Notes from Underground – May 2021
"In the incarnation, Jesus reveals a God who unites what the world divides - spirit and flesh, heaven and earth. Jesus reveals a God in whom there is no rivalry. God stands over and against nothing, not even death. Jesus shows us that the contemplative mind doesn’t need an enemy to justify its own existence."
Sadly, this rings true.
Particularly troubling is the alarming trend toward “social fragmentation.” According to the report, we are becoming increasingly fragmented with smaller and smaller echo chambers that reflect back to us our little realities. At the same time, we are more connected than ever through technology. The report references the 10 billion devices in 2018 that make up the internet of things and projects there to be 64 billion devices by 2025 and possibly many trillions by 2040. Connected, yes. United, no.
So, what’s the way forward?
It’s tempting to think the way forward is to double down on reforming systems such as church, government, business, and education. I recognize the potential for these systems to do good is immense, and I remain committed to their flourishing, however, it’s my sense that the way forward lies not primarily in the systems themselves, but in something else. The way forward lies in an evolution of consciousness. Regardless of how radically we reform these systems, I believe we’ve reached the end of what the dominant consciousness can do to create genuine community. To put it bluntly, we must evolve.
The particular kind of evolution I have in mind has to do with how we form identity.
Virtually all of us have been taught to form identity in one way – “over and against” the other. This has been the dominant consciousness for most of history. It is the water in which we swim. It’s not easy to see it for what it is until we become land-born creatures with lungs, not gills.
This kind of identity formation can be called dualistic consciousness. It is a way of seeing that insists that reality is divided into oppositional forces: light and dark, good and evil, black and white, us and them, winners and losers. Dualistic consciousness is inherently rivalistic, which is why it always ends in some form of scapegoating. When trapped in this way of forming identity, I only know who I am by defining myself over and against the other, displacing the other. Virtually all of my regrets in life can be traced to this way of being human.
Sadly, most mainstream religion is built on the foundation of dualistic consciousness. To be “in” Christ is to be over and against those who are “not.” Dualistic consciousness lends itself to power games in every sphere of life. All of the dehumanizing “isms” we can think of are fueled by a dualistic consciousness, including white supremacy. It creates clear boundaries of who is “in” and who is “out.” And it can build strong bonds (on both the left and right), but in the context of difference, especially when difference is in close proximity, it leads to increasing levels of fragmentation.
Einstein said we can’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that produced it. I am convinced that we can’t solve the challenge of social fragmentation in the 21st century with a dualistic mind, no matter how “enlightened” it might be. Such a mind is great for building bridges, skyscrapers, and the worldwide internet that connects us. It can produce vaccines and solve important equations, but it is not capable of showing us how to relate across differences. The dualistic mind cannot create a world in which everyone belongs. Given the increasingly interconnected nature of our world, I’m convinced we have reached the end of dualistic consciousness. Its end is violence. We must evolve.
Contemplative consciousness is an evolutionary leap forward led by the Spirit. It sees reality as whole. The contemplative way recognizes reality as an interdependent ecology where all things are related. It forms identity, not “over and against,” but “with and for.” It displaces no one and nothing. Some might call this unitive consciousness. Jesus modeled this for us. In the incarnation, Jesus reveals a God who unites what the world divides – spirit and flesh, heaven and earth. Jesus reveals a God in whom there is no rivalry. God stands over and against nothing, not even death. Jesus shows us that the contemplative mind doesn’t need an enemy to justify its own existence. Where the dualistic mind feeds off of oppositional energy and division, the contemplative mind generates creative energy by holding tension and embracing paradox, until it yields a larger way.
Our friend Richard Rohr has been one of the major teachers of unitive consciousness within the Christian tradition. He sometimes calls it “the mind of Christ.” This way of seeing has spilled the banks of the church. It is increasingly found in a wide variety of traditions and movements. For example, it’s exciting to see leaders like Adrienne Marie Brown exercising unitive consciousness in the secular square as a black, queer feminist. She and others are integrating the contemplative way in the Black Lives Matter movement, using their own creative language and approach. I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but I recognize the gift and celebrate it.
People who think about this stuff estimate that a relatively small percentage of humans evolve beyond dualistic consciousness. But things are changing, and I believe they are changing rapidly. We are witnessing a huge evolutionary leap forward. It is an outpouring of the Spirit and it gives me hope.
Evolutionary change can be painfully slow and sometimes hard to detect, but I am encouraged by how I see this sort of thing happening in the here and now within the Street Psalms Community. Together, we are undergoing an evolution of consciousness – a way of seeing that is freeing us and those we serve. We are letting go of the temptation to reduce reality to a zero-sum game which perpetuates a constant power struggle that leaves only winners and losers. I believe we are being pruned of violence. We are learning what it means to undergo a gospel of peace and I couldn’t be more encouraged.