Sermons & Newsletter – UU Church of Rutland

March 30th 10:30 A.M. – Rev. Steve Wilson, “The Moral Wisdom Existentialism”

Posted by Tim on April 8, 2014

Sermon: Just How Do You Live With Yourself by Steve Wilson

As I said, this sermon began out of a simple appreciation that in the scold “Just How Do You Live with Yourself” (angry) is hidden the very real and deep existential question of “Just How Do you, or one live with their-selves”
Tweaked by the radical difference in spirit and tone these identical phrases have, I set off to see what wisdom would come. What insight might reveal itself.
It truly was a title roaming off in search of a sermon.

It is probably not surprising that these those two exactly similar vastly different questions, a homonym of a question really
The scolding, just how can you live with yourself,
And the earnestly self-reflective take on the phrase took me off in two directions.

In the spirit of competition, I wrote a lot of this during the Olympics,
rather than picking one truth, I thought I would push ahead on these two really separate leads, and see which sermon best claimed the title.

What emerged was a more unified message than I expected.

The harder, more judgmental question, “Just how do you live with yourself,” has a touch of either a particular sin implied, a particular great wrong done, or at least an assumption of original sin pushing it. Right.

For me, thankfully, truly gratefully, I have never done anything so heinous, to hear or feel such a judgment.
For me, it calls up those moments of self-loathing when I make a mistake so, so, typical of me, that my face cringes, my head drops a little, and I utter that phrase to myself.

My personal just how do you live with yourself looks and sounds, well exactly like this.
(Face drops, eyes close, uggh)

I suspect we all have our own version of this
As a way to start to respond to that judgment, the first of the directions this mini sermon within a sermon compelled in me was to be better about keeping the disciplines that keep me out of these moments.

For the record, my great Uggh’s mostly involve being to hasty, too engaged in what I am doing, too ADHD to stop and prioritize, …too unwilling to break out of my own head to think of others, too engaged in the moment, to pause.

The first thing I think of for others Arggh Just how do you live with yourself moments is to find something gentle and valuable to say about the need to love and forgive ourselves.
Funny how much easier it is to drop the scolding when we think about others, right.

I began thinking and reflecting, about what could and should be said about accepting yourself in all your imperfections.

So here is the message for those of us two hard on ourselves,
If you are hard on yourself, the hidden wisdom in the classic Christian teaching — “love your neighbor as yourself.” is probably in the surprising challenge of loving and forgiving ourselves, as generously as we might a neighbor.

So if you have never heard it before said to you, here it is,
You are broken,…get used to it.
We are all as humans together,.. collectively,… by definition of being human imperfect. And we are all united in many ways, but if we are united by nothing else we are united by the fact that we are limited, vulnerable, and bit befuddled by just what we are doing here in this body, on earth, and who we are. We as a species have collective holes.

Despite the fact that it is quite likely that Adam and Eve and their snake was a children’s story stuck at the front of Genesis for lack of anywhere else to put it-that Augustine is onto something with the idea original sin thing. We are not perfect.

It is also true that like the woman and the flute in our children’s story, because of our own biological limitations, and imperfect personal histories we are broken, cracked, have holes each in our own way,…

But mostly, your imperfection is not a personal problem, it is a natural part of existing.

Although It sounds so easy and obvious to say this, most of us are at least sometimes tempted to view this state of being imperfect as a personal failing, and thinking this way, I think a lot of us are inclined to try, one way or another, to throw those parts of ourselves away, but we first can’t, and second, shouldn’t.

As Fred Small the minister of Cambridge’s UU First Parish Church points out we are not inclined to talk, especially to ourselves, about how we are all broken in a way that has more love and forgiveness in it, than distain,
and because we don’t, it’s easy to imagine that we have a personal problem, not a general problem of to which we exhibit our own particular flavor of broken-ness too.

I’ll bet you that when you think about your limitations you tend to focus on the way “You” are uniquely idiotic, forgetful, pick your modern version of sin
Rather than the truth that is just simply hard to be good or even functional in every way.
Am I right.

Our ego’s drive tempt us into believing that we can eventually, with enough spit and polish, enough grit and will get rid of those parts of ourselves that cause us and even others anguish, and feeling inadequate in a way that is far too personal we defensively spend a lot of energy posturing our competence, for an audience we imagine is mostly outside ourselves, but likely is not.

I know that one of the reasons I have been single for so much of my life is my own discomfort I have in being witnessed up close, so when I say this, I gather whatever insight I have from my own struggle to accept my own unworthiness.

Why do you think that nearly every religion has the idea that on the other side, …through the vail, …up in heaven, when you become spirit, when you are running around the happy hunting grounds of Valhalla, when your Nirvana like extinction separates you from your earthly embodiment, there is peace.

I think that whether or not there is some perfect model on the other side to compare life here to, or not, understanding indirectly speaks to the fact that here life is a gift, that is missing a couple puzzle pieces,
Imperfection is part of our inheritance,
We all know this rationally,

The Buddhist Psychotherapist Tara Brach calls this unconscious need to constantly prove ourselves “the trance of unworthiness. . . . The belief that we, hear me is deficient and unworthy,” she writes, “makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved. . . . Convinced that we are not good enough, we can never relax.”

The late Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and Harvard Divinity School Professor refers to this ego “the trap of self-rejection.”

So, I encourage you to digest your broken-ness, and once you have that digested, heal your heart with the truth that you are worth loving.

Because, even if you are broken, you much more than that unique and special.

See, when you step back from focusing on all that you know is wrong with you, we, you are really pretty amazing. We collectively and you particularly are either in traditional religious understanding the beloved creation of God, the pinnacle of a Good God’s creation, or in scientific terms at least one of, if not the most amazing thing this world or at least this planet has ever spun into existence.

So, sit up straight.
Seriously sit up straight. You are a bleeping marvel. And hating yourself probably leads you to miss that.

Nouwen, like so many others across time have had the spriritual insight to come to the belief that with all his, and their hearts, all that all of us are beloved of God.

Let that sink in for a minute. In general, the most spiritually deep people from all across time have had experiences that led them to believe, to the insight that you more rock, than have rocks in your head.

So, sit up straight.

Maybe “beloved” is not the right term for you, maybe your more comfortable with “ridiculously, ridiculously, lucky, to be at this point in time, with all the genetic legacy we are handed. Fine.

Either way. but I would argue that if you are not a person of faith to truly understand your place here on this planet, at this slice of time, in this generation, to understand your uniqueness, at this place in the globe is to feel special enough as to be very close to the feeling of being blessed,

So, as an answer to our first mini sermon. Our scolding (express anger) “Just How Do You Live With Yourself” remember, almost factually you are either the beloved or you are amazing, lucky, gifted blessed. So you should forgive yourself for not being perfect

The other, more inquisitive, more rational, more cool headed therapist kind of take on “Just how do you live with Your-self” seems to demand a more existential message.
I hope you haven’t forgotten about the other side of our scold.

This different question with the same words, seems to call up a different energy, focused not on undoing a disabling shame, but really calling us forward and upward to the more demanding truth that we really all are different, with different gifts, and that given that, part of our religious call is to really step forward to be our best true authentic selves.

If the proper response to the way we scold ourselves for not being perfect is a softness, a forgiveness, the response to how we really get around to best living with our unique selves, of being our true self is engagement, dare I say a commitment to improvement.

See the wisdom that I think is revealed in the calmer more truly probing question, of how exactly does one live with “your-self” or perhaps more accurately the self that is “U” is to, damn it go find and be it.

I love these two different truths, and I love the way they fit together. I hadn’t expected this to be where a phrase I imagined my Dad having a sinister mischievous ball with would land, but here we are.

See, once you are over the shame of focusing on what your not, the raw irrefutable limitation that we, you will never know everything, be everything, is to transcend it, and move on.

The existentialists who really focus in on this tone in our question each in their own ways offer us the challenge that instead of spending our lives trying to satisfy what we are deficient in, instead of moping about focused on our original broken-ness, is in the words of Abraham Maslow, to move to become more “self-actualized” in what you are gifted in, or with.

Is “this” life filled with questions of meaning you will never get answered. Yes. Is “your” life filled with distractions, disabilities, and limitations, of course.

Hardly a classic existentialist, Jesus is quotes as saying in the relatively recently discovered Gospel of Thomas, that if you do not bring forth the truth that is within you, that which lives inside you will save you, but if you do not, that which is within you will kill you.
How’s that for validation, if not motivation.

If the best way to forgive yourself for not being perfect is by just letting yourself be the imperfect person you are, …I bet, ( I like to gamble after all) that you just might find the answer to what is meaningful, and might even find the answer to your deepest question when you stop asking what the meaning of life is, and start being the best imperfect fragile unique you, you can be.

As James Leonard Park a contemporary existentialist writer says
Taking the steps towards your will, will make your life feel less, scattered, tangled and superficial, and more simple, and purposeful. In short, grow away from conformity toward autonomy.

The more we love ourselves, and ask ourselves to do the only thing we can do, well, which is to be our fullest most authentic self, I believe the less likely we will find ourselves caught as the subject of the great Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime, does, Asking himself “How did I get here, …My God what have I done.

If we can love ourselves enough to re-center our lives around, or more practically, more realistically closer to the purposes we feel called to, we in a way re-integrate ourselves, -not unlike a puzzle piece would, into the world, in a way making it more whole.
If we can repeat
More of what we do will make us happy, and we will become more focused and probably feel better, more whole, and you will have taken a step forward to ensure the reflective question Just how do I live with yourself.

This effort, to find and embody your genius, really is at the heart of existentialism’s call to be more authentically yourself.

If you don’t do these two seemingly odd things, go easy on yourself by forgiving yourself, and loving yourself as worthy and special, then you will likely be more stuck living out the script the broader world writes for you, and in living that way, you will more likely see yourself as worthy.
You will be more likely able to chuckle at the question,
“Just how do you live with yourself, with the only possible answer. “I don’t know, but I am enjoying trying.”
It is after all, the only job we are asked to do.

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