Monday, December 26, 2016

SERMON: 'FROM THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE WORLD'...Matt 25: 31-40..edited ..Jan. 1, 2017


At age seven I lost a billfold with five dollars in it. I said to my concerned parents, ' Lets pretend I never had it, then we won't be so upset'. I realize we can't get through life denying losses and pains but the event does show that intentionally  changing our point of view, the lens through which we choose to view things ,  can result in  a very different emotional outlook. As an aging preacher I find myself more needing to look, I trust faithfully and  responsibly, at our sacred ancient texts through lens that may make them more relevant and transforming for the 21st century. I do not expect all to agree with my lens but invite you to look over my shoulder while I attempt that kind of view in today's sermon.

What poetic and inspired words the ancient author of Matthew puts before us here. The nature of the gospels is not to promise the  actual words Jesus said but instead we are given  metaphorical  poetic  heart stirring images of the quality of life and love of one called Jesus of Nazareth. Such a life that it generated a new point of view in the hearts of a small group  which then spread throughout the world. We now experience only a small ripple effect of what those emotional images did near the beginning. A danger as we look at such a metaphorical passage is to take these spiritual teachings too literally,  as  being about the literal outer world and fail to grasp they are first meant to describe the dynamics of our personal inner world or what the gospels call the heart.  Let's seek an inner meaning of this passage, a meaning which is true to the central message the gospel seeks to bring to each of us personally. This passage can be seen as the crescendo of the story of Jesus's potential  influence on our common collective life, of hope for 'peace on earth and good will to all.' The emphasis here must be so important to life and love it is called the very 'foundations of the world.'  Surely worth our careful attention. 



Can this now describe a personal inner owning of Good and Evil, not future literal Judgment?



First, let us acknowledge that 'son of man' is an expression emphasizing that Jesus was fully human, son of man- not only son of God. That means the image is not just about Jesus bringing judgment but can be  about us making some responsible inner decisions for ourselves. Instead of our jumping to an interpretation of a literal judgment scene, where Jesus is described as proclaiming some of God's children are saved and as many others damned eternally, as instead speaking to us of the importance of making some intentional personal  value  judgments. As describing, as it were, our taking the rightful place on our own inner throne and deciding(that is taking personal responsibility) for what we each judge as most important in our human life. In other words YOU are the 'son or daughter of man' here. Yes, we can “take our place on our heart's throne, with our own best angels , as we seek to own our truest and highest  potential as human beings.”


The images speak of ' knowing the difference between 'good and evil.' Remember the Genesis story that has so influenced all of Western Civilization, where the first human couple is pictured being told to not eat of the ' Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil' ... for it would result in them knowing the real difference between good and evil? Unfortunately we have been overwhelmingly persuaded  to think of the couple eating of that tree as something to grieve and to think, "Oh if only they hadn't  done that the world would be only be good."  No,  that ancient story was told  not to prevent evil but to give an understanding of why there must be presently good and evil for life to exist. And that we must be keenly aware of  the difference. And that it was necessary for humans to, as it were, eat of that tree so we could come to discern what is really good and really bad. Why I was taught in my youth that dancing, having a drink, playing cards, most anything sexual and being Catholic were among the greatest evils. You may laugh but does our culture yet get it  that good is that which promotes human beings to be more fully their fullest and finest selves, each one contributing to the well being of others? And evil is anything that questions human worth and dignity and treats humans and creation as only objects for self pleasure with little concern for the person or the planet? Now I see  that dancing, taking a drink, playing cards, being Catholic and certainly sexuality do not fit the criteria of being evil. But, for example, not caring that there are mentally ill people who our social structure has decided to put on the street and not take care of …. that is evil.  To allow, yes promote, in America the gathering of personal  wealth to the extent it makes poverty for others a necessary consequence is evil. To surgically drop bombs on those we call enemies with no strong misgiving that we will be killing completely innocent persons is wrong.
Psychologically, can't this be  a call for inner personal discernment of  Good and Evil?

What this passage's poetic images  can reveal  is that we humans are now  more capable of  knowing what true good is and what a better balance of life ordinary humans can potentially bring about in the world.  And that the world is in jeopardy to the extent  we don't. Notice the highest good we can aspire to is not about 'our church' and its traditions, dogmas and rites. It is surely not about living in luxury or about achieving notoriety, position or some measure of wealth. It is not about being right in our religious beliefs so we can judge how others are wrong. What good is , and that we as  'sons and daughters of man' are capable of proclaiming from our personal inner thrones, first  TO OURSELF, is intended to be crystal clear in this teaching.  A question is, 'Will we take this as our personal spiritual work?'  Surely this is where a safer world has to begin, individuals deciding what they really believe are the highest behaviors and attitudes for human living. By such inner work the text implies we contribute to strengthening  the very 'foundations of the World” right there in ones own space.  This is the inner human activity  that can hold the earth and all the cooperating elements of creation and humanity together. Without humans announcing this first and decisively to ourselves from our own inner throne;  life, love, hope and trust will vanish from the world, will become impossible. This due to  a sheer lack of humans not being more clearly conscious of and , 'knowing good and evil.'

We may be near such a critical need for this to happen in much measure in our present day. Have we ever seen as much degrading  human behavior and words on public display at highest levels as we did in the presidential process? No side is exempt. We and our forebears  are all implicated in it  coming to such times. Our nation's hands clearly are not lily white. We must see and own that.  It has become an important matter that we  pay close attention to the difference in good and evil as they show themselves in public discourse and in our public policies. Polices which  surely effect how citizens of our land treat each other.



(Read verses 34-36)Now Let's try to keep  our  thinking of this whole poetic image as something in our inner personal life, not a description of literal eternal judgment. Only when it is kept within and worked with can it eventually  become something commonly real in the outer world.  But be ready and expect to entertain an extremely counter intuitive paradox here. Unlike the most conventional interpretations, this passage is saying the greatest good is made possible by  first recognizing our own personal needs and fears. We are pushed to first look within, not our typical looking outside of ourselves for both problems and solutions.  Surely many of these are to be found within us? 

Surprisingly the images say we are the ones in great need. Most of us have not faced literal starvation from food and water as many others have. Yet we all can identify with having important  unresolved emotional hungers. The teaching taken as an inner discipline implies that only when we  take a caring interest  in our own sense of being a stranger and alone do we create the capacity to more fully respond to the stranger who is the other person or group of persons. And if you have ever felt barred or kept , in some way, from life and love- being in literal or psychological prison, then do what you can to release and to embrace yourself . Only then can one be most in tune to the many ways other humans are physically or socially imprisoned. If you have had the literal experience of being cold for lack of clothing or being embarrassed at not  having the latest materialistic fads, treat yourself with dignity. This way we might learn and respond more significantly to the many kinds of   nakedness that other humans experience.



Yes in all genuine spiritual teaching, compared to the preaching of rules and commands and oughts, there is an irrational paradox. The way there is not direct or   simply  calling us to 'just do it.' No, the good so needed today cannot happen in magnanimous and  efficient ways by simple willingness  and occasional 'gifts to the needy' or only community  projects of good will. For this teaching of Jesus to find fullest realization in the world, it must start with genuinely noting  and caring for ones self. Jesus consistently taught  one cannot  most effectively care for others until we  intentionally care  for ourselves. Until we experience exploring and tending to our own physical and emotional needs and stresses  are we most  preparing to do our best at effectively loving  others and loving the world.

Another paradox shown here is that those who do this inner work from their own inner thrones and strive to grasp the difference between collective good and evil are pictured as not being aware they are instruments of  generating good in the outer collective world. This may indicate it is possible for humans  to awaken to the process that such good,  should it ever fully  come into the world,  is a natural phenomenon  waiting to evolve, not a supernatural happening coming from the outside. Initiating the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven  must be the most natural of all healthy human instincts, to care for ones unique self. This awareness can potentially happen in the life of all persons. We would then no longer categorize ourselves as 'needy or blessed' or 'haves or have nots' but as one family that intentionally cares for its own. Then doing good can become no longer seen primarily as occasionally going out of ones way or a special occasion midst a world of materialistic self interest. But a  natural personal and collective response of noticing the very same needs in others as seen and seriously attended to  in one's own self. Here alone lies the gospel's paradoxical potential and power of  humans loving others as we  love ourselves, of being transformed into  lovers of the world.



Saturday, December 10, 2016

SERMON: FROM THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE WORLD...Matthew 25:31-40

At age six I lost a billfold with five dollars in it. I said to my concerned parents, ' Lets pretend I never had it, then we won't be so upset'. I realize we can't get through life denying losses and pains but the event does show that by changing our point of view, the lens through which we choose to view things , results in  a very different emotional outlook. As an aging preacher I find myself more needing to look, I trust faithfully and  responsibly, at our sacred ancient text threw lens that make them more relevant and helpful in the 21st century. I do not insist you agree but invite you to look over my shoulder while I attempt that today. So, if for you I fail , please know what I am trying to do.


What  poetic and inspired words the ancient author of Matthew's gospel puts before us here. The nature of the gospels is not to provide the  actual words Jesus said but instead we are given  metaphorical  poetic  heart stirring images of the quality of life and love of one called Jesus of Nazareth. Such a life that it generated a new point of view in the hearts of a small group  which then spread throughout the world. We now likely experience only a small ripple effect of what those emotional images did near the beginning. A danger as we look at such a metaphorical passage is to take these spiritual teachings too literally,  as  being about the literal outer world and fail to see they are first meant to describe the dynamics of our personal inner world or what the gospels call the heart.  Let's seek an inner meaning of this passage, a meaning which is the central message the gospel seeks to bring to each of us. This passage is the crescendo of the story of Jesus's potential  influence on our common collective life, of hope for peace in the world. And it is so important it is called the  very 'foundations of the world.'  So it must be offering us what is central to life and love.

First, let us acknowledge that 'son of man' is an expression emphasizing  that Jesus was fully human, son of man not only son of God. That means the image is not just about Jesus bringing judgment but about us doing such inner work. Instead of our jumping to an interpretation of some literal judgment scene where Jesus proclaims some of God's children are saved and as many damned eternally , let's take it instead as speaking of us , to our imaginative capacity. And describing our taking the rightful place on our own inner throne and deciding(that is taking personal responsibility) for what we each judge as most important in life. YOU are the 'son or daughter of man' here. Yes, we can “take our place on our heart's throne, with our best angels , as we truly seek to own what is our truest glory as a human being.”



Can this now describe a personal inner owning of Good and Evil, not future literal Judgment?

The images speak of ' knowing the difference between 'good and evil.' Remember the Genesis story that has so influenced all of Western Civilization, where the first human couple is pictured being told to not eat of the ' Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil'  for it would result in them knowing the real difference between good and evil? Unfortunately we have been overwhelmingly persuaded  to think of the couple eating of that tree as something to grieve and to think, "Oh if only they hadn't the world would be only be good."  No,  that ancient story was told  not to prevent evil but to give an understanding of why there must be presently good and evil for life to exist. And that we must be keenly aware of  the difference. And that it was necessary for humans to, as it were, eat of that tree so we could come to discern what is really good and really bad. Why I was taught in my youth that dancing and having a drink, playing cards, most anything sexual and being Catholic were among the greatest evils. You may laugh but do we yet get it that good is that which promotes human beings to be more fully their truest and finest selves, each one contributing to the well being of others. And evil is anything that questions human worth and dignity and treats humans and creation as only objects for self pleasure with little concern for the person or the planet? Now I see  that dancing, taking a drink, playing cards, being Catholic and certainly sexuality do not fit the criteria of being evil. But, for example, not caring that there are mentally ill people who our social structure has decided to put on the street and not take care of …. that is evil.  To allow, yes promote, in America the gathering of personal  wealth to the extent it makes poverty for others a consequence is evil. To surgically drop bombs on those we call enemies with no strong misgiving that we will be killing completely innocent persons is wrong.

Psychologically, can't this be  a call for inner personal discernment of  Good and Evil?  

What this passage's poetic images  can reveal to us is that we humans are now  more capable of  knowing what true good is and what healthy religious instinct can potentially bring about in the world . Notice the highest good we can aspire to is not primarily about 'our church' and its traditions, dogmas and rites. It is surely not about living in luxury or about achieving notoriety, position or some measure of wealth. It is not about being right in our religious beliefs so we can judge how others are wrong. What good is , and that we as  'sons and daughters of man' are capable of proclaiming from our personal inner thrones to ourself, is made crystal clear in this teaching.  A question is , 'will we do this private inner work?'  Surely this is where a better world has to begin, in individuals deciding what they really believe is the highest good behavior and attitude for human living. And the passage stresses this inner human activity is the very 'foundations of the earth”. It is the only thing that can hold the earth and all the cooperating elements of creation and humanity together. Without humans announcing this first to ourselves from our own inner throne, life and love and hope and trust will vanish from the world, will become impossible. We may be near such a crisis in our day. Have we ever seen as much low human behavior and words on public display at highest levels as we did in the presidential process? No side is exempt. We and our forebears  are all implicated in it  coming to this. Our nation's hands clearly are dirty in numerous ways.  It has become an important matter that we be paying close attention to the difference in good and evil as they show themselves in public discourse and in our public policies. Polices which  surely effect how citizens of our land treat each other.




(Read verses 34-36)Now Let's try to keep  our  thinking of this whole poetic image as something in our inner personal life, not a description of some eternal judgment. Only when it is kept there and worked with can it eventually  become something commonly real in the outer world.  There is a completely unexpected Paradox here. Very unlike the conventional interpretation.  The passage is saying the greatest good is made possible by recognizing our own personal needs and fears. We are pushed to first look within, not our usual looking outside of ourselves for answers.  We can instead learn to respond to those needs in our self and take them seriously.  Surprisingly the images say we are the ones in great need. With few exceptions we have not faced literal starvation from food and water as so many others have. Yet we all can identify with having important  unresolved emotional hungers. The teaching taken as an inner discipline implies that only when we  take a caring interest  in our own sense of being a stranger and alone do we create the capacity to more fully respond to the stranger who is the other person or group of persons. The same if you have ever felt barred or kept away from life and love, being in literal or psychological prison, then do what you can to release and to embrace yourself . Only then can one be most in tune to the many ways other humans are literally and socially imprisoned. If you have had the literal experience of being cold for lack of clothing or being embarrassed at not having designer brand clothes, treat yourself with dignity. Then you may see and respond to the many kinds of   nakedness that other humans experience.






I've begun to question the usual suggestion that if we suspect one on the street begging is addicted to drugs that we not give any money to them but only food. I'm thinking our response on the street is not going to cure one of addiction nor is a few dollars from our purse to the beggars hand going to go far in supplying his/her fix. But you know it will give that hungry, thirsty, disenfranchised prisoner of addiction or mental illness a moment when another human cared enough to touch their hand and say, 'here you can have this'. I think maybe the gift of expressed care in these situation may be more the path of good than the fear that they may use the good will gesture foolishly.


And this leads me to another American notion that I think needs challenged. That if enough individuals would be charitable along their way to our most vulnerable citizens , that would be enough. That would take care of the problem. So just be nice, give a sandwich or cup of coffee, a pair of shoes , prepare and deliver some food baskets, donate to charities that help the left out. All such is good but is it the highest good? Is it seriously and consistently good? Does it meet the need that good points out? That trickle down charity is enough I suspect is very flawed in a complex society like ours. For one thing all of these measures put the person in need in the role of beggar and receiver from individuals who are supposedly, even sometimes in their own mind,  more blessed. It creates a beggar -giver mentality which may not be healthy for either. My point is should we not make taking care of the basic needs of humans when they are down- food, clothing, shelter and health care a matter of solid public legal policy? Policy that far more covers, without discrimination, all persons who are in such times of embarrassing hardship and risk?  And does not place them at the mercy and quirk of individual charity  that may or may not be there when needed. It seems to fail to take human suffering seriously. I think perhaps that our high estimate of personal and group charity has become an excuse for not taking our neighbors' needs to heart and failing to treat the 'least of these' with dignity and respect and social  competence. Would most of us not be glad to pay tax to be used efficiently in these most important matters of good, of life and love. Are we not glad to pay tax now for what good is being done collectively?

http://www.bestmswprograms.com/mental-health/



In all genuine spiritual teaching, compared to the preaching of rules and commands, there is an irrational paradox. The way there is not direct or   simply  calling us to 'just do it.' No, the good so needed today cannot happen in magnanimous and  efficient ways by simple willingness  and occasional 'gifts to the needy' or only group or church projects of good will. For this teaching of Jesus to find realization in the world about us, it must start with genuinely noting caring for ones self. Jesus clearly taught  one cannot  effectively care for another until we  intentionally care  for ourselves. Until we experience how much we need feeding, clothed, and taken in and seek to find that for ourselves are we most   preparing to do our best at naturally loving  others.



Another paradox shown here is that those who do this inner work on their own inner thrones and strive to see the difference between collective good and evil are pictured as not being aware they are instruments of  generating good in the outer collective world. This must indicate it is possible for humans  to awaken to the process that such good, when it should ever  come in the world,  is a natural phenomenon not a supernatural happening. The coming of the Kingdom of Heaven is the most natural of healthy human desires, to care for oneself. This awareness can potentially happen in the life of all persons. We will no longer categorize humans as 'needy and blessed' or 'haves and have nots' but as one family that intentially cares for its own. Then doing good is no longer seen primarily as occasionally going out of ones way or a special occasion but a  natural response of seeing the very same needs in others as one sees and seriously attends to  in his/her self. Here only lies the gospel's paradoxical potential of humans loving others as we  love ourselves.

http://www.workingpoorfamilies.org/

Monday, December 5, 2016

A DREAM OF DONALD TRUMP... How dreams can help one have a healthier, more complete perspective...December 5, 2016

I'm going to share something very personal here, a recent dream. Ones who know me are aware I have placed  emphasis for three decades on the nightly dream being important  support  for good mental health,  more balanced points of view  and in navigating the winding path of a human life. This to me is not magic but  very natural and practical. Dreams offer something more, I think,  to our important judgments than our careful rational reasoning alone is able to. Dreams usually challenge our conscious, often unquestioned,  attitudes toward important and emotional aspects of life and  other persons. So  dreams are not always welcomed and, maybe by most Western people, are ignored partly for that reason.

Donald Trump, Melania  and their son Barron  pose at  home in NY City. 

Below is a dream regarding Donald Trump whom one knows from my FB is a person I am  quite concerned about being our next president. Let's see how the dream challenges me while not overriding my best efforts at a reasoned rational attitude toward his new presence in our  national lives. I think a dream  always says exactly what it 'intends'  the dreamer to contemplate. Though it can seem silly and preposterous the dream is not playing with us but challenging us like a true  honest friend.   Perhaps this share can illustrate how a nightly dream can serve a person well in matters s/he considers important, individually or collectively. 

Here is the dream , my initial work with it and some feedback from an experienced Jungian consultant. (This analysis  has to do only with the Trump image aspect of the dream. There is much more here for me to explore... the apartment, I am 'waking up.', my deceased wife present, the mention of our knives. .... etc )

Nov 29,2016  Dream: I was waking up from sleeping on a pull out couch in a modest but clean apartment. My deceased wife was in the background. Trump was sitting there in a chair. I got up and acknowledged him. He stood up and walked across the room to get  coffee. I noticed he was rather flabby and looked as if he had done no hard labor ever. But he was courteous, not at all pushy or egocentric acting. He looked very young with no wrinkles in his face. I commented to him how young he looked and asked his age. He said, ' Thanks. I'm 43.” It crossed my mind here was likely the most spoken of man in the world now but I was not intimidated and he seemed to expect no special treatment. He asked my wife , “ Did you hear Rush yesterday?”. ...... Finally Trump showed me his small stainless steel key ring knife. I started to show him my complicated knife piece which has scissors etc on it. But then I thought , 'I like his simple one better.' That's it.
Gold leaf room in Donald Trump's Mansion Apartment

THOUGHTS: This dream irritates me in that Trump is so different than what I see in him through my conscious ego from his words and actions via the news, and 'tweets.'  I'm pushed by the dream  to consider that in person I may find him even likable. This challenges me to consider withdrawing  the extreme negative perception I have at the conscious level which practically gives him god or devil status. The dream is suggesting I question, for my own sake, my  very dark assessment of him personally which , if  not intentionally checked,  I would retain as my 'Trump image'  at the conscious ego level. (Often times we never question our positive or negative image of another person. We assume we see the real person. We assume our projection is in fact what the other person is. Trump's persona is one which  people seem to either love or hate which is a red flag there is a lot of unconscious wishful thinking and  fear based projecting going on with respect to who he actually is.)

The dream strongly  stresses, to  my conscious ego, his  humanity.  Unconscious projections toward others  render  people, in our minds,  as more or less than human. This  unconscious psychological process dangerously and erroneously attributes to the human  archetypal powers of a savior-god or  'super'natural demon. The first creates inappropriate and blind idolizing and the other unwarranted horror.  Humans have  had this unconscious  process going on from ancient and into our  post modern times. But we can now, if we choose to, become somewhat conscious of it in ourselves.  Either extreme  of projection seriously compromises rational judgment about any situation/person and dangers can then set in.  As it's  been said, 'What could possibly go wrong?' (I'm using Jungian concepts here which I find  applicable and practical  for understanding these very real dynamics.)

These warnings  of over estimating the menace of  Mr Trump  come from the dream  yet I don't think I should naively take this dream image to  be the 'real'  man any more than my devil like negative conscious assessment. But it is how the dream advises me to consider him if I am interested in having a more balanced  and psychologically truthful and healthy point of view. This is a   constructive way for me to imagine him the dream source is saying. It is not so simple, that I should suddenly not be concerned with his likely being a severely flawed narcissistic human  about to be president. Dreams challenge ones conscious assessment of a situation, how to relate to it,  an appropriate attitude  but they do not suggest one  should ignore what she has objectively  seen and heard, to leave one's physical sense data at the door in favor of wishful or fearful thinking.   The emphasis is:  I should remember he is human, not a god or a devil personified. To think such of  him is  an example of  unconscious projection taking place. Not ever  a good  or healthy thing to be happening but happen it does for us all,  especially regarding persons with extreme double messaging persona's like Donald Trump.

We should always try to withdraw our projections  onto others as we become conscious of them ,otherwise we get lost in knee jerk emotional assessments and wishful or fearful thinking of the situation/person. Or we  take complete confidence that  our supposedly  best calm  reasoned assessment (which is good as far as it goes. But the dream, the Collective Unconscious,  takes us to  a more whole and complete level of  judgment. Bible admirers please recall the importance of dreams there before you judge me as off a deep end.) is an absolutely true assessment. 

The  psychological fact of my having this dream is noting that Trump's persona's  kind of influence and collective effect   is very much an ongoing worry of mine, for myself as well as for our  country. I am investing, the dream suggests,  too much energy into that worry by overestimating how much any human can harm the rest of us as long as we are alert and as conscious as possible. To those who have tried, it  is not easy to give up ones deepest worries or to intentionally discharge their fearful emotion  but the dream says that is my task  regarding my estimate of Donald Trump, for my own good.
President Elect Donald Trump

I have in recent days, even before this dream,  reminded myself that I do not know the real man Trump. And I  now refer instead  to the persona(the public mask) he projects to us , consciously and intentionally  or not. Maybe the dream is seeking to uphold that approach? That is, it is this persona I find so potentially dangerous , not necessarily the real man who I do not have direct knowledge of. His reference to another unhealthy figure to me-Rush(who presents a very similar persona on radio), is a clue  for me personally to not take the dream image to mean the man's  public influence is harmless. This dream may serve the primary purpose  of supporting  my  personal mental health regarding this troubling persona that  has walked onto the world stage. In its imagery the dream says to me, and maybe those who have a similar concern, 'Keep aware but also back off a little on the emotional worry. You will be healthier for it.'

Consultant feedback: "The dream is clearly a compensatory one, Jim, in that it offers an image of Trump that is normal and human and not archetypal. It may be that it's better to take Trump as a human being and not as a demonic demiurge, and  then to support whatever good he does and critique and oppose whatever bad he does.

I think the election was a protest against what many people apparently saw and felt as a wrong direction taken by Progressives. This is normal balancing in a democracy. Trump has entered politics and will discover that this is different from show biz and his business enterprises.
The dream brings Trump down to normal size. 43 is midlife. Maybe he will enter the second half of life one of these days.
Respectfully, ..."