Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The climate crisis is a spiritual crisis (video)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’…
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’ The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

Exodus 16: 2-3; 9-21 (NRSV)

There is a story that a miser hid his gold buried at the foot of a tree at the bottom of his garden. Once a week he would dig up his gold, gaze at it for an hour, and then rebury it. One day a thief came in the night and stole the gold. When the miser came to look at his gold he found only a hole, and gave out a distressed shriek. A neighbour heard the shriek and wandered over to ask, “What on earth is the matter?” The miser explained that the gold he kept at the bottom of his garden had been stolen. The neighbour asked, “Well, did you ever actually spend the gold?”
“No. I just gazed at it,” replied the miser.
“Well, for all the good it was doing you,” said the neighbour, “You might as well gaze at a hole.”

This is how people are. Some people become rich enough to buy a Ferrari – wow – fantastic! Then they start thinking, “What if I scratch it? What if I crash it? What if I easily rev up with this powerful engine and get snapped by a speed camera? What if someone vandalises it? What if they steal it?” So they decide to pay to keep their Ferrari in a luxury car high-security storage depot.

These places exist; and if you leave your car there they will polish it once a week, they’ll run the engine once a fortnight so it doesn’t seize up, and they’ll roll the cars back and forth to prevent the tyres developing flat-spots. And so you own a Ferrari! – that you never use.

One manager at one of these storage depots has said, “I don’t know why some people have them. One bloke with a £100,000 Ferrari just turns up, takes the car round the block and comes back. Others just sit in them, smell the leather and listen to the stereo.” (John Naish, Enough page 75-76)

“For all the good it’s doing you, you might as well gaze at a hole”

This is the madness of the world we live in. The madness of enjoying buying things more than enjoying having them. This is highlighted in a book called Enough by John Naish – who is a Unitarian from Brighton. In the book John Naish gives lots of these crazy examples of our excessive living, and argues we need to learn “enoughism.” This means getting over our irrational addiction to buying more stuff. For our own sakes and for the sake of the world.

The problem is we don’t know when to stop. Scientists have done experiments with soup bowls – that secretly have holes in the bottom that pump in more soup. So people eat, and eat, and eat, and the soup keeps coming, and without that cue that the bowl is empty people end up eating huge amounts of soup. Most people are incapable of saying “I’ve had enough soup.”

We’re not very good at this. And it’s easy to see why – in our evolutionary past we needed to eat as much as we could because we didn’t know when the next meal was coming. But that’s not the world we live in anymore. Now we’re all becoming like the famous Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Mr Creosote is huge man who comes into the restaurant, and eats everything, absolutely everything, vomiting and then eating again. And finally the waiter offers one more “wafer-thin mint” that he forces down – and then, literally, explodes. There was no ability to say “enough.”

That is the parable of our modern world. It is predicted that the majority of Westerners will be obese or overweight in the next twenty years. But this isn’t just about food. It’s about everything. We’re in a culture that tells us we need more and more of everything. Our economic system is built on a need for us all to keep buying huge amounts of stuff that none of us need.

I’ve previously talked about a spirituality of abundance. A spirituality based on an understanding that we live in paradise – a world of abundance and plenty, and that we should celebrate life’s goodness: beauty, food, love, sensuality. And maybe it seems what I’m saying today contradicts that. But it doesn’t. Those who eat most, tend to be those who eat fastest, and eat while not paying attention to eating – eating watching TV, or while working. Whereas really enjoying your food, savouring it, experiencing it, means you eat slower, and you eat less.

It’s about mindfulness – I come back to this a lot – because it’s one of the key spiritual practices we need to be practising – paying full attention – being more aware. The Buddhists teach this a lot – but other traditions say it too. We need to deeply experience life – mindfully, fully, joyfully, - so we will realise that we have enough.

That story from Exodus is about enoughness. The Israelites are in the wilderness – and they complain they’re hungry. And so miraculously food is provided – quails and manna from heaven. They have enough – every day they have enough. But when they try to have more than enough – when they keep some over for tomorrow, it rots away by morning. Manna is enough for today, but not enough for tomorrow. They had to live day to day, in the present. This a parable about enoughness: the Israelites had to learn to be satisfied with today’s bread, and for that to be enough.

When we think of religious groups like the Amish – who have no televisions, no cars, no technology – we probably think they’re a bit weird, a bit eccentric, a bit mad. But when we look at our lives, of the huge amount of stuff we have, coming out of our ears, coming out of our cupboards, overflowing from our attics, filling up the spare room. You have to start wondering – who are the mad ones? Someone who decides to live very simply – or someone who gets a new mobile phone every year? Someone who throws away loads of perfectly good stuff – or stores it in cupboards that are never opened? Or pays good money to a self-storage company to keep stuff for them?

I’m not arguing for us to live like the Amish. But there must be a middle way. This is what the Buddha taught: the middle way. He started by starving himself, then decided that moderation was much better for enlightenment – and he ate a bowl of rice breaking his fast.

This is ultimately a spiritual issue. And I think it’s up to people of faith to model a different way of being in this commercialised excessive world. It’s about frugality: now frugality may seem like a rather serious word. Being frugal sounds like being a penny-pincher, being mean. But the word “frugal” comes from a root that means fruitfulness. It means appreciating the abundance of what we have. Mindfully, joyfully, enjoying what we have; being deeply grateful for what we have; and deciding: no I don’t need any more, I have enough. The blessings of what I already have are enough. If we can do this – we might just find a way to live joyfully and abundantly, but not excessively.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Challenge of Cultivating Boundless Goodwill

Let us cultivate boundless goodwill. Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state. Let none in anger or ill-will wish another harm. Even as a mother watches over a child, so with boundless mind should one cherish all living beings, radiating friendliness over the whole world, above, below, and all around, without limit. 
The Metta Sutta 

During my final year in seminary, I decided to do a chapel for the faculty and students at the school, at which time I planned to expound on this pure and lovely gospel of universal human affirmation.

The morning of the chapel, I arose early and poured over my powerful and polemically perfect text. I was privately proud in advance of the depth and passion with which I grasped the essence of my Universalist heritage. As I walked the mile or so from my home to the school, my head was down as I silently rehearsed to myself all of the beautiful phrases I had crafted to make my sermon on Universalism come alive. As I approached a busy intersection, I happened to glance up and see an incredibly large woman sitting on a bench waiting for the bus. Now, I have always had a personal obsession about my own weight, and in those years was quite prejudiced and opinionated about people who weighed more than I thought they should. Before I could censor the unkind, judgmental thought, I blurted out to myself, “Oh dear God look at that gross woman. She must weigh 400 pounds. How could anyone let themselves get like that and who could ever love that?” 

And at that moment, as if it were a bolt of spiritual lightening aimed right at me, a skinny little guy sitting next to her looked lovingly into her eyes, leaned over, and gave her the most gentle and loving kiss I have ever seen one human being bestow upon another. I was stunned and ashamed. And while I was still reeling from the jarring disparity between my petty and unkind judgment and his pure and simple love, a voice (without words, but in unmistakeable clarity, holiness and power) … a voice came out of the whirlwind and said to me (and me alone) “Don’t you get it, you dope. Here you are, at this very moment going up the hill to preach your clever little sermon on God’s love and universal salvation for every human person, and all you can do is sneer inside at someone you deem unworthy and unbeautiful. Don’t you understand that, in the eyes of all that is sacred and beautiful and holy and true in this creation, she is as utterly lovely as human beings get? Don’t you get it? If the pleasures and prerogatives, graces and goddesses of this creation are made for you (and you certainly claim them as a natural birthright for yourself) then they are made for her, too. And you call yourself a Universalist… puffff.” 

I was as startled as I was chastened. In that moment of pure and precious spiritual revelation, a spirit of holiness I can only call God spoke to me with heart-numbing clarity, and I finally began to understand Universalism viscerally, deep in my bones. What it means to be a Universalist, a real Universalist in more than name only, is to have a heart that seeks and sees at every human turn the natural worth and preciousness of people – all people – especially those very different from oneself. In an instant, I understood what a wild and welcoming a doctrine our Universalist forebears bequeathed to us, and that doctrine can be summed up in stark simplicity: There is a place set in this creation for every last man, woman and child. A precious safe place has been set for each and every one of us – period! And it is our human job to respect, protect, and nurture the wellbeing of all of God’s diverse and curious children. The early Universalists said, pure and simple, that every human being, no matter how strange or flawed or unlovable or broken or weird they may seem, is to be protected, cherished, welcomed, loved. 

Scott Alexander 
(From Alexander, S. W., Salted with Fire: Unitarian Universalist Strategies for Sharing Faith and Growing Congregations (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1994), 35 -37) 

I went swimming this week. It was the first time I had done so since Christmas – and it really felt like it! It felt like a lot of hard work. I’ve had a month of lots of chocolate and very little exercise and I’m a lot more out of shape now. 

Swimming isn’t exactly a new year’s resolution. I’ve been trying to do it regularly for about eighteen months now. I do enjoy it in some ways, but in other ways I find it quite stressful. When I go the pool always seems too crowded. I’m trying to do my lengths, and I always find myself bumping into other people. I find myself getting really territorial as I swim forward, and I’m always thinking “get out of my way!” I get myself in this mindset of seeing everyone else in the pool as my enemy. I find myself cursing new people as they get in the pool, “How dare they?” I think, “We’re crowded enough, they better not come over here.” I’ve noticed myself getting really defensive and aggressive. I start to think of everyone else in the pool as out to get me, and I feel quite hostile. 

I know I have this tendency in myself. Sometimes my basic attitude to the world is fear. I can fall into way of thinking and feeling the world is out to get me, it’s a scary place, and I need to defend myself. This isn’t rational – I can rationally believe that I must love the world, that I must love people, but sometimes I catch myself with other feelings – and those feelings come from fear. 

I know I need to work on this. I know I need religious practice to keep my heart open. That’s why I come to church: to practice keeping my heart open. I need to listen to those religious teachers that teach us about this. 

The Buddha, as expounded in the Metta Sutta, teaches we should cultivate boundless goodwill… radiating friendliness over the whole world. Jesus, in the sermon on the Mount, said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. … Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Here Jesus invites us to be perfect, meaning complete or universal in our love. 

There is a Jewish story of a rabbi who gathered his students together one morning before dawn, and then asked, “When do we know night is over and the day has come?” One student replied, “When we can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a goat?” Another tried, “When we can see a tree in the distance and tell if it’s a fig tree or apple tree?” These answers were all wrong. But the rabbi said, “When you look into the face or any woman or man and see them as your sister or brother, then we know that the night is over, and the day has come. If you cannot do this, it is still night, no matter what the time of day.” 

This is that universal love, that complete and perfect love for all beings that we could call universalism. The foundational idea of Universalism was God’s universal love for all beings; and coming from that the idea that such a loving God would not condemn millions of people to everlasting hell. From this understanding of God comes the commitment that our love too has to be universalist. We’re all going to be together in heaven, so we might as well learn how to get along with each other while we’re still on earth. 

Jesus said that the sun doesn’t only shine on some people. The sun shines on Muslims and Christians alike. The rain falls on gay people and straight people alike. The rose gives its scent to law abiders and criminals in exactly the same way. It is impossible for the sun to only shine on some. It is impossible for the rain to be selective about who it falls on. It is impossible for the rose to withhold its scent from people it does not deem worthy enough. That’s what divine love looks like. 

But it’s difficult, right? You know it’s difficult, I know it’s difficult. How do we cherish all living beings? How does this truth live in our bones, not just our minds? How does it become our nature? We can’t force it. If we force ourselves to love it will only be phony. What we can do is remove the obstacles that stop us from loving. 

The Buddha said “Everything we are is the result of what we have thought.” We can become self-aware of this. We can see the truth about ourselves. We can notice those times when we feel ourselves fearful or angry or annoyed. We can think, as Scott Alexander did, “Why do I feel judgmental and disgusted at a large person? It’s because I have issues with my own weight?” Or, “Why do I feel fearful because there’s a young black man in the street? Maybe it’s because of media and television that has taught me to be scared. Maybe it's my own internalised white supremacy.” Or, “Why does this person just rub me up the wrong way? Maybe because she reminds me of my mother.” 

When Scott Alexander realised he was doing this, the spirit of God, the spirit of love, rose up inside of him. He wrote, “In that moment of pure and precious spiritual revelation, a spirit of holiness I can only call God spoke to me with heart-numbing clarity. And I finally began to understand Universalism, viscerally, in my bones.” 

When we notice those thought-patterns we’ve built up in our minds, and begin to dismantle them, then the spirit of love, spontaneously arises within us. Because the illusions we’ve built up in our minds are of our separateness: of the alien-ness and hostility of the world. But when we dismantle those illusions we experience our Oneness, our Unity, our natural and real connection with all beings.  
But don’t forget that word used in the Metta Sutta: “cultivate.” It’s “cultivate boundless goodwill.” It doesn’t just happen once, it requires constant cultivation, constant spiritual growth to do this. And we don’t always get it right. We slip back into other ways of thinking and behaving. We need that spiritual practice, those things we do to experience our Unity, on a regular basis. Our worship life, our prayer life together in this community, is the practice of that Unity. The cultivation of Love: the Universal unstoppable Divine Love for all beings, through opening our hearts and minds. That is the mission of Universalism. 

Stephen Lingwood, January 2014. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ar Antur Arloesi yng Nghaerdydd

Ar Antur Arloesi yng Nghaerdydd

Mae’r Undodiaid wedi penodi Stephen Lingwood i fath gwahanol o weinidogaeth yng Nghaerdydd. ‘Gweinidog Arloesi’ yw ei deitl ffurfiol ac yma mae’ n esbonio’r antur ...

Nid dim ond mater o fynd i rywle ar ddydd Sul yw ffydd, ond ffordd o fyw. Dyna pam fy mod i’n cael fy nghyflogi yn “Weinidog Arloesi” yng Nghaerdydd, nid i wasanaethu’r eglwys, ond i wasanaethu’r ddinas gyfan. Fy ngwaith yw byw yng Nghaerdydd a bod ar gael i bwy bynnag sydd eisiau siarad â fi, gan chwilio yr un pryd am gyfleoedd i greu cyfiawnder a heddwch yn y ddinas.

Sut beth ydi hyn? Weithiau mae’n golygu bod gydag eraill ar y strydoedd yn casglu sbwriel; weithiau mae’n golygu protestio yn Ffair Arfau Caerdydd; weithiau mae’n golygu eistedd mewn bar a siarad gyda phwy bynnag sydd o gwmpas (wedi’r cyfan, onid oedd Iesu wedi treulio lot o’i amser yn gwneud yr un peth?)

Y pwynt yw defnyddio fy amser i arddangos ysbrydolrwydd bywhaol trwy fy ngeiriau a’m gweithredoedd. Mae’r ysbrydolrwydd yna wedi ei wreiddio yn y gwirionedd fod yna Gariad sy’n dal popeth ynghyd. A’r hyn sy’n cyfri’ yw cysylltu gyda’r Cariad yna.

Bod yn ynysig sy’n achosi llawer o’n problemau. Rydym wedi colli ein cysylltiad â’n gilydd a Ffynhonnell Bywyd ac, yn y pen draw, mae hynny’n gyfrifol am lawer o’n anawsterau, o newid hinsawdd i deimladau o unigrwydd. Fy ngwaith i yw dod o hyd i ffyrdd o greu cymuned, cysylltiad, ymwybyddiaeth a chyfiawnder ac i ymuno yn y mannau ble mae hynny’n digwydd eisoes.

Dw i eisiau cysylltu ag eraill sy’n credu bod mwy i fywyd na hyn. Dw i eisiau cysylltu gydag eraill sy’n grac am gyflwr y byd ac eisiau bod yn rhan o’r ateb. Dw i eisiau cysylltu gydag eraill sy’n hiraethu am deimlad dyfnach o gymuned. Dw i eisiau cysylltu gydag eraill sy’n agored i’r bywyd ysbrydol ond sy’n gwybod y bydd yna wastad fwy o gwestiynau nag o atebion. Dw i eisiau cysylltu gydag eraill sydd eisiau ymladd yn erbyn mileindra hiliaeth, transffobia a mathau eraill o ormes yn ein cymdeithas. Dw i eisiau cysylltu gydag eraill sy’n hoff o’r cariad radical yr oedd Iesu yn ei ddysgu, ond nad ydyn nhw’n hoffi rhagrith a methiannau’r eglwys.

Dechrau ar yr antur hon yr ydw i yng Nghaerdydd. Dw i’n caru Caerdydd. Mae’n wych o le i fyw a gwneud y gwaith yma. Bob dydd, fe ddewch chi o hyd i fi yng nghaffis coffi Cangotn, ar strydoedd Glanyrafaon ac yn nhafarndai canol y ddinas. Os gwelch fi, dewch i ddweud helo. Os ydych chi eisiau dysgu mwy am yr antur yma, ewch i weld fy mlog ar reignitekuk.blogspot.com, neu dilynwch fi ar Twitter @SJLingwood.

Faith is not just about going somewhere on a Sunday, but about a whole way of life. That's why in Cardiff I am employed as a "Pioneer Minister" not to serve the church - but to serve the whole city. My job is to live in Cardiff and be available to whoever wants to talk to me while looking for opportunities to create justice and peace in the city.

What does this look like? Sometimes it looks like litter picking with others in the streets; sometimes it looks like protesting the Cardiff Arms Fair; sometimes it looks like sitting in a bar and chatting to whoever is around (after all, didn't Jesus spend a lot of his time doing the same?)

The point is to use my time to demonstrate with my words and actions a life-giving spirituality. That spirituality is rooted in the truth that there is a Love that holds everything together. And what matters is getting connected to that Love.

So many of our problems are caused by isolation. We are disconnected from each other, and from the Source of Life, and this ultimately causes so many of our problems, from climate change to feelings of loneliness. My job is to find ways to create community, connection, awareness, and justice; and to join in the places where this is already happening.

I want to connect with others who believe there is more to life than this. I want to connect with others who are angry about the state of the world and want to be part of the solution. I want to connect with others who long for a deeper sense of community. I want to connect with others who are open to the spiritual life, but know there will always be more questions than answers. I want to connect with others who want to fight the evils of racism, transphobia, and other oppressions in our society. I want to connect with others who like the radical love taught by Jesus, but dislike the hypocrisy and failures of the church.

I am at the beginning of this adventure in Cardiff. And I don't know where it will take me. I love Cardiff. It is a great place to live and to do this work. Each day you will find me in the coffee shops of Canton, the streets of Riverside, and the pubs of the city centre. If you see me, say hi. If you want to know more about this adventure have a look at my blog at reigniteuk.blogspot.com or follow me on Twitter @SJLingwood.