J. Randall Stewart
39 - Justice in Contemplation - Part 5: Love
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
We all want to be free. I truly believe we all want to love and be loved. I don’t think most individuals would intentionally ever desire to oppress and suppress others. When we see injustice, we typically don’t like it, and want to get rid of it. And yet, we are all also complicit in the unhealthy systems of our own nations and cultures to some degree, whether we want to see it or not. The question isn’t whether or not injustice exists, the question is why, and how do we move forward out of that unhealth and into greater health individually and communally? Even where we see the problem, if we don’t truly understand the underlying nature of that problem, we won’t be able to move forward in a positive way. So many in our current culture have been recently captivated by the Black Rights movement, and many more are coming to the side of these minorities with the desire to help. We are also seeing gay rights take a lot of positive turns toward a healthy equality as well. Women’s rights also continue to advance. All around we see a helpful, healthy and growing desire to lift up the down trodden and bring about social, racial, economic, and gender equality. But there is also resistance. As soon as voices were lifted up in protest to the treatment of Black Americans, there were counter voices angling against that narrative. These counter voices were not against equality, they were denying the absence of inequality. They were attempting to readjust the narrative of the down trodden into a narrative of entitlement. They were trying to say that Black Americans aren’t really suffering, they’re just wanting special treatment. The system isn’t rigged against them, they’re just not working the system like they should. I’m sure there are still a few pockets of genuine racism in American, where individuals still believe in the superiority of one race over another. But I don’t believe the divide over Black Lives is due largely to true racism. I believe it’s due to true ego-centricity. When ever one person or group cries out “it’s not fair, we’re oppressed, the system isn’t working for us,” the ego-centric response is, “well, I’ve had it hard too, I’ve had to deal with my own inequality and injustice.” The truth is, we are all oppressed. Nothing is truly equal for anyone.
There is a spectrum of inequality always at play in the lives of everyone. We all can easily look up from our daily grind and see someone else who has it better. We are all struggling in some way or other, with some kind of oppression. So, when one group bursts ahead of others and tries to claim special attention for a special kind of injustice, the natural response of anyone can be, “what about me, I’m suffering too, who is fighting to make it better for me?” I understand that. But I also understand that the root of that response is ego-centric. When we are all playing the ego game, we will always make everything about ourselves. The very definition of ego-centricity is being stuck seeing everything as it relates to me, and my own personal experience. It’s what we could also call self-referential truth. In a way, this makes sense. We can only understand things as they relate to us, and our experience. If someone asked you if you like the beach, you may be thinking of Hilton Head and they of Cancun, but you both can response with a “yes” based on very different experiences. It’s hard for anyone to step out of the limitations of their own experience in order to relate to another in terms of the others experience. But that’s exactly what compassion and empathy are about. The word “empathy” comes from two Greek words, “em” which means “in,” and “pathos” which means “feeling”. It literally means to be “in” someone else’s “feelings”. To have empathy for another means to relate to their situation, to feel as they feel, to engage with them in their experience and story. We literally have to step outside our own experience, set aside our own story, and step into the story of another. Our ability to do that, to create space in our hearts for the hearts of others, has everything to do with how we react to the inequality and suffering of others. The most selfish reaction we could have to another’s pain is, “Well, I’m hurting too.” The most selfless response would be, “I will share in your pain with you.” That, I believe, is the different between apathy and love. We often think of hate and love as opposites, but indifference and apathy are the real enemies of love. To hate something actually takes just as much passion as love, and can actually be motivated by love. To hate injustice, oppression, and inequality stems from loving justice, freedom, and equality.
Love is always “other” focused. In our culture, we talk about loving ourselves well. But I believe self-love is the true enemy of loving others. Only in a self-centered society could we understand anything about love as self-focused. That’s not to say we don’t need self-care. We do need to make sure our needs are getting met. But we also need to understand that love is a communal energy. To love myself is to withdraw from love. The focus of love is always outward. Love is a giving flow. What we may call “healthy self-love” is simply survival. Yes, we do have certain needs that must get met, and we do need to give attention to those needs. But if we are only ever in it for ourselves, love will not happen. Love is an exchange between two people. It is a flow of giving and receiving. To “love” ourselves well is to forget ourselves in that exchange, to be only about the other. That is a contemplative perspective, and rather radical in such an ego-centric society which teaches us that, if we’re not meeting our own needs, no one will. Jesus and his followers had some radical things to say about this kind of self-forgetting. They said things like “love is not self-serving,” “Deny yourself,” “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,” and “consider others as better than yourself.” I would say it this way; anything you can get for yourself, without it being given, is not truly good and not truly love. If we cannot understand love as a giving flow, nothing in human society and community will work. Certainly, if we are only giving for what we will get out of it, we have already cut off the flow of love coming to us. I know how foreign that may seem to our first world, Western, American ears. We are taught to be all about ourselves. In light of this mentality, is it any wonder the world is such a bad place? A world where everyone is only about themselves looks pretty much like the world today. Our ability to get out of this segregated, divided world has everything to do with our ability to turn away from ourselves, turn around, and begin to move out into the world as agents of love. Love is always about the other. “Self-love” is self-centeredness; me only caring about me. The degree to which I can step out of that selfish focus is the degree to which I can begin to care about others, and seek the good of others. All injustice stems from apathy. We could rightly say that injustice stems from seeking my own good above others. When we are willing to do whatever it takes to secure our own good, we will inevitably hinder the good of others, often without even realizing it. Perhaps the greatest evil isn’t a willful intent to harm someone else, but our inability to see how we are hurting others through self-focused. That is more problematic, because it’s harder to see and resolve. The harm I do, thinking I’m doing good, is the most harmful. When we are blinded to our effect on others and the world, we are capable of doing the most harm. If we cannot develop an ability to consider the needs of others above our own, to be selfless, then we are bound to be the source of injustice for others in our attempt to only do what is good for ourselves. We many not readily see the value in being “other” focused, but we can at least say to have no concept of how our actions affect others is bound to cause others harm. What is good for me as an individual may not be good for the whole. But what is good for the whole will always be good for me as an individual. A focus on the good of the “other” includes what is good for me. But a focus on what is good for me rarely includes what is good for others.
To think about yourself is to actually create another you. Does that sound strange? We can create a conceptualized version of ourselves, which then can become who we think we are. This is the essence of self-focus and ego-centricity, the core of our human dysfunction. To curate a “self” separate from who we truly are is how we lose who we are, how we lose touch with who we are. This is most easy to illustrate with anorexia. The anorexic person actually sees themselves as being fat, when they are actually too skinny. They can literally die because they cannot see themselves as they truly are. To create an image of ourselves, apart from our true self, will always result in some kind of distortion of who we truly are, because we are truly meant to be other focused. To focus in on ourselves creates a false self. To seek only our own good ruins what is good for us. To be only about our own survival actually threatens our survival. To use and abuse all things for our own benefit actually ends up abusing us as well. This is hard to see for such a self, because it is not focused on the outward effect of its inward stance. By nature of our self-focus, we become naturally ignorant to the harm we are doing to others, and the world at large. We were made for connection at the highest level, connection in every way to everything and everyone. We were made to live in harmony with all things. This is what Contemplation calls unitive consciousness. It’s what we could simply call community. It’s also what science calls an ecosystem. It entails the idea that all things are connected, and as all things do what they’re supposed to, then everything works for everyone. But it only takes one part to step out of that to ruin the whole system. The rhythm and synchronicity of any system depends on all its parts doing what they are supposed to. And what we are supposed to be doing is focusing on the good of the other. Self-focus is a human dysfunction, and creates dysfunctional humans, because it ruins our sense of connectivity with and in our communal environment. We are meant to live with the “us” before the “me.” When Jesus calls for self-denial, he’s not putting us down, but trying to lift us back up to where we belong, to what is the best and brightest purpose for all humanity. When we know how to work together, live together, in harmony for the good for all, then we all will experience what is best. When we step out of that rhythm and start dancing to our own tune, we ruin the dance for everyone. We become, as individuals, a distorted, dysfunctional part of a dysfunctional, broken system. We break the system by trying to take it over and bend it to our own selfish means. It’s not how the system was designed to work. It was designed to work at the highest level of a spiritual connection that binds us to all things, for the good of all things. The Jewish story of Adam and Eve was an attempt to illustrate this. They were given charge over the entire plant, not to control it, but to take care of it. The idea was not domination for the purpose of selfish ends, but a careful caretaking by the most sentient of its parts for the good of the whole. As human parts of this global ecosystem, we have the greatest power to manipulate and control it. But that power was meant to be used for the benefit of the whole, not for the benefit of humanity, or any one human. We could also say that the part of that creation story where Adam and Eve fall is meant to illustrate what happens when we decide to step out and start down the path of attempting to use that power for our own benefit. When we stop being caretakers over the earth, and start becoming takers on the earth, we ruin everything for everyone. We become a different person, and create a different world other than what it was meant to be. As Jesus said, those who seek themselves will lose themselves, but those who lose themselves will find themselves. When we don’t know who we are as a part of this global ecosystem, we don’t know who we are at all. Then we become a person apart from who we truly are; broken, lost, forgotten, disconnected, and dying. But we can find ourselves again, when we learn how to forget ourselves and lose ourselves in order to reinstate this intended connection with and for all things.
There are four levels of this intended human connection. Here are the four; 1. Individualism (inner consciousness), 2. Atheistic Spirituality (inner consciousness guided by collective consciousness) 3. Agnostic/Deistic Spirituality (collective consciousness guided by Divine law) and 4. Theistic Spirituality (collective consciousness guided by Divine personality). All that may sound foreign and overly formal, so let me explain a bit what each of these mean. When I speak about the spiritual, I’m merely referring to that part of us which is invisible. You can think of that as having a literal spirit, or just as representing our ability to connect with other things beyond the limitations of what is physically possible. We are able to have connection with others through things which we cannot see. You can call it a felt connection, or emotions. You don’t have to assign religious meaning to this idea at all. It is simply the recognition that there is an energy in the universe that enlivens all things in ways we cannot see, but still experience. This is what I would call spiritual energy and spiritual connection. I am very sensitive to this energy, but I can also tell you that it’s taken a lot of work and time to develop a greater understanding of and sensitivity to that energy. We can ignore it, and deny it, and so reduce our connection to it and participation with it. Strange as it may sound, we all still experience this spiritual energy to one degree or another. At the lowest level, our disconnection to this spiritual energy equals individualism. This traps us in our most disconnected state. But it is not total disconnection. It’s just the most limited. We still have a sense of some kind of inner consciousness that guides us in making choices, and helps us define and discern what is good or bad. But it is the most disconnected consciousness because it can only reference our own good, individually. It leaves us in a state where we are mostly only aware of the smallest level of good. We are still operating out of a felt sense of good, but greatly hindered by our inability to connect with much outside ourselves and our own little world. It may expand a little to our family, friends, and small community, but it has no ability to connect us to any larger sense of greater good for the whole. So, it leaves us operating out of a reduced awareness, thinking we are doing good by only doing what is good for the smallest circle of a much larger sphere. In this state we can be doing good for our small circle, while doing great harm for the wider circle of the whole. Next is Atheistic Spirituality. I use the word “Atheistic” here in a positive sense. It does not refer to spiritual Atheists (which is a thing) but to a purely human idea of connection. It is a good to step up out of Spiritual Individualism and into the larger sphere of the collective consciousness of Atheistic Spirituality. This kind of spirituality does not yet recognize any consciousness higher than humanity, but it at least recognizes this greater connectivity of the whole. This is a great step up, and if we all could at least come to this place, we would see great improvement in the world at large. The connection at this stage of spirituality allows for a concept of what is good for all humanity, not just the individual and its small communal circle. But it is still a somewhat fractured collective, because the collective human consciousness it connects to is also fractured. While connecting us to the idea that we must work for a common good, it is unable to define a common good big enough to include all humanity. It is not limited in the scope and desire for a collective consciousness, but in its ability to grasp a big enough container to include all things. Atheistic Spirituality is in tune with the need for a collective good, but unable to define what that good should be. So, at this level, we may be fighting for a common good, but for many different versions of what that good should be. It leaves humans as the definers of that good, which leaves us without a unified vision. It’s easy to see that humans are unable to define or create a large enough good to include everyone, which simply leaves us hungry for a unity we cannot grasp. It leaves us still separated by our individual definitions of good, arguing over who gets to define that, and fighting to establish the dominance of our “good” over others. At this level, we may have realized the need for collective consciousness, but with no good ability to make it happen, mostly because we still think we are the main actors trying to create it. What we need is a big enough “good” to include and embrace all things. This is the kind of good religion thinks it has created, which is the next level of spiritual consciousness.
The next level of spiritual consciousness is Agnostic/Deistic Spirituality. This is the level of most world religions, which teach about connection to God but mostly just have an institutional connection. “God” in the institutions is a religious text and a religious organization. In all reality these institutions are Agnostic, talking about a God which in practice is far removed from their everyday lives. They are also very Deistic, believing more in a Divinely created system than Divine interaction. The greater “good” in these religions is adherence to the “right” set of moral ideals and teachings. These are still trapped in the idea that the right truths can bring unity, but the reality of division throughout all religions has already proven this untrue, especially in Christianity. Our ability to agree upon a set of truths about how the world should work has not brought unity, just more division. The power of Divine threat was enough to create a degree of unity in these systems, and push humanity further into a greater collective consciousness, but the breakdown of such fear/reward-based systems is becoming more and more a reality in today’s world. Religion had the right idea, but the wrong goal. They understood that only the belief in a universal higher power could truly draw all humanity together, but they mistook institutional uniformity for Divine intimacy. In this system God was not a Divine, loving parent drawing us into relationship, but a Divine principle handing out rewards and punishments for good or bad behavior. It was easier to teach and practice a system of good rules in substation of a good relationship with God, because that cannot be controlled or measured by human hands. It’s much easier to say “Do these ten things and you get into heaven” than, “spend your life trying to know an often elusive, invisible God.” Following clear cut rules and rituals based on the idea of God did advance culture for a few millennia. It did bring a lot of collective good, and created a bigger space for unity, but it did so with some unhealthy side effects. It gave human institutions some incredible power, and that power was clearly abused. But the current breakdown of those religious institutions shows that they were not big enough to create the biggest kind of unity. Though they reached toward God, they still fell short, and we are just now coming to terms with that in current human culture. We are rejecting those institutions, no longer able stomach the side effects for the benefits, and looking for something bigger and better. That something is Theistic Spirituality.
What religion pointed to is now what we are getting to, and that is a real connection to God. This idea and reality has always been there at every level of human consciousness, leading us along, but it reaches its highest and fullest expression in this fourth and last level of spirituality. Consciousness at every level is guided and infused with this God-presence, but the further down the spectrum the more obscure and disconnected it is. We may have and follow a vague sense of right and wrong within ourselves (Individualism), we may see the need for a larger sense of right and wrong through collective human culture (Atheistic Spirituality), and we may give more concrete guidelines to that collective human consciousness through religion (Agnostic/Deistic Spirituality), but nothing has the ability to draw us together like a single, pure, and perfect heart and mind. That is the beauty and hope of Theistic Spirituality. That single heart and mind is present at every level of spirituality, pointing us towards this greater reality, but reaches its fullest expression as we fully connect with it. We all hear the whispers of that voice at every level, calling us up and into the idea that we were meant to participate in this cosmic level of consciousness. We feel it at every level, the desire for the universal, the urge and ache for something big enough to bind us all together as one global community. We also argue from this position at every level, knowing somehow that there must be a big enough truth to really call truth. Even at the individual level, we still operate from the sense that some things are right and some wrong. Atheists calling Christians wrong, and Christians calling Atheists wrong, while at the lessor level, still echoes the idea that there truly is one meta-reality where we can truly make that distinction. But it is not a large enough truth that can bring us there, but a much larger consciousness. That consciousness is what we can call God, but it is not the limited, self-righteous, wrathful and petty God of most religions, favoring the “right” people and punishing the “wrong.” At each level of Spirituality our idea of the universal becomes more expansive, until it is finally big enough to encompass the whole universe. And what is big enough to bind the whole universe together but the reality of the energy of all life. At this stage ideas will never do. The mental truths which may have led us along thus far must now be stripped away for a greater truth, which is the reality of the real presence of God. All truth is about relationship, and points us to the relationship of all things. It is about energy. Even in science, truth points us to the reality of how all things interact. At the highest level of spiritual consciousness, we finally begin to operate in this greater reality, where rules and rituals are left behind for the reality of what is truly good. And what is truly good? What good could there be better than love?
If God is real, and guiding us along this spiritual journey from the individual to the universal, then what else could God be but the binding energy of love in all things and for all things. What we find, at every level of spiritual consciousness, is a part of that love leading us to the next level. The love-energy of God in the universe is always calling us out of our smaller boxes of love and to an ever-expanding sense of love for more and more things. The expanding movement of this love is an inclusive energy, always pushing us to see how we have loved some things well, but not others. It is always pushing the limits of what we love, and how we love, to widen the boxes of who we include in our love. This God energy is always revealing the truth of how all things are connected. At the smallest level of Individualism, we see the smallest picture of connection, and work within the smallest box of inclusion. We only see everything as it pertains to our own small good. What is good for us, as individuals, defines how we love and what we love. This level is the epicenter of ego-centricity. It is the smallest circle of love and connection. It points everything in towards ourselves. Connection in this small circle is only about what is connected to us, and how connection works for us. Stepping up one level, to Atheistic Spirituality, we expand our idea of connection to realize that there must be a greater good beyond my own personal good. Things like ecology and government form out of this level of connection. We come to understand that my personal good is inexorably linked to the good of the larger environment and world around me. We could also call this level tribal consciousness. It allows us to recognize and work for the good of a larger group, because we come to understand our connection within a larger group. But it still leaves us fighting for the good of our “group” in competition with other outside groups. Stepping up another level, to Agnostic Spirituality, we graduate to the idea that there is one meta-system which encompasses everything. Religion has tended to call that system God, but we could also call this the universe, ultimate reality, or ultimate being. It entails the idea that we are all a part of one large reality, which binds us all together. Agnostic Spirituality attempts to establish a framework big enough to hold differing groups, cultures, and races together under one larger moral law, and we can see how it has done just that. Religion has been able to cast a wider net of inclusion that does transcend individual groups, nations, cultures, and histories. But we can also clearly see that it has not created a perfect unity, but just a larger group system still at odds with other large groups at this same level. It still leaves us in competition, just at a higher level, because this level of spirituality is not founded in the largest frame of all. It is based on the idea of that frame, which we could call God, but not actually in connection with that frame at all. Religion is still mostly a humanly created and controlled group. Using the idea of God gives this group larger power and importance, but it still does not graduate us to the highest frame and greatest possibility for unity and connection. Religion is built on the union of uniformity to “right” thinking. That’s literally what the word “orthodoxy” means, and what religious theology is all about. It is based on the idea that if we could all just agree on all the same truths, we would be unified. It seems like a good idea, but it is actually an impossible goal. We will never completely agree on everything. Even where you have a group believing mostly the same things, there are still differences which, if given space will eventually lead to division. It is not “wrong” truth that is the problem, but the very idea that unified truth is possible, and able to bring us together at all. Human consciousness has been stuck at this level for a few millennia, but I believe we are finally coming to the end of this level of consciousness and ready to see the need for something higher, something more. That something more is Theistic Spirituality. It is not Theism, the belief in the existence of God and all the “truths” associated with that, but the reality of a meta-consciousness that truly does bind us all together. It entails the idea that the entire universe is one thing, bound together by one heart and mind, and that by getting in tune with that cosmic consciousness we can also experience a cosmic unity. It is actually a large enough container for unity that does not require uniformity of truth or belief to accomplish that. This kind of unity allows for diversity without division, allows for separateness within the space of wholeness, allows for all the other levels of spiritual consciousness within the largest framework of reality. Isn’t that what we would expect true unity to do. We can still be an individual, who is part of these smaller groups, which may belong to any number of different religions, but still connected to the whole in healthy ways. The largest frame does not require we drop the smaller frames. True connection to God does not require that we lose ourselves or our smaller frames of reference. It allows for the Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Deist, Hindu, and any other smaller group to exist in harmony under the one largest group of all. That largest group is the reality of life itself, of one energy that binds us all together in pursuit of a space big enough for everything. It is a space where we come to see that everything belongs, everything has value, and everything has a purpose in the world at large, even when we cannot see or understand it from our smaller perspectives. It allows for the space of grace, of understanding that there is a bigger picture than what I can see from my relative, limited perspective. But Theistic Spirituality is only possible as we let go of our need to see it. It is the idea that there is a greater mind, a larger seeing, a greater understanding and purpose in the world beyond what any of our frames can comprehend. It is even bigger than any one religion, because it sees in a way that allows for what we cannot see, what we could never see, that God is the reality of Love, and that Love embraces all things.
Love begins by embracing. Love never begins by assessing the value or worthiness of something to be embraced. Love never attempts to determine what or who is worthy of love. Love is that which simply loves, and then moves from there towards connection. Love begins by inviting all things into a space where everything belongs. Love never sets out to confine the space of what deserves space. Love is an infinite space of belonging. The very universe is an ever-expanding space, which shows just how the love energy of God works. Hate and fear are a shrinking space. When we set out down the path to determine who deserves space, we will shrink the world until all we can see is space for ourselves. Hate and self-interest work backwards from the movement of love. As soon as we decide that we get to determine who to love, the true energy of love, for us, is over. Then we are on a journey of shrinking love, until we get to that place where we struggle even to love ourselves. We cannot start with the idea that love requires something from another. Love simply requires us to love, to be an open space towards everything, to see that everything belongs, even when we cannot personally understand why or how it belongs. This is the true state of God’s existence. God exists in a space big enough for everything. If God is the energy of life, the sustaining energy of what gives life and keeps life alive, then all living things are in the heart of God, by the very fact that they are alive. Life itself speaks to the reality of what God embraces. When we can start from that space, we are starting from the biggest space of all. The problem is that we do not start from that space. We start from the opposite, and thus the spiritual journey is our attempt to get back to that space from the opposite end. To recognize the whole spectrum is helpful; to understand what it is that we are moving towards, in order to not get stuck at any of the lessor levels. To also understand that connection is at the heart of this movement, and not any auxiliary “truths.” The truth is that when we are all operating out of this connection, it is much more likely that our truths will mesh and meld into a more cohesive “truth,” and not the other way around. Trying to agree upon the same accepted truths will not bring us together, but in coming together we will begin to expand our idea of truth to something more akin to a truth system universal enough to include so much more than what any of us currently do. Think of it simply within the confines of culture. The more I attempt to compress everything into the limits of my own personal culture (Individualism), the more limited I find my scope of what belongs. There is so much I will simply have to eliminate when my frame is that small. But when I can see that my personal culture is only a part of something so much bigger, then I can push the frame of culture out further and further to see and allow for the value of things beyond my own experience. Then the reality of culture for me can take on the frame of the infinite, as I move with an ever-expanding heart to give space for everything. So, the work of spiritual progress is to move through each of the four levels until we get to the last and final, infinite space of God. That also means that we must learn to accept every level. A step into the next level never leaves the last behind. We include, and transcend, as my spiritual teacher Richard Rohr likes to say. To move beyond the small circle of our individual consciousness, we must begin to connect with larger groups in our more immediate surroundings. We must widen the circle of connection some, and include more than the few we have direct contact with. That may look like belonging to a political party, social club, social media group, chat room, blogging community, or podcast group. Somehow, we’ve got to start listening to the voices of a wider world, and finding connection with people and ideas outside the small world of what only concerns me. Then we must push out into an even bigger space, to a place where a larger ideology connects us with people and places beyond our own culture and country. We must find an ideology of connection on par with the world religions. That doesn’t mean you need to join a religion, or buy into a specific belief system. It does mean you need to find a common group bigger than your own culture, which transcends what is more immediately at your disposal. Religion just happens to be the easiest way to do that, because it naturally transcends individual cultures, nations, continents, and histories. It helps us begin to imagine and participate in a connection to people bigger than mere national and racial lines. Finally, we must take the last step to the biggest place of all, where we come in contact with this God energy that binds the whole universe together in love. The journey for each of us can look very different. It may not look as neat and tidy as I’ve described it. It may also take bigger leaps at times which look like skipping some of the steps I’ve described. It will also include many smaller steps that make up these bigger leaps. But the ultimate goal is widening the field of connection and inclusion until we finally come to a place in our hearts where we can see that everything belongs. Where we can step outside our small, petty self-interest and begin to experience life in deep connection to others. That is what I’m calling spiritual progress, but you don’t have to think about it in these terms at all. It doesn’t have to have any religious or spiritual connotations for you. It is ultimately about expanding our individual consciousness to the point that we see the true connection of all things in the space of love. It is about learning to love the other.
I believe all injustice stems from our inability to love. Love knows no injustice. Love never seeks to do others harm. Love is the ultimate fulfillment of our desire for equality. Our ability to empathize with others, to see things from another’s view, to participate in the stories and perspectives of others, will always lead us to include and embrace others. Love is never about what it can get, but what it can give. Love is a giving flow. It turns our attention away from ourselves, our needs, our desires and towards the needs and desires of others. Love understands that for human connection to work, we must begin to move away from ourselves and towards others. We cannot draw others to ourselves, in order to experience this connection. We must allow for a flow of things from ourselves, because all we can really control is how we choose to treat others. A world where we are constantly attempting to control everyone around us in order to create a just and equal plane will only create more injustice, because we will ever be oppressing others with how we think they should act in accordance with what we want. That is at the heart of oppression. Me trying to get you to do what I want is oppressive. All I can really do is work on me doing what is good for you. That is how love works. It is a giving flow. When we attempt to turn it into a taking flow, we break the flow of love. Me trying to get you to love me well never works. I cannot control you. Any attempt to do so circumvents what you have to give, and the very act of how you could give to me. We must be able to step back into a space of freedom where everyone chooses to love well, or love and connection will not happen. It cannot be forced, and it is not the goal of individuals or governments to guarantee this. No just system or society can produce this loving connection, it can only create space for it. A healthy, just system is one which encourages connection by preventing it’s opposite. The best any good society can do is seek to guarantee that no one is taking away the freedom of anyone else’s choice to love. It can never guarantee love, but only the suppression of its opposite. We cannot make people love us. Social systems and governments cannot make people get along. They can only ensure that we all have the freedom to choose love, if we so desire. When it comes to what truly creates injustice, that is always a matter of the heart. All oppression originates in the heart of the individual. Governments cannot touch that space. They can curtail the outward expression of love’s lack. When we do not know how to love others well, we will naturally fall into behaviors of oppression. Those behaviors can be constrained, but never the root of what causes them. The only thing that can truly touch the root of oppression in the heart of the individual is love. Love breaks the chains of oppression. Love embraces the oppressor, and shows them the true value of loving even that which is not being loving at all. That’s why Jesus taught us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, because that is the only thing that will overcome such violent, oppressive hate. He also said to overcome evil with good. If all we know how to do is battle hate with hate, to combat another’s taking flow with taking, nothing will change. If there can be but one who knows how to reverse the flow, how to love those most stuck in the wrong flow, then there is hope that the flow can be reversed. It only takes one to stand up and show the way. How do we love others stuck in the wrong flow? How can we begin to be a giving flow in a world of takers? How do we stop the cycle of oppression by stepping out of our desire to control what others do, and turn our attention towards only what we are doing? How do we become that one loving presence in a world of hate and self-interest?
I think about how I am raising my kids, and who I am raising my kids to be. I am trying to teach them to be that giving flow of love in the world. And yet, I realize the dire consequences of that task. Does it really make sense to teach my kids to be good givers in a world that’s mostly full of takers? How will they be treated in such a world? How much will they have to suffer through that stance in a world very likely to just take advantage of their kindness? And yet, how can I teach them to be anything else? And how can we imagine changing the world if we are not prepared to make that sacrifice ourselves. If all we can do is simply give into the world as it is, the world will never change. If we cannot muster enough strength to resist the current state of the world, and the current flow of self-centered taking, then what hope is there? I cannot bring myself to give into that dire reality, no matter how oppressive it seems to make the necessary sacrifices to change it. I am choosing to be that giving flow, and to teach my kids to be that too. I will not give up, and I will not give in to the state of the world as it is. The degree to which we have hope, and are willing to make the changes in ourselves, is the degree to which we will experience something other than what we currently see. And if we can only imagine the necessary change as simply gaining power over our current oppressors in order to put them down, then all we have imagined is a continuation of the same cycle of oppression at the hands of a different power group. We must begin to see that simply changing who is in power will not empower any but the few. We must flip the power pyramid on its head, and learn how to operate in power with others, and not in power over others. That requires, not a change in power, but a change in heart. We are all part of this current power system. We are all choosing to give our power to it, to operate in it, to feed and further it. Even if you’re struggling at the bottom, if all you’re doing is trying to get to the top, you’re still participating in that power structure. As oppressive as it is to be at the bottom of this power-over pyramid, it’s more oppressive to give in to it. The only true choice each of us has is to continue trying to work within it, or to pull our power out of it. The only way we are truly going to get out of this power-over system is if we stop empowering it altogether. That means we must stop buying into it, and believing that this is the only way the world can work. We must begin to believe in the power of love again, and to live out that belief by becoming the power of love in the world. That means we must determine to never take from another, to never oppress anyone else with our will and wants. We must stop being this pushing energy in the world, and start working towards becoming this giving energy of love. It is not a onetime simple choice. It is a long, daily journey of learning how to turn away from the ego-centric desires of self-interest and towards a heart for the greater good. To do that, we need to turn towards good examples of others who are already doing that. Can you find them? If you look hard enough, you will. They are scattered throughout history, and probably even throughout your current culture and neighborhood. There are always good people around doing the good work of being a giving flow of love. We need those examples to be inspired to do the same, to see that it can be done, that through great resistance and sacrifice the line can be pushed, the ball moved further down the field towards equality, freedom, and justice. A just society is not one of just laws, but of loving people. Look for loving people. They are leading the way. That’s why I look to Jesus. In him I see someone who practiced a radical love for others. That’s also why I look to people like MLK, Mother Teresa, Dortha Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Merton, Fred Rogers, Maya Angelou, Richard Rohr, Wendell Berry, and many, many others to inform my individual beliefs and daily practice. All these teach me of the personal sacrifice and basic humility necessary in order to follow a different path, to become a giving presence in the world, instead of an oppressive force. If we cannot begin to step beyond our small, petty self-interest, even a little, we will never get there. Simply demanding others change so we can experience more power for ourselves won’t get us there. We must understand the goal. The goal is never to take more from others. It is never to balance the system of power-over so we can get our share of feeling more powerful than others. That is a system where oppression is inherently the norm. If we cannot recognize that the heart of oppression is our personal desire for power over others, things will not change. It’s going to take great sacrifice to give up on that power system all together. But even if we are the only one’s doing it, at least we can be that one.
All change begins by recognizing what is in your power to change. The only thing in your power to change is you. But, as you begin to change, you will become an agent of change in the world at large. You will become an example for others of what it looks like to be a giving flow, instead of a taking presence. Contemplation always points us inward. It reveals that all outer oppression comes from within. Evil systems are only so because individuals are feeding them, often unaware. One man’s injustice is another’s good. If we are only out for ourselves, if we are only about doing what is good for ourselves, we will end up participating in evil systems unaware, simply by doing what is good for us individually, without hardly realizing how bad it is for the whole. The only way we are going to see things from a different perspective is to do the inner work to cultivate an “other” perspective. As we look inside to the reality of our own self-centeredness, and begin to let it go, we can look outward to the needs of others around us. It is a radical stance; the radical stance of love in the world. It is a giving flow, that always balances power through giving. Love is a giving flow. Power is a giving balance. If we are always empowering others to love, then love will keep flowing, and eventually flow back to us. That’s how love works. But it takes a big enough love to move beyond our small circles of love to the broadest love possible. We are all engaged in love, to some degree. We all have our groups where we are actually practicing power-with, where we are giving up our desire for our own good in order to seek the good of others. The problem is usually that our circle of love is too small. It may at times only include ourselves. It may at times extend to our family. It may even extend to our social groups. The degree that we are able to participate in love at all is the degree to which we are able to flip the power paradigm and become a giving flow. We do it all the time. The problem is when that process doesn’t go far enough. We need to be always widening our circle of love, extending that giving flow to more and more people, until eventually it is our stance towards everyone. We need to move upwards through the four spiritual stages and seven layers of culture until we are living out of the widest circle possible, where we have learned to love everyone. The goal of contemplation is to see that we are all truly one thing, one system, one family, one human culture, partakers of this one Divine energy of life and love. Any “love” that is not this big has not yet grown up, and is not truly love. A love stunted by deciding who is worthy of loving is a truncated love, not full grown. It is a vacillating love, turning on and off depending on how big our circle is, and who is in it. We must come to the fullness of love, to live in a space where we have decided that no one is outside our circle. My grandfather embodied this love in many ways. My mom used to say that he never met a stranger. Everywhere he went, he treated everyone with kindness, and a deep level of familiarity even when meeting them for the first time. He was as genuinely interested in the lives of strangers as he was his own family. He never passed by someone stranded on the road. My grandfather traveled the world, and even lived in Saudi Arabia for two years. While there he embraced and loved people just as he would have here in America. He saw them as no different. As a retired air traffic controller, he went to Saudi Arabia to train their controllers in American protocol, at their request. And while there, his co-workers flocked to his apartment for parties and social get-togethers. My grandpa embraced this foreign culture. My Christian grandfather made long lasting relationships with Muslim friends. Long after he came back to the States, he talked about how wonderful the people were there. He embraced them with open arms, saw past the obvious differences, and loved them whole-heartedly. My grandpa also inspired me to do the same, to see people the same, to love people with the same open-heartedness. It was clear, he loved me with a big heart. But he showed me something greater by loving strangers in the same way. He modeled a love that did not change from person to person, a love that embraced everyone, that saw no stranger, that treated every person as if they were family. I’m thankful for that example. But what about you. What kind of example of love are you for others around you? You can be that kind of example too?
How you love others is directly connected to the injustice in the world. Do you see that? Do you understand that a “me-first” mentality is also a “you-last” presence in the world? Whether your life is good or bad, thriving or struggling, as long as you are attempting to get what you can for yourself at the cost of others, you are participating in the root of the energy of oppression. True oppression is our inability to put others first. Whether you are at the bottom or top of the “power-over” pyramid, you can always choose to step into a different stance of power in the world. The power of love. You can choose to step out of the “power-over” system, and then you will be free. You can spend your whole life trying to get ahead in the wrong system, and only end up enforcing the oppression rampant in the world. As long as you are participating with the system of oppression, you will not only feed it, but be oppressed by it. You can step out of it. You can step into freedom. You will not experience freedom within the “power-over” system, but only by giving it up and getting out of it. Love shows the way. Freedom comes from within. And once you are free within yourself, you are free forever. And then you can begin to show others how to be free as well. Then, when others try to oppress you from within a system you no longer belong to, it will not work. No matter what anyone does to you, when you are operating from the giving flow of love, they cannot take away your power to love. It comes from you. Your power comes from you. No one else can give it to you, or take it away. That is true power. And the more you live in the power of love, the more you will see that power transform the world around you by this giving flow, into this giving flow. That’s the way love works. The choice is yours. No matter where you are in life. No matter how far down you feel, and how desperate. You can turn it around for yourself. You can begin to walk down a different path, to true freedom through love. It will not be easy. There will be resistance. When we are doing what is right, there will always be resistance. We will have to learn to swim upstream, to go against the flow of getting and taking, in order to be a flow of giving and love. But we are not alone. The very energy of life and love which sustains the whole universe is moving with us, and moving us too. This 90’s band called “Blessid Union of Souls” had a song called “I believe love is the answer.” It was about a black man in love with a white woman, and the hate they experienced from her white-privileged family. I don’t know if the song was based on true experience, but we know that experience is true for many. There’s always a reason not to love. It can be based on race, culture, skin color, or economic, religious, and political bias. But there is also always a reason to love. That reason is love itself. I believe in love. I believe love is the answer. I believe the answer is love alone. Do you?