Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Nearly twenty years ago I was the custodian of a loving Dalmatian named Hadley. Originally from Massachusetts but at the time living in Toronto, I always named my animals after towns in my home state. In addition to my beloved Hadley, I had previously named a cat Belmont and a crazy Border Collie, Paxton. I loved how the names were not only cute and somehow appropriate as animal proper names, but that they expressed my love for my home while I was so far away.
Hadley and I had a routine. Every day I’d walk her on leash to the edge of the park and then unhook her to chase the squirrels that had gathered in the temporary absence of canines. Off she bolted and the shiny black squirrels, predominant in this part of North America, scattered like cockroaches in the light. I watched her run after one in particular. I wasn’t worried because she never actually caught any. For all her speed, they were usually far more agile than she and could get away quickly. But the one she chased was noticeably slower than the rest. She was gaining on it quickly. I could see that it was just a baby. Now I worried. I had visions of her returning proudly with a bloody dead baby squirrel in her mouth as a gift. I started to run after her, shouting. Usually obedient, this time she ignored me utterly.
Underneath the heavy, low-slung boughs of a large pine tree the little squirrel ran for cover, Hadley in hot pursuit. By the time I arrived at the tree the squirrel was under there and half of Hadley’s body wedged among the green needles. The other half, bearing her wildly wagging tail, stuck out obscenely in the light. She had caught it. Devastated, I dove underneath the tree with them and discovered the most unexpected sight. Hadley had not eaten the squirrel. She’d never actually caught up to one before and now that she had, she was completely unsure about what to do next. The squirrel was equally stunned. So much so that the fluffy little guy didn’t even flinch when I arrived panting into their meeting. Even more startling was the fact that the squirrel and my dog were face to face, only an inch apart,. and the squirrel’s little paw was reaching out, braced against the cold shiny surface of Hadley’s nose. The three of us made a sort of comic tableau: human, dog and rodent, all unsure of what to do next.
My next thought was a realization of how that squirrel had likely come to be in this position in the first place. I assumed it had fallen from a tree, either abandoned or excommunicated from the nest for some genetic deficiency. I felt sorry for the little thing and wondered if I should bring it home. I quickly realized that transporting it would become the issue if I decided to help it. Even though at this point in my life I had not become accustomed to reflexive prayer, I suddenly found myself making a pact with God. I thought, If I can find a box with a lid I’ll take that as a sign that I’m supposed to help this squirrel. Otherwise I’ll leave him here to let nature take its course. And even though I didn’t mentally articulate it as such, the type of box I imagined as I prayed was a wooden orange crate with a hinged lid. I was, in a sense, challenging God to produce a box for me as a condition of caring for one of Its little creations. I know I thought I was quite clever to come up with a condition that would not likely be met; thus getting me off the hook and assuaging the guilt I would surely feel if I left it.
I backed out from under the tree and looked around. Just around the visible edge of the pine only a few feet from where our bizarre mammalian trio had met sat an orange crate complete with hinged lid. All I could think of was, You’ve got to be kidding me. With resignation I took the squirrel, who for whatever reason allowed me to pick it up, and placed it in the box for the walk home. I cared for it for weeks, feeding it with an eyedropper a sweet, milky concoction recommended by the local Humane Society. I was rehearsing in a musical at the time and I couldn’t leave it home alone, so I wore a hooded sweatshirt backwards to rehearsal cradling it against my chest as I sang and danced. Instead of smoke breaks I took wetnurse breaks instead.
I did acknowledge at the time that I had prayed and received an answer. I had asked and had received. I talked to God and God not only heard, It delivered. It was momentous, but its momentousness took time to germinate.
Over time I began to look back on that moment as proof of God. Even more wonderful was that I felt like I had proven to God that I was here, too. Whenever I doubted, the though of that little trinity of Man, Dog and Squirrel comforted me and reminded me that I, too, am connected to Source, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
So now I’ll reveal what I named the squirrel. On account of the fact that I assumed he’d fallen from a tree, I named him Newton. And all these many years later I look on that moment as being the birth of my adult understanding of the mechanics of faith. Ask and Ye Shall Receive. His name turns out to have been somewhat prophetic. For now, in my expanded search for understanding and knowing Spirit, begun that day in Toronto, I have found myself in seminary studying that very topic in the very town that gave my little squirrel its name: Newton, Massachusetts.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo, M.Div. at 10:43 AM
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Sermon - First Parish Church, UU, Sept 21, 2014
“All Hail the New YouTubeitude” Meditation Exercise and Sermon
Be here now. American Philosopher Ram Dass made that suggestion to us back in 1971. But what did it mean? My understanding is that it means to live in the present, of course, but what does that mean? How can we live in the present when we need to plan and prepare? How can we live in the present when there are things from our past which still haunt us? The answer is to just do it for a moment. Give your body a break once in a while from all the stressful hormones our brains pump into our cells when we’re all worked up about something that is either keeping us mired in the past or stressing us out about the future. Those stress hormones pollute our cells and make them function less efficiently. They don’t process out the fats as well. They don’t absorb nutrients as well. But with just a few moments a day of living in the present we can put a wedge in that process. A wedge that takes only a few moments of the present to counteract hours of ruminating on the past and future. So how to do that when we have busy minds and busy lives? I tell you you can do it even at a red light. In fact, I encourage you to make this a red light ritual. Let’s do it together. First take a deep breath. For now close your eyes, but when you’re waiting for the light to turn green it’s probably better to do this with your eyes open. But keep them closed for now. Next, just take a little inventory about the present. What sounds do you hear? What’s going on in your body? What does your breath sound like? Don’t analyze these thoughts, just catalog them. Just acknowledge what you hear and feel and then move on to observe the next moment. Don’t spend time going off on a thought tangent. Although when you realize that you are, just gently drop the thought and pick up again on the present. Listen to my voice and let that keep you here in the now. But in moments when you’re alone the breath is the best place to start. The breath is always present and you can use your awareness of it to keep you in the now for a few moments just by listening to it. Just by feeling it entering and exiting your body. Listen to your breath now. When you do this, you are effectively keeping the past and present at bay just long enough to let your body heal a bit. When you do this you relax parts of your mind that you don’t even know are all clenched up. That answer you were looking for is far more likely to come to you if you can just unclench for the duration of a red light. Afterward, your ruminations on past a future can resume with a clearer head and a calmer body. The light’s green now. Let’s open our eyes and continue...
I think the best attribute of the Twitterverse, Facebookosphere, and the New YouTubeitude is that they actually help us discover one another in ways that manage to get around the inherent problems of a face to face meeting. We don’t always feel safe getting to know one another, even though I think we really want to. The Internet helps us know what’s out there. It helps us know what’s out there like we are and what’s out there like they are. It gives us a real chance at recognizing from a distance what value we may bring to the world. And perhaps most importantly, it gives us a chance to see ourselves in a global context before we have to actually go outside. It tells us what kind of friend we want to have, and be.
And just to get it out of the way and call out the elephant in the room... let's talk about the role of sex on the Internet for a moment. I'm fairly certain that it only proves my point that the Internet is a real time, ratio-consistent, encyclopedia of the human race. I propose there is no more or less sex on the Internet than there is in humanity. And just like the human race, it is dependent upon sex to perpetuate itself, to improve itself. In this the Internet even has its own metaphoric reproductive system. Or perhaps it's not so metaphoric. Perhaps it's even literal. I'm guessing that sex sites are a major reason why we continue to need so much available bandwidth. But once that growing infrastructure exists, everything benefits. Medical records, Netflix, restaurant menus, YouTube, Twitter. Sexuality has a place in nearly every organic system with regard to preserving itself and expanding. And that is the key to the Internet's success: the Internet presents itself like a living organic structure with genetic diversity and exceptional internal communication. It is humanity in data form. And as such we have a platform where we are able to more completely reference ourselves when we wish to live by the ancient Greek aphorism "Know thyself."
Now, we do get a little nervous with this sudden influx of technology. We worry about its effects. So I have a question for you. Does all this texting and emailing truly negate the face to face meetings we have, or enhance them? Because I hear society complain that the Age of Technology is preventing the Millennials, the Gen Xers and even the Baby Boomers from learning to, or even being able to, exist in the presence of another person.
I understand the concern. It appears alarming from a certain angle. And we don’t really have the benefit of history to help us gauge what’s really going on here. We’re literally making it up as we go along; we might as well admit it. But I don’t think technology negates, discourages, or makes impossible human face to face contact. I think it actually gives us a real chance to make a friend when we as a people typically have a hard time with things like intimacy— being distinct and often crabby humans in a crowded world and everything.
And now that we are in an age where we have literally dozens to hundreds of virtual interactions with people every day, I think this abundance of human contact (in whatever form it comes) is a genuinely good thing. Even more, I think it enhances the face to face contact interactions we do have.
Yes, there may be harmful side effects we don’t yet know about. But those don’t negate the attempt to get to know one another. And it’s just as likely we will continue to discover additional positive side effects we don’t yet know about. We’ve already seen the proof of that. Even ten years ago we most of us had no idea the things that were possible to do with the Internet. Fortunately, there are people out there like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (and the like) who did. They literally changed our world practically overnight. And most of that change is still yet to be revealed. We have to remember that social media is a shockingly new technology, and even people who never use a computer are still greatly impacted by everyone else’s use of it. If our various social media were children, all of them would still be in elementary school. None of them is older than ten years old. And yet they have informed entire revolutions from the Arab Spring to the historic Market Basket boycott. The don't just witness change in our world, they actually make that change possible.
So much changes so fast in our world now that we scarcely have time to figure out how to use new technology by the time we’re already getting into car accidents because we can’t stop using it. We’re so excited to use it! We can talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time. And as a result of this rapidly changing world, we can no longer predict, using the same measurements as before, what is going to happen next. The old rules don’t work anymore and all predictions—from political to economic to fashion to predictions about the progress of civil rights—those predictions are obsolete even before we have time to commit them to something as old fashioned as print. With ink.
And so if that’s the case —if we really don’t have the benefit of hindsight to guess what will happen next—how do we evaluate ourselves now? How do we anticipate what’s coming? How do we predict what’s next when we clearly can’t see beyond the throw of our own headlights? I’ll tell you. We have only one piece of information. It’s called: What we’re thinking right now. In an age of uncertainty, right now is what determines what’s next.
So how do we litmus test the world now? In ages not so long ago we had no way of having a global conversation. This is all new. Before, there was no way to survey the planet in real time. Now we do it literally every day. What kind of impact do you think that’s going to make on a warring people over time? On a biased, prejudiced, fearful, hoarding people? Can you contemplate for a moment what it might be like if everybody on the planet met everyone else? Walked in their shoes a little bit and heard their stories. If you can imagine it, we can have it. If you’re thinking about the implications of global connectivity then you are starting to have a picture of what tomorrow is going to look like. And from what I’m seeing, tomorrow is looking not so damn bad. I know that things look bleak. I know that when we watch the news, it’s hard to remain optimistic. It generally takes a pollyanna like me to sift through the messages to find what’s good about it all. But we have to remember that the wars and political battles of today are about different things than they used to be. War is fought in very different ways now. And wars have a hard time ending now because we don’t know how to end a war with someone we don’t wish to annihilate. We know that after the war, we plan to make peace. Think of Germany, England, Japan. These have all been our mortal enemies in the past but today we rely so heavily on our friendships with them that we can see it’s better to make friends in the end. So we don’t know what to do now that it’s not about humiliating another country and the grand signing of a surrender document. Our wars now aren’t even with other countries, they are with factions! Is there a day that we will celebrate every year as the day when the war in Afghanistan ended? No. We don’t even know when that date would be.
The great thing is that, from my perspective, humanity is really infinitely manipulable toward an arc of justice. It’s hard to manipulate us to cause harm. We have to be lied to, or find ways to justify our actions in order to make us do it. We have to live from a place of anger. But we can be pretty gullible about ways to make the world better. I think that’s kinda sweet. It makes me want to be careful though about what I say with regard to how to find personal happiness. Especially because we now finally on the planet Earth have a right to be anything we want. We are still learning to accept that right and constructively express it in a way that authentically represents our one great and beautiful race. But it is nearly a global thought that these things are worthy of aspiration. It is worthy to hold aloft the notion that all humankind are created equal. This is the Great Intent. All humankind are created equal. It is imprinted on our souls and the message will not be silenced by our current immaturity forever. It will take time for action to catch up with intent. But we can see that the Great Intent I speak of is manifesting in so many ways every day. You have only to look for it to see it.
I think it’s safe for me to be a bold messenger here. Bolder perhaps than I’ve already been. What I’m trying to say is: Just give it all a chance to work, people!! We are doing so great we hardly realize it because what we have just hasn’t caught up to what we want. ...Yet. And the fact that we want better is a good thing. We are a determined and inventive race. We’re getting there, I swear. Just take a look for yourselves. Don’t just look at the fact that there’s civil war in the Middle East, look at WHY there is civil war in the Middle East! Remember that wars are now fought against the backdrop of virtually uncensorable communication. It is nearly impossible now for dictators to completely silence their people. And just as they feared, when the oppressed can freely communicate with one another, they learn there is more of the oppressed than there are oppressors; a dangerous realization for dictators. They behave in despicable ways to keep the old rules alive. They’ve lost the battle already, but like any losing opponent, they throw the whole arsenal at us on the way out.
And so now that the people are able to freely communicate, what is their conversation about? Without constraint from corrupt governments what is the newly expressed wish of those who have been until now silenced? Until now if we wanted to know what the people think we had to rely on the ones in power to tell us. Until now we’ve been told what the populace wants by the propaganda machines. But those machines are losing their ability to control the story. And now the oppressed can talk with one another. All of them. The globally oppressed, for the very first time in human history, have the ability to talk to one another and create the feared “new world order.”
So, in my view it’s all a fait accompli now. It’s a done deal. The New World Order is here. And now we know why they didn’t want us to have it. Because those who would have us continue in the old ways are the old world order. And they don’t want to lose their jobs. But they are. And quite often, unfortunately, their heads as well. Seems like good motivation to keep the populace silent to me.
Do you want to know what this new world order is going to look like? Listen to the conversations occurring on this planet right now; the conversations that we can now hear. Now that they’re able to speak freely we can freely hear them. Their conversations are about democracy and health and fairness and equality and education for all and that these things are inherent human rights. And they get pissed when they see some having more and some less when those who have more have not gotten it fairly. I don’t blame them one bit. I’m angry too. We’re all talking about it to each other all the time and in ways that no government seems to be able to stop! It wasn’t like this a hundred years ago. Heck, it wasn’t like this twenty years ago. What would Che Guevarra, or Ghandi, or Norma Rae, or Nelson Mandela as he sat in prison have given for twenty minutes of the world as we know it today? Am I the only one seeing this?
We can see the mistakes we have been making and the resources we have been squandering. However I don't think we are just squandering our resources. I believe they are teaching us how to respect them. Slowly and painfully, but we are learning more all the time about what we do wrong.
And we literally love to discover when people do wrong. That’s not always a bad thing when it occurs as a part of a larger and complex ecosystem such as human society; if done with integrity. Whistleblowers have an important place in our world. We have people in every corner who, for a variety of reasons both sincere and harmful, ferret things out into the open for public evaluation. And we say yea, and we say nay, and we say you are the weakest link, goodbye. And sometimes we say, You are a hero. Thank you. A ferreting, inquisitive, voyeuristic, sometimes gossipy process which is natural to us but still needing more work in the areas of tact, finesse, and appropriateness. It’s ok to be critical of one another, that’s a part of our nature that serves us very well. But be constructive and respectful first. Remember the objective is to collaborate, the Great Intent is to work together, so don’t screw it up by being rude or over-sensitive. Meet in the middle and agree that both is doing their best. And then let that be your covenant. Do your best always. Forgive. Reconcile. Collaborate on healing. Apologize. Accept apologies.
When I start to look back on the last twenty years especially, I have only one belief: As difficult as it may seem for some to believe, the fact is, we are truly on the precipice of world peace. Even considering new threats such as ISIS and the war in Israel, just look at what is happening all around us. Look at what we’re trying to do! We’ve spent the past 69 years doing our best to fix our world’s problems even as we make more problems in the process of trying. It’s been 69 years since we realized we finally invented and used the ultimate weapon, the Atomic Bomb. And now we live with the responsibility of that little red button. It’s a heavy burden, but wisdom has so far prevented us from pressing it again.
So, the Age of Aquarius is here. It’s all different now; you can’t deny it. Even as we fight, we define fair fighting. We react as a global community when injustice is occurring. How we react is influenced by a variety of factors and I am not attempting to evaluate here what constitutes a good reaction. How we react is not the point of these words. My point here is that we react, almost always, in concert, with a sense of acknowledged injustice, compassion and concern. It is the very fact that we, for the first time in human history, have the ability to simultaneously communicate with virtually every sector and culture on the planet in real time. Wow. Just soak that in for a moment… We’ve gotten so used to it so quickly we have forgotten what a revolutionary moment in history we are in. People will one day ask us what it was like before the New Renaissance.
Let's just honor the process and set about leaning into it. Let’s start spending our energy doing a better job of the job it’s obvious we’re trying to do.
Start by seeing the good in the world, okay? It’s all around you. It is literally everywhere. In every level of the most meager of existences there is at least the possibility of mercy. And from there we just go up. People are good to each other. There is so much more of that than anything. Is there suffering in the world? Yes! Must we do something about it? Yes! Are we doing something about it? ...I truly believe, that to the best of our ability, as governed by a variety of influences over which we have no control and about which we can sometimes, only sometimes, comfortably regard with faith and crossed fingers, humanity is doing its very best to get the hell over itself. I really think so. And I just want us to cut ourselves some slack once in a while as we continue to navigate our potential awesomeness. It’s a big hole we’re digging out of but we’re doing it.
And a lot of people are really scared about the old ways dying. Big money has been made under the old rules. Now the rules are changing and for the first time Big Money are not the only ones authoring that change. Remember, cornered dogs bark the loudest. Be patient with them. They are having a harder time with this shift than you are. We’re afraid because we don’t know what’s happening. They’re afraid because they do.
Some people in this world are fighting the bigger fights about justice. And they need our help to be fighting alongside them and ferreting out the wrong in this world with the new tools we now have at our disposal. In a country where we have the luxury to live in a democratic society, and where we are already at a level where we squabble over how to best spend our trillions, let's remember that we are in the best position to honor the process and lean into the progress we are making in the world.
We know the job we’re here to do. Let’s keep doing it.
Pray for the Earth. Pray for the people who embody it. Pray for continued balance and continued observance of the goodness of the world. Pray to make known any injustice, any sorrow, any grievance, any tragedy so that we may respond together in harmony and honor. Pray to hear tales of our strengths and of our hearts. List our ear to discern them as we continue to get to know our magnificent Human Race. May it ever be so.
Posted by Wil Darcangelo, M.Div. at 2:42 PM