Saturday, 21 May 2016

Right enough to be wrong

"You should never be ashamed to own that you have been in the wrong, which is but saying that you are wiser today than yesterday."

A quote attribute to Alexander Pope and also Jonathon Swift, Satirist better known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels

I wonder how many times I have been wrong in my life, how many times I have made mistakes, misjudgement, errors. I wonder how many times in my life I have changed my mind about something, come to a different conclusions. I wonder how many times in my life I will do so in the future. I wonder how many times I made the same mistake. I wonder how many times I will repeat those very same errors in new and subtle ways. I haven’t a clue how many. One thing I do know is that I will continue to do so.

This no longer troubles me. I am happy not always getting things right. These days I accept I will fall short of the mark, over and over again. This does not mean I no longer aim high, I do. In fact if truth be told I attempt to aim higher all the time, it’s just I accept that these days I will fall short. I do my best, but accept I cannot do anything perfectly. I am ok with being imperfect, being incomplete these days. Why is this? Some may ask. Well because these days I do not feel wrong inside. These days I feel right enough deep down in the core of me, to be wrong sometimes.

The beauty of being wrong about things, admitting you are wrong and doing what is required to put right what was once wrong is that as soon as you do you are no longer wrong, you are right once again.

I will repeat that… The beauty of being wrong about things, admitting you are wrong and doing what is required to put right what was once wrong is that as soon as you do you are no longer wrong, you are right once again.

I have not always been this way. There have been periods of my life when deep down in the core of me I felt wrong. I cannot give you adequate explanations as to why I have felt this way, I just did. I do know that as a younger person I found reasons, but the truth is it is just how I felt deep down in the core of me. Sadly so many folk do. Not that they would easily admit to it, but still they do. I offer thanks every day that deep down in the core of my being I know that these days I am a child of love, formed from love who is here to pour out that love on this our world. I still make mistakes, all too human mistakes, but these days I no longer crucify myself for them. These days I just laugh and smile and turn again in love to life, ever aiming higher.

I have had evidence in recent weeks that this change has occurred. I have seen it as I have begun to work with the personal trainer at the gym and begun to try and resolve my life long problems with flexibility and my back. Problems that they tried to address during my childhood, problems that filled me with deep shame and which I silently believed was further evidence that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, deep in the core of my being. The problems are still there, in fact they are possibly worse. The only real difference today is that the shame is no longer there, it has long gone. Today I have found the loving courage, the heart, to face what I need to face. Not perfectly, imperfectly and even faltering actually. These days I am able to correct an aspect of myself, as best I can, with the appropriate help, because deep down inside I no longer feel wrong. These days I feel right enough to be wrong.

Whatever we do in life, whatever we achieve there will always be failure involved. This thought brings to mind a story I once heard about a young man, let’s say of thirty years who had been appointed to be the president of a great bank. Now the young man had never dreamed he would be president, never mind at such a young age. So as you can imagine he was a little unsure of this new venture. So he approached the chairman of the board, a much older and wiser man and asked “Can you, please, give me some advice?”

To which the chairman uttered just two words: “Right decisions!”
The young man was a little aghast at this as he wanted something more specific. So he asked: “How do I make right decisions?”
To which the chairman answered: “Expereince!”
To which the novice bank president responded: “But I don’t have any experience. How do I get it?”
To which the chairman answered: “Wrong decisions!”

You make the right decisions by gaining the experience of making many wrong ones.

You really do have to be right enough to give things an honest go and get things wrong, over and over again before you truly make the right decisions. You’ve got to have enough faith in life itself to live successfully in this world. The only way to gain experience is to give it ago, to fall a thousand times and to keep on giving it a go. You will only do this, I have discovered, if deep down inside you can be right enough to be wrong.

This brings to mind those beautiful words of Rumi’s that are so key to my concept of ministry and what a truly free religious community ought to be about.

"Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come."

Mawlan Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Come again, come again come…even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, you can come, you are welcome as you are exactly as you are in this very moment. The key is to aim higher together, never expecting to reach the summit, but always living with hope in our hearts.

You see everyone fails, everyone falls short. You see the truth is that if at first you don’t succeed, then you are about average, you are human. You are just like the rest of us. Perfectly imperfect human beings.

These thoughts bring to mind one of the better known accounts of Jesus from John’s Gospel ( John Ch8 vv 1-11) of the “woman caught in adultery” The woman is about to be stoned to death, in accordance with the law. The Pharasee’s test Jesus and ask him what should be done. He does not answer immediately and simply sits down and begins to write in the sand. They continue to press him and after a short while he stands up and utters the immortal words “Let those amongst you who is without sin, cast the first stone” and then bends down and continues to write in the sand. One by one the crowd disperses, beginning with the elders and after they have all gone, Jesus rises and asks the woman where they are? And if anyone has condemned her? She tells him that no one has. To which he replies “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

I have often wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand. Maybe he wrote the misdeed, maybe he wrote his own misdeeds, things he got wrong. Who knows?

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Can any of us truly say that at some point in our lives we have not caused harm to another? I think it is safe to say that to this extent we are all sinners, I am. Now do not get me wrong I do not believe, to quote ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ “there is no health in us”. I am not talking of original sin. I do not believe that anyone is born into this world tainted in any sense. I believe that we are all born with a clean slate and with the potential for so many things.

This brings to mind a beautiful meditation by Robert Walsh, simply titled "A Baptism"

She called to ask if I would baptize her infant son.

I said, "What we do is like a baptism, but not exactly. And we normally do it only for people who are part of the church family. The next one we have scheduled is in May."

She said, "Could we come to talk with you about it anyway?"

They came to see me, the very young woman and her child and the child's very young father. She explained that the child had been born with a heart defect. He had to have a risky heart operation soon. She had asked the clergyman of her own church if he would baptize her son, and he had refused because she was not married to the baby’s father.

I told them that their not being married would not be an impediment to anything we might do, but that our child dedication ceremony still might not be what they were looking for.

I explained that our ceremony does not wash away any sin, it does not guarantee the child a place in heaven, it doesn't even make the child a member of the church.

In fact, I said, it doesn't change the child at all. What we expect is that it will change the rest of us in our relationship with the child, and with all children.

She listened patiently. When I was through she said, "All I want is to know that God blesses my baby."

In my mind I gasped at the sudden clarity in the room. I said, with a catch in my throat, "I think I can do that." And I did.

Here Robert Walsh describes the general Unitarian approach to Baptism, which while often involving water in the ceremony is not doing so to cleanse the child or adult of sin. No instead the use of water, the most basic element of life, is to bless the child. When I conduct such a ceremony I touch their brow, their lips and their hands, to bless their thoughts, words and deeds. I carry this very same concept into the worship I create and lead. Each week, at the end of worship, I ask that we receive the blessings of God, the blessings of love in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do; that we carry this vision into all of our lives. The hope is that we go out into the world and live the best life that we can. I believe that we can change the world, just one smile at a time. I believe it is our task to bring the blessings of love alive in this world, for so many believe that there is no love. All they see is the very real suffering present and often miss the love.

Now Unitarians are sometimes criticised for not really doing sin. This is not exactly true. I certainly do sin. I fall short every day. That said I do reject the concept of “Original Sin”, I do not believe that we are fundamentally flawed at the core of our being. I am quite happy talking about sin, because I know that I sin. I sin in the sense that I fall short of the mark. Who doesn’t?

Now you may well ask what I mean when I talk of sin. First of all it is important to understand that in the original Hebrew and Greek sin meant falling short of the mark.

The Unitarian Universalist minister Frank Muir, in an attempt to explain the words etymology says that:

“The Garden story was all about cheyt, the Hebrew word meaning “to miss the mark,” which was their definition of sin-like shooting an arrow at the target and missing. After you miss, of course it’s a disappointment, but you try again, you try to hit the mark. So you see sinning is a part of life, no different than breathing, eating, or sleeping.

So you see we all sin, we all fall short, we all get things wrong from time to time. That though does not mean that we are wrong, that we are wrong at the core of our very being. Since I understood and accepted this I have found enough faith to become right enough to be wrong and to put right what needs to be put right and therefore no longer be wrong.

The key I believe is our starting point. If we believe that we are fundamentally flawed, that there is something wrong with us, deep down in the core of our being, then we will be afraid to do anything. Even if we do something every time it goes wrong, which it will from time to time, that’s one of life’s guarantees, we will see it as evidence that there is something deeply fundamentally wrong with us.

If we believe that we are wrong at the core of our being we will also be afraid to admit our mistakes. We will all make mistakes, we will all break our vows, maybe even a thousand times, that too is one of life’s guarantees.

If we believe we are wrong, at the core of our being, we will believe that everyone else is wrong and we will find ourselves throwing stones and fearing life and everyone else around us. We will point the finger, we will blame we, we will scapegoat, we will fail to take personal responsibility.

I once did. I believed I was wrong at the core of my being and as I result I feared myself and all life. Thank God I was able to see the truth about this and changed my mind. I hope that if you ever have these feeling about yourself that can see the same truth too.

I wish for you who read this "blogspot", what I wish for everyone, that they will too find the peace and freedom to become right enough to be wrong.

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