Sunday, October 22, 2017

Light, Dark, Black, White, What About Gray? by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 10/22/2017

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 
Thou shalt have no other gods before me
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist 
Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;      
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image      
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to
spiritual growth in our congregations;
Honor thy father and thy mother
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Thou shalt not kill
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process
within our congregations and in society at large;           
Thou shalt not commit adultery         
Thou shalt not steal    
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice
for all;          
Thou shalt not covet anything
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which 
we are a part.

            How do we make decisions about what is right or wrong, moral decisions?  We certainly could base our decisions on black and white, concrete rules like the Ten Commandments.  Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t covet.  Those sound pretty definitive and kind of simple to understand.  But haven’t we all experienced that life is not that black and white?  Often it is more gray, requiring a more sophisticated decision-making process, one that not only assesses the facts, but also factors in our personal values and philosophies, perhaps even our Unitarian Universalist Principles.  Decisions informed by questions like: “what is the greater good in this particular situation”, “what’s the power differential of this system”, “who has the greater need.”  
            Applying Unitarian Universalist Principles in our daily interactions, choosing to have our actions be guided by them can be complicated.  Answers to questions are not simple; doing what’s right, consistent with our values, is sometimes inconvenient, bothersome, difficult, even risky.  I, personally, because I am a Unitarian Universalist, choose to make my way through the chocolate aisle more slowly and deliberately, because I don’t want to buy chocolate that was harvested by child slaves.  I don’t eat at Chick-Fil-a because the owners of this franchise use their money to oppose LGBTQ causes.  I try not to buy items made in China because of the poor working conditions of their factories.  And I put considerable time and energy into building relationships with people of color, with people who are from other cultures, and with people who are marginalized by our culture.  Do I, at least a few times a day, ask myself “is this choice consistent with my UU Principles” as I go about my day, well actually I do.  Am I always consistent in living my Unitarian Universalist Principle?  Well, as Sam Trumbore writes in our opening words, “Were perfection required to be good all human existence would be a living hell.”
            Each of you, I believe, make your own choices in living out your morals and beliefs, or embodying our Unitarian Universalist Principles.  As you reflect on our Principles, one thing you might notice is they are not as black and white as the Ten Commandments.  Captain Barbossa in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies said, “the [Pirate’s] code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” That’s how I see our Unitarian Universalist Principles as more guidelines than actual rules.  We affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.  We affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  Lofty ideals, admirable goals, now, what does it really look like?  Exactly? The point I want to make here is that it could take a lifetime of discernment to decide what those Principles mean to you and how you personally can live them out in your life.  However I think sometimes that discernment can be so captivating that we have to be careful not to become its captive, exploring, considering, thinking too much about our Principles, that when we eventually act on them our actions can be somewhat blunted and diffused.
Here is an excerpt from a recent article on how video games are now considering how to introduce morality into gaming:
“The emergence of morality in video games is arguably one of the most important innovations of the medium to date. Like in … Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, giving players moral choice is a progressive development in games that adds more weight and substance to player decisions, leading to a more immersive and satisfying experience. Whether it’s abstaining from shooting civilians while infiltrating a terrorist cell, saving or harvesting Little Sisters, or holding the fate of the Capital Wasteland’s people in your hands, moral decision making in games is becoming an increasingly popular aspect of game development.  But is it all an illusion?
Morality is not a black-and-white concept. Reality is very seldom as simple as a choice between good and evil; the spectrum of moral behaviors is as complicated and consequential as our emotions. Instead of mirroring this complexity and including moral choices that lead to genuine in-game consequences, video games often do the opposite--they present a watered-down version of moral choice that ultimately results in players having to choose between good or evil: to harvest or not to harvest (BioShock), to be “paragon” or “renegade” (Mass Effect), to kill innocents or to save them (inFamous), to have a halo or devil horns (Fable II).
In a nutshell, morality refers to the codes of conduct that form the backbone of a society. Generally, morality is concerned with how people should behave rather than how they do behave. Morality can change over time and take on new meaning as people and environments evolve--for example, slavery was once accepted as morally permissible, whereas now it is accepted that enslaving another human being is immoral. In philosophy, morality and ethics go hand in hand: morality pertains to certain rules and codes of conduct while ethics pertains to the application of these rules in society.” (Gamespot, Published by Laura Parker on November 24, 2009)
How many of you know what Call of Duty, Bioshock, Mass Effect, inFamous, and Fable II are?  Please raise your hands.  For those of you who don’t, please talk to those people after the service.  So, I want to explore this:  “Morality pertains to certain rules and codes of conduct while ethics pertains to the application of these rules in society.” As members of this church, we’re like the game makers.  Individually and as a community we have to develop rules, or codes of conduct, that offers a frame of reference for moral decision-making as we live out our Principles in the wider community.  Living our values daily, applying our Principles in society, becomes our Ethical Perspective.
How do we develop these codes of conduct, our morals?  Well, through a process of experience, reflection, and sharing with our life with others.  This past week I attended a UU minister’s retreat.  Mark Hicks, a professor of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist seminary Meadville Lombard, talked with us about a new theory of faith development that he wants us as UUs to consider.  The traditional theory of faith development that many Unitarian Universalists embraced was James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. There are 6 stages, starting with infancy and a child’s experience of faith is based on a connection between themselves and their caregivers.  People move through stages based on the religion they grew up with, to the religion or faith they rejected, to coming to acceptance of the many paradoxes within them about faith, finally to a Universalizing faith that few people achieve.  James Fowler describes people at this 6th stage as having "a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us."  People like Mother Teresa or Gandhi reach this stage.  However, Fowler says a person can plateau at any given stage, and he suggests that at most stages a person can have a fulfilling spiritual life. 
            Mark suggested that these stages don’t speak to a Unitarian Universalist understanding of faith development.  According to Mark, the lower part of the image to your left offers a more accurate expression of a Unitarian Universalists faith development.  He presents Fowler’s system as the Caught, Taught, Bought, and Sought system.  As you see in the top part of this image.  Caught as a infant; Taught to you as an older child; Bought by you sometimes after adolescence; and then Sought by you the rest of your life.  Instead, he proposes for Unitarian Universalists a system based on a Wrought faith.  See the bottom part of the image.  In this model, faith is a life-long collaborative process, a process of intentional regular personal reflection.  A Wrought faith is foundational for you, a faith you create and live in the world and a faith that is built within a community with a shared covenant.  A Wrought faith is built in a community where others are also on a Wrought faith journey.  A Wrought faith is not weakened by collaboration but is strengthened, worked, like metal is worked on an anvil, through a lifetime of considering, discussing, sharing.  A person with a Wrought faith is willing to look at his/her/their beliefs and morals, values, and even our UU Principles discerning what works, what doesn’t work anymore, and what would make these values, Principles, morals stronger, more of a force in the world, bringing our dreams for a better world into reality. This means being willing to reflect on and discuss even our most treasured beliefs.   That is why we have built into our UUA bylaws to intentionally and regularly reflect on, modify, or change our Principles to be sure they reflect who we are and to strengthened their impact on the faith journeys or Unitarian Universalists.
            I talked about this Wrought faith model with the members of the Conscious Aging group on Thursday night and some of them said this system speaks to them.  We were discussing what age the group members felt they were, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Some said they felt very young spirituality.  They had just begun their spiritual journey, their Wrought faith, only since they came here to this church or since finding Unitarian Universalism.  It is only now that they are searching, struggling, discussing, discerning what their faith is, both individually and in community. 
            Most of us consider our individual morality, but we are also part of a faith community and thus are called upon to reflect on our communal morals and ethics.  How are we going to live our communal morals and beliefs in the world?  One way is to decide communally what moral statements we all agree on.  We have done this by twice in this church on two issues: Marital equality and women’s reproductive choice.  These are issues members of this church can say that DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church supports. 
Another way is making decisions to choose where our energy and resources should be spent.   We decided two years ago on a social justice initiative:  racial equity and restorative justice.  We want to make a difference in this city and state in these areas through our actions.  We cannot do everything, but we can do something.  So as a community, we have a vision, a dream for a future with increased racial equity and with a justice system that helps those who are incarcerated change their lives, so they can return to our community with hope, with a job, with a support system.  Your leadership and your social justice committee ask things like “how are our resources supporting this dream, our social justice initiative”, “what actions can we start making to make this dream a reality”, “what will we pass on to those who come after us to continue making this dream a reality”.   We are also considering what gifts people have and what each person is willing to do to support this dream.  Some people in this church want to mentor disadvantaged and discriminated against youth.  Some people in this church want to lobby for laws to rid prisons of solitary confinement.  Some people in this church want to write letters to incarcerated people to give them hope, to help them explore their spirituality, to offer a connection to at least one person on the outside, a positive relationship that might impact their future.  As the Buddha said: “Drop by drop is the water pot filled.  Likewise, the wise [one], gathering it little by little, fills up with good.”
This initiative is part of our communal Wrought faith, our communal morals and ethics.  We will continue to reflect on, discuss, and figure out what works to live out this initiative today.  And over time we will continue to reflect on, change, adapt, find new ways that work—strengthening the effect of this initiative.  We might even reach a point where we decide to change our social justice initiative.  This is what people of a Wrought faith do.
            My friends this is your covenanted community to develop your Wrought faith; nothing is off limits for us to talk about; all our faiths are Wrought faiths; all our faiths benefit from personal reflection, strengthening, and community support.  And as a community, we need a communal Wrought faith to make our dreams for a better world come true, drop by drop.  We do not and will not have static faiths here—individually or communally, we change, the world changes.  We must be willing to explore, new and different beliefs, new and different moral codes, always willing to find the beliefs or codes that strengthen us and have a positive impact on our world.

1 comment:

  1. That was such a nice and informative read. I must say, you have really amazing writing skills. Keep up the good work friend and good luck.