“If you have come to this time together for laughter, may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil.
If you seek an adventure, may our song sing you away to blissful escape.
If you need to test or confirm your beliefs, may you reach comfortable conclusions.
All words reveal perfection, by what they are or what they are not.
May you find that which you seek in words spoken and unspoken today;
May you find perfection, beyond any name.”
Be warned… I’m a creative writing major with severe adhd, a family history of mysticism, and a passion for philosophy; who, despite picking up a seminary degree and PCUSA ordination, holds a reputation as the black sheep of the denomination and occasionally causes a stir via a not always PC sense of humor. (1st joke, no such thing!)
So hold on tight and have fun (religion is far to important to be taken seriously.)
So its Sunday morning… the most authentic, loving, inclusive, unified hour of the week. Yeah… right.
Over the years the unique mission of our ‘Sweaty Sheep’ program, to utilize recreation and community service in the cultivation of relationships that transcend faith, social, and economic divisions, has opened diverse doors through which to experience the unique character, style, and traditions of a variety of different communities.
Never-the-less, this is my first step into a Unitarian pulpit so I tiptoed timidly towards our time together in hopes not to say the wrong words.
I’ve been the awkward tone-depth white guy in the pulpit of an African American Baptist, ‘amen’ yelling, dance-in-the spirit KY church.
I’ve turned heads as the tattooed liberal amongst suit-wearing conservatives and on rare occasion, the perceived conservative amongst uber-liberals (never picking sides.)
As an aspiring Yogi, I’ve been a Buddhist influence on the Christians and Christian among Buddhists (both can be literally and metaphorically inflexible).
I’ve ended prayers with shalom, nameste, and amen while striving to follow the tao, tiptoe the 8-fold path, live out (some of) the 600+ levitical laws and legalistic gabber of the Old Testament, summit the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (guided by Jesus or Jimmy Page depending on the day)… all in pursuit of some experience of Nirvana, Shambalia, eternity, and enlightenment.
Lesson learned… growth, fulfillment, and fun flourish when we open ourselves to the conjunction “and,” not limit via “or.” Or ideally stray from words all together!
So lets start with Worship.
Believe what your told, sing the right hymns, say or chant the right words or sounds, stand and sit at the right times, eat a wafer, drink some juice, smoke a peace-pipe, throw up a Hail Mary or Hare Krishna, pray for all those “other people” who have it wrong, and come back next week.
However, today I am thrilled to be a heretic amongst heretics, a group with open minds and doors, likely at the receiving end of those aforementioned prayers!
In the Christian tradition at least, it’d seem there are no longer Heretics, just denominations.
Our ’or’ mentality makes it easier to split than converse.
The word ‘heretic’ simply means, ‘to chose,’ (a sin in institutionalized culture.)
What if worship wasn’t something to be passively attended, but something to get lost in; if religion didn’t divide, but unite, and if we didn’t worry about naming the divine, but focused on experiencing it?
The choice is ours.
Over a century ago, existential philosopher William James, called into question a “blind adherence to religious institution.” Not condemning or devaluing religious tradition, James sought to invigorate it, encouraging the deeper deliberative spiritual discernment of each individual with “religious ‘feeling’ and impulse the subject.”
James recognized religious ritual, void of feeling, is merely a repetitious act… that authentic worship doesn’t have a script. (says the hypocrite who wrote a manuscript)
“It would be unprofitable to study the second hand religion of a person, communicated by tradition, determined by fixed forms of imitation, and retained by habit,” proclaims James’ whose century old call reverberates in our ‘spiritual not religious’ society.
Despite the trendiness of the proclamation, this call to organic “spirituality” is far from new.
For example, following the most prescriptive prayer of the Bible (our Father who art in heaven…”) Jesus declares, “do not merely heap up empty phrases as the hypocrites do,” those “second-hand religious” folk.
Sartre, follows suit, warning true religion shalt never “causally effectuate” our being, “but rather make a claim on [us]…”
“We mustn’t ‘see’ the homeless person but encounter them” he states. “Not just hear the other’s voice but register a question to be answered honestly’ and not simply happen to sit quietly in Church but ‘attend to worship reverently.”
Again, that term, ‘worship,” for which Webster’s defines: “The acts or rites that make up a formal reverence to a deity.” Blah.
Rudolf Otto, while admitting the impossibility of the task, was a bit more creative in depicting the ineffable ‘worship’ experience he termed “numinous.”
“A griping or stirring the human mind whose feeling may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide with a tranquil mood of deepest transcendence. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, thrillingly vibrant and resonant… It may burst in sudden eruption with spasms and convulsions, and lead to the strongest excitements, intoxicated frenzy, transport, and ecstasy with wild and demonic forms that can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering.”
Dang. I want to go to Otto’s church!?!
…Thats a lot of words so take a breath and turn with me to my transcendental idol, Henry David Thoreau, whom while walking the woods of Walden, was stricken by just two.
I have a dog. A 10lb ferocious fur ball found abandoned in a dumpster back in KY…
Chewbacca has a tendency to forget he’s tiny, though the german shepherd up the street does not.
Every day Chewie tests his leash with a growling lunge at his monstrous neighbor… who returns the greeting by testing out his chain reinforced lead.
The other day as Chewie lunged, I realized our friend was not on his lead… In panic the leash slipped out of my hand, and utterly helpless, I closed my eyes so as to not see the national geographic episode in the making. Anticipating flying fur and vet bills, I opened my eyes to behold two tail wagging pups sniffing one another’s rear ends.
All the fear, growling, and teeth showing of the past months ceased as soon as the two were untethered.
Doggy dogma is beautiful because its free from linguistic leashes!
After all, if the divine is ineffable and worship transcendent, the best way to negate our ability to experience it would be to chain it with words; which are inadequate at best and impossible at worse. Meaning too many things and nothing at all.
This morning is infused, and confused, with Hebrew, english, and greek… dog barking, philosophical babel, Bible verses, Yoga Sutras, and corny puns…
Each limited by the languages of their respective cultures, species, and/or communities.
With over 6500 ‘official languages’ it’d be easy make an example of a few goofier ones, but, we need not mock the twigs of others eyes before we laugh at the log in our own. (Parables, let the fun begin…)
What other people park in the driveway and drive on the parkway and see a fat chance and slim chance as the same probability? Furthermore, theres a slim chance that a ‘f’-fat individual would fit into a ‘ph-phat’ sportscar regardless of where its parked or driven.
Our confusion can be generational. How many parents speak the same language as their kids (or vice versa?)
Geographical… “Y’all” was a scholarly word during grad school in KY, but here on the left coast, I don’t reckon y’alls English professors would agree.
Things like acronyms are often misused here in the USA of America by folks doing things such as typing PIN numbers into ATM Machines, but superlative slips are my most favoritist.
Thats all with native english speakers! Can you imagine trying to learn English as a second language?
You can’t blame the sign at the French owned gym reading, “Please leave your values at the front desk” or the Bangkok dry cleaner stating: “Drop your trousers here for best results.” (each could have some unfortunate ramifications!)
Words… inadequate at their best, impossible at their worst and funny regardless. Its no wonder we misunderstand one another, despite speaking such similar things?
But it is when words become labels they go from inadequate at best to dangerous or divisive at worst.
As Chewbacca demonstrated, our “bark” is not only worse than our bite, it often is our bite, and labels become leashes that limit our experience of the divine and one another by enhancing fears, magnifying misperceptions, and cultivating ego.
But unclipping isn’t so simple…
Or its so simple that its complicated!!!
In seminary we studied Greek and Hebrew, liberation and systematic theology, church history and polity… and all said and done, I graduated one step closer to agnosticism and one leap further from the community I hoped to interact.
So I closed my books, hung up the robe, and sought out a simple passion for ‘Play’ (hence the ‘Sweaty Sheep’ tagline, re-creation through recreation…)
What I found was that the act of playing together as a diverse group paved a unique path towards Unity through (not despite) diversity.
The last philosophical quotation of the day, Plato offered defense stating: “we grow closer through an hour of play than a lifetime of conversation.”
All traditions share certain “common-unities” that provide a foundation for authentic community.
The first, our unifying need for play, reveals the many others… such as our transcendent hunger for purpose and a communal quest for wisdom.
… and a common ignorance in knowing just what we are questing for.
Wisdom, Sia, in Ancient Egypt and Sophia in gnostic Christianity are representative of a personified god.
Buddha taught a threefold path towards this end turning greed into generosity, anger into meditation, and ignorance into wisdom.
Three seems a unifying theme so lets stick with it:
Taoist wisdom lies in our adherence to the three Treasures of charity, simplicity, and humility… which Confucius pursued through the three methods of Reflection, imitation, and experience.
In Hinduism those are called sat (being), chit (awareness), and ananda (bliss); off which the aforementioned Platonic philosophy likened to the more secular triad of goodness, beauty, and truth.
The freemasons aligned, uplifting wisdom, strength, and beauty and in Christianity we find these through the three attributes of a trinitarian God, Son, and Holy spirit; complimented by three supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love.
We ain’t as different as words make it seem… and shedding words allows us to make ‘wise the simple’ in route to overcoming the perceptions, labels, and babel that stand in wisdom’s way.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city,” The Babalonians cried out in the book of Genesis 11. “With a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…”
To which God countered, and I’d imagine with a slightly mischievous smirk, “Come, let us go down and confuse their language…”
No great flood, no plagues, no crazy lighting bolts… but words.
The Sumerian name Babel or Babylon literally means Gate Of The Deity, and given wisdom is gained through experience, (and shared experiences of others,) ‘babel’ can easily become a gatekeeper.
Scripture and Sutras have provided words of wisdom across various traditions for millennia… Sutra, a verse, is actually where we get the the word, suture. Thus, as important as these religious writings are, they are but the stitches tying together the experiences and relationships through which we truly know the divine.
So dive into the Gita, peruse the Pentateuch, seek guidance from the Quran, grab the Book of Mormon from a pair of bicycling boys, and as a Presbyterian minister, I of course encourage everyone to flip open up a Bible!
Soak up the words of wisdom and inspiration from a variety of spiritual predecessors, but don’t rely strictly on bricks of babel!
Shut the books and and allow experience to be the pen.
Though we can never truly know the divine in person, we glimpse the ineffable through interaction, playing with, the diversity of creation.
So co-author with the local homeless panhandler and the CEO from over the hill (they each offer unique wisdom.) The guy with the trump t-shirt as well as the one with a Bernie tattoo (inclusivity goes both ways). Partner with the non-english speaking Latino farmworker and woman up the street whose head is always covered as you find a common wordless language.
Let each interaction be free from leashes of labels, tear down a towers of misperception, and incite an authentic ecstatic experience of worship.
It’s been asked, “how will the Tower of Babel be undone? When we learn to share the light within by speaking music, laughter, sweat, and tears.