Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life on Sunday, October 5, 2014
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The Call to Worship Based on Psalm 19
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament is the Creator’s handiwork.
All: One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,
All: Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.
Loving Presence we know that you are ready and waiting to hear our prayer at all times of the day in every moment of our lives. We receive your mercy, forgiving us our shortcomings even those of which are not yet aware. You give us goodness we would not even think to ask for and write our name in the book of life. May we honor you in our actions toward our brothers and sisters and know that we are all one human family welcome in your creation. Amen
The Wisdom of Albert Einstein
[Our] ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. [One] would indeed be in a poor way if [one] had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.
20Then God spoke all these words: 2I am PURE BEING, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God… 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Reflection by Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher, Virtual Chaplain, Sunshine Cathedral
Click on the audio bar below to hear the recording. Text follows.
Setting Things Right
Our first reading today very succinctly articulates one of my "pet peeves" with religious people, namely the tendency to confuse ethics and morality. So I want to dispense with my own view of the difference at the beginning of my comments today.
Morality is concerned with my own motivations that lead to actions. Morality is something that I sort out with my Creator/ God/ Higher Power. Morality is also the codes by which we are often judged (sadly) in a religious community or other homogenous group.
Ethics is concerned with how we treat others, most of whom we will never personally know, and with whom we would, undoubtedly, disagree in a discussion on morals and morality. This is where Einstein's prescription of sympathy, education, and social ties intersect.
To be honest, when I first read our first reading today I was a little "put off" by Einstein's inclusion of "social ties." It seemed at first to apply only to "friends and family.” In other words I read it as applying only to people like us or those in our group. But as I thought and read more I realized that our world has changed dramatically in recent years with the advent of social media. Social ties now includes people we've never met but whose lives we are often intimately with ours through Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and Instagram photos.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live ethically in the world in the past several days. As many of you know, my partner is a rabbi so we have attended many Temple services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since I last spoke to you. The entire High Holy Day season is intended to compel us to look at ourselves honestly, take stock, make amends to those we have harmed or with whom we have broken or strained relationships, and do whatever we can to set things right.
In our services yesterday the Torah portion included the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy. My friend and colleague Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins gave me some very good food for thought this week on our list of commandments from our readings today.
- You shall have no other Gods simply means get your priorities straight and concentrate on what is really important in life.
- Refrain from creating idols from things in our lives. His partial list includes Bibles, sacraments, male images for the divine, crosses, heterosexuality, binary gender norms, capitalism, nationalism, the Ten Commandments themselves.
- Don’t use misuse God’s name. This is not about profanity. Rather think of how often God’s name or religion in general are used to justify bigotry, war, violence, privilege, prejudice against other religions, etc. is to misuse God’s name. “I AM” is God’s name. Whenever we say “I am” something negative or hateful, we are misusing the divine name.
- Keep the Sabbath. Everybody needs to rest one day in seven. To keep ourselves healthy and whole we must get enough rest.
- Honor your “parents,” your elders. Look after the elderly. Listen to their wisdom. Remember that we’re all going to be old one day.
- Do not murder. Killing someone is not an option. Murder does not include self-defense even under our own civil law.
- Do not commit adultery can be translated as “keep your promises.” The narrow definition of monogamy in primary relationships is far less complex than the real intention of the commandment.
- Do not steal. Taking something that is not mine is not cool.
- Do not slander others. Words matter. Setting out to hurt someone with our words is not the way to act.
10. Do not covet what is not yours. Be happy for those who have more and better things than you have. Being angry that good things happen for others does not make for a happy life.
Durrell goes on to point out that:
1-3: Relationship to the Holy
5-10: Relationship with others
He says, "If you love God, then you WILL NOT have other gods, let anything become an object of worship, or misuse Religion to condone injustice
If you love yourself then you WILL NOT fail to set aside time for reflection, rest, and communal sharing.
If you love others then you WILL NOT be uncaring about the elderly, commit murder, break your promises, steal, do damage to others’ reputation or hurt thenmwith false testimony, or begrudge people their good fortune."
The Ten Commandments and the Golden or Silver Rule suggest how we are to act in relation to people with whom we are in close personal relationships, usually people who are like us, who have similar experience and therefore similar worldviews. Anthropologists contend that most of us will only have about 150 face to face connections with people in our lifetime, connections of the sort that close friendships and family relationships are made. But our world is exponentially larger because of our ability to connect via the Internet. Take our own gathering today for instance. How many of us would have ever met were it not for Second Life. How many opportunities do we have in our face to face lives to worship, talk, and exchange ideas at the level of intimacy we enjoy here in Second Life?
Living an ethical life has nothing at all to do with a threatening God who is going to “get us” if we don’t do right. We would be in sad shape indeed if our only motivation for doing right was to avoid punishment by an angry abusive God. Living an ethical life is about being happy within ourselves. It really is more about us and less about them in the end.
The truth is we need each other to live ethical lives. I’ve heard it said in Twelve Step groups for years, “two heads are better than one, even if one's a cabbage.” In other words, the group conscience of any group of people who are seeking to live and act ethically is superior to any ideas that most of us can come up with on our own. So how do we combat that most destructive of all specters.... "group think?" It was this kind of thinking that caused us to invade and occupy Iraq. That idea came from a group of people, so how do we avoid all falling into the same thought process missing vital points?
The answer is both simple in concept and difficult in practice... we must ensure that we expand our discussions to include those who are not like us and really push ourselves to include those who may be, perhaps, LEAST like us. This is where Christianity pales, I think, in comparison to our Jewish counterparts. The ethos of living an ethical life in the Jewish tradition is to always include, respect, and honor the stranger. Our own Christian tradition encourages us to seek out those on the margins and bring them into relationship with us and with each other. We are supposed to ensure that no one is left out.
This may be one of the most ethical tenants upon which we can base our own lives. All of us can look around us and see the stranger in our midst. What if we really moved the basis of how we function in the world to simply engaging these strangers in conversation, including their view of the community, or congregation, or the world in our thought processes and decision-making? How would the world be different?
Today we celebrate the founding of Metropolitan Community Churches by Rev. Troy Perry in a small house church in Los Angeles on October 6, 1969. LGBT people were not allowed in Christian churches and MCC made a place for us. This kind of inclusion is what we add to the Christian mind as MCC. We were the strangers, we know what that is like, and we must be careful not to become the group that excludes other strangers from our congregations.
My sponsor Betty used to tell me that on most days, most people are just doing the best they can do. We add to the healing of the world when we care for ourselves, care for each other, reach out to the stranger and love our neighbor as ourselves. Our task is to be open to expanding our idea of who our neighbor is and ensure that we include those who are different from us in our own ethical life. If we welcome the stranger with all her strange and unusual experiences and perspectives, we are less likely to violate the commandments that are intended to give us a happy and healthy life.
It’s important to set things right when we inevitably screw up or when a relationship is broken by thoughtlessness on our part. We all get tired, we snap, we say things we shouldn’t. We sometimes act unkindly. The measure of our ethics is not whether we do these things it’s whether we set things right and strive not to repeat the same mistakes.
Let us all commit ourselves to loving our neighbor and working for justice on behalf of those who have no voice in our society. To do less is to dishonor God and ourselves.