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.