Competition is a basic tenet of society and energizes most people in our endeavors. It is an assumption that is taught to us when we are just beginning to appreciate being members of a world full of people. Early in life our worldview is conformed to seeing others as competitors in fun, games, education, jobs, romance, religion, ideology, politics, wealth building, and international relations.
Most of us cannot remember a time we were not protecting ourselves and watching out for someone to displace us. We have been admonished and required to get our own before someone else gets it. Many get power, material wealth and position to protect themselves in a world full of others who are trying to get it too.
Most people feel the shortfall of this worldview, a discontent, the sense that we cannot work hard enough and long enough to get “ahead”. Are we winners or losers?
Do we just drop out of the game and live in a cardboard box on the edge of town as many are doing? Do we quit fighting it and make the best of things, or stop and consult our innermost heart, our original Self who we were before everything was put upon us.
We have been hearing the countercultural call from generation to generation, but the message is so upside-down that most people have been passing it off as benevolent nonsense. The core truth is conveyed by the biblical story of creation when God declared us good. We experience this state before being obligated to play and shamed if we do not play the games of society’s systems.
Jesus carries the essence of our original goodness further as a call to love others “as your … self”, and life described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), literature displayed proudly by society but mostly ignored as unworkable. How can we practice a worldview of Love and Goodness if we have forgotten the True Self we had before competitiveness was embedded into us?
Cloaking Our Preference
Religious institutions recommend that we keep reciting all the great things the “founders” have said. Reciting is substituted for “believing”. Keep the words; keep talking about it; well, at least repeat it once a week at the group meeting.
The normal way of life has been cloaked and justified by the metaphor of a flow from the top down. It is described in religion as a flow from God to the privileged to the less privileged and has been acted out in forms of domination, colonialism, classism, sexism, and authoritarianism. This unilateral action upon others prompts us to view others as objects, obstacles, and tools. It is the arrangement of
- God to priest to recipient,
- God to the man to the woman to the children,
- God to the monarch to the aristocrats to the peasants,
- God to the white race to the “lesser races”
This is the arrangement that many are panicked about losing and have mobilized to prevent changing. We are seeing this in the assertion of authoritarianism around the world.
Many maintain the attitude of acquiring others and ultimately the world. They see reality as a fight to own constituencies, customers, things, and nations. This is the dominant attitude in business, politics, religion, and nation building, employing wars, sabotage, verbal abuse, misinformation, attacks, killing and triumphalism. Religious combatants, such as the Christian Evangelical Right, elevate this attitude to the cosmic level, characterizing God as their exclusive cause and patron to glorify their culture and either convert or destroy everyone else.
So, the creed put forward is that we can “believe” in Jesus without adopting his countercultural way. As Jesus said, many will call him Lord as if they are his disciples, but he will say, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Believing Is Only the Start
To move beyond just “believing” into knowing the goodness of life requires prayerful stillness and contemplation. We do not know how to understand Jesus’ upside-down statements such as the Sermon on the Mount until we commit time and a quiet mind to rediscover the True Self made by God. This is like shedding the layers in which society has wrapped us.
Believing in the intentional origin of our Self and that we can uncover that Self is just the beginning of reversing the ways that have proven unsatisfying. Contemplating, not just repeating, Jesus’ odd reversal statements helps rebirth our True Self:
“love your enemies”,
“give your shirt as well as your coat”,
“blessed are those who mourn”,
“consider the lilies of the field”,
“you are the light of the world”,
“… the water I give … will become in [you] a well … springing up to eternal life”,
“you will do greater works than me”,
“your sins are forgiven”
Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself”, developed later as the metaphor of the universal Body of which all are members without categorizing as slave, free, barbarian, gentile, Jew, gender, class, race, etc. (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:10-11)
Does this Work in this World?
This does not take us out of the world that has been built up over millennia. But we gradually grow into people living differently as demonstrations of transformation expressing and acting in the relational way rather than competing for material wealth and position. Besides only legislating, or bandaging our ills, society changes at the core level of each person’s spirit, with the caveat that we meet resistance from those who are determined to make existing norms, and innovations of materialism, stick. Evolution is slow but it helps to know many have chosen this path and we can support each other in living this way.
How this is working out in my own life
Having been born and bred in the culture of hierarchy alongside the model of Jesus, I have always felt the friction between the two. As I grew up, I felt less and less comfortable with acting like my group was meant to convert everyone else into our culture. Over the years I have been breaking out of that shell and realizing the greater freedom of viewing myself and all people as already being in “our group”, the human race that God loves. I am learning to be in relationship with all.
As part of the rhythm of God’s on-going creation I contribute my unique offerings of writing and art from my True Self with the desire to help recipients awaken to their True Selves. Any business of exchange (for me donations, fees, and purchases) is a reciprocal, relational vehicle which helps one another grow as contributors doing our parts growing the Whole toward unimagined Goodness.