UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
On the Leading Edge
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
January 17, 2021
All Rights Reserved
After all the events that have unfolded in the past week, month, and year: you might be wondering “What is going on?” If you are being asked, “What side are you on?” If someone is demanding that you take a side. If you are thinking, “What should I do?” This talk is for you.
This lesson topic is different from what we would normally talk about on a Sunday morning. It is more spiritually technical and thus much more difficult to put into practice. It is my hope that you will be able to discuss it in depth with a close friend of friends of like mind.
One of the reasons I was drawn to Unity was that it felt like and is a ‘Leading Edge’ spiritual path/religion. It is always evolving because we are always growing in our awareness of God and God in us. Our Co-founder Charles Fillmore once said that for this reason he reserved the right to change his mind and point of view about anything he had taught or believed because life is growth and God is movement and change.
You are loved. Bernadette
This is a special day of new realization. It is God's desire that you experience all good; that you express wholeness and perfection in body, mind, emotions and relationships with others. It is God's desire that you experience the good life.
Silently repeat this prayer: “Now I make a new covenant with God and with God within me. God's gift to me is the Kingdom of Heaven as all I could ever desire to live life fully and completely. I know that God's gift to me can only be experienced in my life as I express that gift and let that gift flow through me and out into my world. My covenant with God is to know the truth... without question, without fear, without doubt that I am a channel of God's good into my life and into my world. I make this covenant with God right now to hold to this truth, and to know this truth more than I know anything else: It is my Father's good pleasure to give me the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Rest now in the silence and in the truth of this prayer of knowing. Let no other thought dissuade you for even a moment. Be the channel of good through which the Kingdom of Heaven flows. Affirm: “Right now, I give myself to the good life, to God, in the silence of prayer.”
Let us pray: “I feel the power and presence of God in the midst of me. I rejoice and give thanks as I dedicate myself, all that I am, all that I do, and every thought that I think to expressing God, the good life from this moment forward.”
And now we share the names of those with whom we are praying this morning. See them expressing God and the Good life. Please call out any names you wish to include now.
Let us close with our Prayer for Protection: “The light of God surrounds us; the love of God enfolds us; the power of God protects us; the presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are God is and all is well.”
This we pray, in the name and through the power of the eternal indwelling Christ. Amen.
On the Leading Edge
There is an old story about a man with raggedy clothes who has had a rough time of it in the world and was looking for a place that cared. He didn’t belong to a church. He had never belonged to a church or even been in a church, but he had heard that a church was a place where God loved people and taught people how to love each other. So, when he saw a bunch of people filing into a nearby church with a sign outside that said, ‘All are welcome,’ he went inside. He noticed that everyone was very dressed up, so he sat down in a pew at the back.
When the service ended no one spoke to him and in the reception line when he got to the minister he received some gentle advice: “Friend, I can see that you’re looking for a church and I’m glad but I want you to go home and ask God, in your prayers, if this is really the right church for you.”
The man left and returned the following week. This time he did his best to dress a little nicer, but he couldn’t dress nearly as nice as others. The minister, seeing him, had one of his deacons greet and suggest, again that he should ask God if this was really the right church for him. After several more Sundays played out in the same predictable fashion, the minister walked up to the man after the service and said, “Friend, I thought you were going to ask God if this was really the right church for you.” The man said, “I did, pastor. But the funny thing is, God said he couldn’t tell me. He said he’s never been inside your church.”
It’s a funny old story that has had many incarnations. In some versions it refers to someone of a different race. I imagine there are even international or interfaith versions that tell of a woman trying to get into a mosque, synagogue or temple but the punch line is always the same.
You might assume a church that advertises open doors and open hearts and holds out the promise to help you to establish a relationship with a loving God would be a place where unconditional love is built into the community. But all too often, once inside a church, you discover another story. If God is in, God is rather fickle exercising some judicious privilege to love some people and not others and who, in your time of need may be more likely to dispense judgment not Grace. We discover the fine print, such as:
“In this church, God’s love is subject to the terms and conditions as written or stated at point of purchase. Warranty applies only in cases where valid receipt of prayer or signed proof of contract with your immortal soul can be shown. God’s love cannot be returned, replaced or remanufactured without expressed written consent of the minister, the choir, four altar boys and the Board of Trustees. The church is not liable if love is lost, stolen, defective, damaged during shipping or when all functioning parts of your heart cannot be completely reassembled and resealed in original container. All claims and requests must be submitted to the Board in Yak blood. All conversions are final. Offer void where prohibited by law.
We’ve all probably come across a church that exercises restrictions on who qualifies to be loved and saved and who it turns away and condemns. When that happens, it might make you think that maybe God doesn’t have a church but a law firm. It seems like some churches and religious groups see themselves as God’s lawyers and even God’s entire judicial system: judging, condemning, jailing and in some cases even executing people and sometimes entire categories of people for not abiding by the law as they interpret it to exclude people who for one reason or another just don’t measure up to their standards. (Examples: Gnostics, midwives during the inquisition, the Knights Templar.)
Meanwhile those who continue to go in search of the elusive welcoming and caring place they’ve been told about and believe in their hearts a church can be are turned away or turned off. The lost remain lost. The hurting remains hurt and the confused remain confused. Not only do people suffer but the reputation of all churches suffer because the church has acquired a reputation not as an institution of caring, but as an institution of hypocrisy. The effect of that reputation, their legacy to us, is being felt not only by those churches of the holy disclaimer but by every church of every faith.
Hypocrisy causes cynicism and resentment. We question religion and even the potential for the church to keep its promises of care and doing good work. And even those of us who are keeping those promises and doing good work, can begin to wonder if keeping hope alive is worth our time, effort and money.
Psychologists report that indicators of this distrust can be measured in attendance and volunteerism within churches and civic participation from churches, which they say are both down nearly 30%. (Pre-pandemic study.)
What has happened, especially in the last forty years, that has caused the church to lose sight of its purpose? What has prompted it to turn its focus more on judgment than on generosity? More toward conflict than caring?
It begins to make sense when we examine the tremendous amount of technological, social and cultural change that has been part of our world in the last four decades. When you look at cultural advances in Civil rights, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in society an in ministry, the advances in contraceptive technology and stem cell research and the evolution of quantum physics, you begin to see a pattern emerge between some of the radical changes in our culture around the church and the radical changes in honoring diversity within some churches.
You begin to understand why many churches have responded by clamping down in response, feeling compelled to dig its heals in and take a stand against all this movement, some (who are not a part of us or like us) refer to as progress. And you can begin to understand the nature of fundamentalism and the fundamentalist element within all religions.
There are many ways to define fundamentalism but the classic definition by author H.L. Mencken is: “Fundamentalism is a terrible, pervasive fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun.” But, of course, it’s more than that. Fundamentalism is a reactionary resistance to modernization and a response to what is perceived as the loosening and broadening of rules and social morays within society, which the church is often perceived to safe guard.
A lot of change in a short period of time triggers fear in the hearts of some people who worry that they will no longer be able to function morally, spiritually or effectively within that society. It triggers fear among some groups of people that they are losing their own culture. They believe that things are changing so fast that unless they gain control by enacting and enforcing some strict moral laws – not only on themselves but on everyone around them – they will be displaced and overrun, and everything that they stand for and have built will be eliminated and forgotten.
Religious and social theorists suggest that one reason why fundamentalists seem so obsessed and high strung about the rules of their faith is that they are wrestling with fear: fear for their immortal soul, fear for their place in society and the world and fear of losing their freedom and potential to advance in the direction of their dreams and prosper.
To understand what it means to be Fundamentalist in the religious context, let me read the definition offered by online dictionary Wikipedia: "Fundamentalism describes a movement to return to what is considered the defining or founding principles of a religion. It has especially come to refer to any religious enclave that intentionally resists identification with the larger religious group in which it originally arose, on the basis that fundamental principles upon which the larger religious group is supposedly founded have become corrupt or displaced by alternative principles hostile to its identity.”
They feel that the fundamentals of the religion have been jettisoned by neglect or lost through compromise and inattention, so that the general religious community's description of itself appears to be in terms that are completely alien and fundamentally hostile to the religion as they see it.
Understood in these terms it’s easier to understand why fundamentalism is so divorced from and critical of, other religions – even other facets of its own religion that have split off in the past due to similar reasons. There is a schism, which forms when one subgroup sees the larger whole as moving too quickly or living too far afield from the origins of the movement and its founder. This leads to an emphasis on literalism of their scriptures as law. This fear of ruin, of being overrun and even death is a common, even understandable reaction to extreme change that has been going on among human beings for many millenniums.
People wonder why Jesus was crucified but in this context it’s not hard to understand. Jesus was a reformer of his faith. He wasn’t trying to start Christianity. He had no interest in inventing a new religion. He was a devout Jew. But he was clearly introducing radically new interpretations of Judaism and radically new directions for the faith. When his thought got too far afield from the Orthodox views of the temple priests in Jerusalem and his following too large, he was deemed ‘an extreme threat to the status quo’. When they crucified him, it was as if they were saying: “It is either him or us. It is our faith and way of life as we know it that will die or him.” They chose to sacrifice him in an attempt to hold on to their cherished way of life just as Socrates and others had been sacrificed in earlier times. But it didn’t work. It never does.
In any movement, whether religious or secular, there tends to be ‘a leading edge’ of people who see it as their calling (to their faith and their beliefs) to explore the next dimension and to push culture in that direction. (Unity doesn’t. We don’t push people to join or proselytize.)
And if there is ‘A LEADING EDGE’, we know that there is also a ‘trailing edge’; those who are bound or who bind themselves by loyalty and devotion to their faith and way of life and who are just as determined to see that it remains true and unchanging to the tenants handed down from their forefathers. It is inevitable that if too much distance is formed between those on the leading edge and those who trail, a ‘schism’ will emerge and all the conflict that entails.
(Unity sees itself as a bridge religion between the two.)
There are countless stories throughout history of how those on the front got too far ahead of those protecting the rear. So much so that those in the rear can’t tell if those out in front are friend or foe and so shots are fired and casualties were incurred.
Unity’s co-founders, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore wanted to create a school of Christianity and not another religion. They wanted to create a way of life dedicated to bridge building in order to help people of all religions find the common ground that unites us. However, like others in the New Thought Movement it is also important to realize that our commitment is to moving humanity forward in the direction of inclusiveness and mutual understanding.
This is one of the reasons why fundamentalism around the world is growing. People are moving to the extreme end of their worldview which increasingly leads to the appearance of a greater divide between us. Many people consider this a sign of success and don’t consider the lack of caring and love between us and fundamentalists of any kind to be anything worth considering and trying to bridge. They say, “Well, there is no love lost between us. THEY are the ones who have closed minds.” But spiritually, I think it would be wise for us to consider that there are bigger principles at work.
Any conservative reaction to a progressive influence can lead to conflict unless there are sincere and consistent efforts by the leaders on both sides to come together – or at least care more about the people in the crossfire than the principles of the skirmish, their own power and their own bottom line. We are one in Truth. We do not live in an either/or universe. There were periods in history where vast ill will and hatred between opposing ideals completely muted the caring impulse on both sides and the majority of the casualties were usually those caught in the middle. Whole towns of people were exterminated with the saying, “Let God sort it out.”
I didn’t join Unity because it offered some grand scheme to either re-invent or protect society. I didn’t join for the experience of pride in being a part of a movement of leading-edge idealists who God loved more than others because their viewpoint was always the right viewpoint. In fact, as soon as you begin to think like that you are no longer holding out a hand and heart of inclusion but joining the ranks of fundamentalism and exclusion.
I joined Unity, ‘the church’ because I believe that ‘the church’ has a promise to fulfill, and to teach that God is love and to demonstrate that love, care and compassion for all the people within and around it. That was true in 1978 when I walked into my first Unity Church. It was true when I decided to become a Unity Minister and it is still true today when people appear more separated than ever. I still want to be a part of fulfilling that promise. I still believe that we are a bridge. I believe you and I were called to Unity in order to help humanity ‘to decide between love and fear; to join together and work toward increasing love by reducing fear; to focus on inclusion rather than exclusion and to be among the ‘bridge’ builders of the world.’
Right now, many people are feeling disillusioned or forgotten. In this time of great change, it is not surprising that two sides formed but we must remember that there are good people on both sides. Because we have a healthy church, in our church family we have people on both sides as well as those in the middle. And having each of those sides at work in any institution is crucial. It creates a polarity, the dynamic tension of growth. They each are necessary to keep the other side accountable and moving and growing. Even the conflict, which emerges between them, is healthy for it is what prompts everyone to more responsible dialogue.
Honest, courageous and loving people are necessary in every age, in every movement, and in every schism to remind the two sides when it is time to end conflict and like the true meaning of the word religion – to bind together again.
The difficult but absolutely necessary thing to remember and remind ourselves and others in this moment in time is the transience and the impermanence of life and of things even when no leaving is scheduled, no ending is planned. It’s important to remind everyone of the fact that all ministries, even Unity of Vancouver are transient, just as all mortal lives are.
I’d like to close with a poem by Tom Atlee about living with uncertainty at the Leading Edge called:
LET'S NAIL IT DOWN, BEFORE IT GETS AWAY!
The leading edge exists for each of us
and for all of us
right in front of us
just beyond what we already know.
Like the horizon,
everywhere is the leading edge
for someone, somewhere.
The leading edge is a moving target.
Each of us
can only know what we know
and work with that,
How do we know what we know, together
and work with that, together,
going beyond, to learn
at the leading edge
When "going beyond" is where it's at,
What is a "mistake"?
What is "failure"?
Where do we find success?
What are we afraid of?
What is "good enough"
At any given time
when we're together
at the leading edge?
Rumi says that
beyond right and wrong
there is a field,
he'll meet you there.
I say that beyond knowing and unknowing
there is a field.
I sort of know where it is, and sort of don't.
I'd like to look for it with you, exploring
and discovering, over and over again,
that we've been here all along.
Nothing stays the same here
except for the watchingness.
The ground moves and dissolves, steeps and flats and cliffs
What kind of groundedness is there in this place?
What kind of preparedness for this?
What kind of radical uncertainty and awakeness?
Can we take it?
On the other hand:
Isn't it here,
in, around and among us,
even when we think it isn't?
In this black hole, at the leading edge,
everything we think we know
has a different role than it does in everyday life.
In everyday life, what we think we know
gives us a place to stand.
In this black hole, at the leading edge,
everything we think we know
is a place to leap from
which, if we don't leap,
becomes a chain around our legs,
a blindfold on our eyes,
and starts to dissolve below our feet
so, we have to leap anyway,
hobbled and blindfolded.
...out of the prison?
...around the field?
...into the abyss?
The wisdom we seek
is to learn to leap together
before the chain, the blindfold, the prison, the abyss
close around us -- and even after that,
out of the chain, the blindfold, the prison, the abyss -
because we can always leap,
pushed, prodded, guided, encouraged, partnered,
by each other
into more than we saw
into more than we knew
Moment to moment
in more dimensions than any of us
can ever comprehend forever.
There is no preparation for this.
Everything we've ever done is preparation for this.
Perhaps there is something to know about doing this elegantly.
But no one can teach it
because every teaching is another chain, another blindfold,
unless we leap.
How do we live there, in this constant leaping,
in this in-comprehension, this constant opening,
even for a minute
to say nothing of a weekend or a semester
immersed in fields of expectation about teaching and knowing --
or a lifetime, for that matter, a lifetime
of survival, which demands, over and over, that we KNOW?
Isn't this what I want to explore with you?
Isn't this what we're doing?
Even when we think we're doing everything else?
I leave you with these thoughts:
Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.
Be the fulfillment of the Unity Way of Life.
Be peace on earth.
Be a bridge.
Be a blessing.
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.