[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