April 2018

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Luminous Beings are We

Last Sunday was an excellent day. First, our pastor Karla delivered an excellent sermon, and then Ann and I attended a film, Dear Comrade, about a socialist commune where our friends Karen and Donna lived and worked in the early 1970s. Both events called for a world where people live in community with and for one another. Both provided vision and hope.

When Karla started her sermon, titled "Choose Life," by talking about the political arguments for and against legal abortions, I was surprised by her choice of topics. After all, we are a progressive congregation and have, I suspect, settled into our belief that a woman should choose. On the other side of the argument are, I suspect we think, conservative views that the fetus's life should be prioritized. They've settled in, too. What's the use in bringing it up? I thought.

Karla recognized these entrenched positions and what seems like the unnecessariness of raising the controversial topic. She said, "The mainline church is very clear on its position, and its position is not to talk about it." She continued by defining the entrenched positions on both sides of the issue: "Both are obsesses with nation, state, and individual….In one, the Bible is The Constitution, and in the other The Constitution is the Bible."

As a feminist, Karla is pro-choice, and she said so, but this was an aside. Her sermon was not about one side or the other. It was about the third way. Karla noted that a woman who is pregnant and considering abortion does not need our political arguments. "She needs people who will not leave her alone." She needs compassion. She needs love. Karla said, "Life isn't about making mistakes. It's about what we do with those mistakes. It's not about regrets. It's about what those regrets turn into." 

Karla asked us, "What kind of church would we be if we were a church that could talk about abortion?" 

I thought, "or race, or taxes, or the prison system." This was Karla's point. What kind of church would we be if we could talk about difficult social issues and keep at the forefront our love for one another?

Our church has been talking about our evolving vision for a year, I think. As long as Ann and I have been there, we have identified as a Reconciling Church, a church where GLBTQ persons are embraced. In 1985, our church was one of the first in the nation to take this stand. At the time, it was considered radical. 

Our mission to reach out to people who are oppressed because of their sexual orientation continues to be an important one, but as more churches, particularly in this area, have become inclusive of GLBTQ people, as a congregation we have felt the need to expand or redefine our mission. 

We have talked about working to be more open to those who aren't as included as the GLs and Qs in the group: the Ts people who identify as trans). We have talked about becoming an anti-racist church. We have talked about battling homelessness, discrimination against those who have migrated to this country without legal documents, and the prison industrial complex.

We have wondered what direction our church will take. Karla's sermon, however, lifts us from our mission to our vision. She didn't use these words, but I will. Can we be a church that embraces all people with love without judging one another?

She added some details to this vision. Can we see one another and our relationships in these ways?: 1) "Individuals are flawed and make mistakes." 2) Independence is a myth. Dependence and deciding who or what to depend on are the reality." 3) "We're all disabled, but some disabilities are easier to see than others." 

As a person with obvious disabilities, this statement felt inclusive to me. I looked to Lori, my friend who has cerebral palsy and cannot talk but reacts in pain when she feels it so that we all know something of her pain. Lori seemed quiet and easy. I took this to mean that perhaps she, too, felt respected and included by Karla's statement. 

Karla called me to a more sophisticated vision of who we can be by challenging me--and us--to begin with a way of being rather than beginning with acts or ideas of doing. 

Acts of doing will come, too, of course, but Karla called us to begin with our hearts and for our hands to follow. I am humbled to be called in this way.

After church, Ann and I went to see the film Dear Comrade, a film that included our friends Karen and Donna. The film is the director's reflection on a group's time (nine months, I think) as part of a commune during the early 1970s. 

The commune was an experiment in communal living: what would it mean to live in a society where people depend on one another, raise children together, and earn equal wages that support their living needs and do not lead to consumption and stratification. What would it mean to live in a place where decision-making is not by vote but by consensus, so that even minority voices are honored in the process?

It meant many long and irritating meetings, and it meant that sometimes in consensus the group made decisions that were compromises and weren't really good decisions. It meant that the commune eventually became a ghost town of tumbleweeds and--ironically--a golf course in the desert. 

Being part of this experiment, however, was also living in a creative space where lives were a kind of emerging art: who could we be? The film's director, Madie, reflects in this film about what being a part of this artistic experiment meant and means. 

During her time in the commune, she visited a guru to ask for enlightenment. He said that he would meditate on her question, and months later returned with a drawing of his vision: the image of a clown in the lotus position. 

What did this mean? Perhaps the clown in a posture of meditation challenged the idea of enlightenment. In the voiceover, Madie said, "Enlightenment, like other unrealistic ideals, is best achieved if you pretend."

The image stays with me. I would like to be enlightened, and have said so. I like it when people call me wise. I would like to be wise. I would like to say things like Yoda: “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.” (Return of the Jedi)

But perhaps Dear Comrade and Karla's sermon draw me to a different goal. Perhaps any place I reach in my mind, any vision of myself that is created from my mind, is clownish if I start in my mind.

Perhaps such wisdom begins in my heart, not in my mind. Probably.

As Yoda and Karla and Madie might say to me:

All your life have you looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never your mind on where you are. Hmm? What you were doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh….You are reckless….You must unlearn what you have learned….

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.You will know [the good side from the bad]... when you are calm, at peace, passive….

Much you still have to learn, my old padawan. 

May the force be with us all. 


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