Reverend Divine is a minister, writer, and social justice advocate.
Once upon a time, in the land of Ancient Greece, after the Titan War, the newly crowned Zeus - king of the Gods - took a wife named Themis, who was the Goddess of Justice. Although Themis was the first Goddess of Justice in the Greek tradition, she certainly wasn’t the first or only in other traditions. Before her, lived Justitia in the Roman pantheon, and before her was Ma’at in Egyptian religion. Ma’at is most notably known for weighing the hearts of the recently deceased to see if they were heavier than one of her feathers. Should a mortal’s heart be equal or lighter than one of her feathers, they would proceed to the afterlife in bliss. Should a mortal’s heart be heavier than her feather, a gigantic monster would eat them and they would live out eternity in Duat.
Now, Zeus and Themis had many children, one of whom was named Dike. While Themis was the personification of the idea of Divine Justice, Dike was the living embodiment of Earthly Justice. Dike lived among the humans during the Golden and Silver Ages of Greek culture, where society saw unparalleled peace and prosperity. However, soon greed began to consume the hearts and minds of mortals, and Dike, enraged by what she saw, fled to the sky, sending the Greeks into the Bronze Age, a time of war, famine, and disease. This next part is debatable, but it is believed that the modern-day statue of Justice is modeled after Dike, depicted with her blindfold, sword, and scales. Her blindfold signifies her impartiality - that the law applies to everyone, her sword to denote that Justice is often swift and final, and then her scales which reflect which argument bears more weight.
I wanted to begin with this story because words, phrases, and symbols matter; their meaning matters, and often we are misusing them in our everyday world. Has that ever happened to you? For real, it happens to me all of the time. I throw out a bunch of descriptors, usually in threes (because I like the rule of threes) and someone goes, “I don’t think that word means what you think it does”. Then the doubt sinks in. No, I’m certain, I mean, I’m pretty sure, well it’s close enough, I mean … who asked you. "Justice" is one of those words. So, to help us all out, I would like to invite to the stage, Siri. Siri, what is the definition of Justice?
Siri: "Justice Is defined as just behavior or treatment. Would you like to hear more?"
No, thanks, Siri, I’m good. Thanks for nothing. I bet Alexa would have been more helpful. So, 'just behavior or treatment'. It also says, "the quality of being fair or reasonable".
When I saw this definition, I was immediately reminded of my first and second graders that I teach theatre to. First and second graders have a deep, intrinsic knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. Since they are the centers of their own universes, everything that they say/do is right and everything that contradicts that is wrong. God bless their hearts. I teach theatre in the school district, and I play a number of different exercises and games with them. When I am picking volunteers for a game, and I don’t end up choosing them, I am met with a chorus … nay, a cacophony of whiny voices, all clamoring “Aww, that’s not fair!!” Without hesitation, almost like a pavlovian response, I turn to them and almost shout, “Life’s not fair”. Oh my lanta, I have become my parents. I catch myself before uttering the cornerstone phrase that defined much of my childhood. I heard this phrase so much that it became the punchline to a joke that I never told. Life isn’t fair, I carried this lesson with me through the formative years of my life, where I learned that lesson over and over again. You don’t always win, you don’t always get what you want, and bad things happen to good people.
Justice is a Dirty Word. Not dirty in the sense of raunchy, although she be wearing that blindfold carrying around some props, so you know she is into that freaky stuff, but dirty in the sense that it’s muddled, confusing, an obscure concept that renders it at times problematic. Justice, at times, is a hypocritical paradox that feels corrupt and soiled. Justice is a dirty word, because when we are clamoring for Justice, we are actually seeking one of Justice’s closely related cousins of retribution, retaliation, reciprocity, or vengeance. That’s why Justice is a dirty word. Justice is a dirty word because at times it feels unfair. Justice wears a blindfold to relate to us her impartiality and carries scale to reflect her desire for balance. What if Justice’s blindfold prevents her from seeing the whole picture; what falls through the cracks, right underneath her nose? What if Justice’s desire for balance is a fool’s errand because balance is not an achievable end; what if instead what we are really seeking is a return to wholeness? Justice relies on a convoluted system of laws and practices that is difficult to navigate. Good things happen to bad people, folks get away with murder, and the system is stacked against you. Justice, at times, is too narrowly focused on individualism, and ignores that we ourselves are minds, bodies, hearts, spirits, communities, and Nature herself. Healing should certainly start with the individual, but it certainly shouldn’t end there. Justice is a dirty word because it often looks at the present moment, what is happening right now, and yet we know that History is not over; it shifts and impacts the individual body and the collective culture and then is passed from one generation to the next. This means that systems like the colonization of these lands, the institution of slavery, and various economic and gender practices that cause disconnection and suffering are not over, even if the laws regulating them have changed.
Growing up, Justice seemed like a power that was outside of my control - like from some fantastical creatures that would dole out rewards for the blessed, and righteous punishment to the wicked. Like Santa Claus. Justice was something I earned or deserved because of good behavior, and punishment was also something I deserved because of bad behavior. Then my knowing of Justice shifted, and a toxicity entered my understanding. Justice became about balance and the power was in my hands. You hurt me, I hurt you. You punish me, I punish you. As I got older, Justice became something that would happen to other people, that promised to make me feel better. I would throw out phrases like, “Karma is a beotch, and she is going to get you”. Justice, was still a power that was outside of my reach, but from a place of moral superiority, and righteous indignation, I felt that Justice would be served, and I didn’t have to do anything, but wait. Spirituality complicated my understanding of Justice. Suddenly I was in a world that said there was no right and wrong, only mistakes and lessons, that what we were seeking was neutrality.
As I moved into the professional world, my jobs all centered on the theme of justice: social justice, reproductive justice, economic justice, etc. Even then, I didn’t really have a firm understanding of what Justice was. I believed Justice was about change, equity, inclusion. But what is just, when the Bill that you worked so hard for in one election cycle, could be easily overturned in the next? What is just when the opposition uses lies, scare-tactic propaganda, and debased moral authority to achieve their ends? What is just when your own movement acts in an unjust manner by oppressing others, even within your own community? As I left the social justice movement and moved into my spiritual work, I noticed, like our story of Themis and Dike, that the two often seemed separate and at odds with one another. There was an absence of spirituality in the justice work - as it became clear that the leaders and high-ranking officers of these movements have neglected their own deeper healing work. Wounded warriors created fractured policies, systems, and movements that were broken and undermined the work and created violence (to themselves and to others). There was also a lack of justice work in the spiritual movements as leaders broke or ignored the laws believing that they were above, or somehow they were removed, from the everyday turmoil of existence. Spiritual movements ignored trauma, history, and the current systemic institutions of oppression, and instead offered antiquated rules that didn't reflect our modern life; or they offered trite phrases like “thoughts and prayers”, or “focus on the light”, which seemed, at times, condescending and potentially harmful. Now, I am not advocating for a reunion of the church and the state, but I believe that for true Justice to occur, that parts of each, must come together, learn from one another, and provide a new path forward that promotes wholeness, and an integrated healing model that not only cares for the individual but the community as a whole.
Justice is broken in our country. There have been 289 mass shootings in the United States since the first of the year. That is more than we have had days in 2019. 313 deaths and over 1200 injured. 19 Transgender individuals have been killed, with the majority being black transgender women. During the 2018 fiscal year, nearly 400,000 people were booked into ICE custody, staying in detention centers where they often experience abuse, are denied basic safe and sanitary conditions, and medical care, and legal counsel. The true injustices are the crimes that seek to separate ourselves and separate us from one another, with the goal of denying our humanity, and denying the humanity in others. This goal of held trauma and systems of dominance depends on this feeling of disconnection because this feeling of disconnection gets in the way of us joining together to heal, to resist, and to make change.
So, what do we do? What is the way forward? This conversation is polarizing as the conversation often devolves into who is the blame and what is the appropriate form of punishment. The first step is nothing new; we know about it, and have learned about it this evening in Reverend Levity's talk called "Maskless". That is, first we must do our own internal work, our own healing, and we must take responsibility for that healing, and create practices that encourage that healing and well-being in our personal and professional lives. But it cannot stop there, it mustn’t stop there. Yes, your personal healing will reverberate out and certainly have a positive impact upon your immediate circle, your community, and the world. But you are not in a vacuum.
While researching, I came across a practice called restorative justice, a model that seeks to bring offenders, victims, and the community together in a proactive and healing space to promote resolution, respect, inclusion, empowerment, and active responsibility. There are four key values to restorative justice:
Is restorative justice a perfect practice? No. Is it an answer to everything broken or corrupt within the justice system? No. Is restorative justice the answer to all crimes and all incidences? No. Before we can even begin to address the many fractured and disjointed elements of a Justice system, we have to become very clear about our definition of justice. We have to become very clear about our values as human beings and we have to become very comfortable articulating those values and acknowledge the ways in which systems, current and past, have violated and betrayed those values. We have to become exceptionally clear about what the way forward, through what Justice looks like, or we truly will be the blind leading the blind.
[Delivered live on New Year's Eve, 2017]
How do you know when to fight for something, versus, how do you know when to let go?
How do you know when to hook up to the life support machines, and when do you choose to allow someone you love die?
…Oh, did those sound like rhetorical questions? My bad, 'cause I’m genuinely asking. I hope ya’ll didn’t come here for answers tonight, 'cause all I got is questions. Like, I thought I had enough answers to this question to write a whole sermon, but then I saw the new Star Wars movie and I don’t even know who I am anymore. I saw a piece of myself in every character, even in the dark side.
This is seriously something I’ve been struggling with this year, especially recently—when to fight and when to release. It’s like my inner social justice warrior and my inner zen Buddhist are at odds.
Because there’s a lot of injustice happening in our world right now that needs to be met with resistance -- fierce, strong, compassionate resistance. But where does the idea of resistance belong in the heart of a spiritual warrior who has been called to resist nothing?
I met a young teenage girl at a church in Carson City a few months ago, who had just failed her probation drug test, and was awaiting the judge's verdict on whether or not she would have to return to jail for 6 months. She was absolutely terrified. There were a number of hoops she could jump through to fight it, but mostly she felt the whole thing was out of her control. She told me the only reason she had finally stopped fighting the whole thing was because she sat down in her sadness and made a list of all the reasons she thought God might be sending her to jail:
1) No more survival (she was homeless, and in jail she was guaranteed food and shelter)
2) To force her sobriety (which she had been struggling with in the outside world)
3) To teach others in jail about God (during her last stint in jail, she taught other young girls about the power of faith, and positively affected their lives)
Sometimes our mistakes come with consequences we want to defy. Other times the mistakes of our corrupt and unjust system weigh down on the innocent. Either way, through faith, we can trust that God is always leading us to where He wants us to be.
So, I asked God this question, about fighting vs. releasing, and I heard three answers in return:
1. Follow the signs –whatever they are. Pray and then obey.
2.Remember change is the only constant. So, if you’re fighting to change a system for the better, then fight. But if you’re fighting to hold onto a system or an old version of yourself, it’s probably time to just…let…go.
3. Whenever you approach this fork in the road, do I fight or do I release, take just a moment to totally allow whatever it is you’re fighting. Even if you know you must fight soon, take just this moment…and let the storm sweep you away.
So, let us do that tonight—take all the perceived injustices of our personal lives and our world, and, just until midnight, let’s completely allow them to be. And through this allowance, we will release 2017.
sermon by Reverend Levity
Ladies, and Gentlemen,
Welcome…to hell. Or, do I even need to welcome you to a party you’ve already been at for years? Is it hot and smoky in here? Or is it just July in Reno?
What is hell – if there even is such a place? And how did we get here? Did we sin? Do we need to pay the price, or, do we just need to wake up? What if the worst part of hell is that you don’t even realize you’re in it?
Dante’s Inferno is the first chapter of The Divine Comedy, where our protagonist finds himself on a journey to the center of the Earth, into the depths of hell. He’s scared but he knows his journey is being divinely guided, and so he surrenders to it.
The first people he meets just outside the gates of hell are the fence-sitters—the people who are condemned to pace the shores of hell for eternity, ever-unclassified, poetic justice for their life of indecision. Spiritual stagnation. Most of the time we feel we can’t make a decision in our life because we’re scared, but in reality, our inability to make a decision is a form of selfishness, a need to blend in, a need to be liked, a need to be in control. A sin whose own punishment is that we may never know who we truly are and what we’re actually capable of.
Finally, Dante, lead by Virgil, enters the gates of hell as he passes under a sign that reads “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. A bit dramatic, don’t you think? Fitting, though, for hell is certainly a place for people who love drama.
In Dante’s Inferno, hell is made up of 9 concentric circles, each a level of hell corresponding to the greatest sins of the patrons who find themselves there. There are 3 major categories of sin, each with further categories, that match to a particular circle of hell. The 3 main categories of sin, which later break down into what we know as the 7 Deadly Sins, are: 1) Lack of Discipline, like gluttony and lust (these are considered the lesser sins); 2) Anger and Violence; and 3) Fraud and Lying (the most demonic of sins, as they include a conscious choice to act against ethics of what you know to be right).
The tricky thing about our modern day Inferno is that NONE of our problems, or “sins”, are actually what they appear to be. Am I really addicted Gluttony, Lust, Pride, Envy, Anger, Greed, and Laziness...
Am I really just addicted to hating myself? And these “7 Deadly Sins” are just how I take my hit.
God loves all sinners, even me, even me, even me. Well, HA! Joke’s on God, because I don’t love myself and ain’t no amount of grace getting around that.
Ya’ll wanna play a drinking game? What are we having tonight…Vodka? Tequila? High Fructose Corn Syrup (my favorite)?
Here’s the game. I’m going to elucidate these “deadly sins”, and if I come across one that resonates with a cycle you currently find yourself in, take a shot:
9 centuries later and the human condition is still suffering in the same hell with the same sins that brought us here.
Despite the archaic, fire and brimstone imagery of Dante, what I love most about this allegory is the punishment for each sin is a poetic match to the sin itself. For example, the punishment for fortunetellers in the Inferno is an eternity where they are forced to walk forward with their heads on backward – a perfect opposition to a life where they attempted to forecast a future they weren’t meant to know.
As Alchemists, though, we don’t believe much in “sin and punishment”. In fact, we believe “sin” is its own punishment. God doesn’t need to punish you for being gluttonous, as gluttony comes with its own punishment when your blood-pressure skyrockets and you’re paying more for doctor’s bills than you are to take another hit of that drug you love so much.
If anything, God isn’t trying to punish us for sinning against him, He’s trying to warn us that these “Deadly Sins” are deadly because they stop the flow of our life toward a greater good when we become slaves to them.
We’re all human, and thus we wage a daily battle to learn control, moderation, and how to love ourselves enough to not need to take hits of these false idols that only fill our void temporarily. Imitation love –it’s never enough. We are trying our best, right? But, still, we’re human, and therefore we’re all “sinners”, metaphorically or otherwise.
The most interesting thing about Dante’s sinners is this: the only difference between the sinners in Purgatory and those in Hell is that the ones in Purgatory have admitted their flaws and are asking to better themselves; whereas those in Hell stand firmly behind their actions, going as far to justify them, to blame others for them, or to outright deny them. THAT…is the biggest sin of all.
It’s a matter of honesty, awareness, and consciousness. Hell is only hell because you’ve been refusing to the see role you’re playing in keeping yourself there. Wanting to make a change is the first step, then honestly reflecting on the areas you need work is next. Finally comes the time where you take responsibility to do something differently.
Hell is just a place full of perpetrators who think they’re victims.
It’s an illusion.
You’re doing it to yourself. You just need to wake up.
And now that you know this…and I know you know this because I just told you, you are no longer in hell. You’re beginning to see.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Purgatory.
What kind of life would you lead if you had no fear? #AlchemistMovement