Community Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 





Sermon

Janus, the God of Doors and Hallways

January 4, 2015
Community Christian Church
Roger Ray, pastor

 
Henry David Thoreau
"I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor."

The first thing we did when we bought this building five years ago was to start an A.A. group.  Our meeting is at 5:30 on Thursdays and this year, of course, both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Thursday. You might think that our little group would just not meet on those days but nothing could be farther from the truth.

No self-respecting A. A. group ever cancels a meeting.  And if anyone asks about it, the reply is predictable.  Some experienced member of the group will ask the rhetorical question, "When you were drinking, did you ever drink on Christmas Day?"  Even when we had some really bad weather last winter, some new members would call and ask, "Is there still going to be a meeting today?"  And if I knew them well enough to risk it, I would say, "When you were drinking, did you ever drink on days when you were snowed in?"

What I have always loved about the recovery movement is that it is a disarmingly honest, realistic, and fact based approach to spirituality. There are no holidays except for the anniversaries of your last drink, and every day is divided into 24 hours and every hour is divided into 60 minutes and you decide, sometimes moment by moment, that you are going to preserve your sanity and your sobriety for one more minute, one more hour, one more day... though no one in the movement ever says, "I'm never going to drink again...."

They try to keep reality in manageable amounts.... I'm not going to drink this hour.  I'm not going to drink today.  There is a lot of God-talk in the recovery movement but it is a reality based spirituality rooted in personal choice.

In Scott Peck's famous book, The Road Less Traveled, he talks about a patient he had when he was an Army Psychiatrist, based on Okinawa.  The soldier had been referred to him for treatment of alcoholism but in their sessions, the sergeant blamed his drinking on the isolation of the island.  Peck asked him, what do you like to do when you are home in the states.  The sergeant said that he liked to fish.  Peck pointed out that fishing was a popular sport on the island.  The sergeant insisted that he was on duty during the day and Peck again pointed out that there were organized night fishing groups.

Changing tactics, the soldier said that he really liked to read and when Peck pointed out that there was a library on base, his client objected that the library was too far away.  So, in the end, the obvious truth emerges.... There are lots of things to do on Okinawa but what this particular sergeant chose to do was drink.

I never want to minimize the real power of addiction nor do I want to make light of the agony that can be caused by depression or other mental disorders but this much I can confidently say, no one ever gets any better until they take full personal responsibility for their own health and progress.


If you are older than 3 years old, no one makes you angry.  No one makes you depressed.  Sure, people can be real jerks at times.... They can lie, gossip, back stab, steal and assault but any anger or resentment you take away from the exchange is your choice.  Some suffering in life is inevitable but any misery you experience is your own choice.

Like this sergeant on Okinawa, the impulse of the addiction may be real, and powerful, and painful but only he could change the choice that he made.  It wasn't the island, it wasn't the military, it wasn't the people he was stationed with..... he was choosing to cope with life by excessive drinking and when that solution became a bigger problem that the issues he was trying to avoid, no one but him could choose to live differently.

I have to admit that I was mildly insulted a year ago when I had to interview a new doctor.  Like a lot of people who changed insurance under the Affordable Health Care Act, I had to go to the marketplace in search of a new physician.  In our initial meeting, my slender, young doctor brought up the issue of my weight.

I told her about my life long struggle with weight loss and gain.  I told her about exercise plans that I have been on, various diets and medications, some of which work for a time but none of which have ended in long term success.  And like some aged Zen master, she said to me with very flat affect, "Have you ever considered feeling hungry but still choosing not to eat?"


All of the diet plans that claim it is a matter of less fat, or no sugar, or no carbs, or a magical combination of foods that chemically interact to melt fat are the absurd claims of a drunken soldier whining that there is nothing to do on this island.  Sure, eat less sugar, fewer carbs, eat more natural vegetables and fruit and exercise more, but it still comes down to this.....

You can feel hungry and choose not to eat......anything else that anyone says is just another form of self-denial.  Yes, I am a stress eater.  Yes, I grew up on southern cooking.  Yes, I have a largely sedentary job.  And yet, what you see before you is the sum total of the choices that I personally make, day after day.

And you, my friends, you are the sum total of the choices you made.  If you struggle with depression, or if you find that you are angry a lot, or can't maintain relationships.... None of that will ever change as long as you blame external forces, or if you tell yourself that your happiness depends upon someone else changing, behaving differently, or being something else.

When I worked in mental health, we used a program called Parent Effectiveness Training to help parents to understand their children's sometimes-bad behavior.  The program taught that there were four basic motivations for misbehavior:  Power, Attention, a Display of Inadequacy, or Revenge.  Parents were encouraged, when their children were behaving badly, to ask themselves.... Is my child simply seeking attention?  Are they trying to assert their personal power?  Are they trying to get revenge?  Or, are they trying to convince me that they cannot do something for themselves by pretending to be inadequate in the face of responsibility?

I taught these classes in a mental health center for months before sitting in a very dysfunctional church board meeting and realizing that there were no age limits to these four motivations for bad behavior.  It is more complicated in adults.... Some people spend their adult lives trying to get revenge for what they feel was done to them as a child.

Some people feel that they have never accomplished what they should have in life and so they seek power in the most petty and disappointing ways without ever understanding why they are behaving so irrationally.  Some are convinced that all that they have to do is repeatedly display that they are failures and no one will expect anything of them... they will be taken care of.  And some people just need attention and affirmation that they do not want to earn.... They just want to demand it and if they don't get it, they will pick up their toys and go home.

No one has ever been helped to grow or mature by caving into their childish displays of power, revenge or attention seeking, and you believing that they are inadequate will help no one.  I call each of these an "invitation to crazy town" and the best thing you can do in the face of these behaviors is to refuse to go to crazy town with them.  Anytime that I forget this and find myself in a showdown on Main St. in crazy town, I turn into an ordained version of Louis Black and I get this overpower urge to drive an ice pick right through my eye-ball.

It has been quoted so often that it has become rather trite, but when Gandhi said that "You must be the change you want to see in the world," he was right on target.  The society is, as Plato taught, an individual writ large.

If we want a healthy society that doesn't abuse the poor, always fall back into warfare, while killing the planet, and taking away basic human rights from minorities, then we have to choose to be responsible, informed, thinking, moral people.

The whole business of New Year's resolutions can be like spitting into the wind if you don't take into your very soul the factual realization that you can change who you are through your own conscious choice.

The ancient Romans dedicated the first day of the year to a god about whom no fables, myths, or stories are told and yet the god's two-faced image appeared on many coins and gateways. Janus represented a concept.... The concept of choice, looking backwards or looking forward, choosing one door rather than any other door.

Unlike the other gods about whom elaborate psychological dramas were told, this god guarded only the reminder of your potential to change, to go in another direction, to become the person you choose to be rather than to be defined by what others want to project onto you.

Your life does not have to be defined by neurotic fears, shallow friendships, consumerism, and ego battles.  You get to choose.  I know a hundred people who would love to tell me how to be Roger Ray and some of them just can't help doing it over and over again, but there is one person who shaves Roger Ray's face every morning and the guy who holds a razor to my throat every morning is the one who is finally responsible for who Roger Ray is.

Ladies, you may have to adjust that metaphor for your own purposes but I trust that you know what I mean.  2015 might be a year for huge social changes..... we might actually manage to not invade any foreign nations this year.... We might actually make strides in mass transit, alternative energy, health care and fair wages.... We might beat back some of the worst abuses of the war on drugs and the war on gay families.  We may even get over some of our phobias about immigration but if any of that is going to happen we will have to choose to be people of integrity ourselves.

I know of no more encouraging fact than this, that you can become the person you choose to be through your own conscious choice.  Good luck with that.... I'm cheering for you.... Not that it matters because, if you have been paying attention, you know that my opinion is not what matters.... it really is all in your hands.





Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Pastor
Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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