First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
February 23, 2020
Wisdom Readings: Nehemiah 9:6, Lao Tzu poem
Message: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”
You alone are God. You made the sky, even the distant heavens and all their stars, the earth and all that dwells upon it, the seas and all that lives within them. You enliven them all.
Lao Tzu Poem
Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible.
These three are indefinable, they are one.
From above it is not bright;
From below it is not dark:
Unbroken thread beyond description.
It returns to nothingness.
Form of the formless,
Image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.
Stand before it – there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Stay with the Tao, Move with the present.
Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of Tao
~ Lao Tzu
MESSAGE: “Reality God”
What is reality? Really depends on who you ask. One of the most profound and convicting dialogues in the Star Wars narrative, I believe, takes place when Master Jedi Obi-Won Kenobi is in the library looking for a planet in the archives, but he can’t find it. He seeks help from the archive librarian, who says, “Looks like the system you’re searching for does not exist.” To which our seeker responds, “Impossible, perhaps the archives are incomplete.” This statement peeves the expert librarian, who refutes, “If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” Over 100 years ago, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History formed because African Americans were missing from the narrative of our nation’s history. Until 1976, when Black History Month became a national observance, textbooks in American schools mentioned only two black people. The stories and narratives we learn are very important, for they determine the reality we choose to live in.
This last week, we hosted a viewing of the documentary, Out of Omaha, which reveals a reality of what it is like to grow up in North Omaha. The documentary follows the lives of twins from age 17 to 25 years old. Someone commented to me after, “Amazing that the film director happened to find two people who experienced going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit not once but twice.” That’s a logical response if one’s reality stems from living within a body covered by white skin.
The last few months I’ve attended lots of high school basketball games. High schools typically have a theme night when hosting a sporting event—at my son’s school we’ve had superhero costume theme, toga, 80’s, 50’s, Hawaiian shirts. A few weeks ago, Fremont high school had a theme night—America, when they hosted Lincoln High School. Many in the student body wore “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump 2020 shirts. Maybe they didn’t know this apparel would be offensive to parents and students from Lincoln High. Maybe they didn’t know taunting players with the N word would be offensive. It’s not their reality.
Our experience of life makes a huge difference in how we perceive reality. As a nation, we have followed the path of religion through the ages that reveals that Empires create their own theological narratives to justify oppression. Think about the words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How would that sound to you if you were enslaved? And yet, I often wonder if in the Christian context we are spiritually enslaved. So much theology is rooted in the illusion of original sin, and this type of theology shapes our reality of God to be retributive and judging, not compassionate and loving.
This morning I ask you to think about your reality of God—and what do I mean by God? Let’s get some help… (Siri…OK, that was not helpful). God is a term for however you experience a Higher Power deity—some names could be the Ehyah asher Ehyah (I am that I am), Allah, Creator, Divine, Father, Mother, Holy Force, the Prime Mover.
But what is your reality of who God is? What is your Tao of God?
I want to borrow an awesome illustration that spiritual director Caroline Myss uses. Let’s start with the framework of a building that represents who we are—the outside physical structure represents our gender, skin color, where we are born, the time in history that we are born, our family. In her analogy, she talks about a tall building in New York City, and how the residents that live on the street level have a much difference perspective of those who live on the top floors. Living down here, one may not even know there is a river. Living up here, you know there is a river. The reality is the same, but experienced differently.
If we stay on the first floor, we miss quite a bit. Our world currently has seen a rise in anxiety, a rise in suffering, a rise in mental health crises. When we enter into the world from the street view, we may get distressed, fearful and it’s tempting to not only stay in this bottom floor reality, but retreat to the basement. And the narrative that usually keeps us from living up here is that we can’t do anything.
“Russians interfering the election”—nothing I can do.
“Global climate catastrophe”—nothing I can do.
“Spread of the coronavirus”—nothing I can do.
Lao Tzu, The Buddha and Christ would say, “Wrong! There is something I can do—I can still make a choice of how I see my circumstances.” Whatever you are facing in life right now, you do have a choice. And how you understand God, your reality of God, I believe speaks to how faith, hope, love affect the decisions you make.
One of the darkest periods we encounter in the Hebrew Scriptures occurs when the Babylonians invade Jerusalem and take captive many Jewish people. When they are finally freed to return to Jerusalem, Jewish leader Nehemiah leads a rebuilding of the wall for protection. The Scripture passage read this morning are the same words that President Trump heard when he attended worship service before the Inauguration in 2017. Baptist preacher Robert Jeffress, whose reality of God has led him to preach against Catholics, Muslims, the LGBTQIA community—he’s the one that said it would be a sin to vote for Romney because he is Mormon, delivered the sermon and Trump came away from the service more empowered to build a wall because he was a leader like Nehemiah. Keep in mind that Pastor Jeffress says that in the centuries to come, Christians will look back and regard Donald J. Trump as the greatest and most pro-faith President in American history. And that is the reality that shapes many Christians in our country.
Scriptures can be twisted to shape our reality. Context and understanding the original language are huge when we study history. Most Bibles translate one of the key words, m’chayei, which comes from the root chiut, as You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. Yet I like the translation we read– You enliven them all.
In Hebrew, the concept of chiut is very intense—for it is a process that isn’t limited to a time space continuum. Probably the best concept I can liken it to is the process of awakening to a reality—of realizing that at one point you thought the world was what you viewed from the first floor, but come to realize an entirely different reality exists from up here.
So how do we discern the reality of God? We awaken ourselves. Meditation, prayer, any practice that calls us to live in the present helps as a way of AWAKENING to the reality in which we are immersed. We don’t think much about air, until we stop to concentrate on our breathing. Then we realize air is in us, it is around us all the time. God is around us, but for various reasons we lose awareness to that dimension of reality.
Lent begins Wednesday, and my practice will be to surrender to the process of awakening to a reality to a God who is alive in me as much as I am alive in God—it is the cosmic interconnection that transcend the confining walls of narratives that I’ve constructed in life that limit my perception. Just like we have to breathe to stay alive, we need to remember we are alive or we risk sleepwalking through life. I’ve asked Mark to help provide a way to contemplate the concept of being alive.
(TEACH CHANT) I am Alive
Sacred activism is rested on the premise that the ultimate nature of reality is JOY and that its absence lies at the root of the current, unprecedented global crisis. So how to find joy? Awaken, confront the world of illusion and you will experience the reality of JOY.
The power of the reality that drives you reflects the image of God you have. When I feel fearful, depressed, powerless, then it is because I am holding on to an illusion of reality that blocks the Divine. The addiction under which nearly all of us suffer is resisting the reality of joy to which the Divine calls us to awaken. Are you awake? Or do you choose to be erased from the archives of reality?