Monday, October 6, 2014

Loving Your Wyrd (September 28, 2014)

I was a weird little kid. I learned this from the kids in my class at school, who were quick to point it out. It’s hard for me to look back now and imagine what they saw to earn me this label. From the inside my child hood was full of daydreaming, reading piles and piles of books. Maybe it was because I told long rambly stories and postulated unusual ideas. To be weird, I know, was to be an outsider. But I also knew (probably because I went to a UU church, and because of the bolstering talks my mom gave each time I was teased at school) that being weird had something to do with being true to myself. I remember one time a cluster of schoolmates yelling “you’re weird!” at me, and yelling back rebelliously “ I know I am !” “She admits it! They laughed incredulously to one another.” 

A couple decades later an old school friend had come to visit. Andy and I talked about the strange twists and turns that had lead us to the lives we were living today. I think part of the reason we were friends in high school was not only because our names were near each other in the alphabetical seating chart, but because I imagine that as an intellectual and an aspiring writer he must have at some point faced similar accusations of being “weird.” But here we were in adulthood, both of us loving the unconventional lives unfolding before us. He asked “When did you come to love your weird?” It was a beautiful articulation or something I’d never heard spoken before. The realization that it was the very things that made me “weird” that had blossomed into the life I loved. Reading and pondering may make for a weird kid, but are great qualities for a minister. The weird theories I was always spouting about feminism and kindness to plants and animals now fill a notebook of sermon ideas. My friend now has a very prestigious writing job, and I get the sense his weird has lead him to some really amazing and unexpected places over the years since we were in school together. Both of us are happy creative adults who managed to integrate our “weirdness” into our cohesive lives.  

Yes, I thought, that’s really the question. When did I stop my unsuccessful efforts to be like everyone else? When did I realize that the unfolding of my own authentic self was my best bet for inner happiness? When did I come to believe that my weirdness was inseparable from my special calling to serve the world?  

When Andy asked “When did you come to love your weird?” it occurred to me that “weird” had 2 meanings. I had recently been introduced to the Nordic idea of a “Wyrd” which is similar to that of fate or destiny. This word describes the flow by which past actions lead us to our present, the flow by which we shape our future in the present. This was first explained to me with the metaphor of a stream, the way it tends to run in its bed in a certain way, running around this rock or that tree-root. So in the moment when he asked “when did you start to embrace your ‘weird’?”, I also thought about how by embracing the things that were weird about me, I had also begun to embrace the path which most organically unfolded in front of me, available to me because of my past actions and my particular biology. (Nature and nurture if you will).       

Unitarian Universalists tend to believe strongly in our freedom to make choices, but even a creek perhaps has only freedom of the creek to ramble in its bed. The free flowing water shapes its bed over time, but there are limits to its freedom. There is no question that for each of us some things come easy, some things are hard won, and others seem to be unobtainably out of reach. It is tempting to imagine a different fate: “If only I had been born in a different time and different place” “If only I hadn’t chosen that job instead of the other” or “If only I hadn’t had that accident that left me with a limp.” Sometimes we raise our fist to the powers that be in rage and grief asking “Why can’t I be like the other kids at school?! Why isn’t my life like the ones on TV?” 

There are two reasons to love your wyrd. The first is to save your own life. For the great 20th century psychologist Carl Jung, this effort of trying to be something we are not is what leads to neurosis. “Behind the neurotic… is concealed his vocation, his destiny; the growth of personality, the full realization of the life will that is born with the individual. It is the man without amor fati who is the neurotic; he truly has missed his vocation.” [Jung collected works v 17 p. 313] Amor Fati means “love of fate” For the purposes of our conversation today I am going to use the words “Wyrd” and “Fate” interchangeably. Although perhaps he word “fate” evokes the bed in which the stream flows- the reality of your life now in this historical moment. And “Wyrd” evokes the process of flowing over and through that reality. When we don’t embrace our fate, when we try to fit ourselves into some stereotyped role, when we try to keep our path from rambling, it takes a huge amount of psychic energy, and prevents us from growing into our best selves. And yet as a culture this is exactly what we do. We discourage people from being “weird” from truly expressing their unique potential. Our schools prepare them to take standardized tests, and then to fill standardized jobs. We even do it to our streams, cementing them into straight channels. Ostensibly we do this to prevent flooding, but it turns out that a meandering stream or river is better at preventing flash floods and distributing nutrients than even our best engineered channels.[i]

When I headed off to seminary I thought of my spiritual journey as a quest with a single goal- as something that could be expressed in a single word, like “Minister” or “writer.” But I am beginning to see that my own wyrd is more like the path of a creek, one that unfolds day by day, choice by choice, interaction by interaction. Who knows where our wyrd will meander day by day, and what our impact will be- the unique meandering of our wyrd allows you to give voice to the insight only you could have. To grow the relationship only you could grow. As Wyldstyle said in the movie: “making whatever weird thing pops into our heads.”

This brings us back to our text for the morning- the Lego Movie. [Warning- spoiler alert. If you have not seen the Lego Movie, go do so now. It's a great movie. Come back when you're done.] Early in the movie our hero Emmet is challenged to show his stuff- to make something, anything. And he comes up with…. The Double Decker Couch “So everyone can watch TV together and be buddies.” His friends are far from supportive: “That is literally the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Even the wise prophet says “That idea is just… the worst.” The Double Decker Couch becomes a running joke, the epitome of a lame idea. But when their ship is blown apart and all seems to be lost, it is the double decker couch, buoyed up by the handy coolers under each seat, that floats to the surface, saving all our heroes’ lives. In the words of Wyldstyle: “it turns out Emmet had great ideas, and even though they seemed weird, or kind of pointless, they came closer than anyone else to saving the universe.”

This is the second reason to love your Wyrd- because the world depends on it. You might expect that the hero of the movie would be special, would have a special destiny. But it turns out this movie is a Universalist movie. As the prophet Vitruvius says:
 “I knew that whoever found the piece could become the special, because the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true…”
Emmet Protests (a good Unitarian Protest): “How can I just decide to believe that I’m special. I’m not”
Vitruvius replies: “Because the world depends on it”

It is not due to some kind of predestination that Emmet is “special,” it is because he embraces his wyrd, because he says yes to his fate that he is able to play his role in saving the universe.

This requires a leap of faith, but I am not asking you to make a leap that is magical or mythological. The faith that it requires is in the web of life. We tend to look at the big huge problems the world has today and to ask “how can I solve global warming?” or “What can I do to bring peace to Palestine?” Having the faith to follow your wyrd requires having faith in the rest of us to follow our own. We think of great leaders like Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa, each of whom touched millions of lives, each of whom helped change the world. But not one of them did it alone. When Martin Luther King gave his I Have a Dream speech, there at the Lincoln Memorial were 250,000 people, each of whom has a story about how they chose to leave their homes and travel to Washington, to stand in the crowd all day. As he said in that speech “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Think about the tremendous web it took to turn the tide of civil rights. Consider each child who marched with King in the Children’s Crusade. Each person who chose to walk to work day after day, month after month instead of taking the bus during the bus boycott. All of these individual streams fed the great river of social change. But the web of our intermingled fates is much wider and more complex than that. Think of the teachers that might have inspired King, or Rosa Parks, or Dorothy Cotton when they were children. A word of kindness or encouragement at the right moment. We will never completely know how our lives shape the lives of others, how we shape the world even as we are being shaped by it.

 And Universliasts believe that each of us has a role to play. Take “80s spaceship guy.” All through the Lego movie , all he wants to do is build a spaceship. He is compelled by some inner desire, some single-minded compelling drive to build a spaceship. Even though time after time people roll their eyes when he offers to build one, finally when it matters most, when the universe is on the line, his wyrd leads him to build that spaceship. I will confess to you that when he finally got to build his dream ship in that scene I just showed you, I burst into tears. There is a deep primal hope in me, faith even, that someday by being truly who we are, by “making the weird stuff only you could make” that we can help make the world a better place. Some of us will be able to see the fruit of our actions- that pure joy dawning in spaceship guy’s face as he leaps into his spaceship to save the day. But most of us will not. Sometimes all we have is that feeling of “rightness” that feeling that right now, right in this moment I am doing what I need to be doing, the only thing I can do, the thing only I can do. Following your wyrd, your fate just feels right, it feels natural. 
It’s not always easy, in fact that we know it can be hard, and so sometimes we resist our wyrd- we fear we may be called, like Emmet, to jump off the edge of the known universe into the abyss. But most often our fate calls us to be exactly who we are, a caring father, a meticulous accountant, an ethical citizen, a dedicated physical therapist. Maybe this sermon right now is a double decker couch- weird, or kind of pointless, but if one of you is inspired, encouraged to love your wyrd, then it played a part in the healing of the world. Most often we will never get to build a spaceship, or confront Lord Business face to face, but wherever our wyrd leads, it makes a difference whether we love our fate, or struggle against it.

There are a lot of texts we could have used to illustrate this idea. For example, I almost used the text from Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, which states “It is better to fail in one’s own Dharma, than to succeed in the Dharma of another.” By chosing the Lego Movie I run the risk of implying that this is not a serious idea, not an important idea. I chose the Lego Movie partly because I think it’s a great movie and I thought you’d all enjoy it. But mostly I chose it because we are an intergenerational community, and I wanted to make sure that when we talk about “Each and every person” we Universalists mean each and every person right now as they are today, not someday later when we grow up, or finish school, or get that job, or become some fully developed hero like you read about in history books. 
Each and every one of us is living out our fate, our Wyrd right now. And when our Wyrd gets a little weird, we will have a choice to make- we can embrace or deny it. We can go ahead and make the weird and seemingly pointless thing, or we can ignore our inner voice and try to be the person other people expect us to be. 
This week as you go back out into the world, I want to encourage you to listen for your special path, like a creek rambling over rocks and through tree roots. I encourage you notice where your wyrd is leading you, even when, or especially when it is different than where your friends or neighbors are being lead. “All of you have it inside you to be a groundbreaker. And I mean literally, break the ground, tear off the pieces, tear apart the walls. Build things only you could build.” Take the leap of faith that your wyrd is part of a vast web you share with every other being. Follow that call wherever it leads. It is your wyrd to love.

Closing Words
At a certain moment in [Nietzsche’s] life, the idea came to him of what he called 'the love of your fate.' Whatever your fate is, whatever … happens, you say, 'This is what I need.' It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have chance to flow.

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You'll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.
-Joseph Campbell