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Friday, January 30, 2015

Size Simply Cannot Matter

In December of last year I celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of my ordination and August of last year marked the eleventh anniversary of The Universal Anglican Church, the denomination I helped found and have had the privilege of serving as Presiding Bishop since its inception. We all had grand visions in those earliest days, visions that were rooted not in the work we had to do but rather in cultural evaluations of success that were in retrospect completely inappropriate. You see, if you want to change the world, if you want to make the world a better place, then you cannot realistically expect enormous popularity, because what you seek to do is to overturn the status quo and that will upset more than a few people. If you want to change the world you simply cannot expect the people who profit from the world as it is to stand and give you a round of applause.

How different is that from what we've been trained to expect? How many of us have bought into the notion that if you do the right thing the world, by which I mean not a simplistic and dualistic assessment of good and evil but rather the people who profit from the status quo, will stand and applaud? Jesus himself, in what is probably the least popular of the Beatitudes, famously said "Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you." Yet for some reason we expect throngs of people to come are running in joyful appreciation and support of our counter cultural work. An honest assessment will reveal that has never been the case. In fact, you might say that if you are broadly appreciated and you believe you are bringing reform then you should face the truth that the reform you believe you are bringing is nothing more than the status quo in repackaged form.

We all need to consider the reality that the more powerful a movement is, the smaller will be its beginning. The voices that have said there is something wrong with the system have always faced resistance, have always been marginalized, and have always faced those who would silence the message. That does not make the message any less valuable or necessary. The truth is that we live in political and economic times that believe human beings are expendable commodities. When we tell those in power that that is simply not the case, we should not expect rounds of applause and warm hugs. In fact, we might come to see resistance to our message by those in power as a sign that we are on the right track. Those who are invested in the consumer capitalist system will never be able to see that all human beings matter, because the consumer capitalist system sees human beings as little more than revenue sources. If you happen to be a human being who doesn't represent a revenue source, then you are little more than disposable refuse. Those of us who stand and say otherwise will always be seen by the consumer Capitalist system as a problem to be eliminated. Those who are unable to be a revenue source and those who say they have value are a problem to the system.

One of the problems with many of those who work for social justice today is that they seek fame and glory. They imagine themselves to be current day incarnations of the great heroes of justice, but they are unwilling to pay the price that nearly every prophet has had to pay. They want to be famous but not be objects of scorn, they want to be well known prophetic voices but not have anyone attempt to silence them, they want to make the ultimate change without paying the ultimate price. These are false prophets, and they often seek not authentic change but rather to have their egos fed and their pockets filled. I want no part of them, and neither do the people with whom I am privileged to serve.

An obsession with size, no matter the context, is always an occasion for the celebration of ego. The truth is, there is no place for ego in authentic spirituality because the goal of authentic spirituality is to destroy the ego. Regardless of our tradition, we must seek to listen to the voice of the Spirit that fuels the fire within us. And when we hear that voice, we will follow it because we will recognize that there is nothing else we can do. If we believe we have a choice, then the voice we follow is not that of Spirit but rather that of ego. If we think that what we have heard will make us famous, then the voice we follow is not that of Spirit but rather that of ego. The best explanation that I have ever heard of being called to something is that when one is called there is no choice, there is nothing else we can do, but respond to that voice. When we respond to that voice with authenticity we find fulfillment, and when we find fulfillment nothing else matters. It will not matter how many people applaud what we do, it will not matter how large our organization grows, it will only matter that we are faithful to the work and it will only matter that we do our best.

There is in this a wonderful freedom, the freedom to be ourselves, the freedom to move towards that which we were put on this planet to be. Of course, skeptics will say that this is nothing but self-deception, that this is nothing but delusion, that none of this is real. I am afraid they say that because either they are invested in the status quo, or they haven't taken the time to listen to that still, small voice within their own heart and soul and so they have not found their own purpose. They choose instead to criticize the purpose that others have found, and toward them I feel nothing but compassion. Perhaps one day they will find their purpose, but I cannot make their unwillingness to find their purpose an obstacle on my own path to fulfilling that purpose. Each of us has a slightly different path, and each of us must walk our own path.

My wish for you is that if you have not found your own path yet, you would continue listening until you find it, and when you do find it, my wish is that you recognize it and follow it. Do not let cultural definitions of success get in the way of following the work that you are called to do. The truth is that no matter how many cultural assessments of success we accumulate, if we aren't following our heart's true desire we won't be happy. Happiness cannot be defined for us by someone on the outside who doesn't understand our call. Whatever we are called to do happiness consists in doing it to the best of our ability. That thing we are called to do may or may not be a source of income. We may have to do something else to pay the bills and keep a roof over our head, following our call after working hours. That doesn't make it a lesser call. In fact, there is a great freedom in knowing that our call and our happiness lie outside of working hours. Such knowledge constitutes a form of resistance to attempts by employers to control us. When we find our meaning outside of the workplace, we have a freedom that those who find it within the workplace cannot achieve. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with finding meaning in your employment, it means there isn't anything wrong with finding it elsewhere. May you find yours and live fully into it.

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