Guilty or Not-guilty
It occurred to me that to explore the tensions of Palm Sunday and the triumphs of Easter Sunday without exploring the universal themes that are detailed between the two is somehow lacking. Grossly lacking, really.
It would be like saying that Dorothy fell asleep and Dorothy woke up. The end. Frodo left home and Frodo came home. The end.
And so it is that I invite you into Holy Week, 2021, a program that explores those universal themes so integral to any hero’s journey – themes such as decision, resistance, support, commitment, sacrifice and so forth, through a series of daily online services. Each presentation lasts about 30 minutes, and can be accessed on the Unity in Lynnwood website under Videos.
Now of course, what we call holy week is preceded by that period of preparation Christians call Lent.
And of course, everybody knows you’re supposed to give something up for Lent. And if you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is chocolate. Now, that’s not because chocolate’s a big deal to me. For me to give up chocolate would be tantamount to my giving up Nicholas Cage movies or Glamour magazine or okra. In other words, it’s pretty much a non-issue. The first thing that comes to mind is chocolate because “I’m giving up chocolate for lent,” has become nothing less than a modern-day March mantra among pseudo-religious folk.
Now, if you want it to matter to me, tell me that I have to give up coffee. Tell me that I have to give up shoes. If you want it to matter to me, tell me that I have to give up social media.
Imagine the olden days - humanity having to trudge from farm to farm, to flash pencil sketches of toasted bread topped with micro greens and avocado slices.
And for many of us, this season carries overtones that go something like this: we give something up for Lent because we’re guilty.
I invite you to consider that original sin is fundamentally the construct of early church patriarchs who would leverage matters of piety to ends of power and politic. Original sin is antagonistic to the tone of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and to common sense itself. You were not born tainted and tossed upon some obstacle course of sensory temptation that you might struggle and strain to re-earn God’s favor before you die.
You do not have to earn God any more than the fish has to earn the water within which it floats. You do not have to earn God any more than the bird has to earn the air upon which it soars.
You do not have to be better for God. You do not have to be more for God. You do not have to be holier for God.
You have to be available.
The water says, “I’ve been here all along – now float.” The air says, “I’ve been here all along. Now soar.” God says, “I’ve been here all along. Now be.”
As we say in Unity, there is a ground of all beingness and possibility. We call that ground of all beingness and possibility God. You are of it because it can be no other way. And it is of you because it can be no other way. In this light, the heretical and arrogant thought isn’t that the ground of all beingness and possibility would include everyone. The heretical and arrogant thought is that the ground of all beingness and possibility would exclude anyone.
In a more traditional setting, I might say it this way: God has loved you since before you knew yourself to be you; and that this has never changed, will never change, can never change. I might say that God has a refrigerator door and that your picture hangs right in the middle of it, tucked between shots of Hank Aaron, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Bach and Buddha.
Nor did Jesus die some 2,000 years ago because of something you did wrong last week. Jesus died some 2,000 years ago because his kingdom of heaven stood in direct tension with the kingdom of Caesar – a social order in which the lives of the marginalized many were ransomed for a grand opulence for the powerful few.
This substitutionary sacrifice, as it’s called, is yet another later construct of that patriarchal/political machine in which power and politic and piety were bound, one to the other.
And for many of us, this season carries overtones that go something like this: We give something up for Lent because we’re flawed.
And so it is that I would invite you to consider that your incarnation isn’t tantamount to your having somehow fallen from God. The presence of God – that ground of all beingness and possibility – has never been withheld from you, will never be withheld from you, can never be withheld from you.
And yet, in this popular western belief that we are flawed, we glorify the lowest within us despite the grandest within us. We’ve become like the proverbial circus elephant who spends his life walking in circles around a spindly peg because he’s come to believe - not in the power of his massive leg, but in that thin string that dangles around it. We continue to glorify the lowest within us despite the grandest within us when the very soul of us would have us glorify the grandest within us despite the lowest.
Great souls aren’t great souls because they are pious and perfect, you see. Great souls are great souls because they are ostentatious and audacious. Look around. Lives of undeniable beauty and light, lives of irrefutable evolution and transformation have been lived by wildly imperfect people. From George Washington to Billie Holiday to Malcom X – their contributions to our world weren’t born of their perfection, but of their audacity. Their contributions to our world arose because they glorified the grandest within them despite the lowest.
I have to admit, while I’ve never been Catholic, I’ve always been fascinated with the sacrament of confession. It seems like it would feel good to just own it, to name it, to speak it, at those moments that the lowest within me comes out to play in my world. I find myself wondering what a Unity confessional might look like!
I agree that it would feel good to be let off the hook from time to time. But maybe in a Unity confessional, we would recognize that we’re the only ones who put ourselves on the hook in the first place.
And I agree that it would feel good to be absolved from time to time. But maybe in a Unity confessional, we would recognize that we’re the only ones who issued the condemnation in the first place.
Now, let me say that I think there’s a valuable conversation to be had about the stuff and things of this world. After all, to forgo certain stuff and things of this world as a challenge to the ego’s belief that it simply cannot survive without the newer, larger, grander you-name-it, is a profound and powerful exercise. And to forgo certain stuff and things of this world that we might reestablish ourselves in appropriate relationships with the stuff and things of this world is an emancipating and worthwhile pursuit.
As I’ve said so many times before, from the spiritual perspective, you own nothing. In a world that so celebrates acquisition and encourages ownership (the more, the better is its battle cry), from the spiritual perspective, you own nothing.
So the world’s myth is really an egoic trap, in a sense. It’s an egoic trap you can’t win. The stuff and things of this world are nothing more than teaching toys on a playground shared by learning souls and the consciousness acquired is the only thing we will keep when we’ve finished the game.
So, to reestablish ourselves in appropriate relationship with the stuff and things of this world then, is to remember that we are, at best, the honorary caretakers of the stuff and things of this world. To reestablish ourselves in appropriate relationship is something of an irony, really: it’s to release our egoic grip on the stuff and things of this world, that we might finally and at long last enjoy all of it more sweetly than ever before.
The moment you start to think you are the owner of your children, your spouse, your parents, look out.
So yes, I think there’s a valuable conversation to be had about the stuff and things of this world. But it’s a conversation about learned attachments, not inherent guilts or innate flaws.
So, in the end, if you want to give up chocolate, give it up. But let the encouragement be that you do so not that humanity might be pressed down and pulled apart, but that humanity might be lifted up and brought together.
If you want to give up chocolate, give it up. But do so not in acknowledgment of some inherent guilt or innate flaw, but in acknowledgement of the audacious possibilities of God through you.
To paraphrase Bishop John Shelby Spong, while humanity has spent the past 2,000 years looking backward and celebrating the notion that the divine might express as human, humanity must spend the next 2,000 years looking forward and accepting the dictate that the human might express as divine.
I, on the other hand, like to say that while humanity has spent the past 2,000 years building steeples pointing to transcendent Gods in distant geographies, humanity has to spend the next 2,000 years inverting those same steeples that they might remind each of us of an imminent God which longs to be realized and energized right here and right now through human minds, hearts and hands.
So, if you want to give up chocolate, I say give it up. But before you do, wrap it up nice and tight in every false humility that keep you playing small in our world. Then give it a toss.
And if you want to give up chocolate, great. But before you do, wrap it up nice and tight in every lowly opinion the world has offered you – whether through a parent or a teacher or a spouse or a fear – every lowly opinion about your value, about your capacity, about your light. Then give it a toss.
If you want to give up chocolate, I say give it up. But before you do, wrap it up nice and tight in every regret you carry in the psychic spaces of your soul and the absorbent tissues of your physicality alike – every regret you carry – ultimately for doing the best you could do given what you knew at the time. Wrap every such regret nice and tight and then give it a toss.
Yes, if you want to give up chocolate, I say do it. But before you do, wrap it up nice and tight in every egoic mechanism that would somehow minimize God in whatever form God is expressing, emanating or individuating (wrap it up nice and tight in every prejudice, in every story, in every assumption, in every selfishness, in every disregard, in every habit – wrap it up nice and tight in that) and then and only then give it a toss.
Until and unless we do that, I fear our rituals of contrition will continue to represent little more than the sad distortion of powerful ideas coupled with the pointless loss of delicious sweets.