SOMETIMES IT’S MORE ABOUT THE HOW THAN THE WHAT
Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist
March 13, 2016
Opening Words: “To complain…”
To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
Meditation: “Bill of Rights” (Unison)
I do not have to feel guilty just because someone else does not like what I do, say, think, or feel.
It is okay for me to feel angry and to express it in responsible ways.
I do not have to assume full responsibility for making decisions, particularly where others share responsibility for making the decisions.
I have the right to say “I don’t understand” without feeling stupid or guilty.
I have the right to say “I don’t know.”
I have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
I do not have to apologize or give reasons when I say “no.”
I have the right to ask others to do things for me.
I have the right to refuse requests which others make of me.
I have the right to tell others when I think they are manipulating, conning, or treating me unfairly.
I have the right to refuse additional responsibilities without feeling guilty.
I have the right to tell others when their behavior annoys me.
I do not have to compromise my personal integrity.
I have the right to make mistakes and to be responsible for them. I have the right to be wrong.
I do not have to be liked, admired, or respected by everyone for everything I do.
Sermon: “Sometimes It’s More About the How than the What”
What are we?
A self-governing community.
A multi-generational family.
This is WHAT we are as Unitarian Universalists. Still, we are not the only ones who can be described in these ways.
Let us ask again:
What are we as individual human beings?
We are born.
We get confused.
We get bored.
We seek adventure.
We make mistakes
We are forgotten.
On and on…
But again, we are not the only individuals on the planet with these traits.
WHAT we are as an organization called a religious institution and WHAT each one of us as an individuals is, are shared with others – but still these traits do not fully articulate WHAT we are.
Because it really is not about the WHAT so much as it is about the HOW.
Whereas the WHAT is a description – e.g. 90% of Unitarian Universalists are not born as Unitarian Universalists – the HOW of such a statement allows the story to be told – it explains the process by which this “conversion” occurred. And our story lines have subplots, twists and turns, expression of feelings, and intellectual breakthroughs – none of which are known by using a statistic.
For me, the WHAT exists only because of the HOW that created it.
Both aspects are needed. But sometimes we forget how vital it is to celebrate not just the Result/Accomplishment/Completed Task but also the Process/Methodology/Work in Progress.
Instead of always celebrating the Winners, let us also celebrate the Losers, and the In-Betweeners: the ones who at least made an attempt.
In other words, we fail time and again to live in the present, in the here-and-now – within the nitty-gritty – and to do so with appreciation for each moment – whether or not a Task is completed; whether or not a Task is successful.
And once we complete a Task – we quickly set off seeking another one. And so on and so forth. It is a never-ending, whirl-a-gig of accomplishments which make us think we are living fulfilled lives.
I believe, however, that few people realize fulfillment in life is not about What a person is or was, but rather about How a person lived or is living life
Those who take the advice of Socrates to heart:
An unexamined life is not worth living …
and become deep, philosophical thinkers about the human condition, understand the primary importance of How over What.
For example, a truly meaningful memorial service is more than just an obituary recital; a resume recitation. It is more than a list of accomplishments. It is about sharing stories about the individual whose life is being honored. It is about sharing HOW s/he went about living life: the funny things, the challenges, the successes, the failures – all the subtleties and complexities that blended to create a specific one-of-a-kind human being.
Sometimes I think that if there is a god, s/he created this inordinate restless human spirit that each of us has – some with more of it than others – to keep us busy; but that the real test is not whether or not we accomplish what we yearn to accomplish, but how we go about it
Illustrative of this is a little prayer:
So far today, I’ve done all right. I have not once been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, mean or self-indulgent. For this, Lord, I am very thankful…
In a few moments, Lord, I’m getting out of bed…
… and I probably will need a lot more help!
Well, first off, if we are lucky, we wake up in the morning – and then we have a choice as to how we will approach our day – our life. Will we be grumpy or not?
Cherie Carter-Scott in her book Negaholics: How to Overcome Negativity and Turn Your Life Around has written an amusing but frightening wake-up call to those of us living the so-called American Dream.
Her premise is that negative thinking is rampant among us – and takes very forms.
Among these manifestations of this malady are those she calls: “The Constant Complainer,” “The Herald of Disaster,” “The Retroactive Fault-Finder,” “The Perfectionist,” “The Premature Invalidator,” “The Never Good Enough Person,” “The Slave Driver,” “The Self-Sabotager,” “The Gloom and Doomer.”
Perhaps there is a bit or more than a bit of each of these manifestations of negativity within each of us.
Eckhart Tolle refers to “The Constant Complainer” in our Opening Reading when he says that
When you complain you make yourself into a victim.
Furthermore, he adds:
Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
From my experience, a bigger category of negativists in the congregations I have worked with are those “Premature Invalidators.”
These are the ones who say that the sky is falling; or if the sky is not presently doing so, the Premature types assure us that it will be before too long.
They are the self-appointed doomsday prognosticators, ever-wanting to put a damper on the party.
Now they might think of themselves as “realists” – but in truth, their incessant pointing out what is wrong – even before the situation has fully manifested itself – can really bring havoc and confusion to a congregation – or to any relationship.
Naturally, give any group – Unitarian Universalist or otherwise – a project to be achieved and you will see a variety of attitudes that people will evidence in taking on the task.
Same task, same situation. But different attitudes.
Sometimes the attitude is a negative one.
Sometimes people – those Premature Invalidators – don’t even want to consider taking on a task.
“We already did that!” “Who needs that?” “What’s that going to accomplish?” “Why do we need a ministerial search committee?” “Why do I have to answer another congregational survey?”
Given these same situations, others in a congregation take on the tasks with energy and joy.
Same task/different attitude.
The truth of the matter about one-on-one relationships or group relationship (church or not), is that most people want to be part of a winning, positive situation – and around winning, positive people – with wining, positive plans and objectives.
It is really about attitude. It is about each one of us knowing where our persona – the face we show to others – comes from. And then, if we do not like what we see when we hold up the mirror to our self, creatively taking on the passion to change who we are.
Those who are the negativists might have had childhoods where they were invalidated, criticized, told they were never good enough. Those emotional scars do, indeed, carry on into adulthood – unless people who have them get professional help.
But these scars don’t just cause injury to the individual who lives with them – because that individual can spread negativity like an inferno.
I have seen it again and again in congregations and personal relationships.
Oh, it happens quite often in religious institutions because most people in them don’t want to appear negative themselves.
“It’s not Christian!” they think. Or, if they are not within that theological spectrum, they think: “It’s not civilized!”
Arthur Paul Boers is an expert on this subject and is quite direct in his comments about church being a dysfunctional family system.
In his book, lovingly entitled Never Call Them Jerks, he believes that congregations are the MOST dysfunctional organizations in our country – exactly because people never express what they are truly feeling.
But feelings win out in the end – and in a complexity of ways. Often through lots of passive-aggressive behavior.
I think e-mails were especially created by the technology gods to carry out that psychological function of congregational life!
But there is hope.
We have a Unitarian Universalist gospel and it goes like this: We don’t have to stay stuck!
Simple as that.
Historically, we have been a progressive movement composed of progressive individuals. That means that from our inception we have believed in a developmental, evolutionary process that allows each of us to advance to a higher nature – to a state of more fully embracing the nature of our better selves.
One wag puts it this way:
Life is like a blanket too short. You pull it up and your toes rebel, you yank it down and shivers meander about your shoulder; but cheerful folks manage to draw their knees up and pass a very comfortable night. (Marion Howard)
This statement shows both the “Whatness” of a situation (what the event is) and the “Howness” of it (how people react to the same situation).
We who share a history with Universalist theology that posited a loving, forgiving God who assured every person on the planet salvation after this life (how much more positive can a theology be?), believe up to today in making the best of life’s condition. We will pull up our knees – we will adapt – we will spend a comfortable night. We will try to make the best of it!
And we will try to help others – the negativists – to do the same thing.
Not to say that is easy! But we carry on, despite the negativists who would bring us down. That is our “How” – our way of approaching the world: with goodness and light, and ever aware of the transient, fragile nature of our being; ever aware of our need to hold life gently, as if it were a sweet, sweet flower.
Closing Words: “Let the heart speak…”
…Let the heart speak in rebellion against defeat!
Let the failures of the past be guideposts,
Let the lights of our individual lives
Flame with a dignity and color each its own,
And from each separate life let a fresh glow
Kindle in hearts a greater understanding,