Marques Bovre wrote a whimsical song titled, Heaven Halve Me.i His lyrics explain how everyone gets to heaven. But it's only the part that contains goodness that gets there. Marques hopes that at least ten percent of him will get there. This set me to thinking about Donald Trump. How much of him will get to heaven? Depending on your opinion of Mr. Trump, you might figure that one percent gets there, or perhaps only 0.1%. The point is that everyone has some goodness in them, even those whom we despise.
If you believe the rhetoric of our political parties, it seems that less than one percent of all politicians will get to heaven. When you listen to news reports about the mood of fear and hate in our world, it seems that heaven will need only a small room to contain all the goodness in the human race.
It is clear that the November elections are critically important. It is also clear that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face voters who are profoundly confused and angry about the ineffectiveness of our political system. Neither candidate is trusted by the voters.
This issue has larger implications than the results of the election. The atmosphere of fear and distrust in our society pollutes our perception of reality. For this reason, many people imagine that the only way we can deal with conflicts at home and abroad is by dominating or destroying those with whom we disagree. Strategies that promote mutual respect and cooperation are seen as soft and unworkable.
In this context, Marcus Bovre's vision is revolutionary. He proclaims that no one is all bad. There is a core of goodness in each of us. His vision is not only about the afterlife. It concerns the heaven or hell we create here on earth.
Our history is rife with examples of social movements that have struggled effectively on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Movement leaders who have inspired me include: Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Russell Means (AIM), ii the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyl of Myanmar.iii
Our situation today is different from that in the '60's and '70's. Those labeled oppressors in the past now see themselves as oppressed. White working class males and their families are threatened as blue collar jobs are shipped overseas or phased out. Many, without a college education, are unable to obtain the training required to obtain jobs in the information age. They are stereotyped as stupid and racist. These angry and frustrated people are prime targets for those who choose to manipulate them for their own self interests.
I watched a televised roundtable forum with President Obama. A 50 year old steel worker asked, “How are you going to help me and my family when good jobs are drying up?” The president responded by telling him that new jobs were being created for people like him in the green energy fields. As the president shared his vision for the future, the steel worker's eyes glazed over. He knew that these well intentioned progressive programs would not be available in time to help him and his family.
Our challenge today is more complex than that of our predecessors. Today, the “bad guys” are not people. They are impersonal institutions and social structures. This is why Marques Bovre's vision is so important. We need to work together in new social movements to modify these dysfunctional social institutions and structures. Participation in such movements is not for sissies. Change agents need training, discipline and courage. This is a long term effort since the goal is the transformation of our society.
What will motivate us to live into this vision? How can we join with others in movements that challenge the fear and negativism in our culture? Some people, like the movement leaders of the past, will be motivated by their faith traditions. Others will be motivated by personal experiences that put them in touch with a flow in the cosmos that moves toward creativity and innovation.
Scientists call this flow emergence.iv Emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties. In this sense, the cosmos flows into the future, generating new forms of existence. The evolution of life and the growth of consciousness are two examples of emergence. (I should note here that some emergent properties threaten the survival of humankind. These challenge us to discern, using our developing consciousness. I will deal with this dynamic in a subsequent post.)
I have experienced this flow personally. One time, in particular, comes to mind. I was walking on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monasteryv on a cold winter morning. It had snowed during the night. The rising sun reflected off the newly fallen snow. The forest floor sparkled like it was covered with diamonds. Everywhere I looked I saw diamonds. I was filled with a sense of hope and joy. Even now, these diamonds sparkle in my memory. I had the sense that the cosmos continues to evolve toward creativity and life even in the darkest of times.
Unfortunately, when we are conditioned to expect predictable and negative outcomes, it is difficult to recognize these emergent properties. If we are to live into a more hopeful future, we must prepare ourselves to notice them when they occur. We need cadres of people who are willing to live outside the norms of the dominant culture; people who are willing to look for signs of hope where many see only fear and violence. These cadres already exist in some social justice, service and faith communities. They are also emerging in new forms.vi I believe that the continuation of such communities may be the greatest gift we can give one another in these troubled times.
The ability to perceive the diamonds of love, compassion and hope is not a skill that can be taught in the classroom. It is passed on through relationships and personal stories. In this spirit I will share a few instances where these diamonds sparkled for me. As I do this, let your mind wander to similar experiences in your life.
We recently took our four year old grandson, Gus, on a picnic. Gus, who is fascinated with bugs, wandered around collecting specimens. He wanted to bring them home and keep them in a terrarium. As he argued his case, Gus described the ideal world he would create for his bug friends. They would have water to drink, leaves to eat, rocks to crawl on and even a slide for his “roly-poly” to play on. As I listened to Gus' description of his imagined world, it sparkled in my imagination like the diamonds in the snow.
I have friends, Emmanuel, Melissa and Gaby.vii Emmanuel risked his life in Haiti, advocating for the destitute in his country. He fled to the United States to avoid being assassinated. Melissa risked her life in the escape because she loves Emmanuel. Four year old Gaby radiates love as she runs to give me a hug with an impish grin on her face. When I am with them I experience the flow.
The diamonds of love also sparkle in tragic situations. The whole world mourned when the photo of the drowned Syrian boy went viral on the internet. Many were moved when a Muslim man sacrificed his life by hugging a suicide bomber as he detonated his explosive vest.
I experienced this flow when son, Timothy, died. His friends surrounded us with love as we removed belongings from his apartment. We, in our nuclear family, are more open with one another as a result of Timothy's death. We are aware of the fragility of life. We cannot take love for granted.
When I was younger, I feared I was not good enough, not man enough, not desirable enough. My whole life was about how I did or did not measure up. I was defensive, condemning of others and cynical about the world. I studied to become a physicist. I entered the field to prove myself. I soon realized that many of my peers were smarter and more talented than I. As a result I felt like a failure,
I changed careers and became an urban minister. I followed my passion. I was in the flow. I still wonder where my life is going at times. I do not worry about measuring up. I do what I do now because this work gives meaning to my life.
I'm certain you know this passion as well. It may involve child rearing, serving others, doing a good job at work, or being a friend.
When we are in the flow, we deal with life's set-backs differently. Rather than sinking into depression and cynicism (although this sometimes still happens to me), we look for opportunities to live into the situation. We don't say, “Someone, please bail us out.” We say, “This is important. How can we make things better?”
I believe we can all live this way. We can join communities of committed people. We can share stories to help one another see creative opportunities for involvement that sparkle like diamonds all around us. We can challenge political candidates to develop programs to achieve this positive future.
As we live this way, we will feel more alive. Then we will be able to say with my Facebook friend, “Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Crap, what a ride!'”
iii Formerly Burma
vii Not their real names