[A sermon delivered at Arlington Community Church in Kensington, CA on October 18, 2015]
I have a part of me I call the Immovable Me. The Immovable Me emerges when I feel the need to be right about something. This “being right” can cover a wide range of situations. I don't think I need to give you any examples here because all of you know what it is like to be around someone that “knows everything” or has “experience” and they talk with a certain kind of assurance that might start out as authoritative, but soon becomes overbearing.
The immovable part of me uses whatever it needs in the moment, so the story can change or different facts can be emphasized or de-emphasized, or even ignored if necessary. It is the desire and attachment to “being right" that is immovable. Are you with me?
This Immovable Me resists change or persuasion and is not capable of being moved emotionally. When I am in this mode I might think I am being consistent, strong and principled. Unfortunately it usually comes across as condescending, arrogant, and self-righteous.
There are lots of consequences of this kind of behavior. For instance, “being right” often does not recognize the validity of another person's experience. There is no curiosity about why another person might believe what they believe to be true. There is no true empathy—remember that part about not being moved emotionally? The Immovable Me chooses to forget or hasn't had the kind of human experience that recognizes suffering.
The person that is always right rarely gets an honest answer from an introvert or someone that doesn't like to debate the issues. He never sees the vulnerable side of another person because they fear him and don't trust him with their feelings.
There is another part of this Immovable Me that is also important to understand. This Immovable Me, left in place for a long time, develops a story that protects this self-image of being “right.” I know I am not alone in this. All I have to do is look at the news and I can see lots of politicians, businessmen, educators, and leaders that want to be right; they are sure they are right and they can craft a convincing story to prove to you they are right. The more we get invested in these stories the harder it is for us to change. We deny our effect on the environment, we deny our role in injustice, we blame those with a different story for causing problems with the story we want to perpetuate out of self-interest. We sometimes even call this story of self-interest the truth.
But even beyond these problems, this attachment to “being right,” is a difficult spiritual problem. Over time, as this internal process goes on, we lose touch with our identity; we lose touch with our essence as a human being. To keep the story going we eventually have to perpetuate a lot of denial. We deny other people’s feelings, their experiences, and we deny our own feelings. All of these denials eventually become a denial of our essence and our purpose as human beings.
In 2003 I had an experience that psychologists would describe as a form of spiritual emergence; a transpersonal experience. I involuntarily went into an unconscious state. Stelli was with me. During the time I was unconscious I started speaking. I didn't know this, Stelli had to tell me. Later I entered into this unconscious state during meditation. I didn't always know when it would happen. Even later I developed the ability to enter this state of consciousness intentionally. Stelli started recording the things I said during these sessions that we call “the readings.” The readings have provided me with information on stages of spiritual growth, the life of Jesus, meditation, different levels of spiritual consciousness, and dreams.
To say that I never saw something like this happening to me just does not say enough. You can imagine trying to integrate this Immovable Me who wants to “be right” with these experiences. How can I say what I think is “right” if I am unconscious and I don't know what is going to come out of my mouth? I became very adept at refusing to acknowledge what was happening to me. I used denial, I avoided talking about it by explaining it or rationalizing it in different ways, I even used a kind of faux acceptance by pretending that I understood it to avoid coming to terms with what it meant.
This is why the text from the 18th chapter of the Gospel of John is so important to me. Think about the story that unfolded. There are so many people around Jesus that “need to be right.”
There is Judas who betrays Jesus. What story did he tell himself in order to believe in what he did? Peter denies Jesus three times. The Jesus that Peter sees after his arrest is suddenly very human, very vulnerable, and living out his life in a way that Peter cannot imagine. Jesus’ confrontation of authority has taken on an entirely tone. Jesus is not the person Peter thought him to be and perhaps he denies this “new” Jesus because he now sees a side of Jesus he does not recognize. He wants to hold on to the previous story he believed to be true about a god-like man with incredible power. I sometimes wonder if Peter was telling the truth from where he stood. Only later, after everything unfolded before him was he able to understand that the story he told himself about Jesus was wrong. His regret might come from his fear and lack of loyalty to Jesus—those are certainly the most often expressed reasons—but I have often thought that he had to question himself about what he really believed about the events of his life during those years with Jesus.
Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds by asking who told him to ask this question. Jesus functions like a mirror, reflecting back to Pilate Pilate's own process. Jesus will not be defined in ordinary ways. He says something very interesting: “For this . . .” Now lots of interpreters of the New Testament believe Jesus is referring to his reign as the Son of God, the Messiah, and as the King of the Jews. But he has already dismissed these as the statements of others. So when he says “For this . . .” he means by that what he is about to say: “For this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” This is an interesting and very powerful statement of his purpose.
Jesus understands his own essence, the essential part of all human beings. This essence, God, God’s being and presence, these together are the central fact of his life. He is not willing to deny this fact.
This way that Jesus shows us in this moment, standing before Pilate, expresses how important it is for us to be true to those most essential parts of our being, to the central “facts” of our lives, no matter what they are, whether we asked for them or not.
Just think for a moment about what it means to deny a central fact of your life, or for another person to deny a key part of your identity. Either way, when we deny ourselves or when others deny us, a part of us is marginalized. Think of the amount of denial and marginalization that occurs due to skin color, or sexual orientation, or gender, or religious heritage, or body type, or because we drew a line in the sand, made it a border, and use it to keep people apart. This eventually leads to us denying our humanity; we deny what it means to be a human being. We deny the suffering around us and we lose our ability to have empathy. Eventually, if we take more steps in this direction, we learn to justify violent behavior that inflicts suffering on others and we don’t see the moral implication of the oppression, subjugation or enslavement of other human beings that support our “way of life.” We lose the possibilities and opportunities to love each other and to be loved for our unique qualities, for our gifts, for our way of seeing the world. This denial gradually shuts down our curiosity and appreciation for things that enrich our lives and we lose the ability to learn new ways to experience love.
It has taken me awhile to accept this gift of channeling, but it is now the central fact of my spiritual life. I cannot say that it is a gift without difficulty, but I understand it better with time. I have had to set aside the desire to “be right.” I have to work to not get caught up in stories that protect my self-image or that protected a false understanding of myself. I have to be open and accepting in every moment, trusting that in every moment, what comes through me will be a gift. I’ve learned to appreciate that I don’t own the truth; the truth is something that owns me.