Sunday, May 26, 2013

Live, Move, Being (5/26/13)

Live, Move, Being
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

May 26, 2013
Trinity Sunday
Memorial Day

God is love,
and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them.  
1 John 4:16b

For in God we live and move and have our being.
Acts 17:28

For several years I have been structuring worship services around four life paths articulated by theologian Matthew Fox in his book Original Blessing.    The four paths in four words are celebration, void, creativity, and compassion.  If those words don’t resonate, pick others.    

These paths or ways or approaches or journeys or postures, again pick your word, are about life.   At times I use the word spiritual as in spiritual path, but then you have another word, spiritual, that requires definition and comes with baggage of its own.   The same is true for the word “God” of course.   These are not paths to God unless you want them to be, that is, unless the word “God” and whatever it may mean to you is important.   These four paths can be helpful for those who are not spiritual or who do not have a need for the concept of God. 

You don’t need God at all for these paths.  That is why I like them.   In the aftermath of the tornadoes in Oklahoma, we were flooded with God language.    Everything from God caused them, to prayers for God for protection, to thanks to God that that it wasn’t me or my friends, to imagining God in the suffering or in the response.  And so on.    I just want to say,

“Can we just live life?  
Can we empathize with the suffering?  
Can we respond with compassion?   
Must we bring God into everything?”

Since Zach’s death, I have found talk about God personally either to be oppressive and insulting on one hand or sappy and saccharine on the other.     I seem to be forced to come up with some definition of God that is somewhat bearable and then wonder why I keep trying.    It feels like constant pressure to throw God at all situations as if God is the answer to every problem.    I find instead that speculations regarding God compound the problem. 

God language fills worship as well in hymns, liturgy, and scripture.   It is all God all the time.

It is probably a good thing that I am taking a break.    

I know that some of you may resonate with the struggles I have over this and others I am sure must scratch your heads and wonder what I am on about.   People are different.    Even the texts I chose a while ago for today are about God. They are less offensive to me than most texts about God.   
God is love,
and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them.  
1 John 4:16b
For in God we live and move and have our being.
Acts 17:28
OK.   With these texts I can use the word “God” and define it as something else, love or living, moving, and being.

A trick of mine is to substitute the word “Life” for “God” when I run into scripture texts.  It doesn’t always work.  It is at times woodenly substituted, but I often find the texts more bearable when I do that.    Again, take the two texts for today and substitute Life for God…
Life is love,
And those who abide in love abide in Life,
And Life abides in them.
For in Life we live and move and have our being.
For me Life is real.  

I present these paths as ways for you to reflect upon your life’s journey.    If you want to include God in that you are welcome to of course.   If you don’t, that is OK, too.

The Life path for Spring, is in the Latin, the via transformativa, literally, the way of transformation.   This is the path of action, of living, doing, and moving.   At times we need to sit, to meditate, to rest, to take Sabbath.  At times, we need to move.   It is not just moving for the sake of moving.  It is moving toward a goal.  It is a goal toward transformation of self, society, even Earth itself.     

It is a path of risk.  It is daring to take action,
to dream of self, society, and Earth
that is more compassionate,
more just, more sustainable,
and then to take steps toward that dream.    

It is a risk.   We could mess it up more.    It might be safer to sit and do nothing, and let God handle it.  The problem is that sitting safe is no guarantee.   We can sit and hope God will take care of things when in fact, it may not be God who is taking care of business, but Halliburton.     Someone will fill the void created by inaction and collective apathy.   If we want to talk about God, then it may be that God takes care of things through our actions.

This path that I have designated with the single word, compassion, draws upon our reservoirs of courage.   Courage comes from the Latin “cor” for heart.   It is for the organ, the heart, but also figuratively for the soul or mind.   We say, “Take heart” or “Be courageous.”    Courage is to respond from a large heart, a compassionate and caring will.    

Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, writes and speaks of being “wholehearted.”    That is path four.    We find our courage, our heart, our whole heart, by acknowledging our vulnerability, our broken heart, our woundedness, and our shame, and owning it.   We don’t hide it or bury it because we might not think it meet’s society’s expectations or our expectations or whatever.    It is there in that brokenheartedness that we can find our wholeheartedness, our compassion and our courage.   

This is why people who we admire for doing incredibly courageous things, like transforming a personal loss into an act of beauty or generosity were able to do that.   Their woundedness didn’t shrivel them.   They went through the pain of it for sure.  They experienced the wrenching sadness and anger and the void, perhaps for a long time.  But somewhere along the way their woundedness and brokenheartedness were transformed into compassion and courage, into wholeheartedness.

That transformation is not automatic.  It isn’t guaranteed.   As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.  
If it is true for addiction it is perhaps true for other forms of woundedness as well.   The path of recovery, the path of transformation of self, society and Earth requires a capacity to be honest—to own our stuff.

Then as we own it, we embrace the owner, our own self.   Compassion is for you.    If it helps to have an image or a personification of God such as Jesus or some other figure to feel embraced then by all means have that.   If those images or personifications are not helpful or get in the way, then let them go.    

I simply am being honest with myself regarding my struggle with concepts of God.  My ministry is in part therapy for myself.   I trust and hope that witnessing it might be helpful to others.  Some of you have told me it has been and that is good to know. 

There is no guarantee that the wounded will become healers.   Sometimes the wounded end up becoming bitter and shriveled.  There is no guarantee that my family or I will make it through this wound somewhat intact and find the capacity, courage and compassion to be healers.     I trust that we will. 

Speaking for myself, to put that trust into action, my path is to be honest and tell what I have seen and where I have been, to explore where I am, and for the next several weeks at least, to take some time away from the official doing of ministry, to see what is going on in this heart of mine.
For the time and for walking with us, I am grateful to you.

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