Saturday, November 22, 2014

God Or The Ego?

The spiritual life can be like a roller coaster with ups and downs, twists and turns, incredible highs and sluggish lows where our momentum in life seems to bottom out.

I have been in a low, bottoming out, but the spiritual reality is always softly humming in the background even though it seems reluctant to come to the foreground - until yesterday when I returned once again to the incredible, difficult, enlightening but maddening A Course In Miracles.

So, I will begin again on Chapter 11 where we are confronted with the question, God Or The Ego?, and I wonder if you might be interested in joining me on this gentle exploration of the inner world?

Our Unitarian Universalist faith draws from many sources and we are a people of many books. We don't limit ourselves to just one. In my life I have studied the Christian  bible, the Tao Te Ching, many of the Buddhist scriptures, looked at the Koran, and A Course In Miracles which I have studied now for 25 years.

A Course In Miracles can be dense and intellectualized and it is easy to get lost in metaphysical concepts and speculations, but then there are times when it is stunningly crystal clear and understandings slam you like a whack with a 2 x 4 across the side of your noggin. Here is one such smack:

"The ego, then, is nothing more than a delusional system in which you made your own father."

I have been reflecting on the viciousness of gossip, calumny, irreverence which has come to be called "snark" and it is passed off defensively sometimes as entertainment, comedy, but it is done at someone else's expense. The mockery, the ridicule, might be helpful if it puncture's the bubble of someone's ego which has become inflated and arrogant, but we should remember than underneath the ego is a child of God.

As Unitarian Universalists we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and if our snark, our mockery, our ridicule, our satire points to the fraudulence of the ego this might be holy work, the work of the court jester or the holy fool who points out the folly, the hypocrisy, the hubris of human egos, but at the same time that we mock the work of the ego, we must also be respectful and reverent about the underlying divine spark which has been buried in misguided projection and confabulation.

God, Life, is our origin, our Father and Mother, the ground of creation. When we forget this, and think we are our own creation, masters of our own life, that we can manage our own affairs by ourselves, we have lost our way, our humility, our reverence, a sense of gratitude for our radical dependence on others and life. Let us rise above our egos and praise God, praise the Spirit of Life, our Higher Power whatever we conceive that Higher Power to be.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Her life was one big constant prayer

Julia let the officers come in, a man and a woman. The man, officer Harvey seemed kind and gentle, but the woman, Officer Bradshaw, seemed stern and stoic. She didn’t smile at all and her face had a rigid expression not that she was mad but very serious.
Officer Harvey said, “Mrs. Andrews we’d like to ask you just a few questions if that’s all right.”
“Okay,” said Julia hesitantly.
“First, let me say, that I know this is a tragic time and I am terribly sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you” said Laurie as she started to weep.
“Where were you when Julia was in front yard playing, “asked Officer Bradshaw.
“Where was I?” said Laurie. “I…..I don’t know. I was in the house.”
“You were in the house,” said Bradshaw. “Where were you in the house?”
“I….I…. think I was lying on the couch watching TV,” said Laurie.
“Lying on the couch?” said Bradshaw. “It was 10 o’clock in the morning wasn’t it?” She sounded accusatory to Laurie as if she was doing something wrong.
“I wasn’t feeling well, “ said Laurie as if she were a child having to explain herself to her mother afraid she was going to get scolded and told again that she was worthless, lazy, and disappointment as a daughter.
“What was the problem?” asked Bradshaw who hated this kind of interrogation when the suspect was lying, denying, unwilling to tell the truth and articulate the facts. Bradshaw tried not to be judgmental but she was no fool and could smell trouble at 1,000 yards.
“I wasn’t feeling well,” Laurie said again.
“Were you sleeping?” Bradshaw asked.
“No…no…of course not,” said Laurie. “How could I be sleeping when Julia was up and playing. I had to watch her.”
“Did you know she was outside in the front yard?” asked Bradshaw.
“Yes,” Laurie said, “of course I did. She liked to play outside. It was a beautiful day.”
Officer Harvey spoke up, “Mrs. Andrews, you say you were not feeling well. Were you taking medication of any sort?”
“Yes…..I take pain medication for my back and sometimes I have migraines,” said Laurie.
“Can I ask you what you took yesterday when the accident happened?, asked Harvey.
“Well I had taken some vicodin and tramadol,” said Laurie.
“How much had you taken?” asked Harvey.
“Well, my usual dose and then a little extra, the tramadol, because the pain was so bad,” said Laurie.
“Are you taking more than the doctor prescribes?” asked Bradshaw.
“No…no” said Laurie. “I only take what the doctor prescribes unless the pain is really bad or doesn’t go away. Then I take a little more because I really need it.”
“Mrs. Andrews,” said Officer Bradshaw, “we are placing you under arrest for endangering the welfare of a child, and possessing illicit drugs. Will you come with us, please?”
Laurie started screaming and wailing. The two officers, one on each arm put her in handcuffs behind her back as they led her from the house to the police car in the drive way.

“God in heaven, help me,” Officer Heather Bradshaw said to herself in a little prayer because some days her job was almost more than she could bear. Having to arrest a mother who had just lost her child seemed cruel and inhumane, but Mrs. Andrews appeared to have a serious drug problem with prescription pills just as her ex-husband, Steve, had told them. While Julia’s death was not directly caused by Laurie’s addiction, the lack of supervision certainly was a contributing factor. Heather knew when she took the job as a police officer that she would have her nose in the asshole of humanity all the time. That was the job. No one calls a cop on a good day, only on a bad day. As a police officer she knew she would have to see humanity at its worse every working day of her career. She knew that. That’s what she had signed up for. And yet, it was only her faith and reliance on God’s will that got her through the worst of what she saw and had to deal with. It was her faith, and her constant praying for guidance that gave her the strength and courage to deal with what she was asked to deal with. Heather couldn’t explain it, and she felt strongly no one would really understand, not even her fellow officers, but she felt deep down in her soul that her life was one big, constant prayer.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Democracy has its limitations

Ted said, “I was taught in graduate school that there is three kinds of knowledge: knowing what, knowing how to, and knowing what is wanted for people or knowledge, skills, values for short.” The first two types of knowledge having nothing to do with individual conscience or democracy. You can’t arrive at scientific knowledge democratically any more than you develop skills and competencies democratically and yet everyone on this freaking committee things that their opinion is as valuable as everyone else’s or their idea of how to proceed is as good as everyone else’s and that’s just nonsence.”

“Absolutely, right!” said Harry. “I’m sick of this. I can’t take it anymore. These meetings are a waste of time. I’m resigning. I don’t want to waste my time arguing with people who are ignorant and incompetent.”

Ted said, “You’d think some of the executives at the UUA would know what to do, but they just come in and do touchy feely workshops and sing cum by ah. We never get anything decided and can’t move ahead. I don’t know why we pay our dues every year because we don’t get much from them that will save us.”

“This consensus model is no way to run a congregation or any organization which aspires to success for that matter,” said Joan. “The sweet Reverend wouldn’t call a spade a spade if her life depended on it. Sometimes I wonder if she even knows what she’s doing?”

Barb said, “Being sweet and having a good pastoral bed side manner is comforting in times of distress, but she doesn’t seem to know where we should be going and she doesn’t want to offend or alienate anyone so she won’t take a stand even if she has one.”

Ted and Joan, and Harry and Barb continued their discussion, some in the congregation called it “whining” but they were on the verge of dropping out of the church. It had gotten too stressful and unfulfilling. Barb had told David when she met him in Wegman’s, “We couldn’t do it any more. They just don’t know what they want or where they’re going. We are looking for something else where our investment of time and energy will be more productive.”

David said, “Yeah, they’re losing members and money, and they’re not going to meet their budget next year. Something’s got to go. They can’t keep on like this. You know what they say, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going,  any road will take you there.’”

“So,” said Barb, “if you were king of the world what would you do?”

Friday, October 3, 2014

Do Buddhists pray?

Steve was beside himself. He had always thought that Laurie was not a good enough parent and worried incessantly when Julia was in her care. Her being hit by a car and killed was a fear come true. Steve was a born again Christian and knew that Julia was with the Lord now, having been called home, maybe too early, but that God knows what He is doing is a cornerstone of Steve’s faith now that he has quit drinking and was saved two years ago just after his divorce from Laurie.

Now that Steve was sober he had been called OCD by a lot of people but none more rancorously than by Laurie. Laurie was upset when he was drinking and seemed just as upset, if not more, now that he was sober. She complained that he had become critical, domineering, overbearing, distrustful to the point of paranoia, and he seemed most obsessed with her care of Julia often implying if not outright accusing her for being a bad mother. Her girlfriend, Amanda, said, “There is no one more judgmental than an abstinent smoker or drinker. They seem to think they know it all and what’s best for everyone else. If they don’t go to AA they are even worse. Even in AA they tell people to take their own inventory, don’t be taking everyone else’s.”

Amanda had started going to the UU church with Laurie and Julia even though she had been raised Jewish and had become more Buddhist as an adult than anything else. “Do Buddhists believe in God?” Laurie had asked Amanda, and Amanda had said “No.” They believe in cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, but not in a personal God.

“Do Buddhists pray?” Laurie had wanted to know.

            “Not in the Christian sense,” said Amanda. “They meditate and try to clear their minds of all thoughts. Just to be still and become one with the flow of life, one with the all.”

Laurie didn’t know what Amanda was talking about. She had never tried to meditate herself. Now, with the horror of Julia’s death, Laurie just wished she could black out. Block everything out. She couldn’t even sleep. She was too upset. She wished she could talk to Amanda who had flown to California to visit her sister. Laurie didn’t even think Amanda knew yet of Julia’s death. Who would tell her? Should she call?

Someone was knocking on the door. She found it hard to rise from the chair and go to the door. She could see two policeman through the little rectangular window in the door, a man and a woman.

“Hello, Mrs. Andrews. I’m officer Harvey, and this is officer Bradshaw. We have a few questions we’d like to ask you. Can we come in?”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Democracy" is not a good management strategy

The fifth principle of Unitarian Universalism is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large." The very thing that the founding fathers of the United States feared about democracy, "mob rule," is what has shackled the growth and success of Unitarian Universalist churches.

Not only "mob rule" but mediocrity is the result of democratic processes which are captured by special interests. All you have to do is look at Unitarian Universalist congregations which are very small by comparison with other denominations and the congress of the United States today which has devolved into grid lock.

No successful corporation or business is run democratically for the simple reason that a business run this way would go bankrupt and not be successful.

I have watched a UU congregation which I helped start founder and now is on the brink of dissolution because of its democratic processes which means than no one is in charge and nothing gets done to manage the organization effectively. 80% of UU congregations are under 100 members. This observation is directly related to adherence to the democratic process which often degenerates into poor conflict resolution with repeated schisms or dropping out of the congregation because of no clear leadership and contentiousness.

Unitarian Universalism will never be successful as a "movement" as some people call it because of its reliance on democracy for its governance structure. It is time, perhaps, to reflect on the fact that democracy doesn't work very well in the operation of a successful organization.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Do you pray?"

“Do you pray?,” he asked her softly.
“I can’t,” she said, “I just can’t. I hate God. How could he do this?”
“Praying is nearly impossible when we are in shock and disbelief from a loss like yours,” David said.
“I used to pray,” she said, “but a lot of good it’s done me.”
Laurie had just lost her baby girl, Julia, who had been hit and killed by a car right it front of their house. Julia had darted into the road after a ball and not looked and the car had no time to stop, plowed right into her and tossed her 50 feet her little neck broken with blood coming from her right ear and her mouth. Laurie couldn’t get the image out her head.
David was Laurie’s neighbor from across the street. He had seen the whole thing. He wasn’t sure how to comfort Laurie or anyone in the midst of a tragedy like this. It seemed to him that it’s the time that people, in their suffering, ask WHY? In their shock, disbelieve, fear, and anger they want to blame someone. Why not God, the mover and shaker of the universe whom we have been taught makes all things possible and has a plan even if we don’t know what it is, and then tragedy strikes and none of the myths we have been taught and we have listened to, and told ourselves we should believe, make sense. So in our pain we blame God and then feel guilty and on top of everything else tell ourselves must be a terrible person to blame God, but who else? Who else is responsible for a thing like this happening?
The driver of the car, of course, but she didn’t have a chance. Who could anticipate that a child would dart into the path of an oncoming car. Can’t blame her. The cops didn’t. She didn’t get a ticket. She was driving the speed limit, was sober, just driving down the street going home with her groceries. You could blame Julia, but how do you blame the victim, the child you loved so fiercely. You could blame yourself for not providing enough supervision or training her well enough or for letting her play in the front yard at all.
Laurie was really scared of what Steve would say when he found out. Steve and she had been divorced for 2 years now and they had fought over primary residence. She had won. They were barely civil, but the joint custody was working okay.
Laurie’s mother would be devastated. Laurie had finally done something right that her mother approved of when she provided Martha with a granddaughter to dote on. Other than her drinking, Martha had been a great grandmother. Laurie didn’t like to leave Julia with her more than a couple of hours because her mother would get into the wine and then Laurie worried about her alertness in caring for Julia. Now look at what’s happened. Maybe Julia would have been better off with Martha even with her drinking problem than she has been under Laurie’s watch.

Rev. Moran had called and asked if he could stop over. He wanted to make a condolence call, but also there might be funeral arrangements to be made. Laurie had been taking Julia to a Unitarian Universalist church for the last year and didn’t even know if UUs believed in heaven. Where was her precious daughter now? What would  Rev Moran tell her if she was brave enough to ask?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't believe everything you think

Today is the last day of September, 2014, and we are finishing up the theme of the month which has been on the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. In October, 2014, the theme of the month is the fifth principle which is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large,

The fourth principle is a huge topic covered by the philosophical field of epistomology, how do we know what we know if we know anything at all? One frame of reference teaches that there are four ways of acquiring knowledge about the world: perception, language, reason, and emotion. In the last two hundred years science has contributed a great deal to the advance on the evolutionary trajectory of homo sapiens by providing practices of perception, language, and reason. Science looks primarily at the external world. Religion has focused on the internal world. Jesus told us that the kingdom is within us, not out there.

Perhaps the key concept is awareness and consciousness, what Osho calls intelligence. The world is populated with "educated idiots" who know a lot about the phenomena of the world, but their values are perverted and so we wind up with Hirsohima, environmental degradation contributing to the extinction of species, etc.

People look to religion for a value system which will facilitate wise decision making about what we do with our knowledge and skills. Unitarian Universalism, relying on its six sources, has come up with seven principles, or what I think of as values, to guide our decision making about how to create the "good life" for ourselves and others.

My favoritie bumper sticker reads, "Don't believe everything you think." Indeed. May it be so.