Sunday, September 27, 2015

Actually, It's Called the Interweb

The Seventh Principle of Unitarian Universalism: 
Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence

A world begins in fits and starts.  There are many legends of the beginnings of this world, and of every thing, even the beginning of light.  The creation of a world in both the literal and metaphoric sense is fraught with success and failure.  But is failure something that goes wrong, or something that goes differently than expected?  What if words like wrong and failure were actually value-neutral?  What if those words were merely regular old adjectives just like red, or tall, or smooth?  When you look at the origin and history of the word wrong it doesn’t exactly imply that wrong is bad.  That use of the word didn’t happen until later.  Wrong merely means crooked in the directional sense.1  Off the expected course.  We love to say that things are right or wrong.  So, if wrong isn’t wrong then how does it differ from right?  Well, wrong is still the opposite of right in that right comes from the latin rectus which means straight.  The opposite of crooked.  Wrong means it is off the expected path.  It is on a path of its own.  Right means I am going straight ahead on course.  We could assume that one is better than the other, but why?  Do either of these truly require a judgement about whether meeting expectations is always the best possible outcome?  Wrong is not wrong, it is merely different than expected, or anticipated, or perhaps even desired.  By the same token failure is only a word that describes the exact same thing.  A deviation from expectations.  Buddhism refers to expectations as the “wanting mind.”  A wanting mind is trying to create structure and control over its environment.2  But the world evolves of its own accord and no attempt at controlling it will succeed.

This is not to say that there aren’t deeds that are wrong.  I’m not saying that bad things are actually good.  This is a look at the bigger picture.  A look at the society of the world and its progress toward peace.

For a world begins in fits and starts.  To have faith is to believe to one degree or another that there is a purpose to it all, even if we can’t see it.  Not a predestination, but a point to it all.  A purpose, a reason, to both things straight and crooked. That life itself has purpose and that all its twists and turns might also have meaning and appropriateness on some level.  That there is a meaning to suffering and challenge and joy.  From of point of that idea which we hope is true, we then philosophically diverge into all sorts of interpretations about the purpose and meaning of life. The Ultimate Reality.  Is there a God or isn’t there?  If there is, what is Its nature?  Is it different from us, or is there no line where God ends and we begin?  And from the Humanist perspective we may ask: Where does our sense of purpose come from?  We feel it, we are moved into action by it.  Our faith is in our interconnectedness with one another.  Whether theist or humanist, regardless of the perspective we come from, both agree our purpose is one another, and the evolution of our civilization into a world of peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.  And throughout that difficult process, we do our best to maintain a faith that all shall be well. To have peace over the state of things and remain calm that in doing so we are better equipped to receive inspiration.

A world begins in fits and starts. When we see suffering and tragedy, we also invariably see a compassionate social response.  Think of the tsunamis, the earthquakes and the outpouring of love and support from the world over.  We weave the strands more tightly together as a people every time.  The world has actually expanded its ability to know and serve one another, despite the disproportionate amount of war and violence and hatred we see in the media. ...Or perhaps because of it.  We communicate freely across the planet to a far greater degree than any dictator or tyrant has ever had the ability to control, for long.  This uncontrollable desire to know one another, fueled by our experience with tragedy and tyranny, drives our social and informational technology.  Social media is a compassionate response to the tyranny and tragedy of our human history coupled with our innate need for and limitless capacity to create relationships with one another.

The Internet itself is the literal technological embodiment of our human civilization.  It has information on everything from sex to soup and in direct proportion to their actual usage.  It is a man-made invisible grid of the planet constructed over the past 45 years, one email at a time for no purpose other than to simply communicate with one another.  It was built human by human, user by user, hackers and coders and programmers and terrorists and bloggers and sex workers and families like the Eh Bee’s making funny videos.  We have relationships with these people as much as with those who built the walls of this church.  They, we all, have built a virtual interdependent web of all things.  But is it virtual?  The Internet is real-time, physical manifestation of our innate human connectivity.

So when we look again at words like wrong and failure, and deliberately choose to insist that we not place a judgement upon them, we start to see through the fog of suffering and tragedy to the bigger picture and purpose beneath.  A world begins in fits and starts.  But what becomes an interdependent world most?  One that has known both the pain of loneliness as well as the blessing of relationship.  One that has learned, and is learning the consequences of its actions.  And through the innate compassionate attribute of the human race we, to greater and greater degrees everyday, add new strands to the web of our experience and love for one another.  

Is this what people call God?  Is this faith?  Is the web itself God?  What is your purpose?  Joy.  What is the purpose of life?  To connect with one another.  To recognize that there is no distance between you and me and then act upon that knowledge.  To show honor and respect for not only all that is in your world but also for where we are on the continuum of progress toward peace on earth. We are perfect.  For perfection is not a destination, it is the inner directive of purpose that is the defining characteristic of our perfection.  That by design we exist to improve is our perfection.  We are perfectly made and perfectly guided from within.  Through free will we hear that inner guidance or choose to ignore it.  But even ignorance evolves into curiosity once fear is dissolved.  Remember that.  Have patience.  Have faith.  All shall be well.

We all have ideas about what is right and what is wrong.  We all have plans which are sometimes thwarted by forces out of our control.  But when you let go of expectations, a larger pattern emerges.  One that is not afraid of challenges, but leverages those challenges in favor of the very thing that it appears is being destroyed: the Human Spirit.

When something goes off the expected or hoped for course, we respond.  If we respond with love, we become even further intertwined with one another.  We learn how to respond better and faster and anticipate problems and cure diseases all because something has gone wrong.  We learn new ways of loving and create social programs because something has gone wrong.  In these ways wrong is an inherent blessing within a tragedy.  Something positive can be mined from every wrong turn if only we have the faith to know that such a thing is possible.  

And by this act we become even further entwined with one another.  The web thickens.  

And who knows?  Maybe this is exactly the plan.  Maybe we’ve been on the right track of our greater intent all along.

Every faith system on the planet will tell you that you must acknowledge power in order to benefit from it.  In order to participate in love we must acknowledge that love exists.  We must admit that we are worthy of being loved.  We must give permission.  Plug in. Tune in. Tune up. Turn on.  This implies that the only thing waiting to happen is our consent to acknowledge. To recognize.  There is an energy which exists.  A soup of something which envelops us.  Few would deny it, though they will all call it different things.  They name it according to their faith.  The language is scientific for some.  Metaphysical for others.  Many of us use both.  Because we marvel at what the Ultimate Reality has wrought.  We are in awe at the confluence of circumstances so improbable that they are considered mathematically impossible.  We are a mathematical impossibility and yet we are here.  We exist.  We think.  We are made perfect in our constant need to reach for the better feeling, the better idea. the knowledge, the wisdom. We are perfect because we evolve. Because we have, in ironic tandem with our ability to create the perfect weapons, begun to slowly and painfully acknowledge the value and inherent dignity of human life.  You have only to look at even the most biased of history books to see it.  We have evolved to the point where we have even codified into our law the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right.  We use words to guide us toward doing it better than we are able to when they are written.  We literally throw anchors at a destination—no matter how far—and then drag ourselves there with purpose and struggle.  We are perfect.  We began that way and nothing can shake us from that truth.  We can look at the proof of it everyday.  Though we may not know how or why we exist or from where we came, if anywhere, or to whence we shall go, we not only exist, we exist to thrive.  For we can see that when faced with A or B we always choose the one which will at least cause us the lesser amount of grief, if not the most amount of happiness.  And there is not a human being on this planet, nor single cell of life, not even the components of an atom that does it one bit differently. When faced with A or B we instinctively reach for the better thought. In this we find that we are inherently perfect.  We stand in awe at the mere fact that we exist.  And we give thanks for whatever it was, be it Chance or Choice, which made it so.  Amen.  Namasté.

"Actually It's Called the Interweb." Wil Darcangelo. Given Sunday, September 27, 2015 at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Fitchburg, MA
1. wrong. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. (accessed: September 16, 2015).
2.  Moffett, Philip. The Tyrranny of Expectations. (accessed, September 16, 2015).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Article for the First Parish October newsletter: "Is the Universe a GPS?"

There's something new afoot at First Parish Church UU of Fitchburg

A lot of changes have occurred in the past year and there’s a lot of new language floating around. Words like “empowered laity,” “lay-led congregation,” “spiritual director,” and a hundred other ideas that are buoyed about in the enthusiasm of change.  So, when I ask myself What is happening here? I’m not sure I get a clear answer either. The truth is, your guess is as good as mine. In many ways we are making it up as we go along. That's not necessarily something to be afraid of, but I know it is unsettling. Ultimately I find that if we follow our "inner directive" at all times when choosing a destination, we may only see the next 200 feet in front of us as we drive down the dark road with our headlights on, but the road continues. And we have chosen to travel it. We have our GPS programmed for a destination and we will be ok.

I love the metaphor of the global positioning device.  I love the entire allegorical framework of a GPS device in relationship to the nature of the Ultimate Reality.  A GPS device does not yell at you or demean you when you miss the exit.  It simply reroutes you and tells you what to do next.  It says, Oh, okay. You’re here now.  That’s ok.  You can always get there from here. In 100 yards turn right. However sometimes you really can’t there directly from where you are.  Sometimes our choices have taken us so far off the beaten path we are told, Make the next legal u-turn.  But if the destination is correctly, lovingly and thoughtfully programmed, and if we remain steadfast in our belief that such a destination is achievable, we will get there.  Faster than we might imagine.  

The challenge is in picking the right Destination and the Philosophy to follow as we go. Vision, and then Mission.  In order to arrive at a location we must choose these two things.  We must decide where we want to be and then we must decide how we want to get there.  In that order. When we decide upon a destination, we have something to put in the address field of our GPS device.

Once the decision is made to go, and the address is typed in, we take a deep breath and click BEGIN. That is the point at which the best route to get there is decided. Some devices even know the traffic reports and can actually tell you how long it will take to get there. They even give you alternative routes!  When making its decision about the best ways to go, the device takes into consideration facts about which you have no idea.  A GPS device sees the bigger picture.  We are sitting on the map.  GPS is looking at it from above the labyrinth.  The one thing the GPS cannot do is tell you how to get somewhere when you don't know where you want to go. If you're treading water in life, it's only because you haven't picked a shore. Just keep swimming just keep swimming… (I love that little Disney fish, even at the risk of using too many metaphors :-)  It won't be easy. And you will not feel equipped for all eventualities.  Click BEGIN anyway.

When you make a decision, every power that you have comes into play toward that end. The minutia of your daily decisions, the awareness of your friends and family, the purpose in your daily activities. These are the mallet which hammers the gong of the universe into action. Pick a destination. Commit to it.  And then believe you shall safely arrive.  BELIEF is the absolute key.  It is the cornerstone of all achievement.  It’s what makes the placebo effect work and it’s what makes a millionaire from a paperboy.  It’s also what lowers crime in Washington DC by over 23% in a mass meditation and prayer experiment in the Summer of 1993.  (Something which the Chief of Police estimated could only happen during a 20” snowfall.)  But everything points to belief.  Belief is the key.  Belief is what keeps us going when we can’t see beyond the headlights.  The word is used by every faith.  Usually they are telling you to believe according to what they tell you to believe.  But that’s not the same thing.  The truest “believer” is one who knows that they are powerful and that they have deeply benevolent connections which even they cannot comprehend.  A true “believer” is not a follower.  They are too powerful for that.  A true believer knows that they have something to contribute, not merely receive.  They know how to make an earthquake of their presence.

At the beginning of this year we found ourselves in a very unique position. Our half-time professional minister left for full-time position elsewhere and this congregation was left with the student minister.  Nowhere near enough money to attract another professional and we couldn't really afford to replace what we had to begin with.  Since the church decided to keep me on as spiritual director and become a lay-led congregation, as much for financial reasons as anything else, let’s lean into it.  I know that I am an expansive thinker and I like to work out ideas in conversation with the FPC community that are not yet ready for the formal proposal stage.  I like feedback and I am not the temporal leader of this church, I am its spiritual guide and advisor.  I am a voice.  So, where traditional ministers dictate, I collaborate.  Sometimes this causes a bit of the palpitations here and there.  But I also know that we can figure out a way to channel and focus my integrity, enthusiasm, and dedication without stemming it.  We can use it to our advantage.  Both the church’s and the community’s.  The traditional committee structure is a great way to capture lightning in a bottle if we use it with grace and humility and a spirit of partnership.  Let’s be open minded.  Let’s run the risk of being radically optimistic.  Great things are possible here.

I will not deny that I am called to this church. In my heart I know this is my home and where I belong. Some of my own people had a hand in the walls we stand among today. I have work to do and I feel that this is the best home to do it in. I have ideas about how to be of service to humanity that require infrastructure and people who are spiritually informed in their actions. I have always wanted to do this work with people from my hometown. I want to prove that it's possible in this day and age to make an global positive impact right from your own backyard and to do it while hanging out with your neighbors accomplishing things that really mean something to you. If we are all connected, then there must be a point at which we are all deriving information from the same place. Even if that "place" is uniformly distributed. I want to serve people on a level that is universal yet begins at home.

I can't be all things to all people at all times. At least not in the way that you might imagine by hearing the phrase.  My faith exists in the idea that we all have a tremendous amount of power we may use as soon as we realize it exists.  I can't make sure someone has groceries on the table. But I can sit and talk with them, and help them realize a little bit more about how amazing they are, and then before you know it, if all goes well, there's food on that table.  

We usually can't solve people's problems because people's problems aren't really the problem. People's problems are really the symptoms of the PROBLEM. What we see in front of us is only the natural result of everything else that has gone on before this moment. Like it or not, it's the destination they put into their GPS without realizing it, without making a choice, without thinking about how they want to feel when they get there, and then click BEGIN.

So, to return to the question What is happening here? we must ask also Where do we want to go? because without the answer to the second question we have no frame of reference for the first.  I know where I want to go.  I want to spend time thinking about and experimenting with what a modern, liberal, progressive church with an historic charge to serve its community should look like.  I was to discuss how to set the best possible example of what a church can really be today. I believe that we can take the essence of our church’s long history and inherent sense of purpose and channel that into truly useful service to mankind today; however that may manifest.  

We may not know all the answers yet.  We may not always know the exact next step to take.  But if we are clear about where we want to go, and maintain faith in our ability to make an earthquake of our presence, we shall create remarkable things of which our founders would be proud.  We have a new vision at First Parish Church.  And we have clarified our mission.  There is enthusiasm afoot and I’m not the only one around here who feels it.  Let’s get to work.