On June 5, I presented my master’s thesis at Marylhurst University. My topic: Spiritual Sustainability: A Personal and Social Imperative. This is the text of that presentation.
Ladies and gentlemen, professors, angels and other unseen friends. Thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning, the culminating act of an extraordinary education. Let us begin this morning by acknowledging the miracle of having a fragment of the living God within each of us, and Jesus’ spirit of truth which encircuits all of us in this room and binds us together as family. Whenever two or more are gathered, he is here, and so we welcome the presence of Christ among us today.
I have studied the life and teachings of Jesus for the past thirty years. Even so, in the early research for this thesis project, it was as if a knob had been turned and life suddenly clicked into focus. I began to see very clearly the reality which had been up to that time only theory. It has changed my life. It has changed the way I relate with everyone: my husband, my family members, my neighbors, all of you. I have a new vision of my role in life, in the world, in the cosmos, in eternity.
It all began with John 13.34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Not love your neighbor as yourself, but as I have loved you. As God loves us. As the ultimate father loves his errant, stumbling, young, immature, seeking child, who is just trying to please. And isn’t that who we are? Fumbling around, trying our best to work with the challenges we’ve been given? God asks that I love that weird homeless guy on the street corner as if he were my child. He asks that I look at that meth addict who robbed us, twice, with the fierce, protective love that parents have for their children. Whew. That’s a big order. This goes way beyond Thou Shalt Not Kill.
Well, Jesus was here. He walked a mile in our moccasins. He knows about us. He knows how we are, prone to pettiness and jealousies, quick to anger and filled with ego and nationalistic and cultural pride. He knew then that the chances were slim that we would be able to achieve this in his absence unless he left us a little help. And so he did.
The Spirit of Truth. The paraclete, the helper, the comforter, the advocate. Christ’s spirit has been with us for two thousand years, to help us do that very thing that we do best – socialize. We are social creatures, and we get together under any pretext to socialize. To do business, to sew a quilt, to raise a barn, to take a class. We get together just to gather together in groups of two or more, because when we do, Jesus is there with us, whether we know it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we engage with him or not. He is with us and we like that feeling, so we keep doing it.
So we begin to make up things for us to do together. Parties, luncheons. Businesses. Social networks. Governments. Conglomerates. The more complex, the more interesting. Except that when we build these things, we let our heads get ahead of our hearts. We begin to assemble them together out of need, greed, or expediency, instead of accessing the wisdom of Christ’s spirit to formulate and work together in love, as he asked.
Today our systems are beginning to fail. Some people have too much while others have nothing. Our kids are taking drugs, getting pregnant in high school, ending up in jail. As many marriages fail as succeed. What do we do? We implement more social programs to provide high school daycare centers, and drug treatment programs in jail, and cheap, no-fault divorces. These are not sustainable fixes, because we are addressing the symptoms, not the problem.
International relations are stretched to the breaking point as we posture for one another, and we are currently fighting wars on two fronts. War! Still! Christians sending other Christians out to kill. Where is God in that system? What happened to loving every single person on this planet as Jesus has loved us? How can we privileged Americans buy a winter home in Arizona when children are starving? Would you let your natural birth child starve so you could buy a new boat? Of course not, but we all sip cocktails by the pool while our spiritual brothers and sisters starve, are brutalized, and blown to smithereens. And we call ourselves Christians.
For a while, I considered my birth into a middle-income white American family and my unlimited potential as an accident of birth. I no longer believe that. I believe that it is precisely my innate gifts and personality propensities that got me this assignment, so that I might do something with these opportunities I’ve been given.
All of our systems, from trade to taxation to health care to water delivery to food production to the crazy way we try to force round children into square classrooms, is breaking down, and we patch them together, creating enormous bureaucracies that aren’t fixing the problems at all, but are expedient for this legislative term. Or for this administration. Or for this generation.
A famous statement from the Iroquois Nation is that we should never commit a single act without considering its consequences seven generations hence. Who among us thinks two hundred years in the future when we stop to fill our cars with fossil fuel? Or throw plastic bags into the garbage?
Well, there is a solution, and it has been with us all along. We need to bring the Spirit of Truth to the table and access its wisdom. Jesus knew we’d have a tough time with all this social stuff, and of course he was right. Here we are. We’ve never needed him more. It’s time to bring the spirit of Christ back into our systems, back into our lives, back into fashion.
There are those who argue that there is no such thing as spirit, that religion is mere superstition. There are others who believe that humans will rise above and fix everything with their own creativity and ingenuity, but I see no evidence of that. I think the hand of God has been holding back the cataclysm, and we need to wake up and get about our Father’s business before that house which we have built on sand comes crashing down.
It is not my intention to stand here and preach to you. Well, maybe it is. I seem to have acquired a taste for preaching in the past three years. But we’re all smart and alert and watch the nightly news. Many people have been sounding the alarm for a long time. The world is awake and aware. I feel a spiritual quickening in the ether. We are all starving to connect, but we’re without direction. We all know that something can be done, something must be done. But what?
In the research for this thesis project, I came upon a simple formula that I think might be the answer. It is about exchanging our current aggregations of special interests for workable, interlocking systems. This simple formula can be worked on any system from the way your family communicates to the way we elect our representatives in congress. It could be the basis of local budgeting to the way we educate our children. It could change our whole world from a profit-driven economy to a service-driven one.
It all begins with intention. Intention is the beginning step of any right action. I would not be standing here if it was not my intention to further my education in this field. None of us would be here this morning if it was not for our intention to attend this colloquium. So intention has to be the initiating event. In fact, I could use the thesis process to illustrate my point. Eight of us began Dr. Carreker’s thesis class, each of us with the intention of producing a thesis and graduating this month. We had defined our intention.
The next step is to determine three core spiritual values that serve that intention. What are the core values that run our country? What are the core values that propel our education system? What are the core values that are put into play in our energy policies? How about our military strategies? Or our health care system? I can’t name those core values, and I submit that nobody else can, either. Well, this is where we consult the Spirit of Truth. This is where we bring spiritual values into our systems so that we can serve our global family instead of the CEOs and stockholders.
So the core spiritual values in the writing of my thesis were Life, Equality and Growth. Life because it is the most precious value we’re given by our creator. Equality, because I believe that God loves each of us individually and equally, and Growth because that’s what I’m doing here in school. The oak tree never becomes an acorn. Growth is part of the natural pattern.
For every spiritual value that serves the intention, we determine three expectations. Precisely, how does Growth serve my intention to produce my thesis? My three expectations were: Increased Knowledge, Greater Vision of my role in the cosmos, More Love in my heart for my spiritual brethren. Now how do I know I’ve achieved these things? The fourth aspect is measurable criteria. These are the concrete, measurable results of the system. They are the proof. Each expectation has three measurable criteria by which we know the system is working. Some of my measurable criteria were personal, and some were defined by Marylhurst. And, in fact, here I stand, thesis bound over there on the table, ready for signatures. All eight of us who began this program served our intentions successfully and are here this morning.
This way of bringing spirit to the table in the reformation of our systems works. It is flexible enough to be tweaked as need be, as society changes, and as new needs arise. If our health care system were built on the solid rock of spiritual values, there would never be a discussion of throwing the whole thing out and starting over. We would tweak the expectations, or the measurable criteria. Nobody would be afraid—and isn’t that part of the problem now? Everyone is in fear. Where is God in that?
The application of my thesis is to begin this process of bringing spiritual values to our systems. I will join others who have begun to hold small groups in their homes, designing systems, with spirit at the table in the form of values. It is my intention that those people will quickly catch on to the process and hold similar small groups in their living rooms. Slowly, as our larger systems fail, these smaller, interlocking systems will take their place, and begin to undergird our society with common sense procedures, based on love and mercy and ministry, for the betterment of all mankind. Wherever two or more are gathered, the spirit of Christ is in attendance, and the power of that fact should never be underestimated.
In conclusion, I ask that each of you be fearless in your personal ministry. Reach way beyond your comfort zone. Speak your truth, embrace your spiritual brethren, no matter their geographical location, their way of life or the status of their personal hygiene. Speak always of spiritually sustainable fixes to each of our problems. In your tireless work for social justice, remember that Matthew Fox—the theologian, not the actor—said that whatever is sustainable is just. That which is not sustainable is not just. This is as good a definition of justice as I have ever known.
Each of us is a shining facet in the diamond that is humanity. Love one another with a fierce and intense affection. Let your light so shine that everyone will glorify our Father in heaven. Together we can reach that tipping point that will mark the end of our animal ways and usher in a new, spiritual age.
I thank each of you here today for coming. Together we acknowledge this amazing program of study and those who have given themselves selflessly in its creation and mission. It has been my honor to participate.