Sunday’s Sermon: Power


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Today’s sermon is by Janet Vickers.

It seems to me that power exists on a continuum. On one end is power-from-within which we all possess to varying degrees, and at the other there is power-over. The stations between these are complex, as we learn to negotiate  with others in the universe.  No doubt, students of political science, sociology and psychology will have more refined descriptions than the following which comes mostly from my observations.

I see power-from-within arising from thoughts, feelings, imagination, learned skills, the arts and self-discipline.

Words like express, share, understand, design, empathize, inspire, indicate to me a power-from-within.

Power-over resides in social position and opportunity. Parents have power over their children, teachers over their students, managers over employees, police officers over city streets, etc.

Words like teach, enforce, control, limit,  protect, withhold, give, take, coerce, extract – indicate power-over.

Power-over is not necessarily an abuse of power, and power-from-within is not always harmless. A functioning civil society requires a sophisticated awareness of how and where power is expressed or used for the greater good. As we become more mature we are more empathic and conscious of the way we use our power and the effect it has on others. We learn to be more specific in dealing with conflict seeking outcomes that satisfy all.

When societies become stressed, it’s easy to fall for a quick fix, dismissing and discrediting the complex structures that have taken centuries to evolve. The default quick fix focuses on “who is to blame”. Nature becomes a menace to be controlled. Diversity the feared unknown.

When meaningful debate is discouraged and replaced with slogans and propaganda, the human conscience loses its voice. The individual feeling powerless may side with hard-line political movements for a spurious sense of power by association and a false confidence.

When power-from-within no longer dialogues with power-over, as in times of war, power becomes a misanthropic ritual marching towards an ever greater contempt for life.

It is estimated that between 136 to 148 million deaths occurred through wars and conflicts in the 20th century. This year alone there have been nearly 50,000 fatalities due to conflict.

However, there is no indication among my neighbours, friends and peers that suggests we want to murder others. So what is the cause of war?

Retired minister, Rev. John Alexie Crane, in his sermon on Human Nature and War asks us to look more closely “at the most crucial of war’s causes, namely, the actions and ambitions of the alpha males who continue to hold positions of leadership in the nations of the world.” Leaders who have been led to believe by their supporters, promoters and vested interests – that the world depends on their determination to win – and they alone are responsible for their tribe’s and by extension, humanity’s fate.

How does power-from-within meet the alpha ego? How do we break through the win or lose, with or against us, ally or enemy dichotomy? How can we send our power to those who have shut us out? What devices do we have? What do you think?

When we stop asking “what is wrong with the world”, and ask instead “how can we build a liveable one.” For all the territory and wealth that has been fought over and for all the lives lost and being lost, the very least we can do is to learn how power works for and against life – examples are everywhere.

Power-from-within meets the centre of the continuum in community before it reaches a critical mass where the conscience reminds the discouraged mind that it can’t afford to shut up.

The Ubiquitous Nature of Power

snowstorm01Why would an elected government cut services that would ultimately harm the economy when they build their campaigns on the economy?

Why would an elected government bring in legislation that would make it more difficult for the marginalized and the poor to vote?

Why are essential services that intervene in crises before they reach their ultimate social cost being underfunded or shut down?

Why are big prisons being built while the judicial system is stalled on a back-log it can’t process? How can we “get tough on crime” when we can’t bring criminals to court?

Why does the mainstream media in its news and entertainment programs promote an image of our world as greed-driven, macho, and violent while ignoring all the serious discussions around how to effectively deal with the problems? Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: Ten Tips on How to Save the World

Cover of "Integral City: Evolutionary Int...

Cover via Amazon

I’ve used popular jargon for the title, because, as you’ll notice below, this is not political science, or any science at all. This is a riposte against the endless hours of brutal entertainment that suggests only might makes right. To save the world might be a heroic endeavour but I don’t believe it requires a Napoleonic campaign. It does, however, require the engagement of an alert mind and open heart.

The instructions are simple. Learn from the bees, use your caring mind to gaze at the world, reclaim your power, reclaim your nature, hold onto curiosity, celebrate your creativity, give up blaming, live from a place of love, acknowledge your political self, and honour your spirit.

1. Learn from the bees.
Marilyn Hamilton, CEO of Integral City, told a children’s story not long ago, that is easy to remember. Three key strategies enable bee hives to survive, which can teach us how to sustain the human hive – take care of you, take care of others, take care of this place. Our ancestors learned how to do this but sophisticated social systems have alienated us from our own capacity to manage the hive. However, world crises shows we must re-engage in the process now.

2. Use your caring mind to gaze at the world.
Look closely at the operating system, or the ‘apparatus’ as Simone Weil put it. Read ideas and opinions wherever you can find them. Ask yourself who benefits? Expand your gaze beyond your own immediate interests. Prepare to be disturbed but not defeated.

2. Reclaim power.
Power and all its parts: politics, wealth, language, science, economics, institutional religion, are not evil. They are tools of a civil society. What is evil is the way these institutions have been corrupted to centralize power, to make it a zero sum commodity. Infinite power is natural, loving and intelligent.

3. Reclaim our nature.
We are resourceful workers and stakeholders in our society. We are not a resource or a job description. We are not left, right, conservative or liberal – we are organic, politically mobile beings. Labels are assigned to influence and control masses. We have courage, fear, anger, love and wisdom but they are not commodities, they are strengths that emerge and hide. The deadliest weapon of oppression is that which turns humanity and all of nature into a thing, a resource.

4. Hold onto Curiosity.
This is what keeps us exploring, examining, interrogating the conditions we live under or in. As long as curiosity is alive we shall never be content with serving an oppressive and corrupt social order.

5. Celebrate your Creativity.                                                                                            Music, theatre, farmers’ markets, poetry, gardens, maps, new political parties, conversations – are the means of expressing and sharing our humanity. Art is the what, where, how and who of our species as it yearns and evolves.

6. Give up blaming.
Blaming is not problem solving and the problem is not what other people do. To solve problems we need to re-engage our power to care creatively, with curiosity and love.

8. Live from a place of Love
Love breaks apart the structures of false hierarchies. It demands attention to suffering, violence and calls for healing. It insists on life as the source of knowledge. Love is what drives great minds to take courageous stands outside of their particular disciplines for the greater good. Love is the openness to pain that makes injustice, corruption, cynicism and oppression unbearable.

9. Life is political.
You are an integral, intelligent, reflective part of a larger organism. Whether we survive as a species depends on protecting our earthly home from a system that enables a few egos to hold this planet ransom for the sake of temporary profit. There is no escape from politics. Its apparatus has been built on a grandiose delusion that refuses to see the natural world as sacred, and ourselves dependent upon its health. To be apolitical is to be a doctor standing at the bed of a dying patient, refusing to be involved because the disease is dirty. To dismiss the world stage and your part in it is to lobotomize the future.

10. Honour the spirit
The spirit is our energy. It imparts our intentions before we see them. It allows us to dream and care for the world beyond our own life. Imagination and love is the immortal legacy we leave for our great-grandchildren.

These are just my thoughts. What are yours? What would you list as the top ten tips on saving the world?

Sunday’s Sermon: Things I Cannot Prove

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While I agree its good to have facts back up our beliefs there are some that cannot be proven no matter how much research I do.  It is part of my experience to be perceptive, to sense what is happening around me, and after many years of dismissing many of these perceptions because of a lack of proof, I believe they have some element of value.

For example I cannot prove that Jesus, who, according to scriptures, was nailed to a cross – died for our sins, not to save us from our sins as the Christian doctrine says.  Certainly these doctrines have been studied by scholars and priests for many centuries, and  I would never doubt their intelligence, but there is a theme in these teachings that reaches me in a very deep and disturbing way.

The meaning of this story comes from my first impression as a child. It is a warning of what happens to those who challenge authority. The imagery is so powerful it hardly needs thinking about.  The son of man (and woman) nailed to a cross, naked, and left to die a long and excruciating death, for advocating a spiritual life – what child would not get that message deep under their soft skin?

After two thousand years of evolving doctrines, the most fanatic adherents have been willing to mutilate, torture, burn and murder for their Christ without feeling any apparent conflict to their saviour’s message in life – although I have no way of knowing the conscience of crusaders.

What is that sin we are guilty of that allowed him to be crucified? Is it the original sin – being born of woman, of sexual desire, of being imperfect? Or is it that we (mortals) failed to climb on the cross, remove the nails and set the Christ free?

This question is, of course, naïve, and all the arguments, interpretations, are irrelevant no matter how eloquent or learned they may be – except the meaning that impacts the followers.

Some dismiss religion entirely.  After all history reveals our vainglory.  The teachings of Christianity have been selected and altered to fit the politics of the day.  First it was used to make the people suspicious of their own intellects and judgement, and to fear their own desires and needs.  Then it taught misogyny, a hatred of feminine wisdom. It  forced men to doubt their own feelings and fears, to become soldiers and cannon fodder. Then it taught followers to hate those who did not share their religion and race. Instead of teaching the love of Christ it taught religious intolerance.  It taught that suffering was good for you and at the same time, taught that those who suffered ill-health, poverty, injustice – must have angered god and so their suffering came with shame and guilt.

Now that a new tool of propaganda has been invented, religion is not essential.   Now voice-overs, images, TV shows, movies, consumerism, and the internet, can broadcast the doctrines that keep us serving – what exactly? Ideology? Technology? The corporate elite? Racial supremacy? Patriarchy?

Are all these things evil or are they different versions of the same thing? Should we get rid of them all and return to community and nature?  Would we then be free of oppression?

I don’t know.  All their messages point to some truths, but they don’t willingly tell the whole truth.  Religion has also given us Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Buber, Martin Luther King Jr., Karen Armstrong, the Dalai Lama and many others who have inspired great movements.

Although I can’t prove it I believe ideology is a way of ordering life without understanding it.  It’s an operating system, under different names, we willingly give in to,   in the hopes we’ll rise to a position of power that will enable us to feel  superior.  We submit to doctrines, game plans, education, clubs – believing we can reach the top, change the rules, or change the system.

So the story of Jesus, like the story of the witch hunts, the French revolution, war, capitalism, communism, and The Wizard of Oz – to me, are all about the worship of power over the use of responsible democratic power that comes from within. Their cautionary tales reveal our inability to transcend the operating systems that punish those who seek alternatives to structural violence.  Those who affirm life through love instead of hate.  Those who work for the greater good of all. I can’t prove it but I keep seeing it this way.

[photo Lotta Hitschmanove by USC Canada]

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Sunday’s Sermon: Infinite Power

English: Leonard Cohen, during the Geneva conc...

English: Leonard Cohen, during the Geneva concert of the 2008 tour. Français : Leonard Cohen, durant le concert donné à Genève dans le cadre de sa tournée de 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody knows, as Leonard Cohen’s song goes, that everything is about power. Yet if you use the word in polite society you’ll see eyes glaze over as though your friends fear what might be coming next—a plunge into conspiracy theory or an inventory of global atrocities, and suddenly the topic is changed before anyone notices. The word itself reeks of polemic and conjures images of storm troopers. Yet it is the power of informed, committed citizens, even in small groups, as Margaret Mead reminded us long ago, that changes the world.

Working on the premise that two of the most enduring power tools—communication and cooperation, is available to those linked in to systems of support—this piece looks at how these tools work for and against the greater good.

What is power? Many years ago, at a holiday resort among worldly professionals, this question was given spontaneously to individuals. Answers came back readily—power is knowledge; power is what turns a decent person into a monster; power is energy; power is love. It’s these interpretations I use to examine the question.

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