Saturday, 30 August 2014
We say all are welcome here, come as you exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition…That was certainly achieved…I offer thanks and praise for this…
People constantly ask me what a Unitarian is, they are always trying to pin me and our tradition down. For some this is curiosity and for others I suspect it is in an attempt to be critical, to pick holes. By the way there are many holes and personally I’m very pleased about this. I would hate to feel I am a part of something that looked at itself and believed that it was the perfect embodiment of anything. I do not believe that anything in life is perfect and therefore must be incomplete. I’m aware every week that I am an imperfect minister, but one I also know is growing.
This brings to mind a story my brother loves to tell of he and his wife being driven around Dallas in a taxi and the driver pointing to a church and saying “That church is a Unitarian Universalist church and those folks can believe whatever they like”, my brother recounts that this was said in an utterly bemused tone. My brother’s response was oh yes “My brother is a Unitarian”. I think for the first time in his entire life the taxi driver went silent.
By the way as a kind of counter to this thought I have heard many Unitarians say "We so not beleive waht we like, we believe what me must."
Now I don’t believe and have certainly not found this to be true, but it is certainly how others view the Unitarian faith. Why is this? Well I believe it is because we find it hard to articulate exactly what our faith is about. We can say what it isn’t far more easily, but find it hard to say what we are really about. I know I find it a challenge from time to time. In fact there has been times when I have done all I can to avoid the question.
There are those within the Unitarian tradition who say the same thing by the way, claiming that we need a clear coherent message, so that we can market ourselves better. The problem of course is that no two people can agree entirely as to what that might be.
My own personal view is that neither of these two approaches necessarily breed depth as opposed to width, they can both easily become shallow. I believe there is a real depth the Unitarian heritage, in where we have come from and I believe it points to an openness that comes from our natural humility that grows from our traditions faithful uncertainty.
You see I think that real the depth of the Unitarian tradition doesn’t come from becoming tied by our roots or by the rejection of it completely. Instead it comes from our approach. This I believe is found in that simple statement “Come as you are, exactly as you are, but not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”. I believe it comes from the humility and openness that is at the core of this approach.
I believe that the Unitarian tradition is both broad and deep. This is because it encourages people to include all that they are, all their experiences, all that has brought them to place they find themselves at this moment in time. I believe it is a mistake to reject any aspect of our experiences. There is always a temptation to reject the past, both personal and collective, but it is what has made us who we are today. We need to embrace it and see it fully for what it is, warts and all and beauty spots too. We need to share these experiences with one another in order to bring depth to our kaleidoscope of experiences. For no two experiences are exactly alike.
I believe there is real breadth and depth in the free religious tradition I have chosen (or did it choose me?), and that this is to be found in the personal experiences of those within our communities and those who came before them. The past should never be rejected as it can reveal so much to we who live today. To find the real depth in life you need to listen to the whole of life, you must let it speak, past, present and future. You must learn to listen to all the voices, for they are voices just like your own. You must be open to all the stories of life both ancient and modern and those of prophesy too, for they have so much to teach. You must be open to all experiences that are available to you. How can this be done? Well it begins with humility, this is the very key to openness, I believe.
Once again I say to you and I say it to myself too…”Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”…For I believe that in these simple words you will know both the breadth and the depth of life...a breadth and depth found in the beautiful free religious tradition I am blessed to serve.
Saturday, 23 August 2014
"No," said the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?" "No."
"Well, my friend, then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I am awake"
The Buddha was awake, he was fully conscious to all that is and all that will ever be. He was fully integrated, he did not see himself as separate, well he did not see himself at all.
The other day I was chatting with my mum, it was a wonderful conversation. She was doing most of the talking. This is the case in most of the conversation I have these days. I like it this way. “Now the ears of my ears are awake.”
We got talking about childhood things and what life was like back then. I asked her a question, which I haven’t asked for years about a birth defect I suffered from. She went into detail explaining how when I was born some of the nerve endings at the base of my spine were underdeveloped. It was something akin to spina bifida, but in a less severe form. As a child I had to frequently go for physiotherapy and there was a period when I was not allowed to engage in any sport. I hated the feeling it engendered in me as I looked at the other kids running around in the playground, knowing I wasn’t allowed to join in.
It was a few years later when the pain really hit me though, in my mid to later teens when I was painfully aware of the way I walked. I waddled when I moved, I still do now. When it was my time to be teased at school I would be called "Penguin, cripple, crip, criptic acid and spina bifida." I remember walking down the street of the town I grew up in and whenever I saw someone walking towards me I would stand up straight and attempt to push my feet inwards in the vain hope that they wouldn’t think that there was something wrong with me. I must have looked a right sight.
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that I am not alone in this. So many of us suffer from this from of self-consciouness. We feel lost, lonely and cut off because we are locked in what we believe is wrong with us. Sometimes it is harder to see what is right, than what is wrong. This is a deeply lonely, isolated, way to be.
Some label extreme self-absorption as Narcissism. A word taken from name of a boy of ancient Greek mythology named Narcissus who fell so in love with his own reflection that he fell into the water and drowned. Now I don't believe that it is entirely correct to name the type of self-consciousness I am discussing here as Narcissistic self-love. There seems very little love here at all. Quite the opposite in fact the pre-occupation is with what is wrong. What I'm describing is a deep form of self hatred and or loathing, not love.
When you look at your own reflection in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see someone that you love? Do you see who you really are? While many of us see ourselves warts and all, how many of us see the beauty spots too? The kind of self-absorption that most people I come into contact with suffer from tends to be a deeply ingrained negative type. The preoccupation is often with what is wrong with them, with their shame, rather than how wonderful they are. This is certainly not what Narcissus suffered from.
This kind of inner dialogue can be so crippling. It can haunt us from the moment we wake and continue throughout our day, eating away at our every decision. Oh and of course because we doubt ourselves and every decision we make, we assume that everyone else must be doing exactly the same thing. This kind of self-consciousness can be so inhibiting, so much so that it can block us off almost entirely from the world around us. We can become utterly consumed by this kind of self-consciousness, leading to us seeing the world entirely from this point of view. When we do the world does not look like a pretty place at all.
So what can we do about it? How do we wake up to a greater consciousness? How do we break free from this crippling self-consciousness?
Gandhi said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”
The Buddha talked of Nirvana, of being freed from the suffering that was the blight of humanity. He showed that we all suffered and that it was in seeing our suffering as individual that led to this sense of separation. He suggested that we needed to break through our suffering not only to serve others but to reach a higher state of being, true consciousness, to be awake.
Now please don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that we neglect ourselves and that we do not need to understand how we tick. All I am saying is that we must not get stuck there, we must not get lost there and we must not see this as a destination, more a staging post on the journey. The adolescent stage I suspect. Sadly for many folk, me included, this adolescent stage often goes on well into adulthood.
Empathy is a deep felt compassion. When we open our hearts empathically to another we are courageously refusing to allow self-consciousness to stand in the way of a higher consciousness that comes into being as we feel what another is going through. In so doing we serve both ourselves and the other person, as well as that higher consciousness beyond our singular selves.
Ecstasy is one of those words that has often been misunderstood as some kind of hedonistic state and therefore self- indulgent, it is far from this. In its truest sense what it actually does is take us out of ourselves and lifts us beyond our self created confines. In so doing we transcend our self-consciousness and enter a realm in which purpose begins to emerge and meaning is found.
Enthusiasm means to be filled with spirit, with holy energy. Enthusiasm allows us to be fully involved and engaged in whatever it is we are doing. It allows us to see beyond the confines we have created. Forrest himself states, drawing on the imagery of Narcissus, that “Here, once again, consciousness displaces self-consciousness. We escape from our mirrored room. Its mirrors turn into windows. Or the pond grows so still that we can see beyond our own reflection to the trees and clouds and birds and sun. There is, by the way, no higher form of spiritual practice. When we step out of our own shadow, consciousness replaces self-consciousness.”
Experience has revealed to me that in so doing we are set free to walk with others in our own faltering ways. Instead of being lost in what we believe is wrong with us we are set free to do what we can in this our shared world and in so doing we encourage others to do the same, as perfectly imperfect children of God, children of Love.
As a kind of conclusion I’d like to end this little chip of a blog with one final thought, inspired by some wisdom that Forrest Church shared right at the end of his life.
So much of modern spiritually gets it wrong because it is seeking the wrong thing. There is so much talk of finding ourselves, when in actual fact what we ought to be doing is losing ourselves. What we ought to be striving for is integration and to let go of those aspects within ourselves that block this. We all ask the question “Who am I?” when really we ought to asking is “How am I doing? And if we are still feeling utterly dis-connected we need to ask why? And how can I integrate once again? You see if we can begin to integrate with all that is, all that has been and all that has ever been we begin to truly cohere. In doing so we transcend our self-consciousness and become conscious. We become spiritually mature. We become like the Buddha, awake.
So how conscious are you today? Are you truly awake?
Saturday, 2 August 2014
"We humans are the line-drawers. We are the border-makers. We are the boundary-testers. We are the census-takers. We draw a line to separate this from that, so we can see clearly what each is. We create a border to define our place, so we can take care of what's there. We test boundaries to find if they are real, if they are necessary, if they are just. We congregate within those boundaries in families and tribes and cities and countries that we call us. And we call people on the other side them.
But our minds seek boundaries that our hearts know not. The lines we draw disappear when viewed with eyes of compassion. The recognition of human kinship does not end at any border. A wise part of us knows that the other is us, and we them.
Let justice flow like water and peace like a never-ending stream. Let compassion glow like sunlight and love like an ever-shining beam. The rain, the sunshine, the breeze, the life-giving air we breathe -- they know no boundaries. Neither do our empathy, our good will, our concern for one another.
God has no borders. Love has no borders. Let us lift up the awareness of our unity as we celebrate our awesome diversity on this beautiful day."
Well looking around at our world at times this does indeed seem a dream. Pick up any newspaper or switch on the news and we see division and violence growing. The idea that we can live as one does seem like a dream at times.
This last week marked the hundredth anniversary of the commencement of the First World War. Over the coming months there will be many events remembering this. While we remember I do wonder if we have ever really learned. Over the last 100 years there have been very few days when there was no conflict taking place in this our world.
Now while death through armed conflict is responsible for the loss of so many lives it is thought that only about 10% of the one million violent deaths in the world each year are due to them. The conflicts and the violence that takes place in this our world is not just between nations, or even groups and individuals. Half of the 1 million deaths are thought to be through suicide and about one third through homicide. How can we live at one with each other if we cannot live at one with ourselves?
Now of course the divisions in human life take many and varied forms. We see them of course in religious context and between nations and ethnic groups. We seem them in political agendas and we see them within communities and even within ourselves. It seems that when human beings come together in any way shape or form division soon begins to grow. It happens in families too and within our individual selves. How many of us can honestly say, hand on heart, that they are at one with themselves and the world around them?
It seems very difficult to imagine a world where we can all live as one.
A few days ago I came across a fascinating article written about Buzz Aldrin, the second man to land on the moon. The article recounted something that took place during that first moon landing, something that was intentionally kept quiet at the time.
So just before stepping foot on the moon, Aldrin conducted the service. As he did he called out to Houston
“Houston, this is Eagle. This is the LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to invite each person listening, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”
Aldrin had wanted to broadcast the event globally but had been discouraged by NASA who were at the time fighting a lawsuit brought by the atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was suing them over the reading of Genesis by the crew of Apollo 8. So the communion was kept quiet and personal due to fear of litigation.
Years later while reflecting on the incident Aldrin said himself that perhaps he should have chosen a more universal way of commemorating this incredible human achievement. He said;
“Perhaps if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion… Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.”
So many of those early astronauts, as they looked down on earth, were deeply moved by the experience. They certainly saw the oneness and the interconnection of all life on earth and all of humanity.
Thomas Stafford, while looking down on earth from Apollo 10 famously said:
"The white twisted clouds and the endless shades of blue in the ocean
make the hum of the spacecraft systems, the radio chatter, even your
own breathing disappear. There is no cold or wind or smell to tell you
that you are connected to Earth.
You have an almost dispassionate platform - remote, Olympian and yet so moving that you can hardly believe how emotionally attached you are to those rough patterns shifting steadily below."
From space those astronauts developed a deepening spiritual connection to the earth they had been separated from. They saw the world as one, there were no borders from space.
We are all connected on this our planet and yet we build so many walls, so many borders that separate us. How do we begin to live with a greater sense of oneness and interconnection? Well I do not think that the only answer is to blast off into space. I don’t think we need to do this. If I’ve learnt anything I have learnt that the journey towards interconnection and togetherness, the spiritual journey, is not one of distance, nor is it a journey of detachment, the spiritual journey is one of connection.
For me the spiritual life is essentially about connection. It is about connecting to a reality that is greater than our small selves. Living spiritually is about finding ways to connect to whatever it is that is of highest worth to us, whatever we hold sacred, whatever we regard as holy. It is about finding ways to connect through the daily interactions of our lives; it’s about learning how to live more openly even when the tough times come and those around us are refusing to do so.
This is not easy, especially when we see so many of those around us seemingly living more disconnectedly from all life and putting up barriers towards others. So how do we do this, you may well ask? Well I believe it begins with spiritual practise, it is this that will help us to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways.
I’d like to suggest a simple practise to you, one I came across in a book of meditations titled “Singing in the Night: Collected Meditations: Volume Five” edited by Mary Bernard. It is by David O. Rankin and is titled “Our Common Destiny”
Second, I must learn to affirm my neighbours. I must respect others, not for their function, but for their being. I must put others at the centre of my attention, to treat them as ends, and to recognise our common destiny. I must never use people to win glory, or to measure the ego, or to escape from responsibility. I must listen to their words, their thoughts, their coded messages.
Finally, I must value action more than intention. I must feel, think, judge, decide, and then risk everything in acts of gratuitous freedom. I must batter the walls of loneliness. I must leap the barriers of communication. I must tear down the fences of anonymity. I must destroy the obstacles to life and liberty. Not in my mind (as a wistful dream). But in my acts (as a daily reality)."
Therefore it must begin within our own hearts and souls. in the way we live our own lives. It begins by learning to revere life as the most precious God given gift there is. If we do this we will surely no longer be able to create divisions within ourselves, one another and all life.
I'm going to end this little blogspot with some prayerful words by Rick Hoyt titled “Beyond Borders”. I invite you still yourselves in a time of prayer…let us pray…
“Beyond Borders” by Rick Hoyt
Because we are always going forth from somewhere
Going from our homes
Going from our childhoods and younger selves
Going from our cities and states and countries
Going from innocence to experience to enlightenment
into the night
Because we are always going into some night,
Going into mystery
Going into questions
Going into the desert
Getting to the other side.
Eagerly or reluctantly
Leaving behind the comfort and joy and community and
familiarity of one place
Go forth, into the anxiety and sadness and loneliness and
strangeness of some other place.
Carry with you the love and laugther of this place
And let it light your spirit and your life and your way
as you make your journey.
Carry with you the wisdom you learned and the good memories of this place
And may they give you strength for your journey.
And when you have been away long enough,
Done what you set off to do
Been there so long that
That place too, starts to feel like home.
Come back to the one, universal,
Everywhere and every when and everyone inclusive home,
This beloved community of all creation
That you cannot ever really leave.