April 7, 2019: “The Holy Whole”

READING “Remember” (by Joy Harjo)

Joy Harjo is a poet and a musician, born in Oklahoma in 1951. She is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In 2015, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given for proven mastery in the art of poetry. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019.

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice.
She knows the origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

SERMON: “The Holy Whole” (Rev. Dr. Susanne Intriligator, copyright)

Joey Green is 47 years old and at a crossroads in his life.

See if you can picture him in your mind. Joey doesn’t care about appearances at all. He wears hand-me-down clothes and doesn’t waste time on himself. His hair is haphazard and messy, and his scruffy beard reaches his T-shirt.

Finally, however, he has landed his dream job. He’s the staff director at a good-size sleep away camp in Kansas. He’s great with all the kids there, totally committed to giving every visitor the ultimate experience of challenging, team-building, fun outdoor life. His staff loves and respects him, but they just wish he’d clean himself up a little.

Joey doesn’t shower regularly or wear deodorant. He says, “I work outside all day, in the heat, so of course I’m going to get hot and sweaty. What’s the point in fighting it?”

For years, Joey has been living in a broken-down RV, without a bathroom or shower. But his recent promotion gives him a year-round cabin on the camp grounds. Right now, the new place is kind of a mess – the living room features only old bucket seats from a car, and the fridge smells to high heaven. The medicine cabinet and the kitchen cabinets are all empty.

The thing is, Joey wants to turn his life around. He wants very much to make a home for his son. He really misses Isaac, who is now 13.

Eight years ago, when Isaac was five, Joey worked hard to stop drinking, to get sober and get his life straight. And he did. But, to get a job he could hold onto, in the camp industry, Joey had to move several states away from Isaac and his mother, Joey’s ex-wife and young son. Ever since, Joey and Isaac have only seen each other about one weekend a month.

But this summer, for the first time, Isaac is coming to camp, for an extended stay of 5 weeks, and Joey wants terribly to make a new start, to make a home for Isaac, somewhere the boy will feel comfortable and happy. But Joey doesn’t have the slightest idea where to begin.

What can Joey do? How can he step out of his rut and evolve to become a better version of himself, the kind of dad he wishes for Isaac?

Our theme for April is Wholeness, and it’s a bit of a slippery one. What does it mean to be whole?

Does it mean to be perfect, unscathed by life? Does it mean to achieve all your ambitions?

Or . . . does it mean exactly the opposite? Does Wholeness mean to look at yourself now, just as you are, with all your flaws and to choose radical acceptance, choose to embrace the idea that you already are completely whole?

According to the Franciscan priest and contemplative writer Richard Rohr, the trouble with our current culture stems from the triumph of dualistic thinking.

He calls dualism the “ego’s preferred way of seeing reality” and “the ordinary hardware of almost all Western minds.”

Rohr writes:
“The dualistic mind is essentially binary, either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, opposition, and differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, not realizing there may be a hundred degrees between the two ends of each spectrum.

Dualistic thinking inspires competition and domination.

It works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or the immense subtlety of actual personal experience. . . . The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, sexuality, death, or love; this is exactly why most people stumble over these very issues.”

Hmm . . . So what is the alternative? What is non-dualism?

A good place to begin might be the ancient Yin yang symbol on the cover of your order of service today. Many people think of it simply as a symbol of dualism – light and dark, good and evil – but the symbol says more. It demonstrates how light and dark, good and evil are interrelated, both part of one another and both part of a larger whole.

In fact, according to Taoist philosophy, the yin yang symbol is actually meant to convey that all apparent opposites are actually complementary parts of a non-dualistic whole.

Most Asian religions embrace this idea, that true enlightenment is a state of consciousness beyond dichotomies, a place where the separation between “I” and “other” is transcended, and awareness becomes center-less and self-less.

This idea can be traced through Vedic and post-Vedic Hindu philosophies, as well as through all the Buddhist traditions.

Non-dualism, however, is pretty rare in Western thought. Where it shows up, it is profoundly counter-cultural. And often misunderstood.

This is why teachers like Jesus make so much of mercy, and forgiveness, and grace,” writes Rohr, “because these are the things that, if truly experienced, totally break dualism down. Because once you experience being loved when you are unworthy, being forgiven when you did something wrong, that moves you into non-dual thinking. You move from what I call meritocracy, quid pro quo thinking, to the huge ocean of grace, where you stop counting, you stop calculating.

That for me is the task of much of the entire spiritual life of a mystic or a saint – they fall deeper and deeper into that ocean of grace, and stop all the dang counting of “how much has been given to me,” and “how much I deserve.”

How about you? Are you counting how much you deserve, adding up your achievements, trying endlessly to prove your worthiness? Or have you glimpsed that ocean of grace? Have you been ever been forgiven and loved out of your self and into the greater one-ness?

That is what we mean by Wholeness. It’s the consciousness, the living breathing awareness, that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. That you don’t have to earn worthiness. You are Something already complete, already perfect in your own way, and inherently worthy, inherently loved and loveable.

That was the true message of Jesus.

What does this have to do with Joey and Isaac, whose story we began with?

Well, a few weeks ago, a sweet coincidence happened for me.

Just at the time when I was starting to contemplate preaching to you about wholeness, Netflix released the latest series of my current favorite TV show. And so of course I had to binge-watch it!

And a few episodes in, it occurred to me – this TV show has everything to do with Wholeness. Everything.

What is it? Queer Eye. The show is called Queer Eye. It’s a one-year-old reboot of an earlier 2003-2006 show that appeared on the Bravo channel originally called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

On the surface, the show involves a team of 5 gay guys, with super talents in self-improvement, who invade the life of a regular person for a week, transforming their circumstances and their sense of self. Yes, superficially it is a makeover show, about haircuts and home furnishings. But honestly, once you watch it, you realize it is about so much more.

Love, actually. The show is about the transforming power of love.

Take Joey. This is a person with self-acknowledged Peter Pan syndrome, a 47 year-old who refuses to grow up, refuses to care about himself and his appearance, who claims to be a kind-of Conscientious Objector when it comes to bathing. When the Fab Five, as the Hollywood glamorous makeover-ers are called, first learn this about Joey and his hygiene issues, you’d expect some judgement, some frowns and grimaces.

But you don’t get any.

Okay, okay. That is a brave move,” says Tan, the fashion guru, without a trace of sarcasm. Jonathon, the glossy-haired stylist who sometimes wears skirts and high heels, chimes in: “Listen, honey, I’m all about not conforming to the societal expectations of beauty and grooming. However . . . you don’t want to be remembered for that, for your gingivitis.”

Acceptance is where every episode starts. Acceptance, plus a little humor and a little common sense, very gently applied. It’s a winning combination.

Over the next week, yes, of course, the Fab Five do indeed perform miracles for Joey. (This is, after all, television.) After establishing a relationship with him and listening for what he wants to change, they cut his hair and beard, get him new clothes, transform his living quarters, and re-ignite his love for cooking good food and entertaining guests.

But that’s only the start of things. They also help Joey open up about his struggles with alcoholism, so he can then feel pride in his sobriety and success. They help him re-connect with Isaac and create for both a real home. At the end we see Joey re-booted, set on a fresh course toward being a more functional, more whole human being.

That is real beauty of this show. People who are broken, or maybe just frozen in some key way, by loss or tragedy or heartache, are loved into wholeness, their wholeness – the better person they want to be. And it all starts with acceptance. A radical, non-judgmental acceptance for the person, as they are now. Which opens the door to their becoming.

Don’t just take my word for it. You really have to watch the episode about Jesse, the only young black lesbian in Lawrence, Kansas. She’s been on her own since the age of 16, when she was outed in high school and her adoptive parents disowned her. She had to quit college because of the cost, so now she works as a waitress, and all her furniture has come from a dumpster.

Or you should see episode about Skyler, the transgender man who can’t find clothes to fit his new body.

But rest assured – the show is not all liberal propaganda. For example, there’s the episode about Jodie, a 40-something woman who grew up with 7 brothers and now works as a guard in a federal prison. She’s tough as nails, loves hunting and shooting and only wears camouflage-print men’s clothes, but at the same Jodie longs for something else, a softer part of herself she lost 20 years ago, when her little brother died.

Queer Eye takes you places you’d never otherwise go – like a tiny black Pentecostal church in Georgia or a barbecue pit in Kansas City – and introduces you to people you’re not likely to meet otherwise. And you get to see their inner struggles and heartaches. And then you watch them overcome and heal forward, toward wholeness. It’s the kind of TV you don’t see much any more, which may explain why it’s a runaway hit. Every single show fills me with joy and hope and okay let’s admit it, there are some tears too. Every single time.

And yes it got me thinking about church. How do we take care of people? How can we help love people into their wholeness?

And I started to daydream. What if we had our own Fab Five, a team of people who reached out in love and hope, giving what they have to give of their own talents to whoever needs it most?

Sure, we don’t have thousands to remodel your house. But it’s not all about big money. You know there’s nothing like a well-timed lasagna, placed carefully on somebody’s front porch. Or a cup of tea and a good conversation. Maybe somebody’s life could be transformed with $200 from the Ministers Discretionary Fund. Or a new coat, a couple of rides to the Food Pantry, or some time with our resident resume coach. It just takes a little looking, a little connecting-the-dots between the “givers and givees.”

Maybe there are some people here today who feel an inkling – that it might their calling to come together now and then as a team to help us care better for our people and our town. If that’s you, let me know.

In this month’s Soul Matters packet, a fellow UU named Paula Goldade writes, “As a UU, I have come to see that universal salvation is not just for all of us but for all of me. There is no crevice inside of me that love cannot touch.”

That is the meaning of Wholeness – that brokenness, loneliness, hurt and pain, flaws and mistakes, are all part of life’s experience. They are part of who we are, part of what has brought us to this moment.

There is no crevice inside of you that love cannot touch.

Accepting in total ourselves and those we love – even those we don’t yet know – leads us to feel in our bones our already sacred wholeness, our union with all that is, our worthiness and our peace.

“Remember,” writes Joy Harjo.

Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember . . . . your wholeness.

Amen.