01 April 2007

Mending The Sacred Hoop

The sacred hoop consists of the few things you do not yet know and the infinity of things you never will. The image of a hoop suggests cycles that are endless and the sacred hoop is a symbol of the endless cycles of life that ultimately give us our existence.

The sacred hoop is broken when we act as if knowing some thing can give us control of it and that we can eventually or in principle know everything. Knowing a literal material thing like a block of wood does give us many kinds of control over it. But beyond literal concrete examples the connection between what it means to “know” and the kinds of “control” that result from that “knowing” become very tenuous and, as a society with the power to inflict grave damage on the whole planet, our pretensions to knowing and controlling are now dangerous because of how they mis-inform our actions.

Can I really “know” another person? Not really. Can I really know them so well that I know better than they do what is right for their life? Clearly, for a newborn infant the answer is yes, but for a teenager it is not so clear.

Mending the sacred hoop is the process of rooting out of our patterns of behavior the myriad ways that, when making crucial decisions that can affect life itself, we act as if this assumption about a causal connection between knowing and controlling were true. We can only know a severely limited amount of information about living systems and the result of that knowledge is influence, at best, and should not be called “control.”

Do I really have “control” over a child? For an infant the unequivocal answer is yes, for the most part, but it is also important to acknowledge that while I have a lot of control, that control is not based on knowledge of that little person. It is based on a lot of other more practical stuff like being bigger and having a mature point of view. And the fact that I respond to that baby like a puppet on a string every time it cries or coos begs the question of who is controlling whom. And then, when that little person gets to be a teenager then it is abundantly clear that I am not in “control.” A sculptor can know a block of stone so intimately that he can make it into anything he wants it to be. But, no matter how intimately I can know another person, I am never capable of truly controlling them. Of course, we still have influence, but that is a far cry from control.

Honoring the scared hoop means admitting we, both individually and as a society, cannot know everything and acting as if the things we cannot predict are as likely to be extraordinarily powerful as to be insignificant and must be treated with due caution and profound respect. Honoring the scared hoop means we should proceed with increasing our knowledge, but with ever more due diligence and a stronger program for ensuring that our due diligence process is capable of truly informing and involving all the affected stakeholders in the decision to proceed or not. We will continue to take risks but the process of choosing which risks to take should be based on the intelligence distributed throughout society and put less emphasis on imposing the arbitrary decisions of a few centralized authorities and experts. All experts and authorities are human beings just like us and therefore cannot know enough to actually be in total control of another individual person let alone whole organizations or our society.

When we are struggling to deal with how to manage sharing our lives with teenagers it is important that we face that struggle within the loving embrace of a community of support. Parents need enough support to face the fact that they are not in control anymore and teenagers need at least as much support for dealing with the fact that they have had a tremendous amount of control all along, even if they didn’t realize it before. Teenagers are as prone to abusing their newly discovered powers of influence over others as adults are to abusing their diminishing powers of influence over their teenagers.

Mending the sacred hoop means communicating the importance of the sacred in all it’s forms, admitting our on-going complicity in the breaking of the sacred hoop, and working to correct our own actions in coordination with those who can assist us in better understanding the practical and moral implications of the actions we would like to take to repair the sacred hoop.

It is within a loving community of support that we can all face the challenges of living in a world in which we are never in total control and yet we are forced to make decisions that can impact lives around the whole world. We are all caught in the dilemma of being simultaneously both powerless and powerful in the world.

I participate in my local Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious community as a way to support others and be supported in mending the sacred hoop. The long history and traditions of UU, as exemplified by our seven principles, tells the world that we hold Truth to be self-evident in the lives of people who live according to their conscience within a society that provides abundant support for the pursuit of conscience.

Just as our society does not yet fully support each of us in living according to our conscience our church is still figuring out how to fully support families. We provide a variety of innovative as well as traditional programs. But I think the most important program we can build in support of families is mending the sacred hoop in our global society.

Unitarian Universalists are called to use the tools of Social Justice to influence our society towards realizing not only Truth but also Goodness, Beauty, Unity and Joy in and through the everyday lives of conscientious people.

We do Good work together on the journey to meet the real immediate needs of people through Service. We find the Truth to be told by exposing the games that we impose on each other as a society through Witness. We find the Beauty of the world and tell the story of our choices and challenges through Education. And finally we discover our Unity and the Joy of harmonizing the world with our ideals in being bold as we work with other communities, organizations and governments to improve the Journeys, the Games and the Stories through Action.

Our religious community has a strong foundation of Service, Witness, Education, and Action that makes makes our most inspired visions into self-fulfilling prophesies. When we truly tap into the distributed intelligence of our religious community then use these four essential tools of collective conscience we are a powerful influence on the direction of our society. These tools, guided by our seven principles, are moving our society towards providing increasing levels of support for living from individual conscience informed by local democratic communities of common interest.

What you already know gave you existence in the past, but it is what you are learning that gives you existence now. I ask your help in surrendering the audacious claim that we can know it all and dropping the pretense that we are in control of life. I invite you to join me in taking up the tools of social justice in the good work of mending the sacred hoop.

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