These letters are acronyms for four kinds of drugs that I would like to explore in this sermon. Basically, I will recommend them as possibly…
The end is near! When? Any moment. Every moment. All kinds of things will happen by a year from now; I guarantee that. A year up, next solstice, December 21, 2012, could mark the very end. That’s when the rogue planet Nibiru from the Kuiper Belt is said to arrive here. Or maybe it will be because of the electromagnetic pole shift. Or all-out nuclear war. It makes you want to plan your last year on earth. What’s important to know or do in humanity’s last year?
People wish they knew the future and love to pay heed to prophets who claim to know the future. They also tend to ignore them if those prophets actually want them to change. We need seers who say. Emerson said, “Always the seer is a sayer.” I am both. From my limited perspective and frame of mind, I say what I see. Therefore, I can and do predict that the planet Nibiru will not arrive in a year. I cannot, however, despite my Masters of Divinity, divine which Republican will be up in the polls next week.
Some predictions are easy – like, solstice will come on time. Others are harder – like, will we be happier or worse? The earth will reliably turn just as it does. Whether we’re healthier and happier on it depends. It depends on small and large scale happenstance utterly beyond our control, and it depends on just what we do when what we do affects our inner bodily and spiritual selves and our outer social and environmental matrix. Some things happen to us; some things we create with our beliefs, intent, habit, inattention, and inventiveness.
The Mayan long-count calendar runs out next year. It lasted about 5,126 years, about as long as we envisage civilization to have been. That’s from a cozy view, when time and space seemed comprehensible and manageable. Now we know – language arose many multiples of that, and tools, even more. There have been about a thousand five-thousand year periods since we developed feet for walking upright, pelvises capable of that and of birthing big-brained infants, and most importantly, the care and culture to receive and nurture those preemies. To get those big brains out without crushing them or tearing up the mother, we’ve long been born too early. We’re born vulnerable, dependent. What makes us human isn’t just big brains capable of language and planning, but a culture that cares for and develops these ever-promising babes. A culture that collectively cooperates and creatively cares for its own is built into our bones and brains. We are the structure of success, the incarnate evidence of thousands of generations of loving community providing protection, nurture, language, play and love. We did not survive only by being “bloody in tooth and claw,” but by caring for infants, each other, and the old.
The human community has dealt with enormous challenges. We lived, huddled closer to the equator, through the last ice age. That lasted over a hundred thousand years! How colder and harder it was, far different than the recent Holocene, this 10,000 year interglacial period of luxurious warmth. We’ve lived through cold and draught and flood and disease. We know the past, but not the future. Vast events, from volcanoes to floods have come along with entire societies failing from foolishness. We wish we knew what is coming, why, and what to do about it.
Enter the prophets. Because we want to believe someone knows, we tend to believe in them. We know we don’t know; maybe they do! We tend to ignore it they’re wrong while magnifying when they are right. Planet Nibru from the Kuiper Belt? It was to have arrived in 2003. Edgar Cayce says the earth will tilt and major parts of the west coast will fall into the seas somewhere between 1958 and 1998. Nostradamus says the king of the Mongols will return in the seventh month of 1959. George Orwell had me fearing 1984, which came and went without incident. Remember Y2K, the huge danger of the year 2000? Lots of beans and rice were stockpiled for that, then probably not eaten. I forgot to even notice the momentous moment of 11 past 11 on 11-11. It seemed portentous in possibility and pretty ordinary in retrospect.
‘Tis repeatedly so. Simple dates can be made into silly headlines and sad disasters. The poor people in the Heaven’s Gate community abandoned their Cadillacs and donned their tennis shoes in order to take poison and jump on to a passing comet. David Koresh foresaw a fiery death, and aided by our over-reacting government, got one. The Seekers, having sold all their businesses and donned special clothing, calculated the final day. When it came, nothing happened. They recalculated. When nothing happened again, they determined God had spared humanity due to their ardent belief.
This last group was studied by Leon Festinger, one of the first psychologists I ever studied. At that time, he termed their behavior as “the theory of cognitive dissonance.” Now it’s called confirmation bias or myside thinking. We look for evidence to support our beliefs and eschew that which makes us feel wrong. Having bought a Chevy, we read the Chevy ads and ignore the Ford ads. The end of the world doesn’t come, so we believe all the more in it. We don’t observe our situations objectively or scientifically, but more like lawyers defending an adversarial attack. Having made up our minds, they’re hard to change, especially if we take pride in believing against all evidence. Of towards 50 people who thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11 and deserved attack, when shown the evidence that he didn’t, over 40 still held that he did do it and did deserve it. Believe in a particular end of the world and you might be likely to find evidence to support it. You might be able to sway events to make it true.
Prophets deal in if–then relationships. Preacher Pat Robertson laid the cause of the hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans in the lap of licentious lesbians, even though it was actually fueled by the heat trapped by all the carbon dioxide generated by industries based in Texas, where it was heading (and where, coincidently, as if a message to us, our space shuttle disintegrated) and where recent firestorms recently raged. We might suspect rampant weather upheaval as related to our addiction to oil. If CO2 – global weather upheaval.
You’d think we have enough natural calamities without needlessly creating them. A stray meteor wiped out almost all life on earth some 65 million years ago. The Mediterranean has emptied and suddenly filled many times, not just that once that Noah floated through. Some 75,000 years ago Mt. Tobu erupted, leading to a thousand years of dark and cold. The Little Ice Age in Europe, which led to it losing 1/3rd of its population, ended starting September 1st, 1859 when sun spot activity radiated us back to heat. But those same sort of sun spots burnt out the electric grid for six days in Quebec in 1989, and coupled to a weak electromagnetic field around earth, such as we have lately (and could have during a pole shift) could roast all life with radiation. Mt. Saint Helens is a pip-squeak compared to the potential earth-changing eruption of Yellowstone. Earthquakes are up. Volcanoes are up. Tsunamis could come. The ocean is acidifying and numerous dead zones have “grown” along with massive pollution and systematic overfishing. Storms rage. Waters rise. Anxieties rise. What do we do? We toy with it all, taunt trouble, add needless wars and toxic technologies to an already vulnerable planet.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Laughable fears, unless you live in Zanesville, Ohio. Or is it zanneysville, letting deranged loners harbor nature’s biggest beasts as if tamed pets? Nature is not so easily caged. Numerous civilizations thought they could make nature do any silly bidding. They perished, not just incrementally, but suddenly, in a matter of decades, not eons. Chop off the forests. Exhaust the oceans. Choke the skies. Overpopulate. See what you suddenly get. See if you can get the politicians, media moguls, and industrialists to fix it after, or even say “sorry.”
Here’s a thought: The end isn’t near, The Middle is Near! Not just of this sermon, but of all life and effort. Our millions of years of successful persistence, our thousands of years of creative culture, our lifetimes of caring and trying – perhaps we’re at the middle of a long process. Perhaps the challenges, foibles, and potentials will go on for as long as we’ve been. We will for sure spin with our planet. But how? Improving, or getting worse? Perhaps our political system will go beyond protection to sustaining, and beyond sustainability to flourishing for everyone for eons to come. After all, a bi-partisan vote, swayed by food lobbies, declared pizza is a vegetable. Welcome to life, kids.
The fires in Texas and the Soviet Union, the floods in Australia, Brazil, and the U.S., the tornados by the hundreds – all these are exacerbated by our human doing, our changing boatloads of oil from beneath our ground to carbon dioxide above our head. This melts our ice and darkens our poles, releasing even more problematic methane from our peat bogs, raising our oceans to flood our cities and farms. This is just one of the huge things we’re doing with our habits and technologies. We need to connect what we’re doing with what the result will be.
If we create pollution and divisiveness, then we will live in toxic stress. If we treat each other uncivilly, we will develop an uncivilization. If we keep delivering our world to the profit takers, we’ll find it all gone and no one will know joy or ease.
Wendell Berry, a prophet of our time, bemoans our plight:
Critical choices that once belonged to individuals or communities become the property of corporations… [P]olitical leaders become the paid hacks of the corporations… A total economy is an unrestrained taking of profits from the disintegration of nations, communities, households, landscapes, and ecosystems. It licenses symbolic or artificial wealth to “grow” by means of the destruction of the real wealth of all the world. (“In the Presence of Fear,” pg. 26)
Another prophet of our time, the Dali Lama, shows how we play into this. We collude in the very system that besets us. He was asked, “What surprises you?” He replied,
Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money; then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present – the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived
If we care for ourselves and each other, if we seek and implement technologies that supply without exhausting, if we always put personal profit in relation to our collective commonwealth and our self in concert with the Self that is in all, then we will leave this damaging, dangerous, dreary time behind us.
Yes, but how? These are vast processes, be they natural or caused. We’re trying to pay the bills and keep a house. We’re dealing with ordinary woes like loneliness and frustration. We’re part of a declining empire hooked on destructive processes beyond our agreement or control. Rats in a cage with no exit, control, or relief finally grow cynical, sick, and they die. We can Occupy Mainstreet for a while, which lets us know we aren’t alone in our angst, but successful change is as elusive as needed.
Who cares for this? Who can care? What agency can address both natural global calamity and the human-generated type? What system can care for not just all people, but all life? Our dear democracy now is corruptly managed by wealthy people serving even wealthier interests. We’re dimly aware of the military-industrial complex corrupting our representatives. Now, even the potato lobby has more say than we do. American society is being treated with the same exploitative indifference as once was inflicted on the “third world.” Sociopathic CEO’s earn the most money for doing the worst things to us. Will the U.N. chastise and control all economic, industrial, and military activity worldwide? Will religion care for this life on this world?
Sometimes I consult an oracle, the I Ching. Two years ago, just after the dismal mid-term elections I asked on behalf of my country. It said the strong are temporarily restrained by the weak, that friendly persuasion, gentleness and adaptability are needed. Tricky, but true. Last night I consulted it again. It came back Abundance, with a good leader free of sorrow or care, meting out strict and precise punishments, leading to Duration, that which is not worn by hindrances, and being self-renewing, begins at every ending. Maybe President Obama will reap majority control and we’ll begin putting up windmills and solar rooftops by the millions to generate the light and travel we need.
Back in 1976 I luckily met Thomas Banyacya, Sr., Hopi elder visiting the Taos Foundation in New Mexico. He has written:
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift
There are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being pulled apart
And will suffer greatly. Understand that the river knows its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
Push off into the middle of the river,
Keep our eyes open and our heads above water.
And I say: see who is in there with you.
Hold fast to them and celebrate!
Celebrate? Yes. Bring joy to your body and to each other. Thank God for blue skies and strawberries and pleasure. Look past the collective befuddlement we’re undergoing and cherish the abundance we still have. Yes, we need jobs, but not any jobs at any cost to ourselves and our world. We need meaningful work that serves the common good, not slavery to a process that ruins our lives and environment in order to generate profits upward to those who never have enough. We’ve come to confuse anxiety and anger with the excitement we could be having through joyful living. Anxiety sells medicines and anger peps up politics, but both wear us out. Cortisol flows instead of oxytocin. Tolerance becomes intolerable. Irritable, irritating people clamor to wear guns so we’ll all feel safe. Just as some were putting crosshairs on pictures of their political opponents, “the most positive person in Congress,” Gabby Gifford, was shot in the head. She is coming out of it, singing “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” If she can, we can.
Mostly, and if we don’t mess it up, the world and the weather are reliable. Since ancient times, we have been able to predict the exact moment of the solstice. We calculate the procession of the solstices over a 26,000 year cycle. The solar power that warmed Roman courtyards (due to their intelligent placement) will be warming us and giving us electricity for millions of years to come. The wind that gives us “free” electricity will blow forever. The astronomer Harlow Shapley once speculated what increase in knowledge and ability we will have if the scientific method, only two hundred years old, were to progress another two hundred years, or two thousand years, or two million years. We’re not short of oil or coal or natural gas or kindness. We’re short on ingenuity and ethics. We’re short on tapping the kindness and genius of humanity.
“Hydrogen,” said an anonymous scientist “is a light, odorless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people.” Absurd? Not at all. This is the new telling of our place in space and time. We live betwixt the unimaginably small and the incomprehensibly tall. We live with time briefer than breath and more ancient than continents moving about. In the smallness of atoms, where the elemental particles flash into and out of existence, and in the vast slowness of galaxies turning (ours has turned only twenty times since our sun was formed) we have our lives, “three score and ten, or by reason of strength, four score.” But, like the grass and the leaves, we have our season, then pass.
Perhaps the Hindus had something right in their trinity: Brahma is the origin, Vishnu the ongoingness, and Shiva is the end. They all exist together, happening at once. It is a vast momentum which generates us and which we try to steer here or there. Endings are beginnings too. Who knew what potential there was in hydrogen? Who knew what apes could create? Who knows what potential there is in us? Given our growing understanding and renewed valuing of our miraculous creation, complete with reliable laws that can lead to lovely lives, who knows what our intensions can lead to? This is not in the future. It exists where time exists, in the Now.
(Read from I Ching, Duration, pg. 126.)
The Hopi leader Thomas Banyacya went on:
You have been telling the people that this is the eleventh hour.
Now you must go and tell the people the THIS is the hour,
And there are things to be considered.
Where are you living? What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Where is your water? Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community. Be good to each other.
Do not look outside yourself for a leader.
We are all about to go on a journey.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
So, my predictions? More of the same – potential upheaval from anomalies in nature, probable repeating problems and benefits from doing things as we do. I don’t look for vision or leadership from Congress; at best, we feel deeply the systematic dysfunction there and begin the process to change it and /or work around it. Nor will the Free Market fix things. Nor will religion significantly help. It’s a hard time in a society used to better times, but we’re still plush with abundance too. We’ve intelligence, humor, and care. Cleave to your family, friends, and fellowship. Steer your lives in the ways you can. You incarnate potential.
Dear ones, we do not know the future. We only know a version of the past, a view of the present, and a vision of the future. This time is ours, ours to live in, ours to live up to. Let the present be a precious present to you. Veer the vast momentum. Though this sermon is ending, The Beginning is Near!
Reverend Brad Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
© November 27, 2011