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The Chinese Understanding of Mu

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By Rev. Annie Holmes

In the biography of Malcolm X, there is a story of how he learned while in prison that some of the rage he had built up in his life was partly caused by self hate. Hate that he felt because he had learned from society that it was evil to be black. The story goes that a fellow inmate sits Malcolm down in the prison library and shows him in a dictionary the definition of the word black. The implications in the dictionary definition were that black is evil, vile and wicked, foreboding and even immoral. Malcolm sat there long after the inmate had left the library. He did not feel evil, or wicked or immoral. He was simply a man with black skin. True, he had made many mistakes. But he realized he had to come to grips with his being black, his blackness, or in other words his shadow side. This simple exercise and how Malcolm came to see black as beautiful, changed Malcolm’s whole life. He entered the prison a victim of his race. He left that prison, a religious leader.

Carl Jung understood, as probably no one else since, the power of the dark side. Although I love the Star Wars movies, I think they had it wrong. The dark side was not the evil side. Jung said darkness was simply the part of us that we are often afraid to look at, and maybe simply because it is unknown. There is a big difference between something being evil and something being simply unknown. The shadow side to Jung was simply the other side of our personalities, the unknown, the unexplored side of our humanness. According to Jung, if we are ever to be fully ourselves, we must embrace our shadow, as Malcolm X embraced his being black. Or in Star Wars, vocabulary, we must embrace our dark side.

For the Chinese, the darkness that holds all wisdom is called the Mu. But the Mu isn’t just darkness, it is a void. And a void is an emptiness. Ah, a space opens up, there is room to grow. To embrace the darkness is to accept the beginning of wisdom in someone’s life. I can’t tell you how this will translate in your life. Only you know what happens to you, for example, when you turn out the lights at night, and lay your head on the pillow and close your eyes and enter that deep, dark world of the unconscious dreams. Or when you sit still for a moment. Sit still long enough to let something different happen in your life.

Like most of us, I too struggle with this concept, the power of the darkness. It is so foreign to what we have been told for most of our lives, and that is; the darkness holds monsters and things that go bump in the night, things we can’t begin to control. But the Chinese Eastern thought says, there is so much more in the dark than we ever thought possible. For it is in this void, the empty space, where, when we learn to empty our minds, in that emptying we might just find our true selves. If you are used to writing with your right hand, Jung says, finding your shadow side is like picking up that pen and learning to write with your left hand. Clumsy at first, but the more you practice, the more familiar it will become. So, placing yourself in the darkness, the quiet, the peaceful may at first seem scary or unfamiliar, but with practice, it too could become a friend, a teacher, a mentor.

How does one practice finding the Mu, being in the void, or living peace? How does a person find the darkness that is the idea of the void of wisdom in the Chinese understanding? Some of the ways that have been given to us as gifts from the great religious traditions of the world are; meditate, taking time to deep breath knowing before we speak what it is we truly want to say. Take into your bodies only those things; movies, reading, food that will nourish and refresh us. If you are what you eat, are you also what you watch on TV and movies and what you read? Truly letting go of regrets and the past, making an effort to be at peace in your life in a new way. Does that sound like blah, blah, blah? I’m sorry if it does, that is not my intent. This concept of letting go of the past is truly a serious issue in most of our lives. It is the ground of our being in many senses, and it doesn’t have to be. But where to put the disappointments, the unfulfilled expectations, the aches, the longings, the pain, the feeling of being unloved, unwanted, all these holes in our souls? Where do you put them if not in the Mu?

There seems to be tragedy everywhere around us these days. And so much of this sorrow seems to be outside of our control. So, how does one find control? Ah, my friends, I think that is the wrong question. The object of the person seeking a spiritual base for their life is not to find control, but to learn how to let go of those things they cannot control anyway. Trust, faith, belief even in the jaws of the most terrible of circumstances is the goal.

I hear people talk about the good old days when neighbors took care of each other, when families lived close by and where there was a “supposed” support for people. Now I know as well as you, that people, including myself, often look to the past or another time, maybe the future, as being more wonderful than the present.

But there does seem to be more of a feeling of isolation among people these days. As I drive by people’s homes it seems their curtains are drawn shut tight, doors locked. People often don’t look at you or greet you in stores, they often seem to brush by you, trying to avoid contact and some feared confrontation contact may create. We seem to be a people in the throes of fear and remoteness, and isolation. The question on many people’s minds seems to be, how can I get through today, this week, this month, this life and not have to truly interact with anyone.

Psychologists have remarked that since 9-11 we have become, even more than before, a people living in the midst of a growing fear and what that fear of others causes, a fear to join in the community, or join the church, or even join a bowling team. We have isolated in a panic of fear.

After I had left my husband and was in that separation period of limbo, I went back and forth about what to do if I was indeed lesbian or not. I had a friend who was working at a Girl Scout Camp and she needed an assistant director. I jumped at the chance to earn some money and be out in nature, swimming, canoeing and being with people other than those of my husband’s church, as he was the Lutheran minister. At the camp I didn’t swim much or canoe, but instead did a lot of counseling with the staff who had myriads of problem and the girls who were homesick and frightened at a week out in the woods without their families. I was going through a real anorexic stage of not eating, not sleeping, walking around like a zombie wondering how life could have gotten so badly so fast for me. My parents were not speaking to me, my siblings wrote to me but had not visited, I was only an hour away from where they lived. My kids would cry on the phone as I talked to them, pleading with me to just come home. It was a hell as I never thought I could feel. I was in hell.

My friend and I were the “nurses” for the camp as we had taken basic CPR and first aid training. One of my jobs was to give an injection twice a day to a camper with diabetes. One day, a very, very, very dark and low day I looked at the package of syringes I used for the camper and had an idea. It would be so easy, I would simply shoot some air into my vein and just lay down and die. And all the pain, all the sorrow, all the doubt, all the dread would just simply fly away, I would be free. I wish I had had stock in Kleenex in those days because I cried it seemed all day, every day. So, I took my little syringe and went to a unit of tents that had no campers for that week.

And I sat on the platform truly willing to give my life over to the pain, make it stop, make my stomach stop hurting, make me stop hurting my kids, my husband everyone who touched me, I felt like I was unable to live with the pain, the excruciating pain. And all I wanted to do was be free, feel free, happy, whole and myself. As I was pondering all of this, I had the needle right there on my vein, I looked up and saw a little girl of about nine years old running from tent to tent, peeking out and laughing and hiding and then running to hide behind the next tent. There were not to be any girls in this unit, it was closed to all campers. I got up and went to find this brazen little girl who dared to defy the rules. There she was again, looking right at me and laughing.

I stopped, paralyzed in horror and misunderstanding. I knew those eyes, I knew those clothes, striped shirt with a plum stain on the right shoulder, those purple shorts, cut offs from my older sister. My blood ran cold, I was looking at myself at 9 years old. How happy I was at nine years old, my hair blowing in the wind, a dirty face and knees, holding my favorite doll. And then I heard the voice of my friend coming to find me, I turned away from me as a young girl for one second, to see my friend running towards me and when I looked back, of course I was gone. Only me, as an adult, holding an empty syringe. My friend calmly took the needle from my hand, and I collapsed. Next thing I knew I was in the nurses cabin covered up and so cold, I couldn’t stop shivering. My friend was holding my hand and singing something softly to me. I tried to tell her what I had seen, me as a 9 year old, but she told me just to sleep and we would talk later.

Well, we never talked later, I haven’t told this story much in the years following the event. Because who would believe it #1. But I believe it was a message to me from me. But I tell this story now because, so many of us have been to the dark night of the soul, hell and beyond, feeling we are alive people in the land of the dead, so we want to be dead too. But I was saved. I was saved by me, or some force that said, “It’s not her time yet. Let’s do something to save this one, at least for awhile.” I believe I saved myself.

I, like most UUs, ministers had not taken spirituality or the finding of a spiritual practice very seriously. Rather, I would talk about how in my past I would dabble in this, in that, not seriously taking on any instruction in anything long-lasting. In fact, for me, spirituality was defining myself in a way that said what I would not do, or what others were doing was what I was against. For example, when I said I was not a Christian any longer than all the things that Christians did, I would not do. I was defined by what I was against. I was for nothing that I could see, at least before that fateful day.

Now, I have a spiritual practice in which I practice almost daily, because without it, I would have died, of a broken heart, a split personality, a trance-like response to life in the face of such choices I simply had to make. As someone once explained it to me, I realized that what they were saying about themselves, was what I too had been feeling in the Girl Scout Camp, but I hadn’t put the same words around the feeling. I see now I needed something deep and sustaining as I was drowning in my own pain, and I reached in, and there was nothing there, not a thing I could hold on to. I knew I needed something in order to hold on to and not to drown. As I listened to this person explaining their emptiness, I knew they were talking about my emptiness too. Spirituality is the fearless inventory of our lives through the lenses of glasses that we fashion and that are also fashioned for us.

Example: Rita at the age of 12 was in a house fire. She barely escaped with her life. But what she has had to deal with for the rest of her life are face and hands scared beyond what most people can tolerate. People either stare in horror, or look away in disgust, Rita tells me as we meet for the first time. She had become an advocate for the sexual abused in the city where she works, with a Ph.D. in psychology. But her life is a game of hide and seek. Hiding her face from the world and seeking for what will make sense in her life. What will pull Rita out of her Prozac fog in order that she will ever, in her life, be able to experience any joy? Is it presumptuous of me as a minister counseling her to say, try a spiritual practice? Does that sound like spitting into the wind?

Rita twists her scarred hands around and around in a nervous gesture as she sits on the couch in my office. She can’t look at me. She tells me she never smiles anymore, she can’t remember the last time she laughed out loud, or felt excited about anything in her life. She loves her therapist, counseling is doing some good. She doesn’t want to die anymore. And her question to me is, now that she has escaped death, how should she live? I found that to be one of the most poignant questions ever asked me; indeed I ask with her, how now should she live?

It was only because of a brush with my own death that I could say to her, “Rita, there is a way to experience joy even after you have walked through hell, walked through the land of the dead, there is a way to come out of even that, as a living creature. It is not such a big secret, really, it is quite simple, find a spiritual practice.” Funny, but when I said that, it was the first time she had looked up at me in all the hours that we had spent together. “What?” she asked. The she started laughing. “What did you say?” she said, almost daring me to say my ridiculous statement again, so I took a deep breath and said again, “Find a spiritual practice.”

Gandhi was supposed to give a lecture on how to find the path to peace. Hundreds of his followers met outside his small house. They all pushed, and shoved and tried to get close to the great man so as to hear what he was going to say. He came out into the small courtyard and sat down in the tiny space reserved for him. Ignoring the microphone he took out a small length of beads, closed his eyes and began moving the beads slowly through his fingers and chanting softly. People at first were curious. Then they began to get restless. What was he waiting for, they asked each other? They had come for a lecture on peace. He was just sitting there, eyes closed, the beads moving slowly through his fingers, seemingly unaware of the hundreds of eyes upon him.

Then, one person got it. They understood and they too sat down where they were and took out their own beads and quietly closed their eyes and moved their beads through their fingers. And so it went that afternoon, dozens of people finally understood and sat with the Gandhi G. and learned the lesson of peace. They learned, finding peace, seeking the meaning of the great void, the darkness, finding the wisdom of Mu was an active thing. And without a word, Gandhi taught them. With his actions he taught peace by becoming peaceful.

Winter is the quintessential time for darkness. We awake to darkness, it is dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. The evenings are long and dark and often dreary. But they are only so if you didn’t know the deeper meaning of the dark and the void and the Mu. Try to imagine a time of harmony, serenity, the opening of a door to all the wisdom you need in your life residing right now in your heart. I am going to urge you to sit a few minutes each night in the dark and take time to feel its power.

If you feel you have no foundation, you are probably right, you don’t. If you feel that if one more circumstance in your life goes wrong, you will simply bust apart, you are probably right. If you are sure that there is no answer to your question, no solution to your wonderings, you are wrong. There are answers, not always the ones we want to hear, but the answers are there and sometimes they are only a whisper away. Light filaments of wisdom that gently touch our consciousness. But like anything in our lives we must nurture this wisdom, it probably will not hit you over that head with a sledge hammer, or numb you like drugs, it is quieter, softer, more subtle. And it takes time.

You must want a spiritual base, you must want to penetrate the Mu, the void, embrace the darkness. This can be done from a wheel chair, or your easy chair. You can access this understanding, as Gandhi, Malcolm X, or myself or Rita. Don’t think it is enough of a life foundation to build for yourself, by simply rejecting what others have embraced. What will you embrace? Meditation, spiritual reading, fasting, journaling, art, silence, journeying, chanting, active practices of letting go, dancing, dream work, cleansing, what? What will it be? The Mu is just sitting quietly there, waiting, hoping you will have the courage to do the journey to get to the good stuff.

Feel what it is like to be quiet in the darkness of the evening or the coming night. If panic sets in, breath, light a candle at first, until you can let yourself feel the magic of the darkness. Have someone there with you if that helps in the beginning. All of the great world’s traditions have found that all healing, all wisdom, all grace and peace begins with the Mu, the darkness, the void. Now, you can have it too.

The Problem of Evil

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by Rev. Annie Holmes

A friend of mine traveling in Peru I think hit upon the problem, the difficulties in talking about good and evil when she shared this story. The group she was traveling with had a chance to take a course in photography at a University in Peru. One day their assignment was to go out and take pictures of what they perceived to be goodness. They brought back pictures of waterfalls, wildlife, etc. one student brought back a picture of a brick wall.

 

The Professor looked askance at the picture. The next day they were to bring back pictures of evil. The student who had brought in the picture of the brick wall brought a photograph of an ugly, rusty nail pounded into the side of the brick building. The professor was incensed, “What is the meaning of this?’ he roared. “I can see the nail is ugly, but I fail to see how it is evil.” The student calmly explained, “The picture I took the other day of the brick building reminded me of the good days I had at a school just like the one in the picture. The nail is evil to me because on such a nail our hands were tied above our heads as were whipped for various offensives.” The Professor did not accept her photographs. I have mused on the ambiguity of the meaning of those pictures for many years. I have also been amazed at how subjective the defining of what is good or evil can be. The biggest problem with the ideas of good and evil is that they are so darned hard to clearly and cleanly define. They are muddy and grey and if we are to be true to ourselves, very subjective.

 

Would you agree that what we define as good or evil is certainly a part of our past, our prejudices, our experiences and what we have been taught?

I like to remind myself that even though some in government, the military and certain churches think it is easy to define evil, that as a Taoist, I know in my heart of hearts that defining evil is a very subjective and a very complex thing to do. Defining evil has been a problem for people on this planet for centuries. I have found the most honest approaches to defining evil seems to be in the questions. So, I am sorry if I don’t have a lot of answers today, as I pondered this subject of who or what is evil, please bear with me because I just have so many questions.

 

Why do seemingly bad things happen to seemingly good people? If there is a God and he/she/it is all powerful and all good, why is evil allowed in our world? Why do some people continue to hurt others and themselves? Yes, it seems to me the most honest response to seemingly hurtful people and events is the question. Eli Wesel, Holocaust survivor, author of the book, Night, is quoted as saying the honest question is almost always greater than any one answer.

 

My whole point this morning is to warn you, caution you, admonish you to beware of letting others define for you what is good or evil. Discovering what we each feel is evil or good in our lives is a tricky business. It is not a clean or easy or exact science or does it become easier to define as we grow older.

Have we been so conditioned to believe that there exists pure evil and utter goodness? In blind faith have we been so taught to believe that what we define often in ignorance, is evil, is really a situation we only know a little about? And if we did indeed know more, more information that is, we would in humility, say, “Oh, I guess I really didn’t understand the full scale of this person, or this situation.” And often in horror, we have had as individuals, as a family, as a church, as a nation, backtrack, take back, reevaluate, and look what has been lost in the backtracking.

 

Be patient with this election, be patient with people that it seems is so easy to condemn. Be patient with yourself. These trends in our society and in ourselves are hard to change, because we have been told, pure evil and pure goodness are possible. And it is all much more muddy than that. I remember growing up in an all Catholic neighborhood, until one day a Lutheran family moved in down the block. We were expressly forbidden from playing with them or inviting them into our evening games, as they were obviously “the other” and damned and to be avoided. Now, how silly was that. But my parents believed the Lutherans, and all other faiths inevitable descent into hell, so to avoid them at all costs was sensible. So, when I married a Lutheran man who was going to be a Lutheran minister, you can understand their reluctance and even condemnation of him and then eventually of me.

 

We do this all the time. We create evil by calling someone who is different, or sick, or wounded, or in total disagreement with us “the Other.” Jews at one time were the other, gays are often the others. To demonize someone is to be a part of creating evil in the world. And unfortunately, we do this all the time.

Who won the debate on Wednesday, either the good guy, or the bad guy, depending on which person you ask. Now doesn’t that seem silly? To demonize anyone is expressly forbidden by our first principle, to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every human person. These principles are not cute and warm and cuddly, they are challenging, and demand something from us, that we will not be lemmings and follow a trend because it makes us feel righteous and true by putting others in the category or evil.

 

Our country is in this factious state of total bipartisan mania, where these two main parties can no longer work together because the media has seen an opportunity to play on our fears and our needs. Both parties cannot be right, we are told, only one can. Well, we know in our heart of hearts where that thinking has lead us and where it will continue to lead us. On both sides of the political fence the other has been demonized and therefore now we are feeling the effects of that; deadlock, impasse, stalemates, recriminations and more fear. Both sides are saying, “If our guy doesn’t get it, life as we know it is over.”

 

How can we begin to see that on both sides of the political fence we are both feeling the same thing? And if we, just the few of us here this morning, began to change how we feel, how we speak, how we continually emphasize the differences, there could be real healing, real change, and a different way of life than demonizing the other. And, I know what you’re going to say, even if I stop demonizing them, they won’t stop demonizing me. And that is probably true. But when did courageous people ever act a certain way because of other than their deep convictions that love was the right way to live. And yes, because of their love they were often laughed at, even killed, but if even death didn’t stop them, how can it stop us, when we know in our heart of hearts it is the only way to live.

Some say money is the root of all evil, yet who among us lives without money? Who among us would say you would want less money in your life? The eating of flesh to a vegetarian is evil, some say violence is evil and yet who among us would not break someone’s ribs to save their life in the Heimlich maneuver? Who among us would not use violence on someone who was injuring someone we loved? We say war is wrong, but here we are in the midst of fighting wars all over the world that our taxes are paying for – to what – save us from the new evil threat in our world. Do the ends in any action justify the means? If we take a supposed hardened criminal and we execute them, does that not make us killers too?

 

And yet, since Sept. 11th there has been a constant call for justice, fairness and vengeance. Why was it so easy to murder Osama ben Laden? Had we convinced ourselves he was pure evil and didn’t even deserve a trial? And what of his followers who saw him as a saint and the United States as evil? Where does all this end? In might being right? What about that feels good or bad? It has been proven again and again that when you have been hurt or wounded, or those who love have been wounded and murdered by what you may define as an evil person – killing, hurting, wounding in return as a response does not bring about the desired end. And what would be a desired end? Maybe never having the wounding, the murder the hurt happen in the first place, but you can’t turn back time, and you can’t return violence for violence and expect a good outcome. Peace at any price is also mistaken, illogical, it’s like believing you can force someone to love you.

 

Hollywood wants you to believe that there is such a thing as a totally good person and then, that there is total evilness. A good example of this was the movie Ghost with Patrick Swaize and Demi Moore. I’m sorry folks but as beautiful as Patrick Swaize was, he was not perfect goodness, nor was the friend who had him murdered in the movie, pure evil. Real life is not the movies. All people, all situations are a mixture. Some churches tell a story and would like you to believe that there is a person, a being, a reality that is pure evil, you know him…Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot. Well I have a story too, and this is a story I love to tell, mostly because it is virtually unknown and yet so germane to the topic of defining good or evil in the world. Because we cannot escape evil, either we name it or blame it on others. How often has Satan taken the wrap for all the evil in the world?

 

The Hebrew root for Satan comes from the stem “stn” which means one who obstructs or acts as an adversary. The Greek term diabolos, later translated “devil” literally means one who throws something across one’s path. The satan’s presence in a story often accounted for unexpected obstacles or reversals of fortune. In the Hebrew Bible this supernatural character, the satan, is by God’s own order or permission, blocking or opposing human plans and desires that may otherwise hurt them. Using the idea that if the path is bad the obstruction must be good. Satan in these stories actually saved people, often from themselves.

 

In the beginning Satan was a messenger of God, a good servant. Thus the satan may simply have been sent by the Lord to protect a person from harm.

Satan is a member of God’s royal court in the Book of Job. IHe is the fish that swallows Jonah in the book of Jonah, the angel of death in the Exodus story and in many stories that force that saves people often from themselves. He is trickster in Native stories. Kali in the Hindu tradition.

 

And you must remember that the Bible we have today is certainly not complete. There are many books that have been called over the centuries the “hidden books” of the Bible. Some of these are the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Book of Watchers, The Book of Jubilees, and one we are interested in today, one called the Book of Enoch – that tells the story of God creating Adam and Eve and commanding the angels to bow down to their younger human siblings. Michael the Archangel obeyed and Satan refused and thus the problem of evil begins in sibling rivalry. The story makes the point that Satan is not a distant enemy but rather one of the intimates of God therefore, after the fall, he becomes for humans an intimate influence.

 

Later in the Bible we see in the 4 Gospels we do have a clue that Jesus’ opponents are influenced by this new Satan, now a figure, like Darth Vader. This is the first time Satan is used as a person, a force per se that has the power to influence people. I get the idea that this is where the image of Satan began to be used to describe people and label them as evil, if it fit a person’s or group’s purpose. This idea of Satan turns into the figure Lucifer later in history. In the book of Isaiah there is a story of a star falling from the heavens and descending into the depths of the pit of the underworld. Nearly two and a half thousand years after that writing, his name was translated into Latin as Lucifer the (light-bearer) and in the 1600’s John Milton created him as the protagonist, the central male figure of his epic “Paradise Lost.”

 

For me, knowing a bit of the history of Satan and Lucifer, it is hard for me to believe the panic and the stress that is given to this personification of evil and his supposed influence over humans in our world. Rather, I begin to realize these were stories to teach, stories to try to explain, one theory so to speak of why there is evil in the world. I am always amazed at the importance Satan has in the theological conversations of some churches. I have been in religious discussions where I felt the topic of Satan’s power in the world was given more time and energy than God’s role. It seems to me the Satan/Lucifer stories are attempts to personify and therefore hold outside of ourselves a negative force in the world we cannot understand. This is the epitome of scapegoating, only on a supernatural level.

 

It isn’t until the New Testament that we begin to see the trend, the tendency of using the figure of Satan as characterizing an evil force in the world that is alive and powerful, in some instances I believe, made out to be almost as powerful as God. So when the Jews conspire to kill Jesus, it is implied they are acting as agents of evil. This trend of “the devil made me do it” idea, has been with us for centuries.

 

I believe the problem of evil in the world has less to do with a satan, more to do with a misunderstanding of why certain people do the things they do. And if you are to agree with me that evil has more to do than simply a devil in the world, what could be some other theories? Ernest Becker in his book, Escape from Evil tells us that what people fear most are three things; mutilation, isolation and death. Buried so deep within us is the fear of our own demise. In the face of that fear we create a tranquil facade and only occasionally does our desperation show through. He believes that evil acts come when people try to be other than they are, other than human, other than finite, other than mortal.

 

That is the basis, says Becker, of the individual evil that we deal with everyday. He says that when we act out of fear of mutilation, isolation and death, people are apt to do things they wouldn’t normally do. You could say fear and terror made them do it.

What is national, corporate, or civic evil acts? These evil acts come when people of a nation, or a government, forget their history and who they are. When they try to act outside of the morality, their ethical stances, or when they work under delusions of what will bring happiness, peace, or satisfaction. Becker uses WWII as an example. Fascism/Nazism became so popular so quickly because people were so willing to give over their destiny to the state and a charismatic leader. They believed in the political machine that promised to engineer the world to raise people above their natural destiny. So, people put their trust in a system rather than in what they knew to be true in their hearts as humans.

 

There is personal goodness and evil that we do, and there is social evil and goodness that as a nation we do or refuse to do. Social evil tries to generate enough power to overcome the same basic feelings of human helplessness we feel as individuals. Remember Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood? His conclusion is that people acting together may do despicable deeds they would never do on their own. Within a powerlessness we feel in our bones and in our world, war to some must feel very powerful. As individuals and as a nation we have the possibilities of performing acts of great misfortune and great goodness. But when guilt, helplessness, quick fixes, forgetting our history, our responsibility to the other and to what ails us as the goal, as a nation and as individuals we are all in trouble.

 

One stance on evil in the world that seems to be an acceptable definition for many theologians and psychologists of pure evil is scapegoating. As in the case of Germany in the 1930’s we saw the Jews, Gays and Gypsies becoming the true subhuman group and plagues to society. This labeling enabled those with the German superhuman theory to support racial superiority. Shame and blame, naming and violence against a particular group seems to be one true evil position in our world that many will agree upon. When we are willing to sacrifice certain individuals thinking if any one person or group of persons is eliminated that will bring us purity, power or freedom.

Evil and goodness are never that easy, that clean, that crystal clear as many would love to believe to define or understand. You see because the real problem with evil is that the power for goodness and the negative lies equally potential in each one of us, and in every government. And the complexity even deepens when we realize as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley author of Frankenstein, reminds us that “no person chooses evil because it is evil, they only mistake it for happiness, the good they seek.”

 

So in my unease, my constant dilemma I try to do a few things in these times to help me remember the complexities and the conflicts and the entanglements of this naming and blaming.

One, I remember not to jump too quickly to conclusions of naming someone or something good or evil. I am reminded of the story from the Taoist tradition that talks of a farmer who losses all his horses to thieves. His neighbors come and tell him how sorry they are and how terrible this must be for him, and the farmer answers, MAYBE! Then some of the horses return and they bring with them some of the best mares of the land and they give birth to beautiful new horses to make the farmer wealthier than he ever was. And the neighbors come to his house to celebrate his apparent good luck, and the farmer answers, MAYBE! Then the farmer’s son is out riding one of these beautiful new horses and falls and breaks his leg and the leg needs to be amputated and again the neighbors come and say how terrible this happened, the farmer answers, MAYBE! A war breaks out in the country and all the young men go to battle and many are killed and the farmer is able to keep his son home with him.

And on and on the story could go. And its lesson reminds us of the yin/yang. That all people, all situations contain their opposites. There is a piece of good in the apparent unfavorable and a piece of unfortunate in the apparent good. I have learned to try to see beyond the surface and look into the heart of people and situations remembering the piece of black in the white and the white in the black.

Secondly, I remember that there is the possibility of miracles happening every day. People who would have been called unredeemable, like Scrooge in the Dickens novel, are transformed by means we can never be too sure of their source.

Thirdly, I am constantly reminded that the force that has lasting changes in people in our world is love. You see, I believe with Anne Frank, that there is a possibility for good in the world that is equally as strong as the evil we perceive. So, I try to take a deep breath and realize each situation, each person is more complicated, complex and obscure than some would have me believe.

Lastly, I believe we are not powerless in the world. Our work for good, our UU principles have within them the healing and saving quality to deliver the world from simple answers and simple solutions. There is an anonymous memorable saying that sums up what I hope each of you will remember in the coming days and weeks, “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now, let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

 

Buddha and the Four Grave Precepts

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“The Four Grave Precepts”
Following the Buddha and the Middle Path
Rev. Annie Holmes

If you really want to understand a belief, or a religion, go the source, start at the beginning. Buddhism begins with a person, a man, an individual just like you and me.  And what is amazing, astounding and holy-other worldly is not that this person was any more unique than you or I, or that they performed miracles or walked on water, because they didn’t. But what makes them remembered, revered and loved is simply because they were themselves, 100%.  Yes, the Buddha had his eyes opened and that changed everything.
I always assumed growing up as a Catholic that the church rose up fully formed and complete, as if out of a vacuum, but of course, that is not the way it happened.  Before the Christian church had its beginnings, many other faith traditions had been in place for thousands of years.  So, for example when the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask him just who he was, there were echoes of that same question asked of a man 600 years before Jesus lived. People had also come to the Buddha and asked him just who he thought he was. “Are you a god?” they asked, “No” he smiled, “Are you a angel?” “No” was the reply again, “Are you the devil?”  Again, “No.”  “Then who are you?” they demanded, and the Buddha answered, “I am awake.”   And that is the Buddhist message in a nutshell, seeking the state of living that reflects being truly awake.

I hope this is a story that we can know in our hearts.  It is the story of a very brave and valiant person who decided that discovering the spiritual life was not something he was going to relegate to the left over time in his life, rather it was to be the center, the focus, the nuclei of his time and energy.  I know, I know we often look askance at those people, wondering how they can be so frivolous as to spend the good hours that God gave us, seeking what – how to be more holy, how to be more themselves,  how to be more saintly, how to be more sacred, how to be what— the founder of a way of life that would change millions of others lives, well the answer is yes.  So, how does an ordinary person, you and me for instance, how does someone do that? Well, this is how it is…

The Buddha born in 563 BCE, in what is now Nepal, near the Indian border and was born into the home of a King, therefore making him a prince. His full name was Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakyas.  Siddhartha was his given name, Gautama his surname and Sakya the name of the clan to which his family belonged.  There were many kingdoms in the India of that day so it may be more accurate to think of his father as a feudal lord, but his upbringing according to the times was none the less very luxurious.  He appears to have been exceptionally handsome and there are numerous references to the “perfection of his visible body.”  At sixteen he married a neighboring princess, Yashodhara, who bore a son whom they called Rahula.

Despite being a person who “had it all” in the worldly sense, there settled over him, in his twenties, a discontent that was to lead eventually to a complete break with his family. The source of this discontent is told in the legend of the Four Passing Sights, one of the most celebrated calls to adventure in all world literature, says Huston Smith, world renowned writer of world religions in his compelling book, “Buddhism.”

When Siddhartha was born his father summoned fortune-tellers to find out what the future held for his heir. All agreed that this was no usual child, and importantly, his career would be crossed with one challenge. If he remained within the world, the fortune tellers told the king, he would unify India and become its greatest conqueror, or a wheel turner, or a universal king. If, on the other hand, he forsook the world, he would become  not a world conqueror, but a world redeemer.  Faced with this option, his father determined to steer his son toward staying in the world at all costs.  No effort was spared to keep the prince attached to the world. Specifically, the prince was to be shielded from contact with sickness, growing old and death. Now these three pieces of humanity’s ills are very important because they become the basis of Buddhism’s idea of what is wrong with the world and humanity and what you, as an individual, can do about it in your life.  But I digress, back to the story…

One day out on a ride Siddhartha catches a glimpse of an old man, gray-haired, trembling, bent body, leaning on a staff.  That day Siddhartha learned the fact of old age. On a second ride he encountered a woman racked with leprosy laying by the roadside, and on a third journey a corpse burning on a funeral pyre. Finally on a fourth occasion he saw a monk with shaven head, ochre robe and a bowl, and on that day he learned of the life of withdrawal from the world in search of religious/spiritual freedom.

The story says that disease, old age and death made Siddhartha despair of finding fulfillment while living in the palace.  How many times have we too felt despair, misery and hopelessness of life when looking, experiencing or watching people we love or ourselves grow old, suffer diseases and die?

Once Siddhartha knew the inevitability of bodily pain and death, earthly pleasures lost their charm.  He determined to quit the trap of distractions his life in the palace had become, and decided to follow the call of a truth-seeker.  One night in his 29th year he made the break, called his Great Going Forth.  Making his way in the post-midnight hours to where his wife and son were sleeping he bade them both a silent good-bye, and then ordered the gatekeeper to bridle his great white horse. The two mounted and rode off toward the forest. Reaching its edge at daybreak, Gautama changed clothes with the attendant, who returned with the horse to break the news to Siddhartha‘s family. “Tell my father,” said Gautama, “there is no reason he should grieve. He will perhaps say it was too early for me to leave for the forest. But even if affection should prevent me from leaving my family just now of my own accord, in due course death would tear us apart, and in that we would have no say. Birds settle on a tree for a while and then go their separate ways again.  The meeting of all living beings must likewise inevitably end in their parting. This world passes away and disappoints the hopes of everlasting attachment. It is therefore unwise to have a sense of ownership for people who are united with us as in a dream – for only a short while we feel; we are one but we are not in fact.” Then he shaved his head and clothed in rags he plunged into the forest in search of enlightenment.

Six years followed during which his full energies were concentrated toward this end, of finding release from the wheel of karma.  He learned a great deal about raja yoga, the yoga of meditation, and Hindu philosophy as well. In time he felt he had mastered the deepest mystical states his teachers knew, and they could teach him nothing more.  His next step was to join a group of ascetics and give their way an honest try.  Was it his body that was holding him back, he asked himself?  He would break its power and crush its interference.  A man of enormous will power, the Buddha was not to be outdone by his associates. In every austerity they proposed he did more.  He ate so little – six grains of rice a day during one of his fast, that he is quoted as saying, “When I thought I would touch the skin of my stomach I actually took hold of my spine.” In the end he grew so weak that he fell into a faint; and if a passing cow herdess had not stopped to feed him warm rice gruel, he could have easily died.  This experience taught him the futility of asceticism.  He had given this experiment all anyone could give and it had not succeeded, it had not brought enlightenment.

But he discovered, negative experiences can bring their own lessons, and between the extremes of asceticism on the one hand and indulgence on the other, he discovered the principle of the middle way.  As he lay close to death by the Ganges River, he looked up and saw a father and a son taking their boat, while pulling a boat behind them of cows down the river to pasture.  The father was saying to the son, as the smaller boat behind them was being pulled along, “Pull the rope too tight and it will break, let it go too loose and you will lose the tension to pull the boat along, it will bump us. Therefore, my son, keep the rope at a perfect balance and all will go well.”  And there it was, the clue Siddhartha had been looking for, the middle path, the middle way.

So, having turned his back on mortification, he now devoted the final phase of his quest to a combination of rigorous thought and deep concentration.  One evening near Gaya in northeast India, he sat down under a Bo Tree, short for Bodhi, or enlightenment. The place was later named the Immovable Spot for legend says that the Buddha, sensing a breakthrough was near, seated himself on that epoch-making evening vowing not to arise until he was enlightened.
Buddha was tempted sorely on this night before his ministry to the world, and we see parallels in the way that the Jesus story is told of how he too suffered temptations in the desert before his began his ministry.  I believe these stories were shared freely between the ships that sailed the whole known world of the time and that the earliest Christians knew these stories of Lao Tsu, Confucius, and Buddha and wanted their leader to have had the same experiences.

So Buddha, under the Bodhi tree remained unmoved as the tempter, Mara the Lord of Death tried his best to assail Siddhartha with hurricanes, torrential rains, and showers of flaming rocks, but Gautama had so emptied himself of his finite self that the weapons found no target to strike and turned into flower petals as they entered his field of concentration. When in final desperation, Mara challenged Buddha’s right to do what he was doing, Gautama touched the earth with his right fingertip, whereupon the earth spoke saying, “I bear you witness.”
When Mara fled, Gautama’s meditation steadily deepened. During the first watch of the night he saw one by one the many thousands of his previous lifetimes. During the second watch he saw the death and rebirth of the whole universe of living beings and noted the ever present sway of the law of Karma.

During the third watch, he saw what made the whole world go around, the universal law of how we are all connected.  He called it dependent arising, and later identified it as the very heart of his message. Thus armed, he made quick work of the last shreds of ignorance clinging that bound him to the wheel of birth and death.  As the morning star glittered in the transparent sky of the east, his mind pierced the last bubble of the universe and shattered it, only to find it miraculously restored with the beauty of true being.  The Great Awakening had occurred.  Freedom was his. His whole being was transformed, and he emerged the Buddha.  And this is the song he sang to the universe;  “Through many a birth I have  wandered in this world. Seeking in vain the builder of this house. Unfulfilling it is to be born again and again, O house maker! Now I  have seen you! You shall build no more houses for me!  Your beams are broken, your ridgepole is shattered. My mind is free from all past conditionings, and craves the future no longer.”
Buddha had done it, he had crossed over from being burdened by his body, he had seen the holy and realized that this divinity was himself.

He learned he could live in the present moment and that that was eternity.

But Mara was not finished with him. He posed to Siddhartha one last deep challenge. Mara asked the Buddha, “How could his experience be translated into mere words, and who would listen or understand what Siddhartha had to say?  Why bother playing the idiot before an uncomprehending audience, Mara asked? Why not wash your hands of the whole world and be done with the body and slip into nirvana, the blissful state of liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth.” This final temptation is similar to the devil’s final temptation to Jesus.  The argument was so persuasive that it almost caught Buddha without an answer. At length however the Buddha answered, “There will be some whose eyes are only slightly dimmed by dust and they will understand.” With this Mara was banished from his life forever.
For the next 50 years Buddha trudged the dusty paths of India preaching his ego-shattering, life-redeeming message until his hair was white, his back bowed. He reminded people not to follow the great teachers, but rather seek what the great teachers sought.

My favorite Buddhist story…
The Buddha was sitting under a tree talking to his disciples when a man came and spit on his face. He wiped it off, and he asked the man, “What next? What do you want to say next?” The man was a little puzzled because he himself never expected that when you spit on somebody’s face, he will ask, “What next?” He had no such experience in his past. He had insulted people and they had become angry and they had reacted. Or if they were cowards and weaklings, they had smiled, trying to bribe the man. But Buddha was like neither, he was not angry nor in any way offended, nor in any way cowardly. But just matter-of-factly he said, “What next?” There was no reaction on his part.
Buddha’s disciples became angry, they reacted. His closest disciple, Ananda, said, “This is too much, and we cannot tolerate it. He has to be punished for it. Otherwise everybody will start doing things like this.”
Buddha said, “You keep silent. He has not offended me, but you are offending me. He is new, a stranger. He must have heard from people something about me, that this man is an atheist, a dangerous man who is throwing people off their track, a revolutionary, a corrupter. And he may have formed some idea, a notion of me. He has not spit on me, he has spit on his notion. He has spit on his idea of me because he does not know me at all, so how can he spit on me?
“If you think on it deeply,” Buddha said, “he has spit on his own mind. I am not part of it, and I can see that this poor man must have something else to say because this is a way of saying something. Spitting is a way of saying something. There are moments when you feel that language is impotent: in deep love, in intense anger, in hate, in prayer. There are intense moments when language is impotent. Then you have to do something. When you are angry, intensely angry, you hit the person, you spit on him, you are saying something. I can understand him. He must have something more to say, that’s why I’m asking, “What next?”
The man was even more puzzled! And Buddha said to his disciples, “I am more offended by you because you know me, and you have lived for years with me, and still you react.”
Puzzled, confused, the man returned home. He could not sleep the whole night. When you see a Buddha, it is difficult, impossible to sleep again the way you used to sleep before. Again and again he was haunted by the experience. He could not explain it to himself, what had happened. He was trembling all over and perspiring. He had never come across such a man; he shattered his whole mind and his whole pattern, his whole past.
The next morning he was back there. He threw himself at Buddha’s feet. Buddha asked him again, “What next? This, too, is a way of saying something that cannot be said in language. When you come and touch my feet, you are saying something that cannot be said ordinarily, for which all words are a little narrow; it cannot be contained in them.” Buddha said, “Look, Ananda, this man is again here, he is saying something. This man is a man of deep emotions.”
The man looked at Buddha and said, “Forgive me for what I did yesterday.”
Buddha said, “Forgive? But I am not the same man to whom you did it. The Ganges goes on flowing, it is never the same Ganges again. Every man is a river. The man you spit upon is no longer here. I look just like him, but I am not the same, much has happened in these twenty-four hours! The river has flowed so much. So I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you.”
“And you also are new. I can see you are not the same man who came yesterday because that man was angry and he spit, whereas you are bowing at my feet, touching my feet. How can you be the same man? You are not the same man, so let us forget about it. Those two people, the man who spit and the man on whom he spit, both are no more. Come closer. Let us talk of something else.”
At the age of 80 he died from poison mushrooms served in a meal in the home of Cunda the smith of the village where he was staying. Even on his deathbed his mind moved toward others. In the midst of his pain, it occurred to him Cunda might feel responsible for his death. His last request was that Cunda be informed that of all the meals he had eaten in his life only two stood out as having blessed him exceptionally. One was the meal whose strength had enabled him to reach enlightenment by the river Ganges, and the other was this one, that was opening to him the final gates to nirvana.

Two of Buddha’s thoughts have stayed with the world until today, “All living things decay so, work out your own salvation with diligence.” Buddha was an atheist, he was a humanitarian and someone who showed us how to reach a state of being awake and aware by being who we really are.  He said we have the power already within us to be fully awake and aware of the world and our fellow beings. Buddha has given each of us a great gift, the belief that within the human potential, your soul, your body lies the door to eternity.  All you must do is learn to wake up, face yourself and the world around you.  I keep wanting our government to wake up, I keep praying that the suicide bombers would just wake up, my hope is that fundamentalists will stop shouting their fears at me and just wake up to realizing there are many ways to believe, the terrorists will just wake up and realize violence is the ultimate weakness.
But then I look at the statue of Buddha that I have on the desk in front of me every day I work and I realize I am the one who needs to wake up.  I realize I am asleep in denial of so many parts of my life.  I wish to, to live in compassion and nonviolence and reverence for myself and all living things.

I have Buddha’s four grave precepts in my wallet and carry them around to remind how I wish to live. (See the OOS). They are actually the precursors to the 10 commandments, again the Christian tradition benefiting from older traditions,
1. Encourage life, which was changed to thou shalt not kill.
2. Share with all, those who deserve and those who don’t deserve, which became thou shalt not steal.
3. Lift up others gifts and talents, which became thou shalt not slander your neighbor, and
4. Live by enlightenment, truth and harmony in all dealing with all living creatures, which became,  I am the lord your god, you shall not have any false gods.

Was it selfish of Buddha to take his whole life and only work toward his own enlightenment, or salvation?   I don’t know. But I surely am grateful to him for truths that have helped me move from living as a person who was not able to see my potential, to a person who today strives everyday to wake up from apathy, indifference, not believing in myself, blaming others for what I could be doing in own life for myself and others. Striving to be a better person could be the focus of our everyday. Whether we go to retreats, or the mountain top, or the desert, we can all be more honest, more loving, more kind, more empathetic, more patient, more of our real selves.  Buddha’s words ring in my ears, “Be we lamps unto ourselves, be we our own confidence. We hold to the truth within ourselves, as to the only lamp.”
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The Personalities of Thinking and Feeling

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“The Personalities of Thinking and Feeling”

Rev. Annie Holmes

Parable of the arrow: From the Buddha

Life…It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the wounded man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.”

Thich Nhat Hanh comments on the way the parable of the poisoned arrow illustrates the Buddha’s anti-metaphysical views:

The Buddha always told his disciples not to waste their time and energy in metaphysical speculation. Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he remained silent. Instead, he directed his disciples toward practical efforts. Questioned one day about the problem of the infinity of the world, the Buddha said, “Whether the world is finite or infinite, limited or unlimited, the problem of your liberation remains the same.” Another time he said, “Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first.” Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth. Hanh, Thich; Philip Kapleau (2005). Zen Keys. Three Leaves Press. p. 42.

And that brings us to the word…the word… the one I talked about two weeks ago, how the 40 different faiths in 1993 found their slogan, One Truth, Many Paths. We can easily imagine the many paths, many of us have lived many different religious paths, but what about the one truth? What could the one truth possibly be that 40 ways of believing could agree upon? Well, I’m not going to give you their answer right now, because I want you to ponder that question a bit, and during the sermon response today, you will get your chance at telling me what you think that truth might be that the Sheiks, the Buddhists, the Christians, the Muslims etc could all agree upon.

Meanwhile, back at the finding a balance in the personality ranch…we have these next two personality types to consider; the thinkers and the feelers. The thinking side of our brains analyzes information in a detached, objective fashion. It operates from factual principles, deduces and forms conclusions systematically. It is our logical nature. Now, the feeling side of our brain forms conclusions in an attached and somewhat global manner, based on our likes and dislikes, how our decision will impact others, and human and aesthetic values. It is our subjective, our personal, our individual nature. As a culture we are not comfortable with our feelings. Ask yourself at any time during the day, or ask someone else how they are feeling and most of the time you or they can’t really say. Don’t you get so tired of “I’m ok.” “I’m fine.” Neither of those is even close to the deep level of feelings that is given to us as humans as a gift. Is it because we are afraid of feelings? If we feel we believe we will lose control? But the truth is we are terribly out of touch with our true feelings.

Now Mel Gibson gave the world a lesson in only feeling feelings and not using logic or the thinking part of our brain and how dangerous that can be. First, he admits he felt nothing for so long in his life as he drank and took drugs. Then supposedly he found faith and religion and made the movie the crucifixion. Now that movie was an example of using emotion, total emotion in the portrayal of a religious story. And as UUs we know we have tried to combine our reason and our emotion in finding religious/spiritual truth. I don’t know of very many of us who would want it all one way or the other. So, this week a good goal would be, everyday at noon, ask yourself how you are feeling, happy, sad, mad, glad. Please don’t just say you are fine, you are ok. Name a feeling and you will be doing the feeling part of you a big favor. Because there will be times in your life when you may need to be able to name those feelings, yes even to survive.

I know all this is just seems like blah, blah, blah until it isn’t anymore and it becomes real. And this example is how I believe both of these personality types are so important in your life, in balance. So, try this on…someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. Two things will happen to you spontaneously, first, you will say to yourself, “Oh no, it can’t be.” And then as time goes on and the news does not change and yes you realize it is true, this person you love, does have cancer. Now also remember that while everyone uses both means of forming conclusions, thinking and feeling each person has a natural bias towards one over the other so that when these two sides of our brain gives us conflicting directions – one side is the natural trump card or tiebreaker when the challenges of life hit the fan so to speak.

Because no one, I don’t care who you, is immune to all feelings, after hearing this news most people will feel lost, afraid, truly terrified of the future, not only for themselves, but for the pain the person they love will be going through. There may be tears, bargaining with God, anger that this happened to someone you love, all the emotions and the feelings will either come forward and be expressed, or they will locked in and stuffed. Either way, there they are, make no mistake about that. Then will come the time with the oncologist. And if you are wise, the thinking part of your brain will whip into gear and be ready to hear about all the treatments. Facts and doses, and names of drugs you have never heard of, new treatments and procedures that will make your head swim will be discussed, cataloged and dated. If you are still crying and asking why this is happening, and unsettled because now there is a conflict in your life in fighting this cancer, you will not hear this vital information and you could become a victim of misinformation, half truths and plain stupidity. You see, the feeling part of us does not like conflict, and becomes very unsettled by upset, and has almost a toxic reaction to any disharmony. “Well, sweetheart,” we have to say to ourselves, “conflict, disharmony and disease are a part of life and how now are we to handle it?” Of course by waking up our thinking self and being ready to listen and learn.

But, the feeling part has to come back into the picture as you discuss all the possibilities with the person who is experiencing the cancer. Just telling them to buck up and stop sniveling is not going to help them work through the stages of grief they are going to experience. Being sensitive and compassionate to their needs, as they work this information through, is very essential to their and your overall health.

The Chinese were the first to remind us that emotions that are stuffed, and unexpressed are harmful to the overall health and healing possibility of any person. And just because someone may be strong in the thinking role and have an easy time dealing with conflicting emotions and feelings, that doesn’t mean the one going through the trauma is having an easy time. And if you, let’s say, the care giver is riled beyond all sensible thinking by the conflict of the disease in the loved one, you will be of no help to the one who needs some calm and a sensible plan of the treatments needed.

Now, as the disease continues, and it may come to the fact that there is nothing else that can be done for the patient and you, the loved one’s care giver, is having to make a decision of let’s say ending their life by pulling the plug of life support, both sides of your discerning personality better be in gear, because you will need to feel, grieve and then in a more logical, even methodical way …let go. And the thinker part of you will help you do that. If you don’t do both, grieve and know when to let go, well, you have seen how people are when they are unable to let go, even after the loved one is gone, even for years. Or, we also have all known people who have never grieved, never even were able to admit their feelings. They are locked up, locked in, tight and unmovable, mostly because they truly believe if they crack, even a tiny piece of their façade of what they call strength, their whole life will fall to pieces. I am reminded of the passage of the Hebrew Bible:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

But somehow, and this is the amazing part of this whole grieving thing, is that it is the feeling part of us who will allow us to heal. Because even though the thinking part is accepting of conflict, the feeling part of us naturally seeks balance and a place of peace. That is because grief cannot be analyzed, it cannot be treated with factual data. That’s because it is all emotion, all raw, all in need of getting through it.

As the thinking part of us wants to convince us through reason, of some fact or another, there is always another voice, especially in the case of long illness and death. Carried to excess the thinker can seem negative and unwilling to compromise. For them the systems may get in the way of human decisions, and because they often do not consider values and feelings as real factors, they will have the harder time dealing with illness and ultimate death that seems to have no rational meaning.

Because the feeling part of us is people oriented and easily considers other’s feelings, it can be sympathetic and understand other’s needs and values that part unfortunately may also ignore the requirements of a task in a situation, become overly preoccupied with any emotional expression, become manipulative and melodramatic. Overly protective of other person’s perceived need, the feeler may be seen as lacking personal convictions, wishy- washy, or unprincipled, and may seem like they inject feelings inappropriately into all decisions.

There are times, and we all know this, when you just have to do the right thing, no matter how it makes you feel. In some circles this is called tough love. A parent may love their child, truly love them deeply, but when you add up the ways that this child may have stolen from the parents, wrecked the car, become addicted to some substance, in some cases even held the parents at gun point in order to get away from being arrested, there comes a time when the thinking part of the parent’s brain has to take over and the parent has to do what is right for themselves as well as their child.

I don’t think there is a harder decision a person has to make, besides pulling the life support from someone who is brain dead who they love deeply, as the decision to turn their child over to the authorities, or simply let their child leave and come to the conclusions the child needs to come to on their own. But if the parent does truly feel all the feelings attached to these decisions, and, can look logically and objectively and organize the decisions to be made, and can do that without letting emotions stop them from doing the right thing, there could be a good solution to these deep problems that seem like they have no solution.

How about religion? How about spirituality? How about making ethical, serious decisions in life? How does using these two gifts of feeling and thinking of our personalities help us be authentic? Thomas Jefferson took out all the miracles, the fantastic, the unlikely, the unbelievable from the Gospels and came up with something that helped Biblical scholars find what today we call the Book of Q, or the original sayings of Jesus. That was a very thinking personality quest to take. And as the feeling part of us wants to persuade, arouse and appeal to the more emotional responses, the sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the parables would become important. But, of course important to all of us here today is the fact that we want to choose what it is that we believe. And nowhere more than in the area of religious beliefs do these two personalities need to be brought out and understood.

I feel therefore I am alive says the feeling personality. I know therefore I am, the thinking personality asserts. Is the answer to know that you feel? Of to feel that you know? These are not trick questions, but deep theological musings. How exhausted the world is of trying to parcel out the sacred from the so called profane. How often have we tried in our lives to figure out, sort through and be able to identify the holy from fantasy? These two personalities often come together for a person in the art forms that a person can produce. In order to create something of beauty there must be form and content. Either in knitting or a quilt, or a painting or a poem. If there isn’t some form and content, substance there is no place to put the imagination, the creation, there is no container for with wild.

The perimeters of the art expression is what allows for the creative to even have an expression. In order for Van Gogh to create his new art form he had to have a canvass that was enclosed on four sides with wood and nails. The canvass, the wood and the nails is the thinking part of our brain. The colors, the sweep of the angles of the brushstrokes inside is the feeling side of our brain. Both are needed to produce something of beauty. Even Gertrude Stein needed the form of poetry to create her new way of writing.

And we are back to finding that truth that allowed so many way back in 1993 find a common bond. Did you know that Gandhi was a failure as a lawyer because he was so intimidated because he could not speak eloquently. His story is he felt the pain of that impediment and then decided what his true path in life would be. He didn’t stay on the feeling level, he moved to healthy because he thought out his life. But even with that impediment look what he went on to achieve. Let the thinking part of you do what it does best; accept conflict as a normal part of life and find unique ways to work through the conflicts. And let the feeling part of you do what it does so well, naturally seek consensus and be sensitive to people’s needs and reaction, and allow personal feelings to have an important role in making decisions. As the thinker is searching for facts and logic in a decision, and focuses on the tasks and work to be accomplished, the feeler is being sensitive and compassionate and I say thank our lucky stars for both. I would not want to live in a world of only thinking ways of solving problems.

Over the years I have come to appreciate and value and even love that I can feel. We all have met people who have so turned off their emotions they are frozen and therefore lost to that part of themselves and others. Every great spiritual leader, every great author, every great actor or actress knows how and when and how much to feel. And we have also know those who feel too much and have lost their way as to how to us their gifts of logic and reason. Both ends of the extremes are dangerous and precarious ways to live. And of course thinkers and feelers, who find those ways of living more natural can help each other deal with conflict and struggles. Praise be for both. And may we strive to be what….balanced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Personalities of Sensing and Intuitive

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“The Personalities of Sensing and Intuitive”

Rev. Holmes

God is a fuzzy concept. Religion, values, ethics, unless they are written in the forms of laws are fuzzy, hard to define, easily . That means spirituality, or going deeper are two things that are; hard to describe and therefore hard to understand. Knowing this about the fuzzy parts of life brings up the qualities of sensing and intuitive and the needs of each of these personality types. Because it will be up to the purview of these two personalities to figure this religious stuff out. Yes, believe it or not it is using these characteristics either within you or not that will make finding God, the holy, whatever, a journey of excitement or a drudgery that is never successful.

In July of 1993 I attended the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago. It was a gathering of over 40 of the world’s religions, and it was a gathering of most of the same world’s religions that had gathered a hundred years before. Susan B. Anthony and other forward thinking individuals had thought a gathering of the world’s religions would be a good thing to do in 1893. And one hundred years later I was fortunate enough to be among those gathering again.

The main focus of the first three days revolved around finding a slogan that would unify all of us. Now, the fact that we even decided we wanted a slogan at all was the influence of the Sensing individuals in the group. The Intuitives would have been happy just having a luncheon where we could eat and connect with each other.

We met in this huge room at the Palmer House hotel. There were water falls to lull us as the discussions would at times get pretty heated. I sat on the floor in a corner watching the Sikhs, Hindus, Rastafarians, the Catholic Bishops, the Muslims, the Bahia’s, the Buddhists and the Protestants of all varieties get up to the microphone and speak to how we were alike and how we were so different. Some in the crowd around me seemed upset and agitated. I didn’t know it then but there were a certain number of people in that crowd, of religious leaders, the intuitives who felt the whole exercise was pointless and a meaningless waste of time. “Why aren’t we praying, singing, meditating,” some were asking . “Why aren’t we trying to find God rather than trying to define this slogan?” And the Sensers who were obviously running the show, were saying, “Because we need a definition of who we are before we can pray, sing or meditate together.”

I hadn’t been an ordained minister for very long but even then I knew I was a part of something strange, unusual and unique. After three days of the different Imams and Priests, Ministers and lay folks getting up and talking, a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, who I know now was an intuitive, in his distinctive saffron robes took the microphone and asked us to take a deep breath, close our eyes and imagine, what, after all the discussions, could there be something that was similar that we had all said. The room quieted down. The waterfall babbling was all that was heard, besides the Tibetan Monk’s eerie, and yet strangely familiar chanting, as we all meditated.

After it seemed like a blink of an eye, but was really 15 or 20 minutes, he called us back to the room. The moderator, obviously a sensing individual, had an overhead projector brought in and in an excited manner, I believe because of the time we had spent in meditation, started writing down words that he had heard in the previous discussion. And then it happened, peacefully, easily and accurately, we had our slogan and our unifying phrase; “One Truth, Many Paths.”

There were cheers, handshakes, people speaking rapidly in so many languages my head hurt. The people in my little group all hugged. As I recall this event, it was the perfect venue where both personality types helped the other to a meaningful conclusion that neither of the types could have done alone. The intuitives would have spent all their time in prayer and in the fuzzy world of ambiguity and mystery because that is where they are comfortable. And the sensing individuals would have spent all their time discussing and arguing practicality and details and the history of religions in the need to define in clear and concrete terms.

As happens so often in groups, in marriages, in committees, in your own mind, the lines are drawn right down the middle between what we call woo-woo theology and what I did in seminary all those years ago, didactic, historical, fact finding about religion and its permutations. Lots of it was boring stuff, memorizing and reading what we called the dead Germans who last names started with the letter B and their theological discoveries. But for the sensing people these classes were the water of life poured out on their drought fevered souls. For the intuitives, they craved holding hands and swaying and closing their eyes and singing Kumbaya. Now the sensors did put up with the closed eyes and the hand holding and the singing and realized there was a place in their life for liturgy, but so much emotion and sharing was just enough for them after a while. But it was never enough for the intuitives. They could be in that space of community liturgy forever and not care what date the Catholic church held its first council that created the creed.

You see, I discovered in teasing out these personality types and their effect on our religious discoveries, that the sensing people if given the task of explaining the past, would talk about the history, the dates, the times, the people, the facts. And the intuitives would tell a story. The intuitives loved a more general overview using humor and probably exaggerating as the need arose and the story seemed way to boring without making it more interesting. Intuitives do this all the time and easily. And as the sensing people are listening to the story, because they like stories too, they are also saying, “excuse me, it wasn’t in the morning, it was in the afternoon. And it wasn’t 10 years ago it was 25, and you said it was…” The intuitive then looks at them incredulously and says, “who cares, facts are not as important as the story. “ See how these two types, even within your own head could drive you or each other crazy? So, back to my story…have you figured out if I am more intuitive or sensing yet?

Why were we so happy on that day of the Parliament of World Religions when we found our slogan? Because after centuries of religious abuse, killing in the name of religion, repression and hate in the name of faith, 250 people from different and bewildering backgrounds and faiths came together in the middle of the United States and built a bridge from themselves to someone else. The smiles were genuine, the cheering real, the feeling of that room, at that moment, still brings goose bumps to my arms.

I tell this story because it is summer, and in the middle of summer I tend to remember that conference. Hey, how often does someone get a chance to be a part of something this unique and involving people from diverse backgrounds and from around the world? Well, for me not so often. So I cherish my experience, but I cherish more the slogan, because it proved there is a way for people of faith to come together and agree. It reminded me also that there is a way for sensing and intuitives to also come together and agree on what could be essential to finding a foundation for faith. That agreement has given me courage and the faith I have needed to build the bridges that needed to be built in my life. So, be not afraid, build bridges wherever you can.

Well, in case you haven’t guessed, I am more intuitive than sensing. And although I did not appreciate and do not often even to this day appreciate the committee process, when something as great and marvelous comes out as that slogan, and the end result caused as much harmony and unity as it did, I realize the process was worthy and useful and needed.

Once again Jung reminds us we need each other. Sensers need intuitives to help them see the possibilities in a situation. To help them consider relationships among the data that have accumulated. To help them generalize from their experiences. To help them sort out the relevant from the irrelevant data. Intuitives remind sensings that not all data is equal. To help them see the missing parts in their data. To help them see a deeper meaning in the facts they seem to love so much. And intuitives help sensors consider the implication of their data. Intuitives say, the facts, the data, the minutia has to mean something and what could that be?

Now, how do sensors help intuitives? Well, by providing accurate facts and details of a situation. To keep intuitives from jumping to conclusions on the basis of insufficient data, or wrong data. To help them gather data they would/could so easily overlook. To help them become patient with and value the importance of data collection. To edit intuitives’ written products; sensors are great at finding spelling errors, correcting grammar and structural flaws that would make a bad impression on the reader. Intuitives say, who cares…did you get the point of what I was saying? And sensors would say no, because you said it so poorly, all I was doing was correcting your mistakes. If both can’t see the value of what each bring to the story, both have lost in that game. And lastly, because intuitives as so focused on the future, the sensors remind them to consider, for just one moment, the present reality of any situation. “Please,” they urge, “consider today, now, this moment for just one tiny minute.” Oh, that is hard for intuitives, who are in the clouds and riding into the sunset on a chariot filled with people singing Glory Hallelu.

If you find yourself more concerned with the present than the future, you have definite sensing characteristics. If you sway toward being practical and using your common sense in finding solutions, and these are automatic and instinctual responses, you could say your sensing characteristic is strong. If your memory recall is rich in the detail of facts and past events and they are chronicled in your brain and easily retrievable, you are sensing. If you like clear and concrete information; and dislike guessing when facts are fuzzy, sensing is probably your stronger trait and mode of working.

Now, if you mostly mentally live in the future, love using imagination and creating and inventing new possibilities, then you are probably a strong intuitive. If when you remember something and what is remembered most clearly are patterns, contexts, and connections, intuitive may be the way you were born. If you find yourself liking the woo-woo approach in religion and fuzzy data and guessing the meaning of mysteries gives you joy, well guess what you are…intuitive.

Intuitive are instinctive people, spontaneous, sensitive and insightful. Sensing people are more apt to use common sense, logic and good judgment. Intelligence and observation are very important tools for a sensing person. Mystery, mastery of psychic tools and the good use of energy are very important tools for the intuitive person. Are you recognizing yourself at all in these traits?

The difference between these two types of people is also seen in those who like to watch documentaries opposed to those who prefer movies with a story line. The true intuitive says who cares if it was real or true or not, it touched me. The true sensing person says it has to be real or it has no relevance if it was made up. And I say, just by that delineation alone sensing and intuitives really need each other. Who would take responsibility to having the dates correct, and the history not just be a guess and a presumption, if not for the sensors? And who would think to tell the story, even with the correct dates and the exact punctuation and correct grammar but with the heart that was needed, so you would be moved and transformed by its power, if not the intuitives.

And the more I noodled all this distinction between these two types I saw that whole generations could also take on the characteristics of these two personalities and live them out in generational ways. How different is/was the baby boomer generation in its free love, use of drugs, leaving home and protesting everything their parents held dear, from their parents who were mostly from the depression era, the end of World War II etc. How different were they? And I know I have said this before, but as the baby boomer generation could be defined as more intuitive than their parents, as a generation, most of us who are of that age, are/were/are very interested and ok with seeking a religious experience that is more woo-woo, fuzzy, than our parents.

Think about it, every time there is a baby boomer generation that reaches adulthood, there is a serious religious enlightenment, awakening, not always open and liberal, but an awakening all the same. And here we are again, as a generation more interested in finding ourselves, whatever that means, the sensing people often from the last generation are saying what does finding yourself really mean, and who cares. And here we are creatively visioning our future, whatever that means, the sensing generation people are saying off in a corner, and here we are meditating and holding hands and swaying and saying and someone is writing books that says we can actually have conversations with God.

And the sensing, the more quiet, often the minority of the population is asking, and in what year was the Council of Nicaea? And this is why as we are meditating, and creatively visioning and all of the fuzzy stuff, it is important to know when the Council of Nicaea happened, because if you don’t anyone can tell you anything, and you could in naiveté believe it. And that to me is the worst sin of the fundamentalist churches, stop thinking, they tell you, we will give you the answers, we will tell how to think. The sensing people of the world could save us once again from being wrongly brainwashed, by reminding the woo-woo’s and the fundamentalists, that clear concise thinking is important, knowing the data and facts is important, using logic and observation, knowing the history is very important so you will not be taken in like lambs led to the slaughter of easy answers and giving up your power to actually know the truth.

So, although I am comfortable with the more fuzzy and nebulous mystery, I am so thankful for the sensing people who have written about history, those sensing people around me who remind me of the importance of knowing the facts. A true sensing person would be horrified at what has been happening to sentence structure and grammar with the wide use of texting. And, as a nation have we gotten sloppy with what we know about history and dates? And as families are we not remembering what happened to whom and when, so that we can adequately tell the next generation who they are, who were their ancestors and what were their stories.

Because as the sensing side of our brain notices the sights, sounds, smells and all the sensory details of the present, it categorizes, organizes, records and stores the specifics from the here and now. It is reality based. The intuitive side of our brain seeks to understand the data. Interpret and form overall patterns and all the information that is collected and records these patterns and relationships. It speculates on possibilities, including looking into forecasting the future. It is imaginative and theoretical. I truly believe as a nation, as a people as we are overboard in love with extroverts, we are also lopsided when it comes to lauding the intuitive and putting down the sensing personality..

The sensing population are often called nerds, boring, nitpicky and uninteresting. Well, just remember how it felt to be lied to and then when you found out the truth because someone of a sensing nature somewhere remembered or knew, or researched the real honest to God truth, how relieved you were that someone knew the truth. We may revere the story teller, but let us also revere the historian. If you are actively seeking the facts, the truth about anything, your sensing type is alive and well. Feed it and it will grow.

But, if all you find yourself doing is seeking facts and truth, let yourself go crazy once in a while and tell a whooper of a fish story that has no grounding in reality. And if you find yourself only wanting to live in the clouds and not caring about facts and history, try researching some time in history that interests you. Because this equilibrium is what this journey is all about by the way finding out that we may have been born with a certain propensity toward a personality type it’s true, but we also need to know, recognize and strive for, you guessed it…balance.

 

The Personality Types of Judging and Perceiving

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“The Personality Types of Judging and Perceiving”

Rev. Annie Holmes

We all want a good life. A happy life. A fulfilled life. But what would a good, happy and fulfilled life really look like? For some it would be attainment of riches and fame. For some, everything going exactly the way they wish it to be. For some, it would mean accomplishments and success, fame among many. For some having their family around them at all times. For some it would be to be left alone. Whatever the fantasy you may carry in your hearts for the perfect life, the happy life, the fulfilled life, I would challenge that it is already happening for you, and like most people in the world we don’t see the extreme gifts of life right before our very eyes. I say all this because this striving for perfection, the perfect life is an illusion, a fantasy, actually it’s a hoax, a terrible burden that has been put upon us by unrealistic paranoid fanatics who have held control over us through years and years and years of writing, religion, education and generations of teaching children who were convinced they needed to strive harder than their parents to reach higher than often humanly possible and achieve goals that are at best nonsense.

When this reaching for an unattainable goal like perfection, “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” we are then convinced that something is wrong with us and that then we need to change. Sometimes we need to change our total personality to fit some mold. Like men wanting to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, or women truly believing they would be happy if they were only a size 4. You know, the doll Barbie, if she was human would fall over if she was even a regular size human. These models of perfection are only there to make you feel less than the beautiful, complex human being you already are.

If you want the good life, the beautiful life, notice I didn’t say when, if…know that you already have it. Are you not alive? Did you not have breakfast, and drove here, and was greeted and welcomed into a community of friends? Believe it or not, that is the foundation of good life, right there in a nutshell. The life people dream about. The dividing line between people who know they have something precious and treat it thusly, and those who carelessly throw away people, gifts, opportunities and love. The dividing line is those who know that there are those who know themselves, inside and out, deeply. And the others who are lost, maybe have been abandoned, cruelly treated, convinced they are nothing. I don’t want anyone here to ever feel that way about themselves, this journey of life we are all on, or the experiences you are having. It is a perfect life. It is already beautiful. Stop striving and learn to appreciate what you already have.

All that life-work is the reason there is a personality type indicator. It is the reason why we spend so much time deciphering the gifts and the needs of each of these types of personalities in our lives. Because once we have admitted that perfection is nothing but illusion to keep us on a stationary bike, going nowhere, we will appreciate the real work of finding balance. As we bump up against people and their differences and uniqueness’s, and this is the time that we can say to ourselves, part of the good life is having so many different ways of doing things.

It is unfortunate that perceiving and judging are the words that are used for these very interesting, last, personality types. Because we find judging so distasteful, although it has a perfectly good role in our lives, and we do this judging every time we pick a piece of fruit, or choose a movie, or vote. And as for perceiving, many of us couldn’t define what that is if we had a gun put to our heads.

But I find these two delineations so interesting and maybe I do find them so fascinating because I have changed so completely from a total perceptive to a total judging back to a more central perceptive. Whew. And I did all that change without really knowing what I was doing or why, until I took the Myers/Briggs test again. It was this job of ministry that changed me from one to another, and it was my crafts that brought me back to the center again. But, let me explain.

Try, if you can to forget the words perceivers and judgers. I know, let’s call them peaches and cream instead. Perceptives will be the peaches, and judgers the cream. So, peaches consult others before making a decision. Partly that’s because they are also often extroverts who love to process life outside of themselves. So, it would make sense that peaches would look outside of themselves for how to make a decision. Peaches love to take their time to get all sides of an issue before making up their own mind. They are flexible people, always open to a change.

Conflicting information does not bother them, because they remain curious, and are always looking for and welcomes new light, new information on a problem they are trying to solve, and lastly they are comfortable with undoing a solution or a decision after one has been made. Some of the peaches burdens are; they will often still be looking for a solution long after the decision is overdue. They may spend too much time in exploring unimportant facets of a problem, missing important deadlines. Many have difficulty in making any decisions at all. They often do not discriminate sufficiently among many options. They are often unable to reach closures, because they fear important data may still be coming down the pike. May peaches create high anxiety in others who have to carry out in a decision that they were unable to decide upon. Many relationship, partnerships, families have had huge stress because a true peach cannot make a plausible decision even when has to be made. Having been a strong peach in my life, I now sympathize with the cream who had to put up with my indecision.

Now, the judgers, or the cream. Creamers trust themselves and the data they have already acquired when making decisions. They like to plan and work according to a plan. They are the people who easily get down to the essentials of an issue, they are happiest when things are wrapped up and settled. They are usually satisfied once the decision has been made. They don’t look back and say, what if…but…

Some of their weaknesses involve not listening to people they could maybe should be listening to when making a decision. Creamers can get frustrated and even abusive when plans and priorities shift rapidly or the plan they have decided upon is not working. They may ignore relevant details in a situation in order that the established plan get carried through. Wanting an answer they may push for decisions before thinking it through completely. And may be unwilling to change or modify decisions when new data emerges.

Peaches and cream need each other. Perceivers and judgers need each other too. Peaches can be too flexible to the point of never being able to make a decision, and the cream may refuse to change a plan even if they are given hard evidence that the way the plan is going is not helpful to themselves or others. As the peaches are not caring about deadlines, or even an action plan, creamers are advancing and making dates stick and completing task and feeling fulfilled about it. Peaches often don’t want a project, a novel, a movie whatever to end, because they are seeing a hundred ways they could improve it, add on it. Creamers are in there using target dates and standard routines to manage their life.

Peaches have messy desks, messy houses, half completed projects everywhere. Creamers have clean, neat organized desks, bedrooms, houses, cars. They relish in a project completed and delight in putting away all that was necessary for that project. Peaches love the unfinished, the continued possibilities each project brings, pick it up, work on it, put it aside for later. That feels good to the peaches. Complete it, wrap it up, put it away, neat and tidy is the life of the creamers. Are you seeing yourselves in any of this? Peaches are naturally tolerant of time pressure, and work best close to the deadlines, creamers work best and avoid stress when they keep ahead of deadlines. You knew people in school I know, who were comfortable writing their term papers the night before they were due, pulling all-nighters to get them done. And then others, the cream, who did the research well ahead of time and slept all night before an exam or the paper was due.

I finish my sermon like clockwork on Friday afternoon. Very rarely do I change it significantly after that. On Saturday I let it sit. I make it a rule that I will not mess with it on Saturday. On Sunday morning early, I go over it with a fine tooth comb and do add and change it. In this arena I am a creamer to the enith degree. But, lately, just lately I have not completed one craft project before allowing myself to move on to another one. Now, I have a half scarf here, a half finished quilt there, a partially made necklace there.

My Grandmother, who was my mother figure for all intents and purposes, as a teenager, forbade me from starting a new project unless the one I was working on was completed. But that wasn’t my natural impulse. I learned even in doing crossword puzzles if you can’t do it one day, putting it away and getting it out again the next day, it almost solves itself. So, when I get bored with one project I tell myself it’s ok to put it aside and finish it later. Seeing these behaviors in yourself and being able to not make rulings about right or wrong are helpful in learning to accept your own tendencies and those of others. Especially when those tendencies are totally against what you would expect to happen.

I performed the wedding service for friends of ours and one of the women was writing her vows 10 minutes before the service while at the same time drying her hair and putting on her makeup. Her partner was at the church hollering at me over the cell phone, where was she. Well, I said, she’s writing her vows, putting on her makeup and drying her hair. At the point of their ceremony they had been together 16 years, they certainly knew each other’s buttons, but in a stressful situation like that they were easily put back into their own modes of peaches and cream. They are still together and their ceremony was 7 years ago, so somehow peaches and cream figured out how to be together for the benefit of both of them. By the way, peaches did get to the service, but late and cream just smiled, gave her a kiss on the cheek and the wedding ceremony preceded, but late.

Whether you work on a deadline and keep that deadline to the minute, or whether you are waiting for more information to come your way before making a decision, whether your house is full of unfinished projects or neat as a pin with nothing unfinished in any corner peaking out waiting for attention, you are all right, ok and just your perfect self. But as we know, life is messy and often decisions have to be made on the spot with only the information at hand. Peaches and cream need each other, but we also need a piece of each in our heads. I once heard it explained as the difference between horizontal and vertical filers. Cream people love to index, and are definitely vertical filers. Peach people sometimes love everything of importance out in front of them, horizontal on their desks, or floor by their bed. They claim they know where everything is, I often feel dubious about that fact, but that is my cream nature loving to see my files alphabetized and vertical. But who am I to say everyone must be like that or not be as good as me? And yet we do this all the time, especially to children. My son wouldn’t know a hanger if you showed him one, his inability or unwillingness to hang anything up, or put anything away, or clean like I would want does make him a bad person, or even messy. Because to him it is how he likes it. I have drawn the line at food that is left out for more than a month, or when we have lived together when his lifestyle begins to enter the living room. But he is a definite horizontal filer and one that often finds roommates who are cream, to help keep the house from total chaos. At least chaos in my system of living.

It’s hard not to be overly critical of people who do not share your way of doing things. And this is where the spiritual realm of the Myers/Briggs system comes into play. Because it will take a fair amount of patience, compassion and being able to accept someone else’s worldview. Especially if they don’t keep deadlines, are constantly looking for more data before making a decision or completing a project, or demanding that you hurry up with something that you are still noodling over, demanding that you finish for heaven’s sake, enough already. Cream will want a travel plan, reservations made plenty of time in advance and money put aside beforehand. Peaches would be happy traveling and driving and just stopping anywhere to look and see and explore. True creams becomes ancy exploring. They like point A to point B kind of trips. But cream may love the unexpected adventure of finding something wonderful while on the way to point B. And they wouldn’t have allowed it in the trip if it hadn’t been for peaches pointing it out. You see, we need each other, both sides; first to get to point B, and secondly to see and enjoy the unexpected, unplanned.

We will, all of our lives find the creams if we are the peaches, or visa, versa. We will often marry these opposites and not know why. Over and over again, we are the one armed person looking for the three armed partner to balance ourselves out. And I don’t care how hard you may struggle against these opposite tendencies, or find them distasteful, or wasteful, or just plain wrong ways to live, you will continually seek out those who will fill in the gaps where we are lacking. I have seen this phenomena happen in my life and others lives, too many times to not chuckle and know that it is true.

And it is true because it is grace given to us from the Universe in order to help us be the whole, happy people we were meant to be. If I am someone who loves to have the vacation be a destination rather than a free and wandering kind of time, I will benefit from being diverted and seeing something totally unplanned by beautiful. That’s how I will know I am living my good life, my healthy life, my perfect life. Do you see how this wonderful happens to us? Have you recognized how the peaches and the cream need each other?

I hope this series has been helpful in not only determining your own type, but in helping you understand more clearly those around you who may be so different from you, but valuable, loveable and useful in filling in the areas where you are lacking. But you will have to go online and take a Myers/Briggs test that will be scored for you at the end, and there are many, many sites available. Then, when you know your type, the paper that I am handing out will help you figure out further just what that information could mean to you and to those around you. These papers will help you see where are your gifts and where are your needs. Gifts and needs. And that’s all there is to say about how this whole personality series will help you in your spiritual life. So I will end this series the way I began it… that’s what living a full, happy, complete life is all about really, balance, balance, balance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agape and Standing on the Side of Love

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Agape and Standing on the Side of Love” or “What Are We Doing Here, Anyway? 2.0”

Service and Sermon Umpqua Unitarian Universalist Church, Roseburg, OR  08/19/12

James Gibbons Walker

 Handout: Patterns in 1 Corinthians 13-1

 

Chalice Lighting #431  – Barbara Wells

 

O Spinner, Weaver, of our lives,

Your loom is love.

May we who are gathered here

Be empowered by that love

To weave new patterns of Truth

And Justice into a web of life that is strong,

Beautiful, and everlasting

 

 

 

Opening Words #477 – Vivian Pomeroy

Please join with me in reading the sentences of these opening words which touch your heart.

Forgive us that often we forgive ourselves so easily and others so hardly;

Forgive us that we expect perfection from those to whom we show none;

Forgive us for repelling people by the way we set a good example;

Forgive us the folly of trying to improve a friend;

Forbid that we should use our little idea of goodness as a spear to wound those who are different;

Forbid that we should feel superior to others when we are only more shielded;

And may we encourage the secret struggle of every person.

 

 

 

Time for All Ages

Some folks came to my door and gave me this picture.

We had a nice talk about it.

It is a picture of the world that these folks hope for.

What do you see in the picture?

Imagine yourself in the picture:  What would you be doing?

How would you feel?

Is there anything or anyone you would add or take out to

make it a better picture for you?

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we are working together to help make a new world.  I ask you to remember our Principles, and talk more with your families, and with your teacher, Ms. Kato, and with other people here about the new world we all hope for.

Meditation – From Six Significant Landscapes – Wallace Stevens

VI

Rationalists, wearing square hats,

Think, in square rooms,

Looking at the floor,

Looking at the ceiling.

They confine themselves

To right-angled triangles.

If they tried rhomboids,

Cones, waving lines, ellipses –

As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon –

Rationalists would wear sombreros.

 

 

Sermon

 

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of         wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.            1 Cor. 13:4-7 (NIV)

 

 

It is good to be back with all of you again this morning.

Last Sunday, we spoke about what we do when we come together on Sunday mornings, about how a church is a special kind of institution.  We focused on how we together light a light which warms and comforts us, and is made safe by the structure (Remember the lantern?)  the structure we have put around it, but which also casts light on society, on the society’s capacities for ill or for good.  Last Sunday, you heard me say that here, in this place, in this community of seekers, we acquire knowledge to go where knowledge is not enough.  Here in this place, in this community of “loving friends together,” we make a place where we can be free in order to use that freedom responsibly in service to others.

Last Sunday we looked at what we do.

Today, we look at what keeps us going.

People can do the same actions for lots of different motives.

There is a scene a little more than halfway through Lawrence of Arabia, in which an American news reporter is interviewing Prince Feisal, the leader of the Arab Revolt against the Turks.  It has just come out in the interview that the Turks consider the Arab army to be rebels, so they are not covered by the Geneva Convention rules about treatment of prisoners.  The reporter, in his best Eurocentric way, is trying to get Feisal to say that Major Lawrence’s presence is having a civilizing effect on his warriors, making them more closely follow the Geneva Convention’s rules, unlike the Turks.  To this put-down of Arab civilization, Prince Feisal replies, “With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge [for yourself ] which motive is the more reliable.”

People can do the same actions for lots of different motives.  I’ve seen it in movements for social change.  I’ve seen it in religious life.  I’ve seen it in relationships between people.  Which motive is reliable?

What motive keeps people on track toward their hopes and dreams?

Rules imposed by others, the shoulds/ought tos/laws are guides, to be sure, but as motives, they can weigh us down with guilt.  Fear of punishment either goes away, or produces resentment and a kind of passive aggression.  The urge for the approval of others turns sour and frustrating, and fades. Passion cools.

Choose your metaphor – a fire is lit, a seed is planted, a house is built – what keeps the fire burning brightly, what helps the seed to grow and bear fruit, what keeps the house in good repair, faithful to the original design?  Choose your example from history – the French or Russian revolutions, the communes of the 1830s or the 1960s, the founding of any religious movement – somewhere in its journey, a movement can loose its way.

Loosing their way after a bright beginning is what happened after Paul left Corinth.  That’s what prompted the First Letter to the Corinthians, part of which I read to you today.

A little history is in order.  Paul “planted” (as we say now) the church in Corinth in about 50 CE.  I used to have the picture that Paul would come into town and have a revival, kind of like Billy Graham.  That was not how he spread the Word.  He did what we would now call “social networking.”  You see, he had to support himself by making tents.  So he would work in the local craft area, meeting people, getting to know them, introducing them to a picture of the New World that was radically different from the world they knew.

The first century Mediterranean world was like this – like a decanter with a very broad base and a very narrow top, even higher than this one.  (Thanks, Jacie, for the loan.)  At the top was Caesar, the Lord, who had brought peace and prosperity and order to the Greco Roman world.  Down the narrow neck were Caesar’s representatives.  In this big space at the bottom was everybody else, merchants, artisans, and peasants.  And at the very bottom were day laborers, people with no land, orphans with no protector, and slaves.  Talk about your 99%.

In this society, a person accumulated power and prestige (they called it “honor”) by contributing to civic improvements like roads or aqueducts, or by putting people in their debt by loaning them money, or by helping others, their “clients,” get jobs or favors.  It was kind of like the Mafia, The Godfather.  “I will do you this favor, then someday, you will do me a favor.”  There were no anonymous donors – one wanted to be noticed, to be thought well of, to be respected.  If you won, if you got honor, someone else lost.

Paul’s message, the first century Christian vision of a New World, turned this Greco Roman world upside down and inside out.  In this New World, everyone, everyone, slave or free, female or male, Greek or Jew, young or old, had value.  The citizens of this New World were expected to help each other, not so they could get ahead or accumulate power and authority or put someone in their debt, but out of an ideal of service, with no expectation of reward.  The citizens of this New World were expected to follow the example of Paul, who, although he had the first century equivalent of a very good college education, supported himself in what was seen as a menial job.  (The ancients looked down on anyone who worked with their hands.  By the way, this also freed Paul to speak his mind, rather than become the “house philosopher” of a rich patron, a common practice in those days.)  The citizens of this New World were expected to follow the example of Jesus, “Who did not use his closeness to God to his advantage; rather, he made himself nothing, by taking on the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7a).

In about 18 months, the church in Corinth grew to between 75 and 150 people (estimates vary).  That means that the church in Corinth had about the same proportion of members to the general population (about 40,000 people) as UUU has to the population of Roseburg.

What scholars are sure about is that the members of the church were drawn from both pagans and Jews and from all social classes (including at least one family rich enough to have a house large enough for everyone to meet in).

After Paul left, he started getting word, first by letter, then by a personal delegation sent by one of the church leaders, a woman named Chloe, that things were not going well in Corinth.

Problems, misunderstandings, arguments had developed.

Some people within the congregation took Paul’s message of freedom to mean that they could do anything they wanted.  Some people split into factions favoring Paul, or their new evangelist, a man named Apollos.  Some people claimed that their new found spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of speaking in tongues, were better than other spiritual gifts, like care for others – and that speaking in tongues made them superior members of the church.  Some people were taking other members of the congregation to small claims court (where people who were higher up could hire a smooth talking lawyer and win their cases) instead of settling minor disputes among themselves.  And some people were using their weekly community pot luck suppers to get drunk, or to fill up on food before everyone got there.

In other words, the letter and the delegation were telling Paul that some people in the congregation were falling back into the ways of the old world.

Paul’s response, the First Letter to the Corinthians, was both practical and theological.  Before he started to deal with specific issues, he spelled out again for the Corinthians the vision he had given them of what they were supposed to be.

In the first few chapters of the letter, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they were called to be the very image of this changed society.  He reminds them that they were called to be the place where this glimpse of a New World is especially present in Corinth, so that everyone else can see what the New World will look like.  He reminds them that all of them together (it’s always a plural you) are carrying on the visible presence of Jesus.

He reminded them that the crucified and risen Jesus was alive in Corinth because of their example.

And towards the end of the letter, in the thirteenth chapter, after dealing with a number of specific issues, he turns to what should be the basis, the motivation, of their life together, love, agape.

His message is summarized in the passage I have read for you, the passage analyzed on the back of your handout.  I got a little carried away with the analysis, it was originally for a paper I wrote a few months ago.  I encourage you to take the handout home and look at it from time to time.

Let me just touch on a number of highlights.

There were lots of words in Greek for love.  Eros, from which we get the word erotic.  Philia – brotherly love (Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, remember), and the word Paul chooses to use, agape.  Agape means patient and costly service to others.

“Love is patient, kind is love.”

In the Greek, love is a verb.  Loving patiently is the way a gardener raises vegetables, can’t rush them, or a baker makes bread, or a loving parent raises a child.

Loving kindly ties to hospitality, to helping others experience their preciousness.

The two Greek words makrothymei and chresteuetai, patient and kind, are the words that are used in the Greek Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, for the love of God for us and for all creation.  What Paul is saying is when we act like this, we are mirroring the Divine.

And the long list of what love is not (drawing from attitudes and behaviors Paul has already criticized and dealt with in the letter).  My favorites are the word translated “arrogant,” which literally means puffed up like a balloon, the expression translated “does not seek its own advantage,” which some commentators have explicated as treating the other person like a thing to be exploited, and “does not calculate evil,” keeping a record.  I must tell you a story from my work as a counselor about that one.

I used to do couples counseling.  I would start out the first session by getting each member of the couple to tell me, and each other, what was on their minds, what they would like to be changed in their relationship.  One time, the wife had her say, then the husband reached into his wallet and pulled out a 3 x 5 card on which he had written down everything his wife did that bothered him.  That’s holding a grudge, keeping a record.

 

Paul closes this section with a vision of the present and the future.

For the present, love does not give in, love does not give up, love never quits.

For the future, love trusts and hopes for the promised New World.

Let’s jump forward to 2008.  It was around this time of year.  I had come over from the Coast to preach here at UUU.  I saw the news on my smart phone.  There had been a shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

The Standing on the Side of Love campaign was inspired by the compassionate congregational and community response to the 2008 shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in which two persons were killed and seven injured.[1]  When he launched the campaign, UUA President William G. Sinkford said,

Every day people are targeted because of identities which are somehow deemed “okay to     hate.”  We are called to use our public presence to more actively stand up with and for        those who are targets for violence, exclusion, or oppression because of who they are.[2]

 

You can read some of Standing on the Side of Love’s “talking points” on the right hand side of your handout.  The web site for the full list is there.  I encourage you to look it up as you can.

I’ve laid them out side by side, some of the talking points and Paul’s description of love.  I think they reinforce each other.

Paul’s first century description of love and this twenty-first century public advocacy campaign have much in common.  Like Paul, these “talking points” diagnose the ills of present age:  prideful conflict and fear of “the other,” cutthroat competition which excludes the powerless, treating persons as objects, and inhospitality.  Like Paul, they hold up agape as the cure, celebrating human dignity, and self-giving concern for others, while alluding indirectly to God’s outpouring of love for us through phrases such as “inherent worth,” “inclusion” and “stand with the vulnerable.”

Like the community in Corinth, any movement can stray from its original motivation, any movement can be drawn away from the ideals of its founding.

It is work to serve others.  It is work to be intentional about spiritual growth (that is what the Vision Quest is all about).  It is work to stretch understanding to be able to listen to others “to wear sombreros as well as square hats” (that is what understanding the Myers Briggs typology is all about).

 

You honor me by inviting me back to speak with you every year.  I am already looking forward to my next visit, so that we both can see how we have grown and changed.

Until then, as you both embody now and work to build a future New World here in Roseburg, I encourage you as individuals and as a church congregation to do what you are doing out of love.

I encourage you to ask yourselves and each other:

Are there times when we burn with envy, heap praise on ourselves, are puffed up like a balloon, act in ways calculated to diminish others, treat others as things, keep a list of hurts done to us?

Can we honestly say that we are patient and kind?

I encourage you to remind yourselves and each other:

For the present, love does not give in, love does not give up, love never quits.

For the future, love trusts and hopes for the promised New World.

 

Sermon Response

Closing Words #498 – Howard Thurman

In the quietness of this place, surrounded by the all-pervading presence of the Holy,

my heart whispers:

 

Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve,

that in good times or in tempests,

 

I may not forget that to which my life is committed.

 

Keep fresh before me [before us]

the moments of [our] high resolve.

 

 

Handout: Patterns in 1 Corinthians 13-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Unitarian Universalist Association, “Standing on the Side of Love,” UUA.org, April 18, 2012, www.uua.org/love/index.shtml (accessed July 10, 2012).

 

[2] Jane Greer, “UUA launches “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign,” uuworld.org, September 7, 2009, www.uuworld.org/news/articles/147261.shtml (accessed July 10, 2012).

Al-Ghazali: Timeless Insights

 

Al-Ghazali:  Timeless Insights” or “What Are We Doing Here, Anyway?”

Sermon at the Umpqua Unitarian Universalist Church, Roseburg, OR  08/12/12

James Gibbons Walker

Sufism without Islam is like a candle burning in the open without a lantern.

There are winds which may blow the candle out.
But if you have a lantern with glass protecting the flame,

the candle will continue to burn safely.  – Mauzaffer Ozak

 

After all, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, nor does one put it in a hidden place.  Rather, one puts it on a lamp stand so that all who come and go will see its light – The Gospel of Thomas 33:2-3

 

It feels like a wonderful dream being back in Oregon, in Roseburg, in “this place that is sacred to so many of us” again.  “Thank you,” to Keith Barger and the Sunday Services Committee for inviting me back to speak with you this week and next.  “Thank you,” to Jim and Jacie Pratt for letting me stay at their house again.

 

I bring you all warm greetings from the congregation I belong to now, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland.  I want to thank you all for the warm welcome you gave Emily, my niece, and her husband, Patrick, when they visited on Father’s Day.

 

When Emily was just born, as most of you know, she and her mother lived with Deborah and me.  We watched her grow up.  We were involved in her day to day progress.  Her mother, very thoughtfully, took a picture of Emily in her car seat every month on her birthday.  In a kind of a time lapse way, you can watch her grow and change – by six months she is standing next to the car seat, holding on.

 

I get the feeling that seeing you all about once a year is kind of like that.  I get a sample of UUU and you get a sample of me.  I welcome your thoughts after the service about changes, for the better or for the worse, that you see.

 

 

One of the guilty pleasures that Deborah and I share is watching a program on the Food Channel called “Chopped.”  Have you seen it?  Chefs get identical baskets of ingredients.  They then have 20 – 30 minutes to make something out of them.  Some of the ingredients are pretty weird – like honey lemon cough drops, ramp, violet mustard, or Armenian string cheese.  Today’s message is kind of like that.

 

Here is what I mean.

 

This sermon started out fairly simply.  I was going to talk about a person that I learned about in my World Religions class this spring.  I was going to tell about Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, “the greatest Muslim after Muhammad,” and how his 900 year old insights on spirituality and spiritual growth are relevant, even now.

Well, some things happened.  I’ve been reading the materials posted on the UUU web site about a Vision Quest in the fall.  The clerical shirt I’m wearing arrived.  (What the well dressed UU minister or minister-in-training could wear at the General Assembly in Phoenix this past June).  I’ve gotten deeper – half way – into my theological education.  And I’ve been thinking more and more about the purpose of ministry and the purpose of the church, thinking about the question, “What are we doing here?”

 

So here are my ingredients:  the life and thought of Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, the UUU order of service, the UUU mission statement, a recent article by Marilyn Sewell, and, finally, your tasting of and reflection on this dish I have prepared.

 

Let’s start almost 1,000 years ago, with al-Ghazali.  He was born in what is now Iran in 1058 CE (450 AH) and studied in Baghdad, now in Iraq, of course, which was then the center of Seljuk Empire.  The Seljuk Empire was big, most of what we now think of as the Middle East.  Baghdad was one of the centers of culture in the western world.  Islamic scholars there both kept alive and built on the ancient world’s studies of science and philosophy.  Ghazali was right in the middle of it.  He wrote, “To thirst after the comprehension of things as they really are was my habit and custom from a very early age.”  By the age of 33, Ghazali taught at the most prestigious of the madrashas in Baghdad.  (The madrashas were the colleges established for the study of science, philosophy, and theology from Iran to Spain, one end of the Islamic world to the other.  At the time, there was one university in all of Christian Europe, in Bellona.)

But, in 1095 CE, at the height of his success, he burned out.

He experienced most of the physical symptoms of anxiety.  His throat closed up.  He couldn’t lecture.  He couldn’t eat.  He felt himself, “on the brink of a crumbling bank of sand” because he was, again in his words, caught up in “the desire for influential position and public recognition.”

He questioned everything he had learned, everything on which he had based his life and career.

He stopped teaching.  He left his home and family and wandered through the Middle East, living an ascetic life for 11 years.  He was on a vision quest.

This is how he describes his quest and his recovery:

[It was like] climbing from the plain of naïve and second hand belief to the peak of direct             vision.

 

At length, God cured me of my malady; my being was restored to health and an even             balance; the necessary truths of the intellect became more accepted, as I regained             confidence in their certain and trustworthy character.  This did not come about by             systematic demonstration or marshaled argument, but by a light which God most high             cast into my breast.

 

He wrote that he learned to “watch and wait” for the knowledge of the Divine to appear.

 

Ghazali realized that the most distinctive ingredient of mysticism is “something which cannot be apprehended by study, but only by immediate experience (the word in Arabic is dhawq, literally “tasting”), by ecstasy and by moral change.”  Over the course of his 11 year quest, during which “things innumerable and unfathomable” were revealed to him, Ghazali achieved “the purification of the heart completely from what is other than God most high.”

He returned to teaching with a new focus, “calling [students] to the knowledge whereby worldly success is given up and its low position in the scale of real worth is recognized” after coming to realize “faith in prophecy is to acknowledge the existence of a sphere beyond reason.”

Let’s put al-Ghazali on the back burner for a bit and turn to what we do together on Sunday mornings.

 

After we center ourselves, after we make the transition out of what we had been doing before to what we are doing here, after we center ourselves with music and the sound of the singing bowl, we begin with chalice lighting and sharing.

We open up to each other about our joys and concerns, the hopes we have for the future and the blessings we have received.  Oh sure, I can explain in the terms of psychology or group dynamics why this is helpful, supportive and up-building, but that doesn’t capture the mix of feelings involved in taking the risk of sharing ourselves.

I understand that about 25 members have spoken at services or coordinated a service or sang in the choir or performed in a theater piece over the course of this past year.  For at least some of those people, putting yourself in front of others involves taking a risk.

 

To be able to take a risk, a person needs a safe place.  A person needs a place with honest, loving people.  Loving involves both being warm and accepting, and – and this is something we sometimes forget – being truthful and constructively critical.

And we share our resources with others.  We make an offering, both to build up this place and to address the need for food and funds in the larger community.  We give up something for the greater good.

That warm yet truthful loving that looks both inward to this congregation and outward to our community is the horizontal direction of our worship.  It is what we do first, to clear the ground, so to speak.  Love, compassion, concern for others is the foundation of all religion.

Love, compassion, concern for others all provide the basis for the vertical direction of our worship – for us to look within ourselves to awareness of our right relationship to the object of our desire, something larger than ourselves, with many names.

In The Beginning of Guidance, Ghazali maintains, “no one can discover the inward aspect until [she or] he has mastered the outward.”  In great detail, he commends following all the commands of God found in the Qur’an and the hadith (the traditions of Islam) as the path to union with the Divine.  He quotes the Prophet,

God most blessed and most high says, “Nothing brings [people] near to Me like the             performance of what I have made obligatory for them. … My servant comes ever nearer             to me until I love him, and when I have bestowed my love …, I become his hearing with             which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, his hand             with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks.

 

Whatever the name we call it/her/him, we remind ourselves that we are not in charge.  As one writer on spirituality has put it, in prayer, “God is not our guest; we are God’s guest.”

 

We combine the vertical and horizontal directions in the meditation, in the message, and in our reflection.  Here we look at our lives as individuals and our life together in the light of our values.

UUU, any congregation, should not work the way the world works.

This is the paradox of a religious organization, the paradox of spirituality.  We acquire knowledge to go where knowledge is not enough.  We make a place where we can be free in order to use that freedom responsibly in service to others.

 

You know, an annual meeting has a lot of the features of the annual meeting of a corporation or a club – we hear reports on what we have accomplished, we look at a budget which embodies our priorities for the next year, we elect a board to be responsible for the organization from annual meeting to annual meeting.
Our congregation’s annual meeting may have many of the features of a corporation or a club, but our reason for existence, our mission, is different.

Here is the UUU mission statement.

To create and maintain a diverse, caring community that encourages ethical, intellectual             and spiritual growth.  To accomplish this mission we covenant:  to welcome individuals             and families; to share the joys and sorrows of life’s passages; to educate children and             adults in our UU principles, values and heritage; and to act personally and collectively on             our UU principles and values in the larger world.

 

In his book The Alchemy of Happiness, Ghazali wrote, “An exact philosophical knowledge of the spirit is not a necessary preliminary to walking in the path of religion, but comes rather as the result of self-discipline and perseverance in that path.”  This path of obedience is “spiritual warfare,’ jihad.

Walking the path comes first.  Walking the path comes first.  The goal of the path is “to purify the heart from the rust of passion and resentment, till, like a clear mirror, it reflects the light of God.”  This path is open to all who wish to pursue it.  “Just as iron, by sufficient polishing can be made into a mirror, so any mind by due discipline can be rendered receptive of such impressions.”

Marilyn Sewell, the minister emeritus of First Church in Portland, reminds us that,

 

Freedom, reason and tolerance … are not the final goals to be aimed at in religion, but             only conditions under which true ends may be best attained.  The ultimate ends proper to             a religious movement are two:  personal and social; the elevation of personal character             and the perfecting of the social organism.

 

We acquire knowledge to go where knowledge is not enough.  We make a place where we can be free in order to use that freedom responsibly in service to others.

We light a light which warms and comforts us, yes, and is made safe by structure – the lantern – we have put around it, but which also casts light on society, the society’s capacities for ill or for good.  “So that all who come and go will see its light.”

 

Sometimes the light shines in difficult places.  That’s what our General Assembly in Phoenix was about this year.  This annual meeting of our association of congregations looked beyond business to our mission as a denomination.  The UUA web site says, “Working for justice in our world is a principal way for Unitarian Universalists to express their faith.”  Oh, there were elections for national offices, and votes about by-laws, and recognition of new ministers – all those were important – but the focus was on witness and service.  Indeed, there was one whole day of witness and service on Saturday, June 23.  On that day, and other days too, I trust, ministers and ministers-in-training wore clerical shirts like this, in the color and with the emblem of “Standing on the Side of Love,” an organization the UUA founded “to harness love’s power to stop oppression.”

I need to say something about clerical clothing.  Some members of UUFSM have been kind enough to let me know that clerical clothing bothers them, that it seems un-UU-like.  A full exploration of that topic is for another sermon, another day.  Suffice it to say for now that I dress like this sometimes to remind myself of what I want to become – of what we want ourselves and our congregation to become – to become a person, a group of persons, who empty themselves out in service to others – who realize they are not in charge, but servants of something bigger than themselves, whatever they choose to call it.

The person aware of this creatureliness can say, with the mystic

“The Sufi is he who possesses nothing and is possessed by nothing.”  This definition             alludes to two kinds of poverty.  The first, “to possess nothing,” designated material             poverty; it is never considered an absolute condition for coming to God but is a means,             often very useful and even necessary, of achieving inner purification.  The second kind of             poverty, “to be possessed by nothing,” is imperative, because it implies the detachment             from passions, from desires in which the soul is engrossed and which prevent God from             penetrating [our] innermost heart.

 

 

In the end, it is all about tasting and eating.  I’m loving the words of Tilden Edwards of the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC,

The whole authentic history of spiritual discipline in the Church and in all deep religious             traditions is to aid human digestion of the Holy, so that we do not 1) reject divine             nourishment 2) throw it up by not allowing room inside for it 3) mistake “artificial             flavors” for the real thing 4) use its strength for building an ego empire.

 

This is our task, our struggle, our jihad.

 

Let me sum up what I have been trying to say.

When I was little, I was a finicky eater.  (You know that control over what one puts in one’s mouth is one of the few things a little person has control over.)  My dear mother used to dress up food so I would eat it – she would buy me purple and yellow cans of banana flakes to get me to eat fruit and make scrambled eggs with jelly to get me to eat eggs.

Later on, my food was prepared with not so much care.  I decided I didn’t like some things, like canned asparagus.  I didn’t eat asparagus for 15 years, until I was on one of my first dates with Deborah, at a very nice restaurant.  There it was on the plate, really beautiful, steamed, fresh asparagus.  But in my mind’s eye, I saw the mushy, stringy stuff I had gagged on through my later childhood.  But love found a way.  Not wanting to disappoint or offend this other beloved person, I ate of it.  And it was good.

We serve up meals here.  These meals, these services, are designed to give us a taste, an experience of community and of the Holy.  Sometimes the ingredients might seem a little off-putting, might remind us of foods we have gagged on at other tables.

Can we accept the meal in the spirit in which it is offered?

Can we pick around what we truly cannot eat?

Can we be open to the nourishment that just might help us on our journey?

 

I want to hear your thoughts about the dish I have prepared today, with the help of Tina, and Sharon, and the choir:  about tasting, about taking risks, about being the light, about al-Ghazali’s quest 900 years ago, about what we are doing here, today.

 

Your Personality and Your Spiritual Journey

UUU logo

Rev. Annie Holmes

July 8, 2012

(printable version)

The instructor took my ex-husband and I to a window that looked out onto a landscape. He said to me, Annie what do you see? Oh, I said, I see rolling fields and so many beautiful flowers, I wish I knew their names and the sun is yellow and the grass is so green, and the blue, blue of the sky. It is all breath taking.

He then said to my husband, what do you see? Tom said, I see 4 different kinds of trees. 6, no maybe 7 hills that seem to be going at 90 degree angles into one another. I see cumulus clouds and possibly a storm coming, and let’s see, oh yes, I see mulberry and rose hip bushes.

I looked at Tom like he was from outer space. Is that really what he had seen? He forgot all the real things that were right there in front of him. What a fool, I thought. As I was about to say all these things, the instructor put up his hand and said, Yes, I see. Annie you are an ENFP and Tom you surely are a ISTJ. Was he making fun of us calling us these letters? I was about to protest when he took us back to the group and explained what had just happened. This instructor just loved Tom and I because we were exact opposites on the Myers-Briggs personality inventory scale. He wanted exact opposites to make his point and exact opposites is what he got.

Carl Jung believed that each person has two faces. One is looking or directed toward the outer world, the world of activities, excitements, people and things. The other face is directed toward the inner world of thoughts and interests, ideas and imagination. While these are two different but complimentary sides of our nature, most people have an innate preference or energy from either the outer or the inner worlds. Thus one of their faces, either the extraverted E, or the introverted I takes the lead in our personality development and plays a more dominant role in our behavior.

For example: An extraverted person like myself will act first, think and reflect later. An extroverted person often feels deprived when cutoff from interaction with the outside world. I am usually open to and motivated by the outside world or people and activities. We “Es” enjoy a wide variety of constant activity and love to watch changes in people’s relationships. Maybe that is why I do so well at being a minister. An extravert gets their charge their energy and focus by being with others. They love the stimulation of lots of thoughts and energy shared, when things are happening they are the happiest.

Now, the Introvert on the other hands thinks, reflects first – then acts. Introverts regularly require a certain amount of private time to recharge their batteries. They are motivated internally, their mind is sometimes so active, that of necessity they need to close down to the outside world. And they prefer one-to-one communication and relationships rather than large energetic groups where there is lots of conversation and noise.

On the surface it may seem like these two people would be incompatible in a marriage relationship or a partnership of business, or even on a committee. But actually, the exact opposite is true. Because they can teach each other about another way to live and what Jung searched for all his life, and has encouraged everyone else to find, a balance between the introvert and the extrovert, or finding that shadow part of ourselves that is often untended, unloved, forgotten, unnurtured, well, you get the picture.

So, for an extrovert like myself to be alone and meditate in the beginning was like torture. After 60 seconds I wanted to go and tell someone what I had experienced. Now an introvert would have less trouble being quiet and going inward because that is what they do naturally. Give an introvert a problem to solve and they will gladly go into a room alone and think it through. Give an extrovert a problem and they want to talk it out with someone. Now, if the introvert can find the courage to listen to the extrovert talk things out, AND, the extrovert could learn a lot from the introvert by being quiet for a while and trying to figure the problem out from the inside.

To the extrovert, the introvert often seems aloof and superior, because the introvert will come back to the discussion after being alone, having figured it out. The extrovert is sputtering that they haven’t had time to talk it through yet, how can the whole problem be already solved? And the introvert is saying please stop talking so I can tell you the solution. Now, on the surface this could be a problem, if they hadn’t listened to this sermon…or understood their shadow side and how to use it to their best advantage. If they can understand how the other person is processing the whole “solving the issue problem”, they would see they both have valuable gifts to bring to the table of the discussion. And whether we know it or not, to some extent both of these personality types do reside inside each of us, but we will fall back on the one given to us at birth more naturally. It takes a good deal of self discovery to allow the other side to do its thing in our psyches.

Allowing the shadow side of ourselves to have some room to grow and move and breath, out of our psyches into our lives, is the whole point of the personality test. You will be walking lopsided all your life if you can’t realize and honor and even celebrate the different ways of living or solving a problem, or sharing what you see out a window. To me, this is the true genius of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory.

When I first took the test over 30 years ago I was so far out, I was off the grid in the extrovert category. The instructor asked me if I ever was alone. Why? I answered, why would anyone ever want to be alone? Oh, he smiled at me, I see, he said. And the introverts shuddered and wondered what planet I was from because I so loved to party and do theatre and sing in front of crowds and be with the action. So, he pointed his finger at me and said, you need to find time to be alone and go inward and think quietly, if I was to be more balanced as an individual person. Ha, I remember thinking, like that would happen.

But it has happened. In the next 30 years I did learn to meditate, although I still love to talk about the meditation afterwards. Ever the extrovert I guess. And I am much more aware that there are those, and I can usually pick them out, now that I know what to look for, the introverts who are very happy with their own discoveries and not often eager to share those findings. And I learned how, if introverts are on the Board, or in committees, or in my life in general, they need time, and often alone time to think things through and see how they feel about an issue, a problem or a way to proceed. And often they would prefer to share their findings in a small group rather than the large arena. I always want a large arena. Somehow you are not surprised. Oh, you are all so smart. Anyway, how does the introvert and the extravert evolve and grow in the spiritual realm? Well, as you can imagine there will be differences. Huge differences in their preferences and needs when it comes to discovering their spiritual side.

For example, in the coming Vision Quest I will be leading for all of you, by the way…I was very aware of the different needs of these two types of personalities. So, we will meet each month in a large group for those, who like me, want a big venue to do our sharing. And we will each have the chance of working one on one with a mentor so those introverts will have a chance for the more intimate sharing, but sharing none the less. Then the extraverts will be challenged in the deepest way by being asked to go somewhere for 3 days and 2 nights at least, ALONE, and listen to the still small voice within.

Now, extraverts don’t much care for still small voices, we rather like 76 trombones and baton twirlers. But, spirit, or the holy, or your deeper self just doesn’t talk that way. Now, the trick is for the extraverts to be silent and alone enough to hear the other voice that doesn’t need a microphone. And for the introverts, well, they have to find the courage, in a large group to share what they also have heard from this still small voice from within. And the extravert will have to be silent long enough to figure out what is the next right thing to do or to go to and listen, and the introvert will need to carefully find the words to share their experience.

E’s have strengths; like enjoying working with others, likes group work, at ease in different environments, communicates openly with others, interested in group values, needs external approval BUT carried to excess, E’s need then to have others always available or they feel isolated and anxious to be alone, find it difficult to work on projects independently, have little resistance to bad group decisions, does not complete tasks not regarded highly by the group or others, and becomes incapable of giving consistent directions.

And the I’s strengths; An I will work contentedly alone, they are at home with their own ideas, easily maintains confidentiality, careful and explicit with concepts, interested in the reasons for doing a job, can work on a project for long periods of time without interruption, likes to concentrate on one thing at a time. Carried to excess; they become resistant to outside influence, avoid group tasks, pay insufficient attention to external events, I’s are not often trusted by others, they find it difficult to summarize anything and get to the point, and because it takes too long to get started on a project they often miss opportunities, in order to complete a project they must have total concentration so often they get intolerant of unavoidable interruptions, and can only work in isolated settings. See how E’s and I’s need each other? And how you need your E or your I to come forth more and show itself?

I learned to love and appreciate introverts because of the way they approach a problem, and the solutions they find are often so deep, carefully plotted, beautifully crafted and offered as evidence of control and refinement a carefully worked out plan of attack. While I am jawing away working my way through a puzzle or a problem or a looking outside of myself for answers, the introvert will sometimes shyly show we the way. Because I have found looking outside of myself for answers, for solutions, for affirmation etc. is not always satisfying or even right.

What you will learn by taking the test is where you like to focus your attention. How you prefer to take in your information. How do you like to make decisions, and maybe most importantly, what is the way you want and need to structure your life. And for me taking the test and seeing who I was helped me not – well not do a couple of things to those who are not built like me. It helped me not judge others as missing something in their lives simply because they enjoyed a quiet night home rather than going out and being with people in a crowd. It helped me see where I was plugged in all differently and needed others, even those who are totally opposite to get the jobs done I wanted to complete. I realized I was only one half of the puzzle. I had many pieces but not all of them and I needed the other pieces to make a complete picture. So, if I plan a party which is what I usually do – the planning, then Bille’ does the next right thing, napkins, silverware, dishes, tablecloths. I am off in the big picture. Every extrovert needs an introvert to help them do the pieces that they will so easily miss.

I am reminded by the introverts of the world, to focus on the inner world of thoughts, feelings or impressions once in a while. Always being in the outer world is not where I will hear the breathing of my soul. It is not where I will take the time I may need to figure out a particularly difficult problem. In the world of fast talking, loud music, immense amount of energy outpoured is not where the spiritual journey to the inner world of my deeper self will begin.

And the introverts must find it ok at times to come out of their shells, their deep inner thoughts and be with others, rub shoulders with different people, hear new thoughts, feel the energy of many different ideas shared over wine and canapés, and dinner.

Extroverts like when life moves quickly and easily, flowing without a hitch. Well, as we know life is full of hitches. So E’s need the introverts who love a challenge and a puzzle, a mystery or a conundrum to tease them, help the E’s to relax and know there is a solution. The I’s need the E’s to remember not to stay too long in the maze, because it is good to dream, to think of the future, to plan and soar.

It’s all a matter of balance, as Jung strove his whole life to remind us. Balance between the inner and outer worlds, balance between what needs to be done today, and how to do it, and what will make life good in the future.

I met a psychic when I was still in seminary. She took my hands at the beginning of the session and asked why I lived in the clouds so much. Get back to earth once in awhile she warned me. And she was right. I can so easily forget I am driving thinking of the next big plan I have for all of you. But I wouldn’t want to give up living in the clouds all together, just come back to earth to know the light has turned from red to green. That’s all.

Life is rotten if it becomes a competition between husband and wife, or partners, or people on the Board or on committees, between who is the most right on how to address a problem. I’s and E’s need each other, sometimes more than they think. And each of us needs the other way of living within ourselves to be balanced, happy people. I will always probably jump first and then look for the rocks. But time and age have tempered me to at least know the possibility of the rocks are there and then postulate my next step. And I learned that not from books, not from the classroom, but from this simple test and then believing in the differences and trying to balance myself out. And thank God I did. Because I have been saved from so many stupid decisions because I waited, asked more questions, got more information. And to all you Introverts out there, how many really good opportunities have you missed because you did wait too long, asked too many questions, and tried to control outcomes that were uncontrollable? Balance. Balance. Balance. Have I said that enough? No? Well, then, balance.

Our next task will be to understand the differences between the sensing and the intuitive characteristics. And then, once understood, we’ll once again work on balance, balance, balance…

Which Bible?

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By Dr. Phil Moser

I read a lot of history. A couple of weeks ago, I started re-reading this book called “The Custer Myth.” The preface states, in one short paragraph, the known facts of the Little Big Horn battle; .i.e., “On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. George Custer and five troops of the Seventh United States Cavalry were completely wiped out by Indians at the Battle of the Little Big Horn River, in Montana.” Such a distant and obscure event might well have received little notice in the public papers of the major U.S. cities. Yet, this battle has been the subject of more controversy, dissension, and dispute than almost any other event in American history. The Custer myth is a living thing; while nearly everyone has heard of Custer’s Last Stand, few know much about him in any other connection. Except for the efforts of his wife, Libby, and fanciful artists to make him into a hero, bigger than life, he would probably just be another name in the long list of history.

This Custer myth got me thinking of its parallels to Christianity. We could substitute the name, Jesus, in place of Custer; Paul, in place of Libby, and the comments about the actual story of Jesus being distorted through spin to suit the purposes of others would be equally valid. Conservative Christians generally believe that God inspired the authors of the Bible. Hence, Conservative Christians believe the Bible to told literal truths, both error-free and non-allegorical. So then, why all the controversy and dissension about the Bible, particularly the New Testament?

As soon as we completed our new house in Melrose, the 7th Day Adventists starting knocking on our door (the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons haven’t found us yet). Apparently, the Adventists have temporarily abandoned the fight and, instead, sent us this rather impressive book. Maybe some of you have also received it? I was struck by this passage in the Introduction: “Different forms of expression are employed by different writers of the Bible. Often the same truth is more strikingly presented by one more than another. To the superficial, careless, or prejudiced reader, there may appear to be discrepancy or contradictions, where the thoughtful and reverent student, with clearer insight, discerns the underlying harmony. I guess I am one of those superficial people they are talking about, as I know I am not ignorant. I still have not found the literal harmony they are talking about concerning the scriptures.

Some people prefer a literal interpretation of the Bible and defend it to extremes. Before they even see the context, they assume that the literal meaning is closer to the truth. They accept a figure of speech only grudgingly. However, all books of the Bible were written by human beings. Thus, whether the Bible is—in whole or in part—the literally Word of God is not clear. Christianity, like all other religions, becomes a matter of faith.

While Islam, Judaism, and Christianity have the Old Testament in common, the New Testament is unique to Christianity. Evangelicals frequently assert that it, too, is the word of God and absolute in its truths, despite many contradictions between its various writers. For instance, even something as basic as the place of Jesus’ birth is disputed: was it Nazareth (Mark), Bethlehem in Judea (Matthew), or Bethlehem in Galilee (archaeological evidence)?

Similarly, the use of the word virgin may have been merely a translation error in the book of Matthew. the Greek parthenos was used to translate the Hebrew almah, which means a ‘young woman'”. The Oxford Dictionary of the Bible notes that “the earliest writers of the [New Testament] (Mark and John) show no knowledge of such a virginal conception.”

Skeptical scholars have even expressed doubts about the resurrection accounts and have debated their origin. Some contemporary scholars consider the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection to have derived from mystical experiences of Jesus’ followers and of Paul. Resurrection may be an embellishment of the post-apostolic Paulinian church to elevate their savior as divine in origin. So, let us examine how the New Testaments came about.

While the Old Testaments were written only in Hebrew and Aramaic, the New Testaments were written in Aramaic, Coptic, and Greek. The earliest true Gospel may have been the legendary lost “Q” document, which is considered by some as the oldest written source of Jesus’ sayings, as set forth by the apostles. The oldest surviving copies of the Gospels were written in Greek, at least 5366 of which still survive (as per count done in 1980). Within these 5366, there are over 100,000 variations in text as a result of copies being made of copies. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive or, sometimes, inept. Scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most of us can today. In addition, we have numerous manuscripts in which scribes have left out entire words, verses, or even pages of a book, presumably by accident.

Using simple reason, imagine what would happen, in this room alone, if I told one of you a simple story and then asked you to translate it into another language, having that person pass it along to another to be re-translated into still another language, and we did that until the last person in the room told me what they thought was the original text. I have actually done this experiment in classrooms with 30 (not 5366) students over the course of one hour (not 2000 years) and in English only (not Aramaic, Coptic, Greek, Latin, and English). Never has the last person repeated to me a story that was even vaguely similar to the story we started with. That is because each person puts their own internal interpretation, or spin, on what they hear, letting their subconscious attitudes, preferences, and nuances of understanding slightly change the telling, so that the final version is almost unrecognizable.

It could have been no different among all the scribes and translators over the centuries. It is almost miraculous that so much of the four gospels of the New Testament have some consistency. But what about the twenty plus gospels that were left out, or deliberately taken out? How do they change the meaning of the impact of Jesus’ life on mankind? And this does not even consider the impact of the Mormon New Testament, which tells us that Jesus is the literal son of god and his goddess wife; that Jesus is the brother of all spirits born in heaven, was married and had wives; and that humans are the literal offspring of God and one of his celestial wives, and because of this we all have the potential to achieve exaltation to divine status, with planets of our very own?

Part of the problem is that Jesus and his apostles relied on oral communications, being all illiterate and without e-mail or tape recorders. According to the Catholic Church, the earliest known written copies of the familiar Gospels (other than 2nd century fragments) date to the 4th century.

Other known works include the Nag Hammadi Gospels written in Coptic and found in Egypt, dating to the 1st-3rd centuries. The popular Dead Sea scrolls of the 1st century make no direct mention of Jesus but do refer to the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the accepted Gospels. The gospel of Mark got written at least a generation before Matthew, at least 60 years after the death of Jesus. From its own words, we can deduce that the author of Mark had neither heard Jesus nor served as his personal follower. Whoever wrote the gospel simply accepted the mythology of Jesus without question and wrote a crude and ungrammatical account of the popular story at the time. Based on the timing of their writings, it is generally accepted that the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the apostles were not the authors of the gospels attributed to them but are the products of later writers, writing in Greek, who compiled oral stories or who had access to earlier texts that are now lost.

Any careful reading of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) will reveal that Mark served as the common element between Matthew and Luke and gave the main source for both of them. The Gospel of John disagrees with events described in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. The unknown author(s) of John wrote it near the end of the first century. The Christian inherit a dependence on information that may includes fraudulent stories, rumors, unreliable data, and fictions.

The first centuries of Christianity saw a flowering of sects which all used the name of Christ but differed dramatically in their teachings and practices, eventually settling into two distinctly different and opposing versions of Christianity, now known as Pauline orthodoxy vs. Apostolic and/or Gnostic Christianity.

Immediately following the death of Jesus, the leadership of his followers fell to his brother, James the Just, in association with the apostles, Peter and John. Their messages and teachings were a continuation of those of Jesus, who in turn had followed the lead of his cousin, John the Baptizer. James the Just became, in effect, the first leader of the Apostolic Christian Church, retaining his Jewish heritage and customs. Jesus had at least three other brothers and two sisters who also played key roles in maintaining Christianity as closely tied to Jewish practices and traditions. Interestingly, we have the gospels portraying Jesus as famous far and wide, a prophet and healer, with great multitudes of people who knew about him, including the greatest Jewish high priests and the Roman authorities of the area, yet not one person wrote of his existence during his lifetime. Moreover, there are no known original texts of writings directly attributable to any of the apostles, even if any of them ever learned to write. There were no contemporary written records at all, which is indeed strange for a series of events which appeared to cause such a sensation.

Early, Apostolic Christianity was nearly obliterated when Rome conquered Jerusalem in AD 70, killing or enslaving most of the Christians there. Meanwhile, the Roman Paul, (following his conversion experience on the road to Damascus), became the first Christian that was both literate and a Gentile. Paul began to preach and send letters in 40-60 A.D. that were neither dependent upon nor derived from the “good news”(i.e., gospel) stories of personal sacrifice in service to others and the search for inner knowledge that were being espoused by the Apostolic Christians, lead by James. Rather, Paul’s message was based upon his personal visionary experiences of a heavenly Christ (who he had never met). The emphasis on Jesus, and possibly Mary, as purely divine, appear to derive from revisionist editing of Mark and John by Matthew and Luke, but particularly the writings of Paul. Moreover, most scholars agree that Paul actually wrote only eight of the thirteen “Pauline” letters now included in the New Testament. Paul re-interpreted Jesus as purely divine, with a focus on blind faith, redemption from sin, and most of all, obedience to the church. All of these concepts were alien to the Apostolic Christians.

Peter was the only original apostle to split from James in order to join Paul in Rome for rebuilding a new headquarters for the Church, after its destruction of Jerusalem. It has remained there to this day. This move was good for Peter, who became the first recognized Pope (at least until his later martyrdom by the Romans). Meanwhile, James and the family of Jesus, along with the rest of the surviving apostles, remained in flight as they continued to emphasis inner knowledge, finding the light within, and social service as the main tenants of Christianity, with no conception of an institutional church. After the death of James at the hands of the Romans, the Apostolic Christians scattered and became secretive. Meanwhile, Paul continued to claim divine revelations and appealed to a global audience in his teachings. Modern Christianity therefore is based on the realization that Paul, unlike all the other early Christians, was both literate and a good public relations man.

During the second century, a Catholic Bishop denounced as heretics all Christian groups who did not adhere to the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (all of which were consistent with Paul’s revelations). Four dozen other known Gospels were banned, even though some of them now appear to be more directly attributable to the teachings of Jesus, as set forth by James the Just and the other apostles. The Emperor Constantine, at a crucial point of a battle, saw a cross in the sun and, upon winning the battle, converted to Christianity (previously, he worshipped the sun god, so it was not a big jump for him). An offshoot of his Nicaean Council was to make criminal the possession of those gospels deemed heretical because they were not consistent with the idea of the Trinity. At this point, Christianity permanently split into two distinct and increasingly divergent tracks, with Pauline Christianity representing orthodoxy and Apostolic doctrine (later coupled with Gnosticism) representing heresy.

This split became most evident the when the Roman, Valentinus (an Apostolic Christian) was defeated by only one vote in his bid to become Pope of the Church. It is certainly a question of some interest as to what the course of Christian theology might have been, had Valentinus been elected to the office. Valentinus, the Apostolic Christian who almost became Pope, was thus the only man who could have succeeded in gaining a form of permanent positive recognition for the Apostolic and Gnostic approaches to the messages of Christ. He now is only remembered in the holiday of Valentine’s day, which resulted from the apostolic emphasis on renewal thru discovery, love and service to your fellow man. The Easter egg tradition also appears to stem from the apostolic emphasis on finding knowledge for kindling the inner light.

By the 3rd century, the Bishop of Alexandria confirmed the 27 currently accepted books as the “New” Testament, excluding all others. Of the known remaining 48 Apostolic and Gnostic writings, only the epistles from James, Peter, and Jude were included in the New Testament. The rest were burned, lost, or hidden in caves.

The Vulgate Bible was a fourth century translation into Latin, from Hebrew and Greek. It became the official version for the Roman Catholic Church (but not the Greek Orthodox). An English version was produced 600 years ago and popularized by the Guttenberg press. William Tyndale produced the first English version of the New Testament translated directly from the Greek instead of Latin texts; before he could translate the Old Testament, he was tried as a heretic and executed in 1536. In 1604, King James I authorized the translation of another English version that came to bear his name, with revisions continuing up until modern times.

In our own country, Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the New Testament, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. It was his effort to extract a rational doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the authors of the three synoptic Gospels. His own condensed version of the Gospels omitted the virgin birth of Jesus, miracles attributed to Jesus, divinity and the resurrection of Jesus. He is now most closely connected with Unitarianism and the religious philosophy of Deism. Jefferson describing Paul as the “first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” He also described the Book of Revelation to be “merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherence of our own nightly dreams.” From his careful study of the Bible, Jefferson concluded that Jesus never claimed to be God, and emphasized Jesus’ moral philosophy, of which he approved.

If the New Testament accounts could support such a range of interpretations, why do orthodox (Paulinian) Christians insist on literal views of the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection and the Trinity, while rejecting all others as heretical? This question is answered by examining the practical effect of institutionalized Christianity, which serves a political function in legitimizing the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership as the successors to Peter. Paul established a church of bricks, rules, ceremonies, and requirements (particularly financial), as opposed to informal discussion groups and individuals searching for the truth via Apostolic Christianity and Gnosticism.

The term, Gnosticism, has come to serve as an umbrella to cover the people who, from the beginning, adhered either to the Apostolic Christian stories preserved by James and the other apostles, or to the even older mystic traditions of the Gnostics. Gnostic Christians interpret the teachings of Jesus as an emphasis upon seeking personal revelation and an experience of the one God through a spiritual awareness, nurtured through study, research, and meditation, of the spark of the divine that exists within each of us, requiring no institutional church for discovery.

The people who wrote and circulated these Gnostic and Apostolic gospels, on behalf of the stories told by Thomas, James, Mary, Phillip and Judas (among many others) did not think of themselves as heretics. They thought of themselves as Christians who had received secret teachings in much the same manner as Mark, the earliest of the four mainstream writers. These texts are replete with sayings attributed to Jesus, some duplicating or being variations on known sayings, and many more being unique. For instance, in the Gospel of Thomas, we find Jesus saying: “If those who lead you say to you, see the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds will go to heaven before you. If they say it is in the sea, then the fish will go before you, but the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. ”

Gnosticism came to be noted for four factors which distinguished it from Paulinian Christianity: (1) respect for all different religious beliefs, since all religion is intensely personal; (2) lack of discrimination against women, with Mary regarded not only as a disciple in her own right but the favorite disciple; (3) a belief that salvation is achieved through seeking and gaining knowledge of one’s own true nature and place in the universe (the divine spark within) and (4) universal love and inclusion of all living things as part of a divine plan.

Today, Gnostic and Apostolic Christianity are experiencing a rebirth throughout the world, triggered in part by a continuing discovery of ancient gospels that started with the Nag Hammadi scrolls in the 1940s, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a variety of others, including the Gospel of Judas in the 1970’s (which incidentally changed Judas from scoundrel to Jesus’ primary Lieutenant, charged with an unwanted task). The widely popular novel, Da Vinci Code, further fueled this new awareness of the alternative gospels. Therefore, it appears that Christian doctrine will continue to undergo the revisionism that has occurred throughout its history.

The latest example is major revision of Paulinian Christianity by the former evangelist, Brian McLaren, who is now regarded as a heretic by orthodox evangelists after the publication of his book, ” A New Kind of Christianity.” His work is based, in part, on the discussions of thirty theologians and thirty congregational leaders, starting in 2009, known as the Claremont consultations, with funding from the Ford foundation (ironically similar to the Nicaen Council). McLaren rejects absolute truth, authority, theology, objectivity, and certainty in interpretation of the gospels. He embraces inclusiveness, relativism, stories (to replace truths), creative interpretation of Scripture, and tolerance.

For the Post-modern Christians, all religions are equally valid, divinely given paths to the sacred. Their motto is not whether you are right but whether you are good. God represents love and inclusiveness, including care and respect of the environment and all creatures. In post-Modern Christianity, there is no original sin, no wrath, no hell, no creation-fall-redemption, no defined future, no second coming, no clear statement on the deity of Christ, no ethical demands except as they relate to being kind to others, no unchanging apostolic deposit of truth, no absolute submission to the word of God, nary a mention of faith and worship, no evangelistic impulse to save non-believers, and nothing about God’s passion for his own glory. It sounds like Unitarian Universalism, does it not?

As a Jeffersonian Deist, I believe that the spark of the divine is within me and in all other things. I discover the connectedness of all things in the example of Yellowstone park, which can only maintain its beauty through deliberate reintroduction of the wolves, to eat the herbivores, which otherwise would eat the plants, thus creating erosion. When I read about Quantum Physics, I am reading my Bible. When I sit and contemplate the changing of the leaves, I am listening to my Bible. And when I stub my toe and it really hurts, I call on the divine spark within and without to transcend the pain, so I may carry on.

 

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