Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 30, 2017 - Make Kindred This Year

   Retail sales were up this Christmas. Good news, I suppose. Some say it's because we have more consumer confidence this year. But I’m not so sure. I think Christmas presents are a different category of retail altogether. They represent something more communal, more human. I suspect we bought more presents this year because we needed more Christmas this year. I think we gave more gifts because we need to enhance our sense of belonging right now.
    This is not to discount the religious reasons for Christmas or even choose one tradition over another. But not all parts of of Christmas belong to Christ. Gift giving and tree trimming among them.
    What are we saying to someone when we buy or make and give a holiday present? To some we are making a gesture of professional courtesy with a gift, like to a coworker or the mail carrier. Other gifts are so profound they could bind together an entire village.
    But in the most basic, traditional holiday exchange it is a gift of simple love—a token of thoughtfulness on purpose. A symbol of family. Of welcoming. Of kindred. It’s powerful.
    What will you do with that power? For we each possess it and not just at Christmas. The power to cheer, to embrace, to notice one another, to offer belonging. That last one is where it all matters most. And it is what we have been taught by the masters. We all have the ability to offer belonging to another person. Who do you know that might be in great need of a little sense of belonging right now? Who on your radar is struggling? You don’t have to save the whole world, just the starfish right in front of your own beach towel will do fine.
    This year, consider becoming observant of the state of belonging. Notice it where it exists and where it doesn't. Get a keychain or a mug with the word ‘belong’ written on it. Pay attention to people who feel lost, lonely, even angry. Don’t let anger fool you. Anger is always fear masquerading as hostility. It is more frightened of you than you should be of it. It wants to remain just as it is. You want things to change. Fear does whatever it must to remain in power. Offer belonging right to its face. Belonging knows on its own what to do with fear. Don’t worry about it. Stay focused.
    Who do you want to be this new year? We hold up as sacred this somewhat arbitrary demarcation point separating ‘old’ year from ‘new’ year. A clean slate. A symbolic new start. More than at any other time of the year we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt that we are capable of more. We hold out hope that we will have greater will power, be kinder, exercise more, eat less, quit smoking, start volunteering. We expect to become super-versions of our former, weaker selves.
    Usually by around January 3 many of us have abandoned our resolutions. Nearly all of us will have failed by January 21. Only around 8% of people actually keep them all year. We shoot for the moon and end up missing it. We attach ourselves to the outcome when we should attach ourselves to the journey, and as a result we feel like failures
    Keep it simple, sweetheart.
    Don’t worry about specific resolutions. Resolve to make a change beneath the level of your fear. Then your wounded psyche can’t get in the way and sabotage it. It won’t even see what you're doing until it’s too late. Good.
    Heal yourself through your choice to seek and offer belonging. Join a club. Start a club. Email friends and relatives who haven’t heard from you in a while. Remind yourself who your tribe is and how much they love you.
    Then go out and deliberately do that for someone else. Make more tribe. More kindred. More chosen family. You'll find this new year may be the best of your life. So far.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 23, 2017 - Good King Wenceslaus

    My favorite holiday story is the tale-in-song of Good King Wenceslaus. It takes place on the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, second of the twelve days of Christmas. On this particular evening in the early tenth century, the much-loved and posthumously-declared king, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia looks out upon the frosty snow. He sees a poor man gathering sticks in the distance and becomes curious about him.
    He calls upon his page to tell him about the man. The page explains he lives a fair distance away, by the edge of the forest, near St Agnes’ fountain. Agnes and Wenceslaus are the two patron saints of Bohemia. The reference to her in the second verse is acknowledging that. However, the 19th century songwriter took a bit too much license. At the time of our good king Wenceslaus, Agnes wasn’t yet born. She is actually a direct descendant of Wenceslaus, born 276 years after his death. Neither Agnes nor her fountain existed in the tenth century. But the well, thought to be the very fountain from the story, is still in operation in Prague to this day.
    Returning to the carol story, the king immediately tells his page to gather food and wine which they will personally deliver to the man’s house. And despite the freezing cold, out they march into the night, with only their good intentions to hearten them.
    It’s far too cold, the wind has become stronger. The page falters, he can’t go on. But the king is undaunted. The warmth of his gesture heats the very indentations he makes in the snow. The page is invited to walk in the king’s footsteps to stay warm.
    In the song, the king and page never actually arrive at the poor man’s house. As they disappear off into the night, leaving the listener standing alone in the snow as the figures dim from view, the story ends with a moral lesson. Those of privilege who bless the poor find themselves blessed. And though the story ends with an implied ellipsis, it’s understood that king and page succeeded in their mission to feed the poor man. But also more. It’s understood the honor he received at being personally delivered a meal by the king. A stand-in for Jesus himself. We are the page, walking in the footsteps of the king. For warmth, yes, but also to guide our way.
Christian cults to Wenceslaus sprung up immediately upon his death in Bohemia and England venerating him as a courageous saint and martyr. Though the stories of him are partly myth, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia was an early archetype of a righteous king. Leadership through piety and compassion. He became the standard against which all future leaders were evaluated. Most were and still are found wanting. Yet a 12th century anthem to Svaty Vaclav—his real name—is sung nearly every Sunday as the final hymn in the churches of the Czech Republic to this day.
    By the time the Christmas carol we sing today was written about Wenceslaus in 1853, the legend of Svaty Vaclav had long grown to epic proportions. His real life generosity to his people and the steadfastness of his faith continued to resonate with the poor and oppressed and propelled his tale through the centuries.
    The fictionalized story told in the Christmastide carol is not factually true. Agnes herself could attest to that. But it is honest nonetheless in its portrayal of the teachings of Christianity and their intentions for humanity. We are to be the good king. We are to be strong and compassionate and fearless in our mission to elevate and honor the poor, not merely sustain them. It’s the difference between walking in the cold by ourselves, and walking in the still-warm footsteps of the master.
    Happy Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 16, 2017 - The Approaching Solstice

It’s almost over. The declining of the light is starting to slow down now. We are reaching the lull period when the days and nights begin to exchange superiority. They are greeting one another in passing. Enjoying the few moments they have only twice each year when they are equals. Take heart now, the sun returns.
    Ancient cultures have a deeper understanding of how the earth is indistinct from all that walks upon it. It’s no effort for them to imagine their connection—their sense of ultimate belonging—to the earth itself. Humanity has wavered from that understanding. We have lost our sense of belonging to the earth. It’s okay. This too shall pass. 
    Through our scientific explorations of the planet we have inadvertently distanced ourselves from it in direct proportion to our awareness of its miracles. We feel increasingly inadequate to the intricacy of the profound creation we have been systematically discovering. We have become all too aware of our ability to destroy it as well. 
    The earth is also now approaching what is known as the perihelion, or the time in the our elliptical orbit around the sun during which we are the closest to it. The solstice is the beginning of that progression of celestial events. 
    Our traditions and rituals around this time of year directly reflect these celestial positions. We are intrinsically connected to all that happens on, or to, our planet. Our rituals and festivals remind us of our connection to the cycles of the earth. The push and pull of the objects which orbit around and near us affect everything in our world from ocean to sky. We are atomically entangled with that process. Our very bodies are pushed and pulled along with it.
    All modern religious scholarship acknowledges that Jesus of Nazareth was not actually born on December 25. But the festival is placed at this time of year because of how it is represented celestially. The cycle of the earth around the sun is a metaphor for the birth of Christ. It represents the return of light to the world and the time when we are physically closest each year to the sun, our great central source. 
   Hundreds of festivals celebrating the return of the light have occurred on this day throughout history. The entire Christmas Advent season is built upon those same historic foundations. They are intrinsic to humanity. Our need for light is constant. The loss is painful. Our celebrations comfort us more deeply than we are consciously aware. They cheer us where we need it most—our connection to the earth.
   Whether or not you celebrate the birth of Jesus, you are tied to the need for recognition of the return of the light. As society has seen fit for these festivals to become both dispensable and commercial, we have become more depressed. Our connection thins. Some who reject, or feel rejected by, organized religion are understandably cut off from the market of celebrations which Christianity has, for all intents and purposes, cornered. 
Recognizing our connection to the earth does not require a deity. The earth is like a deity unto itself, worthy of admiration, gratitude and blessing. And we are in no way separate from it. Remember your connection to the earth, it is not imaginary. It is separate from neither you nor God Itself.
   Christmas is a beautiful time of the year, intended to comfort and remind us that all is not lost. Joy to the world, the light returns. But Christianity does not own the month of December. Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, but not the reason for the season itself. 
   Yet we needn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, either.
   Christianity was wise to understand that we need reasons to celebrate, even if their motive was to supplant other celebrations in favor of their own. The faces and names on the statues may change, but meaning is constant.
Be kind to yourself at this time. Turn your face to the sun. Find reasons to be around other people. Sing songs together. Eat too much. The birth of Jesus is only one of the many ways to celebrate the return of the light. If he is not your teacher, there are others. Find them. But be of good cheer. Be happy for those who are the same no matter to whom they pray. Comfort the grieving. Feed the hungry. Be the light you wish to see in the world. It matters now more than ever. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 9, 2017 - Notice One Another This Holiday

I have to make an admission. It’s actually a bit difficult to say. I regularly feel judged whenever I even hint at it. But the truth will set me free, I suppose. Here it is: I’m not in love with the holidays.
I don’t like the way they often make me feel. Unsettled. Expectant on one hand and dreading on the other. The whole gift exchange thing. I’m given the impression that the only way I’ll ever truly enjoy the holidays is by adhering to the perfect equation of organizational skills + time + money = holiday joy. I often have at least one of them, sometimes even two. But virtually never all three.
I greatly admire people who seem to have it all together at the holidays. I have an aunt who just excels at it. You’d think there were secretly four of her. The best part is she never seems harried and there’s always time for conversation and hugs while cooking. Her brain functions on seven levels at once. Anyone who’s cooked around me knows I need quiet in the kitchen to function. Not very holiday-like.
The whole argument about merry Christmas vs. happy holidays makes me shudder. I question myself every single time I utter either one. I used to really, really like saying merry Christmas without a single religious thought in my head. I started saying it the first week of December and was always disappointed come December 26th that it was time to go back to just saying the boring old hello again.
Now I evaluate whether or not I think the person I’m giving a holiday greeting to is Christian. I adjust accordingly. At the holidays in public places I just say hello to someone I think might be Muslim—which of course I can’t possibly know but I’m nonetheless now required by the times to make an on-the-spot religious profiling to determine the appropriate greeting. Muslims don’t have a particular holiday that conveniently falls near the end of December like the Jewish tradition. Hanukkah is a beautiful holiday. It begins this week, in fact. But it’s not the big one. Christians make Hanukkah more prominent than it is for their own sake. We can be very pushy.
In nearly every way, however, this happy holidays discussion is actually a good thing. Despite the challenges it presents to our particular generation of human society, those coming after us will have it easier. We are the ones doing the heavy lifting of social change by changing our words. But we should be proud of how hard we are working to build diversity into our human language. We should absolutely be aware of the diversity that our unique melting pot model in the United States has created. We should rejoice for it. Saying happy holidays is not the end of the world. Especially when we remember that it is the most welcoming, loving and inclusive statement to make in a culture we have deliberately chosen to create this way.
But this, too, is merely part of the cloud that hangs over the holiday season. Only one of the stars in its vast constellation of complicated family feelings, seasonal depression from the loss of sunlight, the political landscape, wars and disease all around us. Joy to the world, please. It needs it. Peace on earth, we beseech you.
There is only one thing we can do.
Notice one another. Recognize how people feel. Don’t make them feel like failures just because they aren’t in the spirit. Be curious about where people are spending their holidays. Invite strangers. Be considerate and generous. Be kind.
In Islam, their month of kindness is Ramadan. That is their annual time to observe the birth of their faith. It is much like Christian Advent or the Jewish Ten Days of Awe. Ramadan is the cycle of the moon during which they are to notice one another. Exhibit special generosity. Invite strangers. Give to charity. Remember the teachings and the teacher.
The winter is upon us. Gather closely and comfort one another. Remember how magnificent we are beyond this flawed human experience. Bring some of that light into the world now. We need a little. Right this very minute.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 2, 2017 - The Responsibility of Privilege

Our human society is in the middle of a long and difficult learning process. We are facing our demons. It's excruciating. It's painful. It pits friends and loved ones against one another. Racism, sexual harassment, religious intolerance and advanced political upheaval. These are our daily realities right now. They will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
I firmly believe that the vast majority of the world is loving, however. Am I foolish or faithful? One thing is sure. Believing in a hopeful future requires doing my part to bring it about. Especially because I am a white male. For we have painted ourselves into a corner.
The reality of our time is that white men have historically stacked the cards in their favor at the expense of others—quoting St. Darwin all the way. But if I believe so deeply that the majority of the world is loving, how do white men fit into that scheme now? If I am granted privileges disproportionate to my merits, what am I supposed to do? Especially when I can see it happening in real time. Some might say, “Keep your mouth shut and take advantage of it.”
I think they are half-right. But only half.
Humility requires us to recognize one thing if nothing else: No one will ever truly know what it's like to walk a mile in another’s shoes, no matter how much we like to quip otherwise. We cannot escape the awareness of our own feet inside them. Any progress toward real equality will recognize that first.
I can ask a thousand questions about my daughter’s blindness. I can put on a blindfold at dinner and giggle as I drop food in my lap. But I cannot forget that I know how to see. I can't forget that I have the freedom to take off my blindfold.
I have a better chance at getting a job because I'm a white male. I more often than not receive only a warning when the police pull me over. People smile at me when I walk down the street. How can I really know what it's like to experience oppression? No one is asked to solve a math problem using nothing but a definition of the word mathematics.
There exist well-intentioned but misguided social activism groups which attempt to give whites a forum to solve racism by talking about it with other whites. There are also men’s pro-feminism groups. I get it, but no. The truth is, we have no business talking. Our role now is not to speak, but to listen. We jump in foolhardy and create solutions based on our imaginings of a problem when we are really being asked to sit quietly and listen for them.
Equality is natural. It is only held at bay artificially by the actions of one group of people against another. Men unnaturally dominate women. Physical strength is irrelevant if their value to society is equal. Whites unnaturally dominate people of color. Even lighter-skinned people of color discriminate against darker tones within their own societies.
Disequilibrium must be maintained with effort. We are seeing it now more than ever in the world. The old energy is working very, very hard at keeping society from progressing toward its own natural equilibrium. Who can blame them? It spells disaster for them all. A literal Armageddon.
It's natural for loving people to want to work toward solutions, but it must be done with humility. It must be done with what Buddhism calls “the beginner's mind.” A clean slate of understanding. A vacuum of awareness. An expert’s mind is like cement.
If I wish to be a part of the solution I must do one thing: Listen. Not talk. Make no assumptions. Don't interrupt. Don't offer advice. Don’t compare stories. Just clean out the potatoes from my ears and listen. It is often said, God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason. If the problem seems too big, just listen. If you don’t understand a problem, just ask. And then just listen. The answer will come to you in its own time. In the meanwhile, look for simple opportunities in your daily life to just allow someone else’s experience to be truly heard. It will change you. That simple act alone will be the most sincere prayer for the future of humanity you’ll ever make.

Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is the Spiritual Coordinator at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg, where he speaks on 1st and 3rd Sundays, and the founding director of the Tribe Mentorship Project. Email Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 25, 2017 - Revel in Gratitude

Don’t just be thankful. Remember to thank. It means something. It completes the circuit.
At this time on the wheel of the year we honor, recognize and exhibit gratitude for the concept of abundance. We point to it. We sing about it. We thank God for it. We congratulate ourselves for our ingenuity and work ethic. We are glad. We smile. We are relieved. We feel satisfaction. We feel safe, because we now know the harvest is good enough to survive the coming winter. Blessed be.
We actually need this time of recognition. And we are missing something when we forget to do more than merely eat turkey. As humans made from the molecules of this planet we are not separate from it in any way. The atoms of our bodies come from nowhere else. Even if it was the stars before that. What happens to the planet, happens to us. We contract with the soil in the winter and expand with it in the summer.
What sets us apart is our rituals and celebrations. They have purpose. Some are about what we give to the earth. Some are for what we receive from it. They are a response to how the cycles of the earth make us feel. Because there is no line where the earth ends and we begin. The earth doesn't fear these cycles. It doesn't need to be comforted. But humans are a bunch of hot messes and we need each other to get through it. We need occasions and rituals of gathering like Thanksgiving, and Samhain, and apple fairs, and Octoberfests. We need to be reminded of the goodness of the earth every year at this time and spread it out in front of us for a moment. Take stock. Count blessings. Give thanks.
We forget so quickly. Despair is patient. It waits for us to forget. We need Thanksgiving to help us remember goodness and be grateful for it. Along with the December and New Year holidays, and then the February candlelightings, we leapfrog through the winter, one festival at a time, consoling and warming ourselves until spring. Take this first touchstone and be glad for it.
As the ground becomes still and rigid we have a tendency to do the same. As the light disappears we feel the same pull to hide and be quiet. To slip into the primordial fears we earned in the early days of our species. To balance the deep pull of those instincts, we need to sit in the sphere of abundance and gratitude for a while and luxuriate in it. To overeat a bit, to walk the razor’s line between satisfaction and gluttony. And lose.
Remember gratitude. Be grateful for every mouthful of food you eat. Think about where it came from and how good it is for you. Don’t spoil the love it was made with by resenting it before you even put it into your body. Don’t worry about getting fat. That’s not for now. But you can still celebrate abundance even if you’re being moderate about it. Relish life.
You have the ability to bless. Do you know that? And it’s a real thing. Bless everything that enters your body. Every vitamin. Every pill. Every meatball. Every sip of water. Bless it. Say thank you for the goodness of this water. Take a sip.
In your mind, highlight the components in the water that will nourish you, and ignore the rest. That’s not to say be ignorant of them. But don’t let them control your experience. Or your benefit. Or your gratitude.
Does my attitude matter? The water is going into my body one way or the other. Does my attitude affect the way my body welcomes it? The state of the things we consume matters. There are studies which illustrate we have an energetic effect on our environments based on how we feel and what we say. What are you saying to your food as you eat it? Are you giving thanks for its existence? For its ability to strengthen you? For its deliciousness? For the love it was created with?
That is the teaching.
That is what we are asked to do.
We are invited to revel in the emotional state of gratitude. We are encouraged to be glad. We are asked to not only be thankful, but to thank. It completes the circuit.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 18, 2017 - The Mechanics of Forgiveness

This is a big one. It hits us below the belt, forgiveness. It feels like giving in, sometimes even like losing. We preach forgiveness because we don’t know how to practice it. If a smoker tells you not to smoke, are they still right?
We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the mechanics of forgiveness. How does it function? How is it achieved? What is its purpose? Is it a goal, or a state of being? Why are we taught about it?
Much of western spiritual practice hinges around the idea of forgiveness, of letting go, being at peace. We think the act is limited to forgiving other people for things they have done to us or our loved ones. If I asked you–are you a forgiving person?–your first thought would likely be of someone who has wronged you and how you responded to it. So, are you forgiving of other people? Is that all we are expected to forgive? Others? How do we learn to do that?
In Christian, Jewish and Islamic scripture we are taught that God forgives us our sins. We are also taught that God knows us deeply enough to already understand exactly why we do the things we do. It knows our hearts. Is there a line where God ends and we begin? How can that be?
We are taught to ask God for forgiveness. Is that really the end of it? We are being encouraged to participate in an act of verbally expressing our remorse and acknowledging our wrongdoing as well as its consequences. It takes practice for a civilization to learn how to acknowledge wrongdoing. Rituals assist us in developing relational practices. God says to us: Look to me first so you can develop the practice of learning how to truly see others. Learn to see others as I see them. Learn to love each other as I love you. Learn to forgive yourself as I already forgive you. Nothing you ever do could make me stop loving you.
If there is a God, is It trying to teach us how to recognize harm and heal it? Is this part of the practice of saving us from ourselves? Is this part of the practice that eventually disrupts the cycles of violence in our world? Is the real reason we are taught to ask God for Its forgiveness of our transgressions so that we can learn to forgive one another's?
Now that we’ve been surfing the cosmos, let’s come back down. How do you feel in traffic? How do you feel about your health? How do you feel about your boss? How do you feel about commercials? How do you feel about the news? How do you feel about not flossing?
These are the real classrooms of forgiveness. These are the micro-aggressions we maintain against ourselves and others and things which silently erode our sense of peace as well as our ability to transmit it. It is in the minutiae of our lives that we best understand. We are our own best parable.
Forgiveness is a life practice. It is something meant to be practiced all day, every day. Yet do not be tempted to connect it with forgetting. We are not at all being encouraged to forget. That is a lie repeated by those for whom it is much more convenient when you don't remember their wrongdoing. Forgiveness is about growth from knowledge and experience. Forgiveness is the practice of wisdom. We either forget or we forgive. There is no and.
Notice how you feel. All the time. Wonder about it. Use your imagination to reach for a higher thought. That person tailgating you might really have to pee. What happens if you pull over rather than slow down? Have you lost something or gained something? Wonder about it. What does it feel like to not get angry in the first place? From what have you just saved yourself?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 11, 2017 - What Is Prayer, Anyway?

    Why are we encouraged to pray? I know why religion says we should do it, but what’s the deeper reason? The reason that informs the doctrine. What’s the reason underneath religion’s advice? What is the intrinsic human need, or capacity, being addressed here?
    Not long ago I saw someone requesting prayer on social media for the victims of a recent tragedy. I see it often of course, especially lately. But on this one occasion, several people reacted angrily. They said prayer doesn’t help, God doesn’t exist, if prayer worked so well we wouldn’t need it now, etc. I understand where they’re coming from. Prayer often feels like talking to a wall. And it’s easy to blame God, or claim It doesn’t exist, because why would a so-called loving God allow for harm or illness or tragedy in the first place? Suffering is viewed as proof that God either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.
    It’s worth noting that some of us have a very hard time with the loaded word, prayer. For some it has deep connections with an abusive experience of religion. Of being coerced into performing a religious act with which we have no understanding or connection. Or with the apparent futility of ritualized prayer we have struggled to memorize. Some are reminded of their anger with God for ignoring them. They have been led to conclude by the culture of praying itself that they didn’t believe hard enough. That they’ve failed. It’s implied that it is their own fault their prayers weren’t answered.
    A famous quote from scripture is “Ask and you shall receive.” But on what levels of our consciousness are we asking and receiving? I would think all of them. If scripture is hinting at a truth here, what is it? It can’t be as cut and dry as ‘ask and you shall receive’ or else I’d be a millionaire right now and my best friend would still be alive. Am I a failure at prayer?
    That’s where the flaw in the thinking comes. It must be that prayer doesn't work like that. We must be thinking of it too literally. Or following advice about it which is now outdated.
    In the metaphysical world the act of prayer is described through the philosophy of the law of attraction. Simply put, we tend to attract what we are putting out. It has a fairly logical ring to it. Scripture might look at this also as ‘you reap what you sow.’ Business would say ‘you get out of it what you put into it.’ Essentially, the mindset we maintain informs the view of our surroundings as well as what comes to us. Or what we allow to come to us.
    What happens when you decide something? When you decide you are going to have a job that makes you happy, or when you decide to get out of debt. What happens? I do not despair at the seed below the surface simply because I cannot yet see a green shoot. Still, I water. I do not give up. We spend so much time in a state of lacking confidence that we don’t even realize how often we sabotage our desires by giving up on them too soon. In my experience, when I’ve made a definitive decision about something and remain steadfast, I begin to notice slight changes in not only my attitude, but the attitudes of the people around me. I notice little coincidences and synergies that appear to align with the decision I’ve made.
Is this the act and answering of prayer? Perhaps.
Prayer may have nothing to do in particular with the existence of a deity. It may be that the belief in a deity gets us out of the way of our own self-doubt because we don’t realize how powerful and magnificent we have been created to be. We give credit to “something higher” than we are. As part of a learning curve, that’s fine. But we are sophisticated enough to realize now that we are a part of the great “I Am.” Not separate from It. As such, we should frame our desires accordingly. And believe one thing, if nothing else: We have been created to thrive, and given the power to accomplish it.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hopeful Thinking- Saturday, November 4, 2017 - Recalibrating the Protest Movement

            We need a new approach to protesting. The word protest comes from two Latin words meaning public witness. It originally meant to make a public declaration, a solemn vow. But over time the word eventually took on a new meaning as a label of discontent. To protest came to mean a declaration against something, rather than for.
How did this happen? It would appear to be the polar opposite of its original intent. Even the prefix pro- implies to be in favor of. Some online sources say that the change occurred around the mid 1750s. But Martin Luther and others launched the protestant reformation in 1517. He was definitely protesting the Catholic Church in the way we currently define the word. Did they themselves refer to what they were doing as protesting, or did that come later? At what point in history did the word change from declaring something positive to resisting something negative?
Mother Teresa is famously quoted as saying that she would never attend an anti-war demonstration, but would accept an invitation to a pro-peace rally anyday. On the surface they appear to want the same thing. But they aren’t asking for the same thing. One is a declaration in favor of peace and frames its desires along those lines. The other is an unwitting cosmic request to perpetuate the systems that need more war to exist. It appears Teresa understood the true origins of the word protest, but more likely she religiously understood what Star Trek fans also know: resistance is futile.
As hard as it is to accept, to change something you must put it on your lap and love it right where it is. Love is what transforms, not hate. Not resistance. It seems I’m inviting white supremacists and tyrannical dictators for a good, long hug. Not exactly, but close. We need to rewire our thinking regarding the transformation of our world into the state of peace we expect from it. Excluding people and silencing voices—especially the ones we don’t like hearing—is the reason we are here in this uncomfortable, even painful, moment of history. We have resisted people along with their ideas and have painted ourselves into a corner with flawed methodology.
Of course our culture is built on a history of resistance. We have succeeded to a degree in displacing old ways by so-called protesting them. We have thrown tea into Boston Harbor and we have painted signs upon signs blaring our resistance. But our relative success has been in spite of our methods, not because of them. How much more peace is available to us if we could only recalibrate our thinking?
There is a church group I shall not name which publicly demonstrates nationwide God’s so-called hate. The communities in which they demonstrate react in a variety of ways. Sometimes with violence. But sometimes they do what world scripture actually teaches, they love their enemy. They surround hate with love. Literally. Protesters—in the original sense of the word—publicly declare their love and project it toward those who fester in hate by encircling the church group with signs and flags and songs of praise and love. They pray for those who are blinded by their fear of others and who twist scripture to justify their acts of hate. They love them right where they are.
Does this work? Maybe. Probably. But surely it prevents hate from expanding on that particular streetcorner any further. And for those who pro-actively test-ify in this way, how might they feel at the end of a pro-test such as this? Are their spirits lifted or are they bandaging their wounds? Because we all, those who love and those who hate, testify as an act of personal salvation always. We speak to save ourselves, to unburden ourselves, to be heard. This need is universal, remember that. But which thinking brings more love into the world?
We must listen honestly to those we would rather silence. They are always telling us a truth of some kind. The hateful few of our age are angry and afraid because they have been silenced. Their education has been cut, their jobs have disappeared, their healthcare has been used as a political pawn. And they have been manipulated by their own history. How else are they expected to react? What other tools do they have but their hate? Pray for them. But more importantly talk to one. Listen to one. You don’t have to validate their positions to validate their humanity. Listen to them. Not because they are correct in their hate, but because hate is only a symptom of deeper wounds. Read between the lines. Heal them where they are.
Send love to those who hate you. They just might get it.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Sunday Message - October 29, 2017 - 500th Reformation Sunday: Shift Happens... Every 500 Years

    How shall we know world peace? How will it come when it does? Do you have faith enough to believe that humanity will survive our worst fears? Do you believe that we will survive this age? Think. Do you believe world peace will eventually come? If you do, how might it happen? If we were to use our imagination to write a story about the peace of this planet what would be our storytelling device? How does corruption become unprofitable? Because it will, you know. How do the refugees find a safe haven? Because someday they will, you know. How does hunger end? How does pollution end? How does the world step off the self-destruct button? Because it will, you know. We will know peace someday. We give thanks and honor to that future age. Namasté.

Message: 500 Years
Do I have your attention? Because this is going to be a journey. Let’s peel this back like an onion.
On what levels are we aware of things? What do we consider consciousness? We know about our conscious level. The ‘hi how are ya’ level. The things we perceive through our physical senses and conscious intellect. What we are most of us comfortable calling “reality.” We are also aware of our subconscious level, although we only indirectly experience it. We then see the autonomic level, our heartbeat, our breathing, our digestion, things that operate entirely on their own, but upon which we can also make a deliberate, conscious impact. We can hold our breath or make our heart race by a thought alone. And breathe.
We know that within us there are systems beneath systems which operate together and give us the freedom to animate our bodies. We each have an entire digestive community of trillions living within us. Two sets of species, humanoid mammal and its digestive microorganisms, have co-evolved together over millions of years. Our gut biome alone is a cosmos unto itself. A literal Whoville of gigantuous proportions. Does no consciousness exist at this level? Because that’s really the question. Is our concept of consciousness so rigid that there is no room to imagine it? Are we being too arrogant? We see that things are connected but are left to imagine what binds them. What’s holding all the tuna together in this sandwich anyway?
And then what of the levels we might spiritually categorize as energetic? That feeling we get when we know someone. That spark of recognition, awareness. Or how we feel when we go for a walk in the woods? Think about that feeling for a moment. The freshness of the air, the particular noisy quiet. The green. The scent. More importantly, the way it makes us feel. What is there on that level that we simply aren’t yet seeing? Science has no instruments for it yet. But we suspect that one day there is something here to be seen. Perhaps it’s quantum fields. What might exist between humans and trees about which only our eyes are deceiving us? Will we find consciousness there too? When fields overlap there is always a response. What fields are overlapping from which we often feel the effects but have no idea their origins? There is more to us than us. Let the implications of that sink in. There is more to us than us.
And if there is more to us than we can perceive, on which layers of our total consciousness do we really make our decisions? Is there a place among the strata of our various levels of consciousness where most of the work is done? Now go deeper. On what level do we make the majority of our decisions as a society? Is it on the committee level in conference rooms? Or do we work together on other levels of consciousness? On what levels are we really, really planning for the future of humanity? Because when we look at history, we see plenty of correlations between what we need and what has been prepared for us, both synergistically arriving together on time. We see major world inventions being thought of at the same time in multiple places across the globe simultaneously. The telephone and the airplane among them.

Trees in ancient forests communicate with each other. They share nutrients among themselves, swapping them back and forth according to seasonal need or infestations, even across species. They communicate and share resources with each other through the layer of fungi beneath them. This is proven. A vast network of fungi throughout the entire forest floor connecting every living thing above it.  Do the trees know about the fungi or do they simply make unwitting, symbiotic use of it? Does the fungi know of its purpose? Not just to the trees but the entire planet? It could be argued that this system is a fractal model of consciousness. Or perhaps it actually is consciousness. Out of view, but omnipresent. Thinking of it this way, just what is the interdependent web of all existence? What layer is that on? What is the fungi layer beneath the surface of our perceived reality and what is accomplished upon it?
Do we know each other beneath the surface? Do we collaborate with each other behind the scenes? Are we like actors in a play having a friendly conversation backstage while we are pretending to kill one another for the audience? Upon what level does the majority of our consciousness exist and operate? I want to know. Because it doesn’t feel like I consciously know as much as I subconsciously know. But if what I consciously think is reality is actually only the tip of the iceberg; if there is more to me than me, I can let go. I can leave a lot of it for the rest of me to deal with. The part that probably has more information. Why should I try to lift the world with only my pinky? It’s enough to consciously decide that I will do my part to enlighten the world and then assume that all of me—especially the parts about which I know nothing—are on task, 27/7 toward my soul’s intent.
Is this God? Is this behind the scenes collaborative network what we’ve been calling God? Have we been naming the interdependent web of all existence, the layer upon which the likely vast majority of our consciousness operates and works in our favor, as God? Not some separate and forbidden apple on a tree, but the fully pervasive layer beneath it all? Is the argument between theism and atheism ultimately about the choice of words we use to describe the same thing? Our deepest unity? Probably not. But I bet it’s part of it.
If we are collaborating behind the scenes, what about? When we ask for change on the thermostat, what action is taken in the boiler? It becomes a vast chemical collaboration resulting in your warm bum, and your empty wallet. Because there is always a give and take. We like to be warm but we still have to pay the bill. We ask for change, while knowing change is an absolutely terrifying process. Have a look at the top ten list of stressors and they’re all about change. Moving, divorcing, finding out about Santa. Humanity would never consciously ask for such upheaval. Not consciously.
But what if the conscious level is not where the majority of the decision-making is done about HOW to accomplish that change we are asking for on the surface? The thermostat is not part of the chemical process, nor the engineering of the water heater. But it sets them into motion by its intent to warm. It ignites a process begun long before the thermostat even knew it wanted to change.

When we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and proved to ourselves that we could finally build the ultimate weapon, the red button was born. Humanity changed that very moment. My parents grew up hiding under their school desks to prepare for an atomic blast from which their desks could never protect them. It was from the hearts of those who hid under their desks in the 50’s that the peace movement was born. When we asked for peace in the 60’s what system, what greater system, was set into motion? Or, might have already been co-occurring all along and we simply moved into alignment with it? What did we plug ourselves into when we started to insist that We will get along. We will have peace. We will do whatever it takes for peace. We will get to know one another. We will buy the world a coke.
We know what happened on the surface. We know that as the atomic age was followed by the peace movement we decided to radically get to know one another in that moment. And now we have the Information Age. The Age of Emergence. When did that begin? The first email was sent in 1969. But the systems required for that to happen had been co-evolving with humanity beginning in the early 50’s. Less than a decade after the atomic bombs were dropped the process toward our eventual peace had already begun. A process we are still in today and will continue for some time. But notice that without our conscious awareness, the tools we would need to get to know one another grew up alongside us. If world powers had any idea what humanity would do with the world wide web they would have kept it to themselves. But we have it now. We know we are not alone now. And it’s only a matter of time before we complete this uncomfortable expansion we are suffering under to emerge better than before.

When we prophecy, into what are we dipping for our information? Into what network are we peeking? Are we purposefully changing ourselves from behind the scenes? Are we whispering into our own ears? Is what we call prophecy merely an awareness, on the most subconscious of levels, the backstage conversations we have been having all along? Everything from the Mayan calendar to Nostradamus to the Broadway musical Hair has told us this will be a time of great shift.
This is the question we ask ourselves as we reach a pretty big anniversary of the last time history suddenly expanded in this way. Symbolized in Christianity by the day Martin Luther publicly shamed the Catholic Church for selling real estate in Heaven exactly 500 years ago next Tuesday. A day we now celebrate, for even democracy itself has ultimately developed from that great moment civilization realized that authority is questionable. But the Renaissance was already underway. Carving a new awareness in the human mind. Cultivating it, preparing it, readying it for the moment when a new idea would be introduced. All the tools needed to expand and express ourselves were already being developed, namely the printing press. Luther didn’t invent the Renaissance. It had been brewing behind the scenes getting ready for him and others like him who would change the world with it.
Every 500 years or so, humanity gets a little bombshell dropped on it. An historian will tell you better. But I can say that 2500 years ago the Buddha was born, ushering in the concept of a deeper relationship with the peaceful self. Next was the birth of Jesus, with a relational practice for humanity. Tools to help save us from ourselves. Then, five more centuries later, as the Roman Empire fell and humanity was emerging from the dark ages Muhammad was born bringing with him a message of relationship with God. 500 years later the Church split into eastern and western traditions sending shockwaves throughout the world over which humans hold supreme religious authority. Fast forward 500 more years to the Renaissance and Martin Luther and the Reformation. And now today we are in an age referred to as the Great Emergence. Where does that cycle come from?
How much of us is out of view? How much of us, what percentage of each of us as individuals understands exactly what’s going on here? Is it more than the part of us which doesn’t understand? Because that’s the only part I have to work with. How do I use my intellect to make use of or take comfort from a system I don’t understand? That’s the ultimate consideration of faith. We can’t see the fungi layer.
If there truly is more to us than us, what can we do but try to take some measure of comfort from it. What can we do but act as instruments of peace? What is our responsibility to the world?
Let us pray.
Great source of all that is, thank you for the cycles of expansion and growth. Bring us a measure of comfort now as the world rearranges itself once more. Give us hope that the upheaval we see is part of a larger process toward peace. And grant us courage fed by a deep, intuitive awareness that all truly shall be well.
Repeat after me if you will:
May I find peace within myself.
May I see the patterns of the universe and take heart.
May I be an instrument of peace.
May I be a comfort to this brand new age.
And in the name of love we say, Amen.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, October 28, 2017 - Shift Happens

    We have to accept the fact that within the span of a single lifetime the world of spirituality, religion and tradition has changed utterly. Faster than any shift has been accomplished in literally thousands of years. Our heads are spinning. Everyone older than forty can attest to the difference. Many younger as well. In the span of only a few decades our freedom of religion has grown to include the words ‘and from’ as well. This is a good thing. Some may argue it’s the best thing that has ever happened to organized religion to date.
    In Fitchburg it was once compulsory by law to attend—and tithe—weekly. If for some very good reason you were unable to be present in church, not to worry. The city provided well-wishers with wicker baskets to walk the streets on Sunday morning and collect your offering.
    It is soon the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther tapped his protest of the Catholic church to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral and the protestant reformation was officially begun. This second great schism of Christianity eventually gave birth to the many denominations and expressions we see today including Baptists, Congregationalists, Seventh Day Adventists—the list continues into the hundreds. Luther and his contemporaries gave humanity the permission and the tools to question supreme authority. And for the last five centuries we have changed the world with it. It is a revolution that has ultimately begotten democracy itself.
   Every 500 years or so world spirituality makes a great shift. It is often noticed by our western culture through the lens of Christianity, but these grand evolutions were not exclusive to only one faith or culture. Martin Luther’s protest sat against the modernizing and far-reaching backdrop of the Renaissance. Today, 500 years later, we are in a time which has been referred to as the Great Emergence.
   A second renaissance has now occurred with the advent of the Internet in the same way the printing press accomplished it 500 years ago. Information is power. It connects us and our shared experience. We are changed by it every time. Each successive layer of new awareness we reveal about our neighbor changes every single thing about our society from our laws to our DNA. It is a terrifying process for humanity each time. And people do terrible things when they are afraid. Pray for them. Comfort the afflicted as we afflict the comfortable.
   Our children have twice as many nationalities in them as did our parents; twice as many cultures and languages and facial features. The lines between white and black and brown have all become a bit more beige than some people are comfortable with. But that is the very indicator we should be looking at for comfort regarding our progress toward the inevitable unity of all humanity.
The same is true of church. The most inclusive spiritual thinking is plural.
   Now that church is no longer compulsory, we are free to express our spirituality in any way we see fit. Sunday morning or no Sunday morning. We are free to explore and learn about other cultures. In the process, we ultimately discover what is intrinsically human about their various customs, beliefs and rituals. That is the prime directive of all systems of human faith. Look for God in the places where all religions overlap.
   So what becomes of Sunday morning church? We see the numbers declining, but does that mean we are no longer spiritual beings having a human experience? If we are not, then we never were. But if we are, then our nature has not changed simply because the customs have. We still crave spiritual community. We still need the freedom, and most importantly the opportunity, to explore things together which are larger than ourselves.
   For me Sunday morning church is a communal, contemplative experience. A time when my heart both rests and fills. But Sunday morning is only one component of church life. Committee work, visioning for the future, even basic maintenance are opportunities for mindfully practicing the teachings to love one another, even when you don’t always like one another. It is a classroom for the world outside. A place to practice the practice.
   To collaborate, to listen, to remain humble, to remain open. These will always be the intrinsic spiritual needs of humanity. We will always devise ways to express them whether church continues to exist as we know it or evolves into something new. We will be fulfilled by life. We insist.