Thursday, August 28, 2014

Have we become co-creators with God of the universe?

In Chapter Twelve of The Green Boat, her last chapter, Mary Pipher discusses hope as an ingredient in a life well lived.

"I have learned that reviving the planet and reviving ourselves are not opposed, but rather deeply congruent behaviors. Fixing inner and outer space are the same process. We can't heal ourselves without healing our environments, and we can't be mentally healthy when the green boat is sinking and we are pretending that trauma isn't happening. As the Great Acceleration occurs, unless we are part of the Great Turning, we will drown in global storms." p. 214

Pipher writes a little further:

"We are tumbling though time like shells on  a breaking wave. On what shore will we land, we don't know. We cannot go backward in time; we can only go forward." p. 215

"I try  not to be too caught up in my fluctuating emotions and I especially don't predict the future. I know it will not be like the past. To quote John Gorka, 'Our old future is gone.'" p. 215

For sure, life will continue to evolve. That we know. As conscious beings we are at a point in our evolutionary trajectory where we humans have the power to influence this evolutionary process not only on planet earth but in our solar system and a little bit beyond with the probes we have sent into deep space beyond our solar system.

And what meaning can we make of this evolutionary phenomenon where we humans can collaborate with God, the Life Force, to influence not only our own destiny but the destiny of other living things? The sixth principle of Unitarian Universalism is that we covenant to affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Nice sentiment, but perhaps too pedestrian. We need to enlarge our vision to include at least the solar system, and probably the universe as long as we advocate with humility and not with hubris. And it is not just a world community that we should be seeking peace, liberty, and justice for but the evolutionary future of our planet and solar system. As Pipher quotes John Gorka, "Our old future is gone."

As the Great Acceleration is teaching us during the Great Turning humans have become aware that they are co-creators with God as they influence their own evolution. This can inspire great hope, but also requires tremendous responsibilities and it is easy to despair whether we will be able to overcome our greed, our egotistical power trips, our denial to join with the creative force in not only respecting, but protecting and advocating for the health of the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

It is a great time in history to be a Unitarian Universalist because our faith provides us with the tools to move with hope into the future and to take on the tasks that God is calling us to assume. We can either despair as we consider our possible future or we can choose hope. This hope is not blind or false hope, but based on UUs seven principles, it is hope based on positive, constructive values which will guide us to a satisfying and fulfilling future life for ourselves and the diverse life forms on our planet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

UUAWOL Book of the month for September is This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon

The book we will be discussing in September, 2014 on UU A Way Of Life is Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, This Road Will Take Us Closer To The Moon. It is incisive and delightful.

Would you have inner peace and unconditional love? Purifications are necessary first.

As we consider the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, "acceptance of another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations" one might eventually be drawn to the role that sacrifice, purification, and abnegation of one's bodily and egotistical concerns play if a soul is to advance toward what the Perennial philosophy calls the "unitive Godhead."

Unitarian Universalists are not known for their ascetic practices or sacrifice as other religions and denominations are. UU does not have a history or requirement for fasting, praying a certain number of times per day, praying on the knees or bowing on a prayer rug, the giving up of certain foods at certain times, etc. Also there is no tradition of confession, penance, making of amends, etc.

There seems to be no recognition in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, some call it a movement, of the need to overcome the drama of the ego so that a practitioner of the faith can shift his/her perception and functioning to the spiritual realm and develop a consciousness of the holy.

And yet, most mature UUs would probably agree that there is a need for self discipline, self control, sacrifice, and that feeling good and doing good are not necessarily the same thing. If overcoming drama on the ego plane is something that needs to be mastered if one is to grow spiritually how does a UU facilitate this kind of spiritual growth in oneself and others?

Peace Pilgrim has written, "Then I discovered that there were some purifications required of me. The first one is such a simple thing: it is purification of the body." She then mentions the second purification as the purification of thought, and the third, the purification of desire, and the fourth and last, the purification of motive.

Peace Pilgrim then goes on and describes as "the relinquishments." The first is self-will, the second is the feeling of separateness,  the third is all attachments, and the last, negative feelings.

That's it. That's all you have to do, according to Peace Pilgrim, and other enlightened masters on our planet, to grow spiritually is to purify yourself and relinquish some ego things. Simple right? :-)

There seems to be very few institutionalized practices that are part of the UU tradition, although some UUs draw from the practices of its six sources, that help us with these purifications and relinquishments.

The biggest institutionalized practice in most congregations is the annual pledge drive and other social justice activities which may call for some sacrifice. These are good things to do, but to what extent do they contribute to spiritual growth and as Peace Pilgrim counsels how pure is the motive?

To be frank, Unitarian Universalism doesn't ask much of its adherents and so the reputation, perhaps unfair, is that anything goes and nothing is required but to just "sign the book." Perhaps it is in this fawning acceptance to acquire members that we overlook what might be required for spiritual growth in our congregations. Unitarian Universalism, well lived, is not an easy faith to engage in. Well lived, it requires tremendous effort, courage, bravery, sacrifice, patience, compassion, and forgiveness. These are not easy virtues to cultivate, practice, and develop. The seven principles, as has become apparent in this series of examinations, are deep, counter-cultural, and well practiced, puts one at odds with the conventional culture.

And yet, well practiced Unitarian Universalism is a vehicle for spiritual growth which brings its members and congregations to inner peace and unconditional Love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Story of the day - Tragedy is awareness in the excess of power

Alicia said to Greg half way between anger and tears, "I don't know what's wrong with me! My people never win in elections. I fight for stuff all the time, and lose. I argue with people and they just don't get it. What in God's green earth is wrong with people??? Or is it me? Tell me if you think I'm nuts!

Greg started laughing, "Lice, it's not you, believe me. You are too good a person and if you have a fault, it's that you care too much."

"Yeah, how can you not care about doing the right things. So many times I feel it's not fair! Things shouldn't be this way! Somebody should do something.' I guess I've been this way since I was a little girl. You know what my mother used to say? She'd say to me kind of sternly, 'Alicia you have no right to complain unless you can do it better.'"

"How did that work out for you?" Greg asked.

"I've walked around my whole life muttering to myself, I know I could do it better. I know I could do it better. Maybe it's all my mother's fault for putting that thought in my head," Alicia said now laughing herself.

"Your mother was a very good woman and she raised a wonderful daughter," said Greg.

"Oh yeah?" said Alicia. "Then how come I'm so screwed up?"

"You're not screwed up," said Greg. "You're counter cultural. You're way ahead of your time. You're the sane one living in an insane world. You have to learn how not to take it so seriously, because it's all nonsense. You know that,"

"Not take it seriously, you say? How do you do that?" asked Alicia.

"Like Jesus said, 'Be in the world but not of the world,'" said Greg.

"I'm suppose to live a double life?" asked Alicia.

"Karl Jaspers said that tragedy is awareness in the excess of power, by which I think he meant, to know something and not to be able to do anything about it puts a person in a position of anger, discouragement, helplessness, sorrow and grief, and fear. You know, it's a real tragedy, the stuff tragedy is made of. The person might be better off not knowing because they can't do anything about it anyway. That's why they say 'ignorance is bliss.'" said Greg.

"I'd be better off if I was stupid, ignorant. Is that what you're saying?" asked Alicia.

"No, I didn't say that. What I said is that you would be more blissful because you wouldn't know so it wouldn't bother you. The question is whether you'd rather be in ignorant bliss or know the truth?" said Greg.

"How well do you know me?" said Alicia laughing.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you pretty well I think. That's why I love you. You're fine, just tired. You can't win em all as they say," said Greg.

"I don't seem to win any," said Alicia feigning a pout.

"You won me," said Greg.

"And what a blessing," said Alicia as she hugged him and gave him a big kiss.

Fighting for the environment: resilience in the face of defeat

In Chapter eleven of The Green Boat by Mary Pipher she describes the setbacks and defeats as she and her Transcanada Keystone XL pipeline coalition try to block its construction across her beloved state of Nebraska. It appears that the Nebraska legislature and Governor have been bought out by the lobbyists for Transcanada.

It is a familiar story these days to anyone who follows what has happened to the corruption of our legislative processes at county, state, and the federal levels as "lobbyists" have put our legislators into office to do their bidding and in many cases actually write the legislation which their legislative flunkies are expected to pass. The voters, the citizens, the people the legislators and Governors and President have sworn to serve and whose interests they have sworn to represent are so marginalized and disenfranchised from the actual legislative process that democracy in the twenty first century has become a joke because it is a travesty of justice and equity and this way of doing business has brought great shame to our country, its government, and the future of our country and planet.

How is a sane person to operate on such an uneven playing field in advocating and achieving the best policies that serve all the people not just vested interests?

Pipher asks the members of the coalition, "I'd like to ask everyone how they keep going and caring in the face of continual defeat?" p.206. Pipher then gives snippets of the answers for the various members who say multiple things like I do it for my kids's future. I do it because they expect me to give up and I don't want to give them the satisfaction. I do it because I've always been an activist and it's part of my identity. I do it simply because I like the work and the people I'm working with. I do it to be true to myself and my deepest values and beliefs. I do it because even though it looks like we will be defeated I have great faith that if we are patient and persistrent, we will win. I do it because I am a nurse and I see the earth as my patient and I want to keep her healthy. I do it because I like the people and the food we share when we get together and its more fun being with you folks than watching TV or going bowling. I like the process because I develop satisfying and fulfilling relationships with other people and whether we are successful or not I can't control, but I can still enjoy the relationships I have made with some great people.

Pipher ends her chapter with a couple of great lines which are well worth repeating and sharing.

"Yet, almost all truly great causes, world peace, the abolition of slavery, the eradication of hunger offer no quick victories." p. 212. I would add women's suffrage. Susan B. Anthony and her contemporaries never saw it in their lifetime after a lifetime of advocacy, but it did come in 1920 finally after Susan's body was rotting in its grave, but her spirit, dedication, values, beliefs are still alive and well and now days her's and the other early suffragettes victory is taken for granted as "normal" by contemporary females.

The second great line at the end of the chapter is, "My aunt Grace often said, 'I get what I want because I know what to want.'"

Unitarian Universalists covenanting together to affirm and support their seven principles know what to want and their seventh principle calling for "respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part" is a value that serves not only UUs very well, but all of humanity and all other living things.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Acceptance and the reservoir of positive feeling

The third principle of Unitarian Universalism is “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,’ and while it sounds deceptively simple, it can be extremely difficult and close to impossible.

Homo sapiens is not neurologically wired to be accepting, but just the opposite. The reptilian and most primitive part of our brain, the amygdale at the base of our skull, is very wary of anything different and ready to strike and kill if threatened or attacked. In the course of human evolution, our brains, wonderfully, have grown and developed, and the top front of our skull, the pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain which consciously assesses and often overrides our more primitive, baser, instincts. As a psychotherapist, I get many referrals for “anger management.” Something happened where a person “flew off the handle”, “lost their temper”, or simply “lost it” as they say, “saw red”, “went psychotic”, and often did great destruction to themselves, to property, and/or to others.

It is normal to see these “temper tantrums” in a two or three year old, but in a 35 year old, it is scary and something needs to be done. It seems, with the 24 hour news cycles of cable TV and the internet, it is increasingly common to learn about incidents where someone went “postal” in a church. It happened in our own Unitarian Universalist denomination in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2008 when two people were killed and seven injured. And so how “accepting” are we supposed to be, certainly, not to the extent to which we put ourselves, and loves ones in jeopardy. “You can’t be too careful these days” seems to be the paranoid attitude fueled by our government’s obsession with “terrorists” around every corner to the extent that we all are subjected to constant electronic surveillance and intrusive searches of even our bodies by the TSA in airports. The message seems to be to trust nobody, accept nothing they tell you, everyone is suspect until they can prove they are no threat.

It is quite a world we are now living in and bringing children into which has developed a fortress mentality that has become endemic. It is in this world that Unitarian Universalists are naïve enough, gullible enough, maybe stupid enough to covenant and affirm the acceptance of one another. Many of the Unitarian Universalist principles are counter-cultural, but this one, if you study it closely, is, viewed from the conventional perspective of our current society, insane, out of touch with reality, only for fools.

And so how are we UUs to proceed in such a world?

First, we need to name our fears, our anger, our grief about “the other” because until we can name them we can’t manage them, and we will continue to be influenced and impacted by emotional and societal forces which we are unaware of or confused by because we are blind to what we are dealing with. Until we can say, “This is what it is about this person, and these kind of people, that scare me” we are doomed to act our emotions out like children instead of talking them out, naming them, and figuring out better ways of managing them. Secret keeping and hidden agendas are toxic cancers in the body of a congregation. Of course, as we discussed in the last article, shame is what contributes to our keeping our fears and animosities secret and so we pretend we are accepting and welcoming when our deeper thoughts and feelings contribute to us behaving otherwise.

Second, we need to stop with the excuses and second guessing. “Well I could be more accepting if only ______________ or ____________________. If only things were _______________, then it would be different. Maybe if ____________________happened or _________________happened, then I could be more accepting.” And so we bargain with God, with Life, with ourselves, with other people that acceptance could be possible if things could be somehow different, but, of course, they’re not. So these possibilities and wishes need to be explored. Are they warranted, legitimate, appropriate, or is this just wishful thinking, denial, a not wanting to accept how things are. “It is what it is,” say the Buddhists. “Yeah, well maybe that’s true, but that’s not how it’s suppose to be or how I want it,” we want to argue, but we are polite, civil, cooperative, and so we pretend to agree and go along while deep in our hearts, the truth be known, we aren’t accepting of this state of affairs at all. These excuses and second guessing is the cancer in so many congregations, and if it is manifested and emerges even in the slightest, people start demanding “conflict resolution” workshops. However, the issue isn’t necessarily about conflict resolution but about fear. What, dear God, is it that we are afraid of? And of course, truth be told, it is about loss, hurt, losing face, the need to be right, there are so many barriers and obstacles to accepting Love’s presence that we can’t even identify them all, count them all, and yet if we just started with one fear and could manage it to diminish its influence, or perhaps even eliminate it, we would be that much closer to real acceptance. You will know you are on the right track when you have more peace.

Third, acceptance is not a simple thing. It is not a magic key or a silver bullet. It is not a light switch that can be turned on and turned off. It is an organic quality which has to be nurtured, cultivated, fertilized, watered, and will blossom when people authentically can manage their fears constructively and diminish their impediment to genuine rapport. This is a process not an event.

More specifically how does this work? What will help? John Gottman, the social psychologist who has spent his career researching couple communication, calls it the 5:1 ratio. There needs to be five compliments, favors, indications of caring and affection for every criticism, negative statement or negative interaction. Acceptance is borne out of recognizing and acknowledging what is right in relationships not just what is scary and fear inducing and/or objectionable. Gottman says that every time someone makes a compliment, does a favor, expresses affection and caring, a deposit is made in what he calls “the reservoir of positive feeling”.

How big a reservoir of positive feeling exists in your congregation? How could it be contributed to so it can grow? How can it be used to offset pain and hurt? These deposits into the reservoir of positive feeling cannot be gimmicky, fake, disingenuous, and artificial, they need to be the real deal, the genuine article, honestly felt and communicated. It can be something as simple as asking, “Hi, how are you today?” and meaning it, standing there with your undivided attention curious about the other person’s answer. What people want more than anything is just someone else’s genuine caring, manifested in that person’s undivided attention. While it seems simple reading this on paper here, it is the most difficult thing in the world to actually do. When it is done well, though, a feeling of acceptance and belonging flourishes.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What drives evolution?

Mary Pipher, in the ninth chapter of her book, The Green Boat, goes deep when she writes on page 188, “One of the most healing practices in terms of coping with the Great Acceleration is to connect with deep time, which I define as the time since the world began to the time when the world will end.” The Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, describes this evolutionary trajectory as “from alpha to omega” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

When we as Unitarian Universalists reflect on our seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we a part” we might well consider not only breadth of that web in all its rich diversity, but also its depth, how it has historically developed and evolved, and also its future complexity which we cannot even begin to comprehend or understand except in science fiction and reading the speculations of our scientists as they try to understand and predict the evolutionary patterns that could develop and emerge.

Pipher writes a little further into the text:
“Recently, my friend Jeremy and I were weeding my garden, and he asked me what I thought drove evolution. I realized as I pondered this question that even though I had a degree in anthropology, I had never seriously considered it before. Obviously I could explain the scientific facts of evolution, but Jeremy was asking me why evolution occurred. He might as well have asked what motivates God.” p.189

Pipher, as she ponders Jeremy’s question, has to admit that she doesn’t know the answer, has no clue, but does say that the answer lies in the arena of what she calls “moral imagination.” She goes on to write that as far as her moral imagination goes, “I think the goal of all living beings is to fully realize their incipient gifts and to grow into more complete, differentiated, and integrated beings.” p. 189 Okay, well, that answer is as good as any I would guess and probably better than most. I would say that the purpose of Life is for all living things to actualize their potential, and could that potential involve mutation into something else which then has a new potential? That seems to be how evolution and natural selection works in its most basic formulation.

When we consider all this, the breadth of Life, and the depth of Life, we are usually awestruck by its wondrous magnitude and our seemingly small insignificance in the whole big picture. Pipher writes, god bless her, “One of the wonderful benefits of realizing one’s smallness in the context of an immeasurable universe is that, contrary to logic, this experience does not make people feel powerless and insignificant. Rather, it allows us to feel safe, connected, and comforted.” p190
Laying on your back in a grassy place and looking up at the cloudless night sky with all the stars, planets, and maybe moon is enough to provide a transcendent sense of bliss and wonder until the moisture vapor from a jet plane at 35,000 feet jars you out of the appreciation of the majesty of the heavens.

And yet, even in our modern space age, most of us are not so easily jaded that we still don’t have some small smidgen of wonder, and awe, and reverence, and mystery with our incarnated consciousness in this weary, pedestrian, mercenary hell which we humans have created in this entire splendor. As Unitarian Universalists who covenant together to affirm and promote our seven divine and inspired principles, we more than any other people on this planet Earth, should appreciate and be grateful for the experience of what we have here and stay vigilant and diligent in not only respecting it, but protecting it, and cooperating with the Spirit of Life in its continued evolution and development.