integral impulse (sermon; 110130)

Integral Impulse Service celebrated at People’s Church UU, in Ludington, Michigan, on 30 January 2011; by Rev. Chip Roush

 OPENING WORDS               
by Ken Wilber (who turns 62 tomorrow)
“I’ll tell you what I think. I think the sages are the growing tip of the secret impulse of evolution. I think they are the leading edge of the self-transcending drive that always goes beyond what went before. I think they embody the very drive of the Kosmos toward greater depth and expanding consciousness…And I think they point to the same depth in you, and in me, and in all of us. I think they are plugged into the All, and the Kosmos sings through their voices, and Spirit shines through their eyes.  And I think they disclose the face of tomorrow, they open us to the heart of our own destiny.”

For the next sixty minutes, and for the rest of our lives, may we have a greater awareness of our human destiny: our responsibility as the leading edge of the evolutionary impulse.
So may we be.

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Using nested dolls, talk about getting bigger and learning to share {add bigger dolls}
but even big people sometimes feel little, feel like not sharing…
however big or small, whether sharing or not,
inside all of us {take dolls all the way apart}
is God.

SECOND READING
Poem (The spirit likes to dress up…) 
by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders,
and all the rest
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is —

so it enters us —
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

SERMON
How many of you feel like you are economically worse off now, than you were in 2006? How many have family members or neighbors or friends who are economically worse than they were, five years ago? How many feel like you have more stress in your life now, than you did in 2006?

If you are feeling stressed, you have a lot of company. According to the most recent “Stress in America” survey, published by the American Psychological Association just a couple months ago), a majority of adults in the U.S. live with moderate or high levels of stress; and 44% of those surveyed report that their stress levels have increased over the last five years.

Stress is not just an adult phenomenon: the APA report indicates that nearly a third of children experienced stress-related health symptoms like trouble falling or staying asleep, headaches or upset stomachs in the month prior to the survey.

And in the annual UCLA survey of first-year undergraduate students, a bare majority report that they have good mental health. 51% of new students report good or above-average emotional health, which is the lowest number since they began asking the question, in 1985. This survey indicates that anxiety has replaced depression as the leading manifestation of dis-ease in students.

To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lotta stressin’ going on.

Some stress can be good. Especially in short bursts, stress can increase our alertness, energize us, and even make us more resilient, to better handle difficult situations the next time we face them. But chronic stress can have many adverse affects on our physical and emotional health, and on our long-term mental capacity.  Too much stress can shorten our lives.

Once upon a time, there lived a twenty-four-year-old man named Justin. Justin graduated from college, and even got a good job, but he was one of the first people to be laid off when the recession hit. He delivers pizzas for a living, now, and a buddy got him into UPS as a temporary worker over the holidays, so Justin is still able to pay his rent, and not move back in with his parents. He had been applying for one new job every day, but the flood of refusals is making that harder and harder to do. He eats pizza or fast food for most of his meals, except when he goes to a local happy hour and has chicken wings and beer.

Justin would deny that he feels depressed, but in the right moment, he will admit that he is lonely. The only young women he meets are when he hands them a pizza; and he wouldn’t have the money to spend, if he did ask for a date.

In that same once-upon-a-time city, on the other side of town, Megan is also lonely. Megan’s partner, Samantha, had to take a job out-of-state. Samantha’s job pays pretty well, but it keeps her on the road four or five days per week, every week. Last month, she had two new clients, back-to-back, so she did not get home for twenty days in a row. It was the longest that Megan and Samantha had been apart, in their whole eight-year partnership.

As if that were not difficult enough, their adopted daughter is of Hispanic heritage, and Megan spends hours online, reading about the anti-immigration activities of lawmakers, protestors and quasi-legal citizens militia groups. Little Brisenia is a legal citizen, but Megan worries how she will be treated, as she grows up.

Megan knows that her stress affects her daughter. When Brissi asks, “momma, what can I do to make you feel better?” it only makes Megan feel worse. She tried to speak to Samantha about it, but her long-distance crying jag seemed to make Samantha more distant, so she stopped, and now focuses on keeping their calls light, and positive.

Megan knows she should exercise more, but she just cannot make herself do it.

There is good news, for Justin and Megan, and for people like them, living with increased stress, as so many of us are. Unfortunately, it will take us a minute or two to lay the groundwork, before we get to the good news, so please bear with me for a bit…                  

How many of you have heard of Carol Gilligan? In the 1970’s, Gilligan studied with Lawrence Kohlberg, learning about the stages of moral development. Kohlberg divided human moral development into six stages, from behaving pretty selfishly to following the rules of a group to learning to balance one’s own needs with the needs of other individuals and other groups.

Carol Gilligan pointed out that Kohlberg’s research was all done on males, and, amazingly enough, generally rated boys and men as morally “better developed” than girls and women. Gilligan went on to develop an “ethic of care,” which more accurately mirrored the moral reasoning of females. Once that is taken into account, most females and males develop at about the same rate.

Nowadays, virtually everyone agrees that we humans do evolve through various stages of moral development. Some theorists divide our learning into three broad stages; others have six, or seven or twelve more-narrow ranges.

Thanks to Gilligan’s research, we know that males and females may approach moral questions from different angles, but they still go through the same basic stages as they age and mature. Researchers have tested different genders, and many different cultures (from New York City to the Amazon rainforest) and the essential patterns hold true for all.

One way of naming the stages of moral development is “egocentric, ethnocentric and world-centric.” At our youngest, we only care about what we want. As we mature, *most* of us learn to care about what some others want. We learn to follow the rules of the group to which we belong. If we continue to develop, then we learn to care about more and more people, until we take everyone’s needs into account as we make our moral decisions.

Egocentric, to ethnocentric, to worldcentric.

We all start at zero: as babies, we are all completely selfish. Then, as we get older, some of us mature. One of the really important things that Gilligan discovered is that moral evolution is directional: we do not always change our moral reasoning, but if we do, we *always* change to take into account more people. Unless someone experiences a significant trauma, or suffers an injury to their brain, nobody ever goes backward and starts caring less about others.

Now, remember the nesting dolls from the children’s story: no matter what level of moral reasoning we use, we still have God—or the Tao, or Mother Nature, or whatever name you want to use for the patterning Life Priniciple that furnishes inherent worth and dignity in all persons—deep down inside us.  {show smallest doll…stack outer shells around, leave smallest exposed} Even the most selfish of us have inherent worth and dignity.

And if we *do* begin to care about others, we will never stop caring about them. That stitch of lightning, that flashes and thunders inside us is always urging us forward to connect with, and care about, others.

There is a bit of a caveat, here: moral reasoning is a grey area in general, and our stages of moral development blend into each other. Depending upon the day, and what has happened to me recently, and the specific topic we’re discussing, I may feel, or act or speak, from a more-, or less-, developed place. Once I learn to care about others, I will always care for them, in general, *and* there may still be specific issues on which I find it harder to feel compassion.

When I say that a person exhibits ethnocentric moral reasoning, I mean that most of the time, for the majority of issues, that person makes moral decisions from an ethnocentric perspective.

Most of this is true for groups of humans, too. If the vast majority of people in a certain group approach things selfishly, then the group as a whole will tend to act pretty selfishly. If the culture of a nation consistently considers the needs of others, then the citizens of that nation will tend to develop more quickly to that level of sophisticated moral reasoning.

I do not know of any research which states that *cultures* never devolve, but I want to reiterate that human evolution is a directional process. Once we learn to care about others, we will always consider their needs as part of our decision-making process.     

The second part of our good news is this quotation from the Rev. Mr. Sam Trumbore (Copyright (c) 1995): “Unitarian Universalists do not usually convert people to save their souls. We do not believe there is a hell or a devil who is after our souls. We believe God dwells with us and it is our task to discover this dynamic living reality. Our fall from grace is our ignorance of who we really are. We would describe salvation as more an inner awakening to the truth of our human nature and capabilities.”

Trumbore continues, “…salvation [is] the experiential realization of our fundamental interconnectedness which infuses our existence. It would be sort of like a leaf [trembling] in the wind feeling very separate and unique among leaves until one day it notices it is connected to something and later gets a glimpse of the [whole] tree. Wow! At the same moment the leaf is so small and insignificant, it also realizes how grand and magnificent it is. This feeling of union with the principle of life of which we are an expression is our definition of salvation.”

Trumbore says that our salvation comes from a “feeling of union with the principle of life,of which we are an expression.”

Continuing his analogy of the leaf, once we humans realize that we are part of the magnificent tree of the universe, we have an ever-present source of comfort, and strength.Oh, we may well forget it for a while—most of us forget it, over and over—but we can remind ourselves (or be reminded by a good friend, or here at church, or by the face of a child) and we will again feel connected to the principle and spirit of Life.

Furthermore, once we notice that we are part of the tree, we become aware of our responsibility. We want to do our leaf-y part for the awesome tree of life. We no longer care just for ourselves, or just about our fellow leaves on this branch around us, or even all the leaves on every limb—we begin to care for the bark, and the roots and every manifestation of life.

And once we start caring for the whole of Life, we will not forget it; we will take all life into account in our moral decision making. We will not always choose the course of action that is best for the entire tree, but we will at least consider it, in our deliberations.

…And that gets us back to the feelings of stress and the dis-ease in our lives. At least in part, finding out that we are just one leaf in the whole grand tree of life is soothing: we are not isolated, we are not puny and powerless. We are connected to all life!

*AND*… once the leaf feels a part of the tree, it wants to do its part, it feels a responsibility to the tree, and it wants to live out that obligation, as best it can.

That is where some of our discomfort may occur. We know we can evolve, and be more. We feel that we are *meant* to be more, to participate more fully in the universal principle of life. When we are insufficiently engaged, with our responsibilities, that stitch of lightning inside us itches.

There is a cartoon, that shows the usual stages of evolution—a fish, a creature climbing out of the ocean, a mammal of some kind, a monkey and a human. Each of these creatures has a little thought balloon over its head, and the first four are thinking, “eat/reproduce… eat/reproduce…eat/reproduce…eat/reproduce…” and the human is standing there, thinking, “what’s it all about, anyway?”

That’s funny, because—of course!—human life *is* still about eating and reproducing, and the cartoon has another meaning. Unlike all the other creatures, some of us humans have enough food, and security, *and* we have the mental capacity to contemplate things beyond food and sex. (I didn’t say that we *often* get beyond those two, but we have the capacity to do so.)

Whereas most of the creatures in the world are thinking “I feel threatened….I want to live” or “I feel hungry…I need to eat,” many of our human cousins have shelter, and food, and can think, “I feel lonely…I yearn for community” or “I feel unfulfilled…I need a greater purpose.”

The Spirit of Life, that little stitch of lightning inside us, is always driving us forward, to survive as individuals and to survive as a species and on, to thrive as a community and as a whole biosphere.           

…and that, finally, gets us back to Justin, and Megan and Samantha.

One Friday night, Justin was robbed, as he delivered a pizza. Luckily, they did not steal his car, but they knocked him out and took all his money, and he had to replace all that cash out of his own paycheck. Of course, there was nobody at home to care for him, and when he poured out his troubles on Facebook, the few comments he got back did not really make him feel better.

The next morning, as he stood in line at the coffee shop, his favorite barista asked about the bruise on his head. Justin had a bit of a crush on this woman, so he eagerly explained, then he blurted out, “how come you are always so nice, even when your customers are mean?” She smiled kinda funny, sized him up for a moment, then said, “truthfully?  I belong to this pagan group at the Unitarian Universalist church, and they help keep me sane. You should come tomorrow.”

The barista’s name was Haley, and Justin did meet her at the UU church, where they heard a sermon about evolution and being a leaf on the tree of life, and best of all, there were some really friendly people there.

It turned out that Haley had a boyfriend already, but Justin really like him, too, and they all became friends. They went to church pretty regularly, and they even began to follow the “evolutionary cross-training” that the minister preached about.

She said evolution was just like physical fitness: that you had to work at it, and that cross-training made it happen faster. Only, instead of working different muscle groups, you had to work different parts of your personality. The more you could work on your mental fitness and your physical fitness and your spiritual fitness, and work on integrating your shadow, the quicker you would evolve into the person you wanted to be.

Justin began to jog every morning, repeating a Buddhist chant every time his left foot hit the ground. He got his old textbooks out, and re-read them—with greater interest, this time! And he found an inexpensive counselor to help integrate his shadow self.

Justin discovered that he had more energy, and confidence. He began helping with Habitat for Humanity, and met a girl there. He still doesn’t have much money, but he is much happier about his life.

When another child told little Brisenia that she was going to hell, because her mommies were sinners, Megan was furious. Samantha arrived home a few days later, and Megan was still beside herself. Samantha had seen a “welcoming congregation” leaflet at the church where she did yoga, so the whole family went to talk to the minister there.

The minister was really wonderful—she was so calm, and caring, and helpful that Megan started attending on Sundays. That is where *she* heard a sermon about evolutionary cross-training. Now she prays every morning, and swims three times a week. She started taking some adult ed classes at the local community college. When her therapist, suggested that she channel her anxiety into positive efforts, Megan joined local groups that support gay and lesbian families and work toward immigrants’ rights. Little Brisenia loves the friends she sees at church—she asks nearly every day, “can we go to church today, momma?”           

Evolutionary cross-training *can* work. Research shows it, and I have experienced it.Do something mental, and physical, and spiritual every day; and work to integrate your shadow self, and your stress *will* decrease.

It may sound like a lot…Knowing that my efforts have an impact, not only on my life, but on the health and vitality of the entire tree of life helps to ground and motivate me. The principle of life *is* expressing itself through us; the stitch of lightning inside us is energizing and urging us forward.

The evolutionary impulse is always widening our circle of care; the little tiny doll, nested way down inside us, is always encouraging us  {stack dolls} to grow and mature and thrive, together.
So may we be.

BENEDICTION
May we be mentally sharp, physically fit, spiritually grounded and aware of our shadow selves—and aware of the whole Tree of Life around us. 
So may we be.

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