Love, Sex, God, Power
Now there is a foursome for you. What possessed me to try to preach on all four of these at once? Let's hope it was the holy spirit and not my own insanity.
Insanity is one of the answers for the question “what do these four things have in common?” People get crazy in relation to Love, Sex, God and Power. People lose their connection with reality, lose their integrity and do a lot of damage when they become obsessed with these things. Think about it. People get crazy over love, right. Sex? Ah, yeah! People get crazy in their attachment to some idea they have about God. They try to make the world conform to their belief system rather than the other way around. And Power? Do people get crazy for power? Just all the time, right?
If placed before you were four cards; Love, Sex, God and Power. If you were invited to pick one, and by so doing you would have it to your satisfaction, .... which one would you choose? Be honest with yourself. You won't have to tell anyone what you choose. We'll come back to this question later.
Now back to the question: “what do these 4 things have in common?” I notice that each word eludes capture by definition. Similarly, there is great misunderstanding around each word. Definitions of each vary according to culture and individual belief. Since it is not clear precisely what is meant by each word, of course there is lots of misunderstanding. Sometimes people think that they are “on the same page” when in reality they are far from it. Sometimes we will find that our definitions change depending on the context, or maybe we are not ourselves clear what we mean by these words.
That's certainly true of the word “Love.” Our idea or concept of love vary based on what we've learned. Our concept of love has been influenced by the environment of our childhood. Our concept of love is also influenced by books, movies, tv shows, .. maybe even a sermon or two.
Do we think love means behaving the way that our parents treated us? Do we imagine that love is what we see in the soap operas on tv? What is love according to the pop songs and music videos of our culture?
When couples ask me to be the officiant of their wedding, I try to guide them to articulate the most meaningful reasons and values that they are seeking to fulfill by getting married. Often the couples seem to have an attitude that says “just trust us we know what we are doing. We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together.” The reason I seek clarification, is to be able to create a ceremony that reflects their values. I believe the process also helps people become more clear on the agreements that will form their marital union.
I like to ask them to imagine a situation where two people get married because they love each other very much. However, soon after their wedding, they return to their minister in conflict. The husband thinks that it's the wife's job to prepare the meals. However, the woman does not share this assumption. I see nothing wrong with a person not wanting to have their spouse cook for them. The problem arises because of a disagreement about what marriage or love entails. I have a lot of compassion for the guy who gets married assuming that having a wife means having someone that cooks meals for you. Almost certainly, that guy grew up in a household where the mom cooked the meals.
Our conception of what it means to be lovingly married is based, not only upon the vows to love, honor and cherish, but also because upon past experiences and still held assumptions about what love requires. Author Barry Neil Kaufman believes that the vast majority of divorces are caused by one phrase. That phrase is rarely spoken explicitly. It is: “if he loved me he would..., or if she loved me she would, or if I loved him/her than I would (blank)… Each person fills in the blank with the specific behavior that they believe is required for there to be love.
In our culture, we most often use the word love to refer to a feeling or emotion. I heard a little story that suggests that this can be confusing. Wife: “Do you love me? Husband wanting to be sure he understands what she means asks; “Are you asking if I feel warm and affectionate toward you?” Wife: Yes Husband: Well, not right now, but try me again later.
Our emphasis on feeling is understandable. Feelings are our body's way of directing us toward our needs and to the needs of the species for survival. Early in a relationship when a couple is falling in love, their bodies produce pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin which act like amphetamines, stimulate the brain's pleasure center, increase the heart rate, reduces appetite and leads to sleep loss. The increased levels of naturally occurring chemicals lasts between 1 and 3 years. Couples that manage to do what is needed to appreciate being together produce different chemicals, oxytocin and vasopressin.
I'm betting that people enjoy hearing about body chemistry and others not at all. I used to dread hearing some about this stuff. It grew tired of the assumptions that our bodies were machines, and that they were responsible for the way we act. We have made progress regarding the old nature vs. nurture debate. There is now (on the part of more people) an awareness that behavior results from a blend of nature and nurture. Certainly biology and neurochemistry has a strong effect upon us. What goes on in our bodies affects our choices.
Fortunately, scientists are increasingly reporting that our choices also affect what goes on in our bodies. The particular set of thoughts that we have each day affects our body. The changes in our body increase or decrease the chances of behaviors being repeated.
We are not robots that slavishly act out the programing of computers. We are not earthworms or birds with very limited choice in our response to our environment. The human central nervous system is perhaps the most complex of any animal. The amount of variation and the patterns of behavior among cultural groups is an indication that behavior has been affected by learning. And at any given moment we are capable of coming up with a new response to a stimulus.
As Uus we recognize the importance of learning upon our lives and upon our relationship with our environment. It's one reason that so many Uus are educators. We cherish the human capacities for awareness and for understanding. The making of conscious choices is sacred to us. We see it as an essential part of what it means to be human. We thus embrace our nature, seek to discover our potential and to choose to fulfill our highest purpose.
This is particularly true and important in the human experience of sex. It may be that there has never been a religious movement who prioritized sex education than ours. We want our children and all children to have the information and the support they need to make choices that are consistent with their values. We know that women being educated and empowered to have choice about reproduction is one of the most reliable predictors of quality of life. Believe it or not most of things we value from ecology, to democracy, to human rights, to health all can be linked to girls getting education and women having control over their choice for reproduction.
Up until now our emphasis on sex education has insufficiently emphasized spirituality and an awareness of the Holy. However, we can be proud that our young religion intuitively understood the importance of sex education in its ability to support people to make conscious choices regarding sex. We've been aware of the profound importance to humanity and specifically to humanity's religious, spiritual and moral development. We have supported sex education because empowerment around sexuality increased the chances that a person will be able to grow into awareness of the complexity and miracle of life evolving in and through us.
Human inclination toward sexual activity is biologically driven. We have within us biological mechanisms common with species that evolved long before us, mechanisms that do not involve the complex capacity of conscious functioning. Humans certainly do have the capacity to behave unconsciously. We can behave as if we are driven mechanically, as if we had no choice over our behavior.
Historically religious traditions have recognized this tendency to be driven by base impulses, and have called it evil. To this day, you can hear preaching that lust is of the devil, and that only by obedience to God's word can people overcome their selfish nature.
When I was younger I thought these preachers were such idiots. I still have problems with the oppression and violence that results from seeing nature and sexuality as evil. I am learning to empathise and realize that fundamentalists are people who long to see humanity achieve its potential. It is a longing found in all religious traditions.
Although I'm not fond of some of the thinking and language of religious conservatives. I can appreciate that they want to see humanity move from selfishness into spirituality. Religion has always existed in order to call humanity into an awareness of something sacred that transforms our experience of life and enables wonderous possibilities only accomplished through cooperation. Religion calls us to use the higher capacity that God or nature gave us that we might become conscious of our interconnectedness. It calls us to grow in consciousness beyond the illusion that comes from identifying with our personalities or the mortal bodies we inhabit. Religion calls us into the mind blowing awareness that something large and in charge – possibly even infinite or eternal -if we can imagine that- is with us now and always.
I want to remember that fundamentalists share this longing. They language it by saying that we were created to serve God. I also want to mature into a human being who is capable of serving something larger than myself. I want to be moved beyond impulsive behavior. I want all my brothers and sisters to develop the consciousness that enables us all to reach an era of human history that looks back on this time as we do the dark ages.
Having mentioned God, I will return to her after speaking of power. There is in this 21st century a new conception of power emerging. Currently we are in a state of confusion that will hopefully lead to a greater wisdom.
As it stands, our concept of power is bound to be influenced by a worldview that sees power as the ability to make the environment bend to our individual will. Who doesn't like to get their own way? “We want the world, and we want it now!” wrote Jim Morrison.
The lust for power has been very costly to humanity. Why haven't we been able to provide for our children a society where everyone has access to quality health care? Why haven't we been able to adaquately address carbon emissions or otherwise ground our capacities to manipulate the environment with an appreciation of the wellbeing of Earth ecosystems? Why can't we create cities where people share and live together in peace? It seems to me that the failure to bring about cooperation is a result of unbridled lust for power. Throughout society, we see individuals who assert their will at the cost of the wellbeing of many. This occurs as a result of a lack of awareness of connection to the sacredness of the WEB of life.
The problem with defining power as the ability to bend life to one's will is that it leads to the insane view that each of us is isolated and in competition with everyone else for the limited resources available. The only choice we can imagine from that paradigm is to dominate or be dominated.
I heard a different definition of power that I like a lot. Power can be conceived of as the ability to galvanize resources in order to meet needs. Every action we take is a strategy to meet some need of ours. The trick is to become conscious of what we really need, to become conscious of how energy is stirring inside us beckoning us to serve life. When we become conscious of the life force as it moves in and through us, we also become aware of our connection with others. We recognize that we need cooperation and support. We recognize that we have needs to contribute, needs for the well being of others, needs to celebrate and enjoy life, and perhaps our ultimate need is for spirituality, to understand and experience ourselves as belonging to something greater than ourselves.
I call that something greater God. Whichever card you imagined picking up earlier, is likely your God. I'm using the word God not to refer to some entity that exists separate from us and nature. I'm using the word God to refer to that which you place you ultimately place your faith in. It also refers to your beliefs as to how life works.
BTW Regardless of which card you imagined picking, there is no reason to feel bad. If you would like to choose differently, great! You can! And that change means you have probably become clear on what you believe is worthy of your trust. I can imagine any of those three being your understanding of God. Love, sex, power and probably a few others. God is love. That is what the Pope wrote in his first encyclical. God is sex? Well, yes God is the order and energy of life that causes us to seek connection. God is the life force seeking to create new life forms. God is the creativity that exists in the world and in us.
God is power. I call God the life that is organizing itself in ever new and complex ways. God, life organizes itself in order to support flourish, to meet needs. God is the energy that is causing evolution and calling us to seek fulfillment.
Love, Sex and Power each symbolically represent something essential to life. God is another word symbol. The letters, “g” “o” and “d” are symbols. If you don't like these symbols, remember that there are people here happy to hear what is important to you and why you name it differently. Whatever word you choose, I challenge you to reflect and become more clear of that which you have found to be worthy of your faith or trust. Consider and share your understanding of that which helps you to experience life as meaningful.
And whatever words you use, being UU means leaving room for continued revelation. If you chose Love, consier the power you have. No matter what happens outside of you, you can choose to wonder and find ways to grow in your skill to love. If you chose sex, I challenge you to grow in appreciation of the creativity and the desire to connect that moves from within you. If you chose power, I encourage you to grow in power, learn to galvanize resources to serve life and meet needs. Finally imagine how wonderful it will be to grow in your capacity to know and trust the source of life. Imagine how wonderful it will be to gain clarity on what makes life meaningful and sacred.
And then don't just imagine it, become it. Amen