Self Evident Truth
Talk by Tom Baker
July 4, 2010, Christ Unity Oceanside
In a sense our nation got its spiritual beginning with the following words "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These are truths that are self evident, obvious to anyone, and we feel our hearts open when we hear them. Who could disagree that we are all created equally and that each and everyone of us has the right to a full life, a free life, and the chance to pursue a happy life, every single one of us? Yes, we say, of course. Self-evident truths, but not truths easily applied. Less than a hundred years after these words were written we fought a civil war over the right of one person to own another, and only 46 years ago was the equality of people, regardless of the color of their skin, enforced by law. Equality, while self evident, is not willingly applied. Even the right of women to vote is only 90 years old. It is self evident that women are as smart and as capable, as wise and as competent as men. Yet it took an amendment to the constitution in 1920 to enforce what we all deep down admit is self-evident. It was always self evident to me: girls in school were always smarter and their desks were always orderly. The girl's desks looked like gardens and the boy's desks looked like little dumpsters. If you had asked me in the 4th grade who should call the shots in the world, I would have thought of my mother and those desks and said, "The girls, all except my sister." The second verse of America the Beautiful points to the problem of making what is self evident into a lived out life:
Oh beautiful for pilgrims feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thorough fare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America, America God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.
Evidently, the self-evident truth is not in evidence on a daily basis unless it is enforced by the rule of law.
What is it about us? Why are we so consistently stupid about what is obvious? I will speak for myself. Why am I so consistently stupid about what is self-evident? In a spiritual sense. I remember my spiritual director once asking me if I believed that God loved me. I replied, "Why of course I believe God loves me. Itís the cornerstone of my faith." My spiritual director leveled me with a compassionate stare and said, "Then why don't you act like it?" I sputtered and stuttered and admitted that I would not so habitually think badly of myself if I really believed that God loved me. But it's more complicated than that. There is a self that I have made up----Tom Terrific. Tom is brilliant and graceful and competent, or so he tries to show the world. But behind the show, back stage where I wring my hands and practice my lines, Tom thinks he's dull, clumsy and ineffective and, ugly to boot, and that God who sees all, unlike the audience members who are easily fooled, refuses to applaud. You will all say, "But Tom, no, that's not it at all. There is something obvious that you are not seeing." And for a moment my mind is still and I feel an expanding joy that love cannot be explained or proven or earned, that love is blissfully out of my control. Love Is we say, and we feel it when suddenly or finally, sometimes only by necessity, we surrender to something beyond our own making. It is obvious that God loves us, and it is obvious and daily evident that we are all loved by one another.
Ah, you say, not so obvious that we love each other. When I was a junior in college I became involved in the Newman Center, the Catholic Church on the campus of the University of Kentucky where I went to school. I lived in a little house next to the church. One summer morning I heard sirens right outside my window and I rushed out to see three police cars surrounding the little church. That was alarming. But what was amazing was that the pastor and my hero, Father Elmer Moore, was standing in front of the church doors lecturing the policemen. As I drew closer I could hear him saying that the fugitive the police were seeking had sought sanctuary in the church and as long as he was in there they had to leave him alone. To my astonishment, the policemen backed up, hooked their thumbs in their belts and looked helplessly at each other. Their radios crackled, the birds sang in the trees, and for awhile on a summer morning in Lexington, Kentucky human justice was suspended. Father Moore then went into the church and after what seemed a very long time came out with his arm around a young man who had wet himself and who was visibly shaking. Then Father Moore in a very clear voice said to the policemen, "Our brother has decided to give himself up." He said a few other things, but that sentence stands out. "Our brother has decided to give himself up." The officers did not draw their guns. In fact, they seemed almost gentle as they helped their brother, in the disguise of a thief, into the back seat of a squad car. They drove off slowly, without sirens and, oddly, we all waved. Just like we'd all had a Fourth of July picnic together and were saying our fond good-byes. And then we all promptly forgot about it. By the time Sunday came, the story had become, "Father Moore saved our church from the forces of evil." Our brother, who had sought sanctuary, had been forgotten. But we, myself, the policemen, the fugitive, and Father Moore had remembered, if only for a lovely hour or so, the self-evident truth that we indeed love one another.
Now holidays and special occasions, including birthdays, are times to remember; to really remember, to remember that which saves the world for joy. To remember that God is everywhere in evidence and that God is in everyone in evidence, waiting to be seen. When Jesus told a parable he ended it with the saying, "He who has ears to hear, listen. He who has eyes to see, notice." The most famous sermon that the Buddha ever preached, he preached without words. He simply held up a flower. That was the sermon everyone remembered. Jesus said God lived in everyone. He held up the prostitute, the leper, the tax collector, the crazy man, the wild flowers of humanity and said: "My brother, my sister, all of you, my family, we are the joy and the struggle, the beauty and the helplessness of Love Itself made manifest." While it was the cornerstone of Jesus' ministry that Love Itself shows up in everyone and is ashamed of no one, even Christians have a hard time applying the truth of universal love. That's why the following joke is funny: A cardinal comes to the pope and tells him he has good news and bad news. The pope smiles and asks for the good news. The cardinal says, "Jesus is on the phone, and he wants to talk to you." The pope replies, "That's wonderful Your Eminence, what is the bad news?" The cardinal answers, "He's calling from Salt Lake City." Thomas Merton, the contemplative monk, put it more seriously in a letter to Pope Paul VI called A message of contemplatives to the world: "God seeks Himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God who is not known to us, who cannot yet find Himself in us because we do not dare to believe or trust the incredible truth that He could live in us, and live there out of choice, out of preference."
God wants to live with me? And with you? And with them? When that truth is self evident to all us about everyone, really self evident, then the world will be free.
© Copyright Tom Baker 2010