May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Monday, April 3, 2006

 

Monkeys Throwing Poo

music: nothing

colors: nothing

mood: tired, relieved.

thoughts: Here is a nice big hunk of dung I delivered today in my preaching class. The main feedback I got was that the sermon was a big buffet of very nice food, but that I need to deliver individual meals. Dang, it was way too long and with too many supporting messages to fit into the traditional 15-20 minute sermon format, but might work better here. The text might very well be good to read, but I was tired enough today that I wasn't really able to focus as much as I'd like so the delivery was kinda subpar. Anyway, read it at your caution:

Thoughts are Messages, Angels are Messengers (or 'Wrestling with Angels')

Good morning everyone. Today, I'd like to spend some time discussing the state of life in general, our lives in particular, and the critical role that our thoughts play in all of our triumphs and miseries. Here we are in the United States of America, on Earth, in 2006, gathered together in a community with kind and gentle people who are of like-minded persuasion in many regards.

In our daily lives, we are surrounded by the most - amazing - things. We have at our disposal complex and powerful technology that can enrich our lives to bring us a standard of living well beyond the dreams of our ancestors only a century or two ago. On any given morning, we may find ourselves eating processed cereal from a box, or low-fat apricot mango yogurt, perhaps microwaving our breakfast where at the turn of the 20th century, people cooked grains in a pot of water over a wood-burning stove or fire. We may drive to work in an automatic transmission car and pay for gas with a magnetized strip on a piece of plastic associated specifically to our person, where early American settlers walked or depended on horses, and bought horse feed by trading tobacco, shells or deerskins.

We may listen to tapes, CDs, MP3s, or the radio on our way to work, while driving past 20-story steel-reinforced buildings. Then we may park in a large yellow-line painted parking lot, enter into a security-controlled specialized work environment with phones, computers, copiers, fax machines, and email. From there, we can instantly connect with many people at once around the globe, where for our ancestors the best available means of communication was only person to person via pony express, or a runner carrying a message from Marathon to Athens.

We have electricity and water available at the clap or wave of our hands, mobile phones we could use around any sufficiently populated area, a media system which makes available instant humor, visual history, or lots of attractive and sexy celebrities; We have advanced plumbing and sewage-treatment systems, miracle-working medical facilities, Doppler radar for weather forecasts, ever more lethal military technology, an educational system with more knowledge than any person could grasp, and that only scratches the surface of our achievements. Much of this new technology could be supremely beneficial.

So what's impeding us from fully realizing these benefits? Why has our massive collection of human knowledge, along with our technology thus far failed to create the utopia we've been working toward?

The problem may simply be that we are only human, and prone to mistakes on many levels. And in the course of recorded history, we've brought some of the most grievous actions to life. This next part may seem a bit dark, so please keep in mind that in working through this, we will be creating the light at the end of this tunnel. And remember to keep breathing and we'll make it through.

OK..., regarding some of these grievous mistakes: though it may not be obvious at first, at an individual level we suffer because of our tendency to take advantage of these technological advances, - often taking them for granted without a second thought. In the process, many of these advances are taking advantage of us, or more specifically, allowing us to be taken advantage of. Despite the allure of having computers to make our lives easier, so that we can do our work in less time, we find ourselves working long stressful hours for corporate employers with deadlines. In the process of being pulled closer to our jobs, we suffer as we begin to feel more distant from the people we love, and may even come to resent ourselves for allowing that distance.

And every day, our senses are beckoned away from who and what we love, being bombarded by advertisements through television, radio, magazines, billboards, and now the Internet. These ads are often created by people with graduate degrees in marketing, sociology, or psychology. They have insidious effects on us, ungrounding us from our humanity, convincing us to consume their product specifically, or perhaps worse, convincing us -- or reinforcing the belief that -- our primary role here is to consume products, and that to accomplish that, we need to work hard for our paycheck. Breathe - the light is coming.

As a society we suffer because of an economic system which demands growth and artificially scarce resources to thrive, while devaluing people - and relationships - by putting us in the awkward position of supporting contemporary forms of slavery or servitude. By this I mean that the working class and working poor are exploited not only by business executives and corporate investors, but also by those of us who are working hard ourselves, and simply trying to save something for retirement through investing in mutual funds and IRAs.

In government, the apparently intractable corruption - in existence allows for our state and national capitals to become clearinghouses for trillions of tax dollars toward special interests, prisons, and war. This spending comes at great cost to our working poor, our homeless, our children, and future generations who are all given short shrift because they can't afford lobbyists or congressional advocates. Breathe. That great sucking sound at the capital clearinghouses vacuums up resources not only away from people today but leaves our unborn with a debt resulting from luxurious spending from their past which they will never have the opportunity to partake in.

We suffer because the military advances purchased by our tax dollars have brought us new wars causing inestimable casualties, both physical and spiritual. Between the wars and our nation's complicity or tacit acceptance of genocide and deplorable living conditions in many developing countries, our nation suffers as its relational capital with the rest of the world continues to dwindle. Meanwhile, our nation's democracy, always reliant upon leaders with authentic integrity, on checks and balances, and a populace informed by a free press, now exists only - in – name. In addition, and perhaps most lasting, the mistreatment and contamination of our earth, water, and air is an embarrassment and a disgraceful legacy which we will leave behind for many generations to come. Breathe.

Meanwhile, many people in our nation follow the contemporary Christian church's biblical interpretation that Jesus is coming to save them, essentially hedging their bets in case there really is a heaven/hell afterlife. Rather, they would do well to hedge their bets that He may have actually been talking about our responsibility of stewarding in heaven on this Earth right here, and that their soul might carry on in this very world, breathing the same molecules they breathe now. In the meantime, we are watching our planet fall toward the very hell they're seeking to avoid. On the other extreme, our country has many people turned off to religion entirely by religious zealots who feel that their God has called upon them to put forth the angry narrow intolerance toward all that which offends God's ego.

Even in Unitarian Universalism, which we tend to hold in such high esteem for its free-thinking values, we have made, and doubtlessly continue to make, mistakes. These mistakes include walking on eggshells regarding any mention of Christian topics in our meeting houses, thereby alienating ourselves from our Christian roots and cutting short meaningful interfaith dialog. We also make the mistake of forgetting that our free and responsible search for truth and meaning calls on us to report, even sound out, the results of that search. Further, we unintentionally neglect the deep intricacies of the web of life when we come up with premature answers to problems so difficult that we may not - yet - even - be asking the right questions. Breathe, the light is coming up.

So here we are – together in our searching community, trying to get a handle on all these problems and more, searching for the right questions to ask about them, and then obtain some answers. Where to start....?

The method I'd like to apply begins by deconstructing the problems en masse, and asking, “From where does our technology, our knowledge, and our social fabric actually originate?” They all appear to have one thing in common – they began with thought, either conscious or unconscious. If you noted the title of the sermon in the bulletin, it also mentions angels, and I promise to shed some light on them shortly, and then begin to tie things together.

Before I go further, I feel compelled to make a quick note of inclusion regarding the forthcoming arguments. For those who were not here for my “God and Not God” sermon last month, it's important to note that while I am going to be making reference to God, through the process of associating various forms of the Divine with each other, which I refer to as “multithetical unity,” we allow for a translation from references of one form of the Divine to apply to others, to the degree that they possess similar qualities. If you're interested in finding out more, I will be offering an adult ed. class on this topic coming up in the fall.

OK, continuing on...

In Genesis, chapter 32, verses 24-28, we find the story of Jacob wrestling the angel. From the World English Bible, the story goes thusly:

Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day. When he saw that he didn't prevail against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled. The man said, "Let me go, for the day breaks."

Jacob said, "I won't let you go, unless you bless me."

He said to him, "What is your name?"

He said, "Jacob."

He said, "Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed."

Though in this story, the text says he wrestled with a man, it's generally understood to be an angel which Jacob wrestles. As noted in the reading, the angel also pronounces that Jacob's name shall be changed to Israel, which translates as “He struggles with God.” This particular angel was likely Uriel, one of the most powerful among angels, whose name translates, among other things as “God is light.” At one point, within the apocryphal texts, Uriel says “I have come down to earth to make my dwelling among men, and I am called Jacob by name.” Well, that's a lot of names - and associations - to take in, but be not confused. And be not afraid, and don't worry about the confusion, because we won't be charging headlong into a full deconstruction of how the identities and associations get interchanged between human and angelic entities here.

However, in order to make the next statement, it's necessary to note that the Greek translation of “angelos,” the root word of angel, means “messenger.” Suffice it to say then, that in this wrestling match, the angel, the man, the messenger and the message become so enmeshed - with each other that it's nearly impossible to distinguish them apart. Does that mean that Israel/Jacob wasn't actually struggling with God, or the angel, but rather with His message?

At this point, I'd like to bring a few more pieces of information into the mix, so that we can answer the question of Jacob's struggle, and also get to a point where we can understand a direct association between angels and thought, and then find a decent way to actually apply this to our lives, honoring our commitment to work against all this suffering.

First, let us consider that angels are messengers of light, and information is associated with light – for example, providing information is described as “shedding light on the subject,” and the phrase in the new testament about not hiding one's light under a basket refers to sharing the truth which one knows.

Second, thoughts are the basic means of expressing and organizing information within the mind.

Third, a branch of theology called “process theology” teaches us that at every infinitessimal moment, we are experiencing an event, influenced or informed by events we recall from the past. Every event's action, in addition to being informed by past events, is informed by a multitude of messages of potential courses of action, provided by the Divine. As each moment passes from the now into the past, we take an action, however small, even if its only a thoughtful reflection, which then informs further events, and the process then continues ad infinitum. For the record, process theology is actually a bit more complicated than that, but that's my attempt at a very brief distillation to make this point. At every single moment, God is presenting us with messages from which to choose to act on, which then affects what becomes manifest in the world.

Here's the question that I've been working toward. Who carries those messages?

Those messages must be carried by some type of messengers, so for the sake of argument, and looking back at the Greek word 'angelos,' we'll call those messengers angels. These messages are the thoughts that occur to us: from the definition of thought at selfknowledge.com, these thoughts may carry reflections, or perhaps a judgment or perception, or they could carry an intention or purpose. Reflections, judgments and perceptions are those ruminations which remain in the mind, whereas thoughts carrying intentions and purposes are more often interested in manifesting some change in our shared physical world. Intentions and purposes are the ones I'd like to focus on.

These thoughts exist on a continuum from being salvifically beneficial all the way down to being catastrophically detrimental. Knowing their potential effects, and the possibility they may be unleashed out in the world, and borrowing from standard religious parlance, we'll call the beneficial ones 'angels' and the detrimental ones – you guessed it – 'demons.' Originating as thoughts, the size of each of these at the outset is tiny – a potential answer for the age-old question: you could fit “quite a few” on the head of a pin. As they are reflected upon, released, discussed, expounded upon further, and their purpose implemented or their intention executed, they physically manifest among us.

If a thought takes hold and many others adopt it, add input to it, and modify it, it becomes not the cute little cherubic angels we see in the paintings of Raphael, or the human-sized crimson-red horned devil creature of legend, but they grow to carry the weight and momentum of a great, big, Mack truck going well above the speed limit, or even to hundreds of feet tall, able to nourish or devour entire cities or civilizations. This is how the problems we have before us today came into existence and grew over time to the size they have. And it is also the key to solutions. And this is why it is critical that we learn to exert judicious control over our thoughts, specifically the ones we allow to manifest from ourselves, or the thoughts of others we may allow ourselves to propagate.

I can't stress enough that every endeavor undertaken by humans, including our quest for gathering and storing intelligence, our quest to create new technologies, and the way our social systems have been shaped, including languages, economies, nations, national boundaries, governments, communities, religions, music, art and science – the list goes on and on – every endeavor is the result of our thoughts growing into fruition. If they've turned out amiss, we need look no further than to the root.

Our thoughts count.


What kind of tools, understanding, and knowledge do we need in order to tend to thoughts responsibly?

First, we must each recognize our role as personal gatekeepers. We can and must learn to control and operate our own thought processes, lest they be controlled for us by outside forces. If we can hone our ability to recognize the values and merits of our thoughts, along with their potential for good or bad, we can become adept at filtering out incoming or outgoing thoughts with purposes counter to our goals and aspirations, and at solidifying, releasing, and amplifying thoughts that support our goals and aspirations.

Second, we can recognize that problems can arise when two or more thoughts have purposes that run counter to each other, especially if their continued propagation appears to be mutually exclusive. In that case, especially in the case when one or more demons have been brought to life, we must find methods of elimination, realizing that depending on the size of the adverse thought, the amount of time required for elimination may range from instantaneous up to hundreds of years. Some methods of elimination include dissolving the thought by showing its end results, or creating an alternative thought to supplant the one gone awry, or to inoculate ourselves against the thought with preventative thoughts so that the unwelcome thought does not have fertile ground to grow on in the future.

Third, we can learn how to amplify and align our own thoughts. This can mean that we devote significant time and mind power to focus our individual or collective attention on developing a thought fully so it gains strength and momentum. It can mean getting others to start talking and propagating a thought. It can mean developing a culture for our community to think and share in, knowing that our thoughts are empowered when surrounded by the fertile soil of other amicable thoughts to grow side by side with. It can mean flooding the world, echoing our thoughts until everyone hears them and buys in. Such is the case with memes, which Australian Graduate School of Management professor Robert Marks defines as “A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover, and adaptation.”

Fourth, we can realize that thoughts do not exist in a vacuum. Logic and intelligence on their own can have a tendency toward being amoral. We must learn to trust our feelings and convictions as guides to provide direction, and to help us set up our filters regarding which thoughts deserve to live, and which the world actually may benefit from having be “no more.” This should not be construed as a vehicle for the cold compassion of censorship, but as an invitation for our spiritual knowledge, true compassion and reason to come together to nurture that which heals and to abandon that which damages.

Fifth, we can recognize that underdeveloped ideas can be among the most dangerous of all, especially if they're implemented before they're ready, or before their potential results are adequately considered. And we also can understand that an even more dangerous idea is the one that a thought is fully complete. In this instance, the angel starts to deliver the message, and is interrupted. We deny or cut off the rest of the message. Instead, we can understand that every thought is a revelation which is always capable of continually being built upon, saying “and, - and, - and.”

Sixth, we must allow ourselves freedom of thought. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Just because we're disciplining ourselves about which thoughts we want to escape into the wild doesn't mean we need to confine the arena of thought in our own minds. Our minds are powerful playgrounds, in fact, they've been breeding grounds for some of the most horrific demons we battle today. But when we allow our divergent, artistic selves to shine, our minds are also capable of giving birth to benificent messages and manifestations truly worthy of the name 'angels.'

Now for real-life applicability: Using these tools, we can see that a thought put upon us that our job matters more than our home life needs to be filtered or countered. We recognize the thought within ourselves that we need to manifest to our families the thoughts we have had about wanting to be with them.

We recognize that the advertisements and commercials on buses and television are amplifications of thoughts from marketers, convincing us to consume – thoughts that perhaps shouldn't have made it out into the world in the first place. We develop our own thoughts, that the buses, TV, and radio could all still exist just fine without commercials, and could be replaced with art for art's sake, to the benefit of the stifled culture in our country aching to be let out again, escaping the bonds of commercial oppression. We develop thoughts to counter the argument that says “How could television, radio, buses, and subways exist without advertising money to support them?”

We spread thoughts that our current economic system is only one opinion of a way to use natural resources and human labor toward producing and distributing goods and services among us. We focus our thoughts toward developing ideas and implementations of alternative systems of production and distribution. We also are able to recognize that the capitalist economic system, injustices to the exploited excluded, has indeed been very beneficial in many ways to the advancement of humanity in general up until some time in the mid 20th century, but with that in mind, we also recognize that sometimes our angels - go - bad, while we keep hanging onto them, wishing they were still good.

We realize (or make truly real to ourselves in our minds) that our feelings and convictions have been correct about the state of corruption in our government and the effect it has on us and our world. We understand that we need to empower ourselves by creating a culture which amplifies the thoughts necessary to bring about a way of salvaging and reworking the system that should manifests our ideals of democracy. And we may find ways to synthesize thoughts together to become new safeguards which make our system of government less corruptible.

We may find that the people of the world have all been searching for peace, and that by disempowering our economic systems, the military-industrial and prison complexes, and many other industries founded on the old system will discover that they no longer are needed. We will then find that those people who have worked in the sectors of the economy that have dissolved will have free time, while we still are able to provide the same real goods and services we have today to everyone, but can now do it more efficiently.

We may find that the staggering amounts of debt incurred by many nations and people are only socially agreed-upon numbers, and that if we erase them tomorrow, the world will have the same ten trillion hours of human labor available per year that it had today, only the control of that labor permeates throughout societies, rather than resting only in the hands of an elite few.

We may find that more and more people are out of work as we use our technology to develop robots to make our menial tasks happen automatically for us, and we'll find that those out of work people now have time to read the paper, or learn piano, or sit with their children, or under a tree.

We may find that the thought of true global security unleashed from someone's mind has developed and flowered to a point that it becomes unnecessary to worry about resources
for our childrens' education, or our individual health care, about nuclear warfare, or terrorism, or hostile corporate take-overs.

We may find that our fragile world begins to recover as we slay these demons – perhaps it will be a little worse for wear, but then it would give our descendants some worthy restoration goals to work toward. And we may find that the thought of heaven on earth unleashed from the mind of a bright thinker many centuries ago may still come to fruition as the bright angel its conceiver originally intended.

And may we also find that an all-inclusive - multithetically unified - system of religion waits there for us with open arms.


chant/prayer/mantra:
K.I.S.S.

pax hominibus,
joel

I intend to explain why I keep including this quote below, then dispense with always including it sometime soon.

"And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean"

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Comments:
Whoa, easy there, big fella. That's a year's worth of political speech packed into one sermon.
I think there's a lot of good stuff there, but clarity, density and focus are important. Narrow it down to a few points, and then keep it simple and repeat those points in a way that uses different metaphors and examples.
Just reading it as a blog post is a mulitple session effort, and people squirming in church pews praying to the big sky god are going to have trouble tracking so much.
I could go on about it, but that would lack clarity on my part.
PS, word verificaion sucks unconsenting minor age donkey dicks.
xoxoxoxo
 
Wow, yeah, I think that's a bit too dense for one sermon, but you could easily break it up into a related series of 3-4 sermons. But definitely there's a lot of good stuff here. I would think that starting with a simple point, moving into something more complex, then returning to a new understanding of the simple point from the beginning might be a good strategy, but then I'm not a sermon writer. ;-)
 
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