Monday, March 27, 2017

The Path of Nonresistance (and Friends)

From a service given at First Parish Church in Fitchburg Massachusetts February 5, 2017

Meditation: Breathe. As you draw air in and out feel the rush of oxygen and nitrogen as it whooshes through your nostrils. As you exhale picture yourself sliding and sinking down into your seat. Feel the weight of your shoulders and allow them to relax. Feel the tension in your legs. Allow them to release. And breathe…

Picture standing with a brick wall in front of you. You can’t see the top of it. You can’t see around it. For all you know it’s as thick as it is high. You could rightly decide that this wall is impenetrable. But one thing you do know: you know this wall is standing in your way. Would you push against it? Would you go and get a battering ram? A bulldozer? Would you design a weapon to explode it? These won’t work. Somehow you know this. But you are not defeated.

You get a sudden inspiration to do something radical. You slowly turn away from the wall and look at the open space behind you. You breathe in the openness. As you exhale you literally feel the wall crack behind you. A sprinkling of dust hisses slightly as it lands on the ground. You start to imagine that the openness you see in front of you is your new reality. This is what life is really about, you think to yourself. The wall starts to crumble from the other side. Through the wall you can hear the sound of bricks falling, landing with soft resonant thuds you can feel in your feet.

Empowered now, you imagine that everyone’s reality is as open as this. Behind you the bricks start falling faster now. Slabs of brick land with a distinct, heavy thud. Thud. You’re aware of what’s happening but now you really lean into this new way of thinking.

You visualize how people will react to experiencing openness. How much joy they will feel once they have been released. How much more joy they will experience now for once having been walled in. Freedom is so much sweeter.

You have become so absorbed in this thought you have forgotten about the wall entirely. Until you turn around and find it’s gone.  Just a pile of bricks you can now use to make something beautiful. You feel nothing but peace and you walk forward. Peaceful. Empowered. Compassionate.
Breathe. Slowly come back to the room now. All is well.

Message: [brackets indicate thoughts added later]

We have seven principles in Unitarian Universalism. At the risk of oversimplifying them, they are: inherent worth, justice, acceptance, freedom, conscience, world community, and the interdependent web of all existence. Not always simple to remember. We most of us remember some of them. They were chosen by a process which was informed by a series of philosophies. Ways of viewing the Ultimate Reality, each developing in their own age and culture, slowly unifying over time, ultimately converging together into an organized group search for individual truth. An ever-widening series of spiritual opinions coming together. If there is a categorical miracle existing in Unitarian Universalism it is that many opinionated heads have come together in a world trying so hard to tear itself apart. But light finds a way.

My point is that these varying spiritual opinions, which were likely discussed as the Seven Principles were first being drafted, came from somewhere. The spiritual opinions of these people came from somewhere. They came from the books these people had read, the things that they had each been taught, resulting in ideas and inspirations which came to them all on their own. This is what they each brought to the table when composing our Seven Principles. These were their sources.
What are your sources? It’s a worthwhile question to have to answer. Who or what informs your reality? What books have influenced you? Movies, television, people? Sports figures? Politicians? Money? Everyone puts their faith in something based on their sources of inspiration. If you want your life to be different, consider your sources.

“In 1952, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, speaking to the Freedoms Foundation in New York, said, “Our sense of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that all men are created equal.””

He wasn’t saying an organized religion should rule the country. Eisenhower believed that we must practically make a religion out of the act of seeking equality and fairness. That our prime directive must be to make better this world and all who inhabit it with the same fervor of the religious. He didn’t care what religion you believed in, what god you prayed to. But that one another’s equality should be our faith and doctrine as a people. It’s an early mention of the concept of the Judeo-Christian ethic. But clarifying.

In Unitarian Universalism we have six sources from which we derive our traditions and principles. Six places from which we may ask questions, understand our history, take advice. Not all of them pertain to all of us. For we are free to reject as well as proclaim.

The six sources of Unitarian Universalism are:
  1. THE SELF - Your own experience. What you think matters. What you observe counts.
  2. THE PROPHETS - The recorded words and writings of the experiences of others called to make change in the world.
  3. THE WORLD'S RELIGIONS - Where do the different organized religions agree? And where do they not? What does the examination of these things reveal?
  4. THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN ETHIC - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. [God is our neighbor.]
  5. REASON - Science and humanity. What can we see, touch, taste, smell, or experience in some literal way.
  6. GAIA - The Earth-based traditions like Paganism, Wicca, Celtic, Druid, Native American as well as the indigenous teachings from around the world that follow the wheel of the year.

These are where we get our ideas from. Today we talk about the fourth source of the six sources of Unitarian Universalism. The Judeo-Christian ethic. Which has five basic parts. The Judeo-Christian ethic is not about theology, or even religion. Although, religion was a carrier of the message. The ethical stance to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, however, is independent even of a belief in God. It has purely to do with how we tread upon this earth.

But doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is a virtual fantasy goal, nearly impossible to universally enact. We say it so often, we actually think we live up to it. What a crock. The fraction of our time we spend actually treating people well would probably surprise us. Especially if you begin to configure our carbon footprints, the leaders we vote for, the way we treat our domesticated animals, the plastic bottles we throw away, the cigarettes we still smoke. We may donate to charity, we may volunteer, we may religiously smile at every person who walks down the street. But we most of us average out to not being very friendly to the world at all.

Yet every little bit still matters. Each of those smiles sends a ripple into the Universe like a bell being rung. But we ring many bells. Some good, some not so much. Even the Liberty Bell has a crack in it.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is much like the US Constitution. It is a gleaming ideal toward which we must always strive, written well in advance of our ability to fully enact it. The debate has always been on how to strive for it.

The Judeo-Christian ethic arrives at us first through Judaism, then processed and specified by the teachings of Jesus. He provided a synthesis of understanding regarding the old laws; which ones were still valid, which ones needed updating. His most specific update was regarding the old Hammurabi Code of ‘Eye for an Eye’ which by Jesus’ time still haunted Judaism even though the practice was becoming a bit less literal by then.

The Judeo-Christian ethic was summed up by Jesus in the following passage from the book of Matthew chapter 5, verses 38-48. It’s actually quite a challenging passage, as it asks us to be things that seem impossible, even dangerous.

The New American Standard Bible translates the original Greek as follows: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So, it gives the appearance he is saying we need to learn to take abuse in order to be perfect. But that’s not what’s really going on here. I think he’s being very literal in a nonliteral way. I think he’s encouraging us to respond differently than we traditionally do. I think he’s saying to be radical in our way of creating a loving response to hateful action. We are being taught here how to truly disarm an opponent. I think he’s teaching us that if we do things differently, we may just get a different end result over time. You know what they say about the definition of crazy, afterall. It’s doing the same thing over, and over, but expecting a different result. The teaching here is do things differently.
That particular passage encompasses it all. It is about the teachings of nonresistance, forgiveness, compassion, empowerment, even hospitality. And they are the five teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic:
  1. Nonresistance
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Compassion
  4. Empowerment
  5. Hospitality
    Do these for yourself and others every day.

The infamous Christian quotable from the above passage is “Turn the other cheek.” It’s not about continuing our abuse. It is about nonresistance. It’s about turning away. It’s about not placing our energies on that which we do not want any longer. The plant you waters is the plant that grows. The wolf you feed with your attention and resistance is the one who survives. The adversary you battle against is the same one developing bigger weapons against you. The one you stop fighting against is the one who falls over from the weight of their useless armor and weaponry. The terrorist organization who fails is not the one we war against. It’s the one whose funding we locate and withdraw.

[The bigots, the racists, the politically enraged. We demand their failure and their silence. But that has not worked. The right side of history has demoralized those who are afraid of change. We should be in the business of softening hearts not building weapons. The hearts who soften are the one we have listened to.

Even when what they say is hard to hear, listen between the lines of their anger and fear. Listen honestly. Silencing hate will not end it. We must be brave enough to listen to it. Besides, hate doesn't really exist. Only fear. Fear can be comforted. But only if we turn from resisting it. What we resist persists. What we love grows.]

To stop a sailboat, you can’t do it with more hot air. One must stop the wind altogether. Mother Theresa knew all about this. She was quoted as saying, “I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.” That is what the practice of nonresistance asks of us.

Nonresistance is connected to the second of the five teachings—forgiveness—because we must learn to let go in order to stop resisting. Anger and frustration fuel resistance. And while it’s perfectly logical that anger and frustration are the responses to stress, they’re just more of the same old way of coping with things. They don’t change outcomes. Forgiveness means letting go. Not necessarily forgetting, but ending the cycle of resentment about a reality over which we never have nor ever will have any real control. When someone’s tailgating you it’s the difference between between driving slower and pulling over to let them pass. What if you knew the reason they were tailgating you? Would it make a difference in how you feel about their actions? I personally would feel much better about pulling over if I thought the reason they were in such a rush was because they really needed to go to the bathroom. Pulling over is easy because you’re able to let go of your frustration—we’ve all been there.

Forgiveness leads us to empathy and compassion. We have compassion for someone who’s about to wet themselves. We are able to put ourselves in their place and recognize ourselves in their story. Compassion is the next of the five teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic. It’s doors are opened by learning to be forgiving. Compassion is active. It leads us to be sympathetic of another’s situation and use our own privilege—whatever it may be—to the assistance of another.

But there are pitfalls to compassion if not practiced carefully and mindfully. It’s easy to mistake the difference between helping someone and serving someone. Helping is giving them a fish. Serving is teaching them to do it for themselves. [Helping is condescension. Serving someone makes equals of them.] Compassion, when approached mindfully is not always the easiest because we must remember another of the five teachings: Empowerment. If we are compassionate without empowering we are just creating another dependent.

Empowerment is the hardest of all because it means that we not only have to make our decisions about how to engage with others on this level, we also have to engage with ourselves. We have to be constantly mindful of what will best serve us, not merely help us. Quitting a bad habit is empowering, but not easy. It’s easier to just keep on helping ourselves. And when someone comes to us asking for our help, we need to think about what it is they really need. Sometimes, it’s not help.

I know a story of a young man addicted to drugs who, after he'd had enough, called his stepmother for money to come home to Massachusetts from California. She said, “You were smart enough to get yourself into this situation, you’re smart enough to get yourself out.” She then hung up. Who knows what might have happened if she had just helped him out and sent him the money for the ticket? The young man began to get clean after that. He credits the moment when she hung up on him for doing it. Tough love is painful, but often empowering. [If we are courageous enough to listen honestly to it.]

And finally, if one is able to be nonresistant, leading them to being forgiving, which opens up our ability to be compassionate, we find the only way to truly serve is to empower. From there we are able to be truly hospitable. We are free to be welcoming in the face of difficult realities. Hospitality is a natural extension of the first teaching, nonresistance. Our doors are open because we understand the human heart.  Because we have been non-resistant to it. Because we have let it in. We understand weakness and love them in spite of themselves. Because to love something challenging is not the same thing as authorizing its behavior. It’s taking it and allowing it to exist without resistance, flooding it with love and compassion and empowerment with the expectation that this action will have the best chance of transforming it into the best of all possible forms.

These are the teachings of the Judeo-Christian ethic. These are what informs the original basis of both Unitarianism as well as Universalism. They are what gives room for all the others to exist within the same spiritual framework and by whose grace we know that we are worthy, we all deserve justice and equality, to be accepted, not merely tolerated. To be free to act in accordance with our own conscience. To engage with the world around us. To recognize our inherent unity. To know that all life is not only special, but sacred.

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