Hope In The Face of Discouragement
I don’t know about you, but I take in what’s going on in the world, near and far, and I get discouraged. Maybe I am just having a bad day, but everywhere I look it seems as if the world is hopelessly divided, polarized and engaged in some level of conflict whether it be outright warfare or the more subtle and supposedly “civilized” conflicts of politics or relationships, both professional and interpersonal. However, I do not find the so-called more “civilized” conflicts to be any such thing. Behind the public face of righteousness that is usually conveyed often lies deceit, treachery and duplicity. Of course, what makes it worst and seemingly more hopeless is that everybody’s right – at least that’s the prevailing attitude. Everybody is right and the other party, whoever that party might be, is wrong.
Many of the polemic differences that characterize our world appear to be hopelessly irreconcilable. As I look more deeply into the conflicts that characterize our days, whether they be next door or far away, on a small scale or large scale, it seems to me that humanity, generally speaking, has not acquired the ability to transcend self. What I mean is that there seems to be a pervasive inability to see and act beyond one’s narrow and parochial tribal self-interests. People are easily blinded by the opaque walls of an exclusively tribal view and do not perceive their own condition of blindness. People mistake a myopic self-interest view of reality as the only authentic view.
Jesus encountered this in his own disciples when he admonished them with the words, “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”[i]
As the world has diminished in size it seems as if, in many ways, humanity has become more tribal and parochial. In reality it always has been, but the smallness of the world due to technology and exploding population has only made it more glaringly apparent. It has resulted in a pervasive win-lose orientation towards life. The object is to not only win, but to neutralize the adversary however that may be attained. In war, it is to destroy the enemy. In the more “civilized” conflicts, it is to acquire power for self and one’s tribe and take power away from the adversary however that may be attained. The object is for self and tribe to win, and the adversary to be defeated or discredited.
The world-view from inside the tribal box always creates a dualistic view of reality: black-white, win-lose, friend-foe, right-wrong, good- bad, etc. That blind view of reality, that is mistaken for authentic vision whether it be on an interpersonal level or an international level, always leads to escalating conflict, pain and tragedy. Humans never seem to learn from history almost always exhibiting the inability to transcend self and move to a higher plane of consciousness.
The thing that amazes me about Jesus is that he did transcend his own humanity and lived at a higher level of consciousness. I do not mean that in the sense he was super-human or God masquerading as a human being or any such thing. I do mean he had the ability to transcend the narrow view of his own tribal box. He was never confined or blinded by the narrow walls of his own religion and had a world view that was in contrast to the world view of his own tribe, and for that matter, any and all tribes. He never lost sight of the humanity of those outside his box, and when his own religion became condescending and diminished the humanity of others, he stood up to it. He also was perceived as a threat to those who espoused the world-view of Roman power. In the end, he paid for it with his life.
Jesus offered an alternative world-view that superseded everyone’s tribal box and parochial world-view. It is called the Kingdom of God, a picture of what the world can be. The Kingdom of God is not about afterlife or heaven in the sky, and not merely about personal morality, but about a blazing picture of social morality and social justice; what the world could be if the world were truly fair and just.
The gospel of Mark tells us Jesus’ primary message and passion was about the Kingdom of God. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God and saying, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.’”[ii]
To be as succinct as I can, the Kingdom of God is about God’s passion that fairness and justice rule in the great human social systems. Social systems include political systems, economic systems, and systems of convention including cultural attitudes and values that are embedded in society. Jesus not only taught about the Kingdom of God, he manifested it in the way he lived. He included those that religion had excluded and conferred human dignity on the lowest, last and least. He challenged and admonished the rich and powerful who were representative of a domination system that gave the very small minority of rich and powerful all the advantages over the poor masses. He didn’t divide the world up dualistically in a friend-foe dichotomy, but even challenged his disciples to love the enemy which is to not lose sight of even the enemy’s humanity. Jesus lived at a higher level of consciousness – a more universal consciousness.
The value system of the Kingdom of God is not about win-lose, but we could say it’s about win-win. It is about creating a world that sees to it that everyone has enough and that special advantages are not bequeathed to the rich and powerful over and against the poor and vulnerable. It is about seeing the dignity of every person, even and especially those who may be vastly different in terms of religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, education, ability and life situation.
Perhaps the root of my discouragement is that I can feel so powerless in the face of such monumental polemics and problems. But I find hope in that the energy of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not bound by time and space. The Kingdom of God, said Jesus, is “like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of four until all of it was leavened.”[iii] In other words, the Kingdom of God is alive and well and at work even though it is not always apparent and visible.
The counter-balance to my discouragement is Jesus, bringing the Kingdom of God. The disciples’ experience of his resurrected presence empowered them to began to create communities that stood in contrast to the values of the surrounding culture – to live with a more universal consciousness. The earliest Jesus communities were far more inclusive that those of the surrounding culture. They welcomed those who were cast off and excluded by the conventions of culture and religion. Resources were shared, no one went without and everyone had enough. Those earliest communities operated with a different world-view, the world-view of Jesus; the Kingdom of God.
My hope in the face of discouragement lies in the truth that the same energy that ignited the earliest faith communities can ignite us to manifest the Kingdom of God in our lives, in our communities and in the world. Even though it is not always visibly apparent, the Kingdom of God is at work, and we are energized with hope and strength by opening our lives to it, allowing ourselves to be caught up in it and our world-view to be shaped by it. I may not be able to reconcile the great estrangements of the world, but I can be a participant in the energy of the Kingdom of God which rekindles a sense of hope, purpose and universal consciousness that my discouragement so often subdues.
[i] Mark 8:18
[ii] Mark 1:14-15
[iii] Matthew 13:33