Flotsam and Jetsam

On Sunday I gave a sermon about the life of Rev. John Murray and why I am a Universalist. I wrote the following paragraph and decided to unpack it a bit further.

“I am a Universalist because I believe in this love–this stream of well-being that flows through the universe as an undercurrent to all else that happens. This love is constant. All else is transient flotsam and jetsam on the surface. It will pass and even if we become entangled in the flotsam for awhile, the love that surges through the universe is ever present to see us clear.”

In my best moments, I can say with about as much surety as I know that the earth’s gravity will keep me within its power of influence, that all is truly well. I observe the birds chirping their morning songs in the pecan trees outside my Ellisville house. I note the figs developing in the shade of the fig leaves along side the old red barn. I watch the red tail hawk swoop down to catch the unsuspecting or perhaps very suspecting but paralyzed in fear rodent in the fields. Life is good. It flows on in its cycle and the human animal is part and parcel to this unending cycle.  And I rejoice in being witness to it all and even excited about my role in its unfolding.

I enjoy, really enjoy, the animal planet show, Meerkat Manor. The writers of the show have given human characteristics, motives and emotions, to the actions and behaviors of these animals living in social groupings. They are afraid and wary of the others who are not members of their small village. They will war on their neighbors if they encroach too close to their marked territory. They will have jealousies and fights between themselves.  They will exclude and expel members who do not behave or threaten to disrupt the order of things.  And they will come together and fight in unison against an outside threat such as a cobra slithering nearby in the hope for a fledgling meerkat for a meal. 

meerkat photographer

Now maybe all this anthropomorphism is a bit over done.  But it does serve its purpose at least in my watching this show and reflecting on human behavior.  We do the same, don’t we?   For all our increased intelligence, we do the same.   We have our bitter jealousies and rivals within our communities.  We tend to be wary of the stranger who moves into our neighborhood; especially if they have a different culture to our own.  Culture here being defined as different religion, different political affiliation, and different understanding of our common values; not excluding those who come from foreign countries but our wariness is acutely attuned to the subtleties as well as the obvious.   And we war against perceived threats from within as well as without our country. 

Yet, what we see as cute and even adorable in the meerkat family we see as atrocious in our human family. This is the flotsam and jetsam in our lives.  It is the allowing our focus to be turned to the animal behaviors we do and responding from this animal base.   Some people have called it the reptile mind; that core almost instinctual place in our brains.  If activitated no amount of reason or logic can break through it until the person does what the person is driven to do, and then if we are fortunate, we laugh about the action and forgive each other for stooping so low later.

The question that remains for me in my observing all of this is what is the role of religion if it is not to help our spiritualities to relax into the stream of well-being that is constant in our lives?  It does not negate that the flotsam and jetsam of human animal behaviors and actions exist but it could help mitigate the intensity in which we respond to those events that switch on the reptilian brain.  

From where I sit in my current understandings, Unitarian Universalism is one of the faiths that could aid in this process.  We have our own flotsam and jetsam that we get hung up on but our current principles that we seek to uphold are bent along that arc of love towards justice.  Our faith includes the willingness to examine the wisdom of the world religions to find aquaducts to that universal current of love that interconnects us all.  This seems to me, to be a noble start. 

The proclaiming of one true faith only is trajecting us into the nets of the flotsam and jetsam in our lives.  It causes an increased tension between us.  It triggers the reptilian mind.  Many faiths proclaim being the one true faith, so I am not only referring to Christianity, though this phrase is most commonly associated to it.  The notion of universalism as I understand it in the 21st century, is one that recognizes the spirit of love that is flowing for all of us.  We all have access to it.  But for us to fully enjoy this river of love, we must be willing to practice our swimming daily.  And swimming will help us swim around the flotsam and jetsam of our base behaviors.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond           

Published in: on May 12, 2008 at 4:15 pm  Comments Off on Flotsam and Jetsam  
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