Showing posts with label David G. Markham's theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David G. Markham's theology. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why do hurtful things happen to me?

The fifth existential question which a good theology must answer is why do hurtful things happen to me?

The Christian answer is that hurtful things happen to you because you are a sinner. If you don't believe you are and hurtful things happen, you get mad at God because God is not being fair. Some people give up their religion because it doesn't work for them any more.

Buddhists believe hurtful things happen because of their attachments and because they still have bad karma to work out in this reincarnation.

Humanists believe that hurtful things happen out of stupidity, lack of knowledge, maliciousness on the part of perpetrators, and a lack of understanding of natural forces which we cannot control.

Unitarian Universalists would probably say that hurtful things happen because of a lack of justic, equity, and compassion in human relations, a lack of peace, liberty and justice for all, and the lack of respect for the interdependent web of all existence.

What is hurtful, like suffering, is for the most part, subjectively defined. Hurt is how we take things, the meaning that we make out of events, rather than the event itself. What might be tragic to one person may be a minor irritation or a welcomed turn of events to someone else. You live very much in a society which, because of its competitiveness, sees situations in terms of winning and loosing.

When we loose things important to us we hurt and when we hurt we blame and accuse and when this doesn't work we blame ourselves and begin to believe that at a cosmic level we are getting what we deserve, or the world is terribly unjust.

The spiritual practice which manages hurt the best is forgiveness. Forgiveness requires the telling and listening to stories of distress and pain. Forgiveness requires the free and responsible search for truth which our egos frequently defend against because our need to be right and to save face and prevent shame lead to deceit, secrecy, and disengenuousness. Forgiveness requires an apology and the ego says that being right is the foremost requirement for its continued existence and submitting to the truth through apology means the destruction of the ego and a submission to the greater good which the ego fears. Lastly, forgiveness requires the making of amends which is the repairing of the harm done. We owe this to others to assuage their hurt, and they it to us to assuage our hurt. Many times people and situations are not good for it, and so we look to Life to make it up to us. At this point, the spiritual practice of gratitude becomes very important so that we can become aware of our blessings instead of our deprivations.

Unfoturnately, human beings seem to be programmed for vengeance. "I hurt and so you should hurt too." or "I have been hurt terribly in my life, so what are you complaining about, you have no idea of what hurt is."

The Spirit of Life gives us choices about whether to go through life feeling hurt or feeling blessed. There are times of course when we can feel both. The answer to the question of why do these hurts happen to me is that the more we love, the more attached we become, the more we expect, the more we will be hurt. God does not do this to us, we do it, for the most part, to ourselves. We have a responsibility to develop our awareness, our compassion, our skills so that hurtful occurances are minimized. A good theology would teach us that we have a responsibility for self care and a responsibility for others. Let's stop blaming God.

This is article #5 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why is there suffering?

The fourth existential question that a good theology must answer is why is there suffering?

The Christian answer is because there is sin in the world beginning with the Original Sin of Eve and Adam and so human beings must redeem themselves, and like Jesus, suffer at the hands of a punitive God who punishes human beings when they do things that displease Him.

The Buddhist answer is that suffering is caused by attachment.

The Humanist answer is that life is harsh, brutish, and short because that's just the way it is.

I don't know that Unitarian Universalism has an answer for the question of why there is suffering so they tend to deny it and pretend it doesn't exist and think that if they are just nice enough to everyone, suffering will go away.

I distinguish suffering from pain. Pain is an indication that something is wrong, needs attention, and to be healed. Suffering is the interpretation and meaning that people make about pain and usually makes pain worse.

Suffering is not a natural thing and is brought about mostly by humans themselves who have a dysfunctional theology which teaches that suffering is warranted as in "You should be ashamed of yourself" and "you made your bed now lie in it" and "what did you do to deserve this?" and God had suffering inflicted on His own son to save the world so what makes you so special?

The Universalists did not buy into the notion that suffering is deserved and is good for people's souls. At the time, it was a radical idea which disrupted widely held Calvanistic beliefs that people get what they deserve.

A theology based on the original blessing like the Creation Spirituality of Mathew Fox directly refutes the idea of original sin and it got Rev. Fox excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, but he continues on as an Episcopal Priest. Would Unitarian Universalism espouse a theology of the original blessing? It does already with its first value of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. However, Unitarian Universalism has a long way to go to explain the ubiquitous experience of human suffering in theological terms.

The spiritual practice to end suffering is probably something akin to the 12 step program wherein people are encouraged to surrender to their Higher Power whatever they conceive their higher power to be, and to take life one day at a time. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness also is very helpful for suffering. Prayer that recognizes that we are a part of an interdependent web of existence and therefore can "rise above it" because "this too shall pass" is a frame of mind that brings peace as it is cultivated.

I am reminded of the frequent distress of people who feel like a victim and say, "Why did this happen to me?" The answer, of course, not in a callous or dismissive way, but in a pensive and reflective way, is "why not?"

As the bumper sticker says, "Shit happens". It happens to all of us, and miraculously when we recognize that fact, it becomes OK and our suffering decreases if not is eliminated.

This is article #4 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What happens when I die?

The third existential question which a good theology must answer is what happens to me when I die?

The answer that you will go to heaven and be able to have sex with 72 virgins or do other wonderful things in heaven leads to suicide bombers who are willing to martyr their lives for the sake of a political cause. Same thing happened in the crusades when the Popes promised a free pass to heaven for people who died in the holy wars. After my kids were killed, my wife wanted to die so she could be with her children in heaven. She questioned me, "If heaven is so wonderful, why can't I die to be with Ryan and Brigid?" The answer is because murder is a mortal sin, even self murder and you will be in hell not in heaven with your children. Is this a good answer? Would this theology prevent suicide? Is it true?

Based on the laws of physics as far as I know with my limited understanding, our energy is released back into the cosmos. We become one with the all. Is there a personal consciousness after death? I don't see how there can be with no electricity to run the computer. So is this all there is?

Well there is our legacy: physical, psychological, and social for a while any way. And after 300 years or 3,000 years? Probably nothing.

If this life is all there is for a personal consciousness what does that mean for how I live my life? It means I should try to live the best life I can while I'm here and help others do the same. Should I sacrifice myself so I can win points in the hereafter? No probably not. Should I sacrifice myself because it gives meaning to my life here? Perhaps.

Should we teach our kids that they will go to heaven, and relatives go to heaven, and animals go to heaven? It is a comforting thought which takes the sting out of death.

Christians are told that Jesus' ressurection demonstrates a triumph over death. I never understood this. Buddhists are told that with enlightenment they are liberated from the wheel of samsara and don't have to be reincarnated to do life again hoping they will get it right next time.

A theology of death is very important for how we live, the decisions we make, the rationale that we develop for our experience of loss.

Our Universalist heritage teaches that we all are going to heaven, a merciful God would not condemn anybody, even a Hitler. We do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the interdependent web of existence. This should teach us that every life is precious and that we each are a part of something bigger than ourselves.

The spiritual practice of grieving, and comforting the mourning, and providing solace to the abandoned and lonely is very important. The spiritual practice of anticipating our own good deaths, and providing comfort to others who are dying teaches us the preciousness of life and the dignity of the person. Contemplating death, paradoxically, can help us live life with gratitude, awareness, and a savor which would otherwise be missing.

How old will you be when you die? How will you die? What about the ones who are close to you? How does this influence the ways you do relationship? What will people feel, say, do when you are gone? Of this I am sure, you'll be OK. Don't worry. The goal is not to die with regret, and with peace. It can take a life time to achieve this if you are so lucky to die consciously in your own bed.
Those who have gone before me are all OK. I, too, will be OK. You, too, will be OK. This is our faith, believing in OKness even when we don't know for sure what, if anything, is next after this life.

This is article #3 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What is the purpose of life?

Continuing in the series on David G. Markham's theology, existential question #2 is "What is the purpose of my life?"

This question also includes the previous question, "Why was I born?" The Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life to be happy. Jesus of Nazareth said that the purpose of life was to find the kingdom of God. Christians say the the purpose of life is to achieve salvation and the Buddhists say that it is to achieve enlightenment. Unitarian Universalists seem to imply that the purpose of life is to create a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

My answer to the question is similar to the answer to #1 and that is the purpose of life is for each of us to become the best person we can and to leave the world a better place than we found it. For each of us this purpose will be unique at the egocentric level and alike at the worldcentric level.

Having a sense of purpose gives us meaning in our lives and having meaning contributes to motivation. The theology of purpose operates at many levels, the individual or egocentric level, the group or ethnocentric level, the planetary or worldcentric level, and the cosmic or Kosmocentric level. Depending on the level of consciousness of the individual, his/her sense of purpose for his/her life will vary and change over the course of developmental time.

For the drug addict, their purpose of life is to get high, for the capitalist, to make money, for the hedonist to experience pleasure, for the altruist to serve, for the mystic to experience union with the transcendent.

If you would understand a person's theology of purpose, observe how they spend their time and their attitude about their activities.

The spiritual practice which gives one a positive sense of purpose is awareness and understanding of one's place in the world. Purpose comes from a sense of belonging, a striving to become a member of one's reference group to use the sociologist's terminology. Purpose comes from tuning in to one's inner compass and aligning oneself with one's participation in the world in a way that is satisfying and in balance. Coming to understand one's purpose requires experimentation and feedback from others, and reflection. Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living" and living an examined life contributes to a sense of purpose.

Understanding one's purpose is to answer not the what question but the why question. It is not so much "what should I do with my life" but rather "why should I do it?" The answer to the why question is that it helps you become the better person which you desire to become and it serves the world in a constructive, just way.

The main spiritual practice dealing with the question of what is the purpose of life is observation and reflection. These practices can take many forms and are made manifest in a person's life in many ways. It is a major function of the church in society is to help people develop a sense of purpose.

As a child having learned the Baltimore Catechism I learned that my purpose in life was to know, love, and serve God. Substitute the words "spirit of life" for "God" and you have, "my purpose in life is to know, love, and serve the Spirit Of Life."

This is article #2 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why was I born?

Today I am going to start a new series of articles entitled David G. Markham's theology. My theology, of course, is no better than anyone else's. It is simply my attempt to explain my life and experience to myself. If you would like to read along, you are welcome.

I am hoping that my reflections will stimulate thoughts and reflections on your part and I hope that you will share your theological reflections either in comments or on your blog, or if you would like to post an article on UU A Way Of Life, I would be happy to accomodate you. Let me know at

I am going to answer my own existential questions. I will need help so please add your own comments, ideas, and references.

Existential question #1 is "Why was I born?"

My Balitmore Catechism answer Iwas taught as a child is "To know, love, and serve God."

The answer I have come to in my 64th year is "To become the best David Markham that I can become."

I know that God created us human beings each special and unique. Like snowflakes no two of us are alike. In addition we were incarnated at a particular point in human history, in my case 12/25/45. Why not 300 years earlier? Why not 200 years later? It seems to me there must be some reason. Like Mission Impossible, my mission, should I chose to accept it, is to figure it out - what is my mission? Is it something given to me, something to be discovered, or something to be created? I believe it is a little of all three.

God created me with a certain temperament, with certain talents and abilities as well as certain weaknesses and inadequacies, and God, I believe, calls me to do certain things with my life. What that is, I am not always sure. I have to discover this by experimenting, learning from my experience, and figuring it out as I go. I also believe, I have been given free will and so I have a certain latitude to create the life I want to have, the experience I believe I was born to experience.

When I get to the end of my life will I have become the person that deep down in my heart that I believe that God has created me to become? As Hamlet says, "To thine own self be true."

If there is a final judgment, it will be in the form of God asking me, "Did you become the person I created you to become?" If I say, I was always going to get around to it, but I was so busy trying to be the person my parents wanted me to be, or the person my partner wanted me to be, or the person my children wanted me to be, or the employee my employer wanted me to be, or the citizen my country wanted me to be, or the friend my friends wanted me to be, or the congregant that my church wanted me to be, I never quite around to being the person that deep down I believed you wanted me to be. What a tragedy.

The paradox, of course, is that our "self" is a social construction and no person is an island sufficient unto oneself. So there is a creative tension constantly of defining oneself within the context of experiencing oneself in relationship with others. It is in the defining of oneself in the context of one's relationships that we find ourself in relation to God.

Jesus said, "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be."

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."

The answer to question #1, "Why was I born?" is to create an experience of yourself that will help you to know God, the transcendent, the Spirit of Life. To do this, one must become conscious. To do this, one must become self aware. To become self aware one must examine one's functioning in relationship, and it is this examination which is a rich spiritual practice that will help you carry out your mission to become the best person you can become and to create a understanding of why you were born.

I came here to give birth to and raise my children and to make the world a better place and to understand my own functioning in relationship with the Spirit of Life.

Some people achieve self understanding and understanding of self in relationships with others to a greater extent than others. This is what MurrayBowen called differentiation and what religious traditions call enlightment.

The spiritual practice which encourages this kind of growth is to have a spiritual mentor who helps you examine your life on a regular basis. This can be a psychotherapist, a spiritual director, a sponsor (like in a 12 step program), a confessor, a life partner who gives you high quality feedback. Regular meetings with someone who knows you well, who you can share your inner most thoughts, feelings, and behavior with is essential. Do you have such a person in your life? If not, and you wish to grow into the person you were born to become, recruit and invite such a person into your life. It could be a small group of people, but they need to understand their role in your life.

I have a psychotherapist whom I have seen for over 24 years and I see him monthly whether I need to or not. I also have some close friends, one in particular, whom I rely on for good feedback and with whom I can share my inner most thoughts and feelings.

I was raised a Roman Catholic and in my adolescence, when I was in the seminary, weekly confession with the same confessor was expected. While a difficult discipline, it kept me focused. In AA, when people work the program, they are expected to take a daily inventory and promptly correct any character defects.

I think in my adult understanding the Baltimore Catechism answer isn't a bad answer. I was born to know, love, and serve God. People do this most often by doing what they do best. What is your best? What were you born to do? Who do you know that you trust knows what you know?

This is article #1 in a series on David G. Markham's theology.,
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