of each of us. Living together in good faith is the foundation of communities of innocence.

The heart of the kind of community that is necessary for the development of individuals who are serving their soul, living lives aligned with the Way, and bringing forth their gifts in ways that save the world is, what Rumi calls, “good faith.” He says, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” Good faith is the key to our life together. When we live together in good faith we create the communities of innocence that are necessary for the development of right relationship with our soul.

“Good faith” describes our commitment to, our covenant with, each other to do right by one another, to be with one another in ways that are good for the other, to offer the right kind of help in the right kind of way, and to help others help us by doing what is ours to do and not being too needy or too dependent ourselves. It also recognizes the old truism that “good fences make good neighbors,” and carefully observes the Old Testament commandment (One that did not make, but should have, the Top Ten): “Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor’s landmark!” We do not do violence to our neighbors’ boundaries by offering the wrong kind of help in the wrong kind of way, and we trust our neighbors to do right by us as much as they trust us to do right by them.