There is a reasonable impulse. It is to make the world better by infusing our social and political structures with high ideals. It feels logical that the path to equality, environmental security, and peace is reshaping the old systems to better reflect our contemporary sentiments, which we believe to be an apex of moral evolution.
But I didn’t start a blog about mysticism to be “reasonable.”
If you read Part I and Part II of “Wild Hope,” there are other reasonable conclusions to reach. Given the history laid out in Part II, for instance, we can argue that there is no large-scale governmental (or capitalist economic) structure yet capable of fulfilling its earthly goals and earnestly promoting the ideals that Jesus taught. Indeed, the message Jesus shared was never meant to be compatible with an imperial state. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” was him acknowledging this incompatibility. Jesus wanted to leave grabs for power and wealth to Rome, to Caesar. He specifically instructed those who heard him to not create a power-focused bureaucracy around his message or personage. To try and do otherwise, he likely knew, would only create more pain. It’s why he steadfastly rejected calls to lead some sort of political revolution. As usual, Jesus was on to something. Here in 2022 CE, we can see the enduring practice of bending and coopting messages that are not designed to be morally flexible.
Consider an example that operates on a more accessible scale. Imagine a man who successfully works in a corporate job. He has a wife, a home, and is valued by his company. But his life requires long hours at the office and a lot of stress. He copes by eating poorly, a lot of stimulating sugar and regular coffee intake. One day, he has a nervous breakdown and doctors identify that his adrenals are completely shot. Incredibly, a researcher has just discovered the means to generate and replace worn-out adrenal glands. It’s expensive, but he pays for the operation. Soon, he has brand new adrenals and a renewed energy for his life. He can go back to his job, be the husband he was when he was younger, and give even more value to his company. In his eyes, it’s a true gift from God. But his habits largely go unchanged. The new adrenals are enrolled in compensating for an otherwise unhealthy body. They are overworked and quickly begin to resemble the state of the rest of his organs.
Both the positive values projected at Christmas and the message of Jesus within the Roman Church operate like these new adrenal glands. They seem like a good thing – maybe even a savior! They seem to bring maligned and outdated systems into congruence with contemporary ideals, expectations, or desires. Rome became an acceptable overlord to increasingly Christian soldiers through Christianity. Corporations use commercials to help us forget that they are the largest perpetrators and benefactors of the things we most complain about – inequality, environmental destruction, declining mental and physical health, etc. In each case, those in power recruit culturally-salient ideas to help protect the status quo. They ensure that existing dynamics continue with minimal real change.
A danger arises when the ideals at the core of our humanity are designated to serve decidedly inhumane and unsustainable paradigms. As I’ve already argued, the ability of Jesus’s message or “Christmas Cheer” to create meaningful change is undermined by its use supporting systems that ultimately encourage the opposite. But the deeper question might be: what happens when our collective consciousness comes to associate our highest values (love, togetherness, family, generosity, joy, etc.) with actions that perpetuate inequality, violence, isolation, greed, and the destruction of the natural environment? We are steadily finding out.
Once our metaphorical corporate employee’s new adrenals wear out, he must decide whether to repeat the procedure or drop all his behaviors and create an entirely new context within his body. There is also a third option, which is probably closer to what most often happens. He can make small adjustments to be a bit healthier and stymie another complete collapse and costly surgery. It might allow him to continue functioning as usual, right up to his death. At some point on our personal and collective journeys (perhaps at multiple points) we are faced with these choices.
At a societal and cultural level, we’ve been taking ‘option three’ for as long as anyone can say – tweaks, adjustments, even revolutions occur as things become untenable. Our fundamental way of being is thus allowed to continue, at least until the whole body dies. In the process, we’ve become wealthier. Daily life has become “easier.” But we’re not happier or more joyful, we’re not more connected, and we’re not more equitable. Most starkly, we’re also on a collision course with planetary extinction. The ‘way of being’ that we’ve so long protected is nearing a death that no ‘tweak’, no new message can avert.
So, what happens when the half-measures, the “stop-gap” techniques, stop working? What are we willing to do?
If we want something better, a world rooted in more love, equality, and balance with the earth, we can’t simply infuse our current structures with the sacred or come up with a new, culturally and spiritually neutral ideology to improve them. History says that institutionalized power will bend itself, coopt, and adulterate as needed to maintain the status quo – not out of malice, but self-preservation. It’s not reasonable to tell marketers to stop trying to successfully market. Like the Council/Rome, why would they pursue actions for their own demise? In any case, we can expect someone or something else just as bad to step in and fill the void they leave behind. Instead, we have to start altering the entire landscape in which they exist.
Jesus gave us the solution long ago. He told us how to create heaven on earth. The process of meaningful change starts within our own hearts. It had nothing to do with political revolution or even engaging in a dialogue with the state. It was a deeply personal and internal process. When undertaken on a large enough scale, we might see dynamic societal-level change. But that was never really the focus. The “Kingdom of Heaven” is within and not pointing to any political entity, new or old, according to what we know of Jesus’s teachings. Creating a qualitatively better world is not about replacing the current system with something different or turning to some sort of ‘New Age theocracy’. And it is not about dreaming of what might have been had Rome stuck more closely to the source teachings of Christianity. Instead, it’s about what might happen if enough people truly embody the spirit of Christ.
It's a lot to hope for. The goals are seemingly intangible. Progress will be nearly invisible. Furthermore, it will require a sustained effort toward something vague over multiple generations. Some days it will feel like we’re doing nothing at all. Meanwhile, the world around us will continue to look like it’s on fire, sometimes it literally will be. The path requires a tremendous amount of faith. Like mysticism itself, placing our hope in individual expansion to create social change is inherently impractical and, yet, ultimately the only practical course we can take. As we do our inner work, our outer world comes to reflect it substantively. If we all do it, our society, culture, and those systems that operate within it will necessarily reflect the healthy entities within it. It’s the only course to create meaningful, lasting change and stop the process of putting lipstick on the proverbial pig, which is our current mode of operation. Transformation starts within, with letting go of what is and what we think we know.
In close, it might be important to emphasize that it is not just a matter of our old socio-political systems being “not good.” It’s that they’ve ceased to be effective at all. Ultimately, our continued gripping to these old institutions and ways of being is what I’m suggesting that we release. We are witnessing the end of the world we knew. The sooner we start to let go and stop trying to mend what is already dead, the sooner we can start living into the beauty that awaits us on the other side. Painful as it may be, the building of a new world starts with walking away from the old one – the good and the bad aspects of it. As a guide, we have mystical teachings of beings like Jesus. If we return to them, the unadulterated and unfiltered original messages, we can find guidance for how to not only let go of our gripping but also how to create the foundations of something exponentially better.
Some have said that, in the end, despite what became of his life and teachings, Jesus planted something on Earth. Call it “Christ consciousness,” a seed of change, or call it “hope,” the kind of crazy, wild hope that is hard for us to give any credence to until someone shows us it’s possible. We need that now more than ever. Energetically and intellectually, it is in the undoing of all that has transpired where we can tap into the fuel of this wild hope and rediscover the makings of a brighter future for every living thing on the planet.
If you want a little something extra on this topic, check out the retelling of “Pied Piper” over in Stories (available 5/21) and see what it stirs in you. Many blessings!