With the recent murders in Orlando, the increasing number of teen suicides all over the headlines, and a general sense of foreboding among many people, I sometimes find myself wrestling with my role as a pastor. A large part of my role, as I understand it, is thinking about these issues and trying to find, maintain, and then transmit a sense of hope to the communities I serve. In order to get to the place where I can do this authentically, I find that I have to first be willing to visit the state of hopelessness that many of us have been trained to avoid. While there in the darkness, I pray to be open to the light that my faith tells me is there. Truthfully, each time I allow myself to go there I do so with the a slight concern that I won’t make it back. But, by God’s grace, so far I have been able to return (or should I say I have been returned). Ever since I came to accept the rather insane idea that somehow Jesus saw joy in his path to the cross, I have chosen to give up my personal right to stay in hopelessness. I have learned to assume that when I go there, I will eventually see Jesus and I will hear in the depths of my soul, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Perhaps the above reference does not make much sense to you, the reader. But for me it is an access point through which I enter into the understanding that even in the face of the most incredible trials, hope is accessible and it can be extended to others. Along with acceptance of the idea that Jesus somehow married hope to tragedy that in turn gave birth to unfathomable joy, I have also accepted that I can choose to live from this awareness of hope independent of my understanding of how the actualization of this hope is achieved. All I need to do is be willing to stay open and live into the questions. All journeys begin with fundamental questions i.e. “Where do I want to go?”; “How will I get there?”; “What will I do when I arrive?”; etc. These are basic, but they can be as complex and creative as we dare ask. Below are some questions I am asking myself presently based on a conversation my wife and I had with a friend and mentor, Bill Guillory of Innovations International, whose work in life is to work with organizations to help ask the right questions and then create collaborative solutions for challenges they want to overcome. From my current vantage point, I believe that until we are willing to ask ourselves new questions, we will be confined to the limitations of our current paradigm. Which, as far as I can tell, is a state of confusion. So without claiming to have the answers, here are the questions I am asking myself in the hopes of becoming less confused by the world.
- What will it take to fundamentally transform the consciousness on this planet from one of competition to compatibility?
- What resources do we have at our disposal to help us deal with the necessary blow to the self-esteem that we will have to absorb in order to first, admit that the systems we have put our faith in are failing, and second, to admit that our–almost universally accepted success criteria–is intoxicating our populace almost to the point of absolute docility?
- How do we create an education model that includes those who–through their fear of loss–are either consciously or unconsciously funding a toxic terror campaign to destroy our ability to think coherently? (And this is not limited to the self-professed terrorist organizations. This is pointed to all of us whose fear of personal loss is greater than our desire for mutual and compatible gain.)
I remember back in the 80’s when I first heard this Phil Collins song, Land of Confusion. I don’t know if I got the whole message of the song then, but because I liked the puppet video I would watch the video and listen to the song whenever it came on. Over the years, the song stuck in my head and as I watched one confusing act after another unfold on the world stage I couldn’t help but think that Phil Collins was a prophet. It seems as if we are quite literally in the Land of Confusion.
I just don’t get it. Why are we allowing this world that we are witnessing? As a pastor, I sometimes wonder if I take humanity’s inhumanity to heart more than most people. But then I’ll hear about someone who professes to have the love of God in their heart say some of the most unloving comments imaginable and I think being a pastor has nothing to do with it. This says nothing of the pastors who have bought into the whole idea that the point of our lives is “so called” success at all costs. The way I see it, if we measure success by the same criteria as those who foster the confusion, then we are helping to create the problem. And I’m not the only one that thinks that way. Below is an updated version of that Phil Collins/Genesis song I mentioned. It’s in an alternative style which indicates the generation who agrees that we’re in a land of confusion. It would be awesome if someone made a hip-hop version as well.
It seems to me that in recent years, we have actually gotten pretty good at identifying the problems. And, I’ll admit that there’s some hope in that. But where do we go from there? To paraphrase Einstein, we can’t solve our problems at the same level of consciousness we were at when we created them. Honoring our state of confusion and asking new questions about how to move from that state requires admitting that we do not know what we are doing and of our own selves we are incapable of creating a solution. In short, we need to go into recovery. What I think we need a 12 step program of global proportions. Unfortunately, as a collective, I can’t see us admitting that we are powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable (Step 1). Why? I think it’s because our addiction is an addiction to the illusion of power. And as a result, this is the world we are working with. So here’s a final set of questions I’m offering in the hopes that, as individuals take responsibility for the world we’re experiencing, the collective will naturally shift.
- What is my relationship to my powerlessness? (We all have at least one area where we are consciously powerless)
- How do I respond to my powerlessness? i.e. Do you deny it or embrace it?
- What types of relationships can I build to compensate for my powerlessness and help someone else compensate for theirs?
- How do I relate to people who are intimately aware of their own powerlessness i.e. the poor, the sick, the obviously addicted, the greedy?
- What is one thing I can change in myself to make more room for/tolerate some degree of powerlessness in myself or others?
I ask these questions, because I think that this world is designed in such a way that for every perceived weakness in ourselves there is a corresponding and collaborative strength in another and vice versa. We are confused, because we believe that we are supposed to be all powerful and when we realize we are not, rather than admit it and work to build compatible relationships to compensate, we project our desire for absolute power onto so called outside objects whether they are material objects like wealth or government or even our personal ideas of a god to include those of us who fiercely reject a god because we think that this god is denying the power that should belong to us. [Long sentence, huh?]
I should note that when I mention the “projected personal idea of a god”, I am not speaking of Supreme God who I believe is beyond our projections and our thoughts. I am speaking of our limited ideas of a god that only serves to make us right and others wrong–the ideas of god that have nothing to teach us or others. I would say more, but this post is already very long. I will just end with this idea from 2 Corinthians 12:1-9. It is this. God’s strength is made perfect through our weakness. We’re in the land of confusion and God is clarity.
Even though I’m a pastor, I think this awareness is all I have to offer by way instruction. If we don’t like the world we experience, we can take responsibility by asking questions that will invite in a more collaborative experience. And if we can admit that what we’re doing hasn’t been working, we can accept that the Way into the world we’d rather experience cannot be determined at our present level of consciousness. Contrary to popular belief, this is not shameful. It’s the beginning of wisdom–the first step out of confusion.