13. Let’s Heal Divisions
Hi there! Welcome to the Journey On podcast! I’m Dave Schmelzer
Great spirituality both, obviously, offers us ongoing growth and increasing joy and connection to God and others, but also does good in the wider world.
Today we’ll be looking at how this is true right in the middle of such divided political and cultural worlds both in America and in most of the industrialized world--division that, discouragingly, is often made worse or even driven by fellow people who are also looking to follow Jesus.
Is it possible that, as we grow into the kind of journeying spirituality we talk about here, we might help lead the way through this morass on behalf of our fellow believers and maybe even the whole world?I mean, I dunno. But it’s a fun thought we’ll consider together today.
Along the way, we’ll look at how one biggie philosopher thinks about this, which I think you’ll find to be gripping.
We’ll think about some provocative Bible takes on this.
We’ll consider ways that great spiritual teachers suggest we can both keep growing spiritually and also include religious people at other stages of the journey.
And we’ll look at one famous prayer practice that some of the greats suggest will empower us to do all of this good stuff.
Before we start, let me flag that, if this sort of spirituality interests you and you’d like to join in with others looking to grow in it both in America and a bit beyond, why don’t you drop by a Wednesday night online group I lead around this? If this stuff interests you, I think you’ll find it to be a lot of fun and you’ll make some great friends. For more information, email email@example.com.
Okay, kick us off, Ryanhood, as we look at: Let’s Heal Divisions!
I thought I’d take a break in our fun spiritual conversations to talk about an elephant in the room, which is that there’s an ominous backdrop behind this spiritual stuff that affects almost everyone I know. Namely, almost everyone I know feels looming pressure from our political and cultural situation, where, whatever your perspective, perhaps you feel a continuing sense of dread that perhaps you hope will get alleviated by something like your side winning the next round of elections.
But even that can feel like a very small hope, because, even if that happens, you might realize that the fundamentals of this constantly threatening backdrop aren’t going anywhere. Just about half of the country--again, whatever your political perspective--will still see the world fundamentally differently than you do, and differently in a way that doesn’t just seem, well, different, but seems shamefully and threateningly different. Not to mention that we likely have family members on the inexplicable other side of things, and we love them, so how exactly do we move forward on this stuff?
Of course, maybe you don’t identify with this. You’re just not that into this sort of stuff. But I’d suggest that most everyone around you is.
For those of us who are, it can feel like we can make all the personal spiritual progress in the world, but presuming these larger divisions don’t go anywhere, they will both put a damper on our potential joy level, while also running the risk of making us feel like pursuing our own spiritual growth might be fiddling while Rome burns around us.
In times like this, human nature is to pick our side and to have some agency in these divides by robustly judging the other side. But, having done that, nothing actually improves.
And perhaps you are also weighed down by noticing the sharp religious divide in these divisions. Some fellow people who talk about Jesus are robustly on the other side of the divide from us, while infuriatingly claiming that they are clearly on God’s side. How can they read the Bible so differently on such fundamental things? Is the same God that communicates with us also telling them exactly opposite things? Shouldn’t Christians be making this crisis better rather than the reverse?
So today I thought I’d at least start that conversation by looking at some deep thinking about these issues that strikes me as really helpful and then by, yes, looking at some spiritual choices suggested both by the Bible and by some deep spiritual thinkers.
And I do have a dream that perhaps we’ll together experience a day where those of us committed to these sorts of things lead the way to a better future for our fellow religious people and perhaps beyond. And, at the very least, perhaps this deep wisdom from some spiritual masters will provide you and me with a way forward for our own sakes.
One common bit of advice that we won’t be talking about--except briefly here--is to continue to learn about your opponents’s point of view, to make sure you’re not in your own echo chamber that reinforces your part in the division.I think that could be great, though many of us do find that we don’t have a lot of faith in the media sources from the other side, so it can be hard to learn much from them.
In some earlier Journey On episodes, we’ve called the spirituality we talk about here “Journeying” and we’ve talked about how it flows out of both conservative and progressive spirituality.
One philosopher named Ken Wilber has made a name for himself talking about his version of those spaces and he talks with quite a bit of power about how each successive space offers the chance both to transcend the previous space, but also to include it. He strongly argues that faith spaces do offer the chance of growth and transcendence, and the way to think about this is to look at whether more people are being included in the world of the space in question, in which case that stage is a step forward. And it’s seemed to me that he has some powerful ideas we might consider about how people of faith can lead the way through our divisions rather than making them worse.
So he’d put it this way, using colors to talk about his spiritual spaces.
His lowest space he’d--taking his terms from other thinkers he likes--call RED. People in the red space look out for number one.
The next space is AMBER. At this point we see past ourselves to people in our group, people like us. So it’s a clear step forward. We care about people other than ourselves! We now have a tribe.
His next space is ORANGE, which isn’t fully represented by the spaces I’ve talked about. Orange would be like the modern world, which sees ways to use technology to help all people.
Orange folks might still mostly identify with a tribe, like Amber folks, but are also trying to help people outside of their group.
The next space is GREEN, which would be the postmodern, progressive world. At this point, you don’t just see your people, but you look to include voices from all people. Green and Amber often tussle on progressive versus conservative terms. Green would be “the elites” that get accused of “political correctness” by conservative people. Wilber has quite a lot to say about Green, which I’ll get to in a moment.
But just to say he then has several spaces which would fit into the Journeying space we talk about, one of which he labels TURQUOISE and talks about with words like “Integral.” As we talk about here, these stages have a contemplative quality to them.
He argues that humanity was largely RED until the Iron Age when the rule of law came in, when the vast majority of humanity became Amber, all about their own people. He says that humanity just began moving into GREEN in the 1960s, and that perhaps a quarter of people in the industrialized world are now Green, with 65% being Amber or Red and most of the rest being Orange. So, he says, it’s Green’s responsibility and opportunity, being the new leading edge, to both TRANSCEND Amber, which they do by nature, but also to INCLUDE Amber.
His analogy is to how everything in the natural world both transcends and includes whatever is being transcended. So molecules get transcended by cells. But cells of course have to include molecules or they don’t exist. The lower space is the basis of the higher one.
And so he lays the blame for the strength of our current divisions at the feet of GREEN people. Again, he feels that they rightly see themselves as a step forward from Amber and Orange. But they haven’t included, but have demonized those other spaces. He sees Green’s point, on the surface, as being on the side of the angels. Yes, absolutely, we need to learn to hear all voices, not least those voices which haven’t gotten a hearing.
But he feels like a blind spot of Green people is that there’s one voice they definitely DON’T want to hear, and that’s anyone from Amber or Red spaces. Those people need to pipe down. Which, in effect, means that the only voices Green wants to hear from are… what do you know?... Green voices. Everyone else needs to shut up.
Now from a progressive, Green point of view, this is hard. If the point of Amber is that the only voices we value are from people just like us, how are progressive people supposed to include those voices? If, again, those are the voices which silence other voices? But Wilber’s insight is that trying to shame and name-call conservative, Amber voices is pointless. They are in the space they are at. Shame them all you want, but that’s not changing. And his stats are that the people you are marginalizing are, collectively, sixty-five percent of your friends and neighbors.
So, like a cell that rejects molecules, it’s not in Green’s interest to shut out 65% of their fellow humans from being a part of the reality they’re trying to create.
The great spiritual teachers over the millennia are on the case here. They have given real thought to how this transcend and include stuff can actually work. But before we look at some of their thoughts, it’s not as if the Bible hasn’t anticipated this as well.
So consider this from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.
The heroes of the story in question, the people of Israel, have been judged by God and disciplined by being shipped out of their country by the hated, powerful Babylonians. They’re wondering when their discipline will be over and they can go back home again, and God tells them not to hold their breath, culminating with this.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7)
“In its welfare you will find your welfare.” Seems on point for our conversation here. From the Israelite perspective, there was nothing to recommend the Babylonians, who they regarded as terrible. But evidently if the Babylonians don’t thrive, neither do the Israelites. So, maybe if, from the Green perspective, Amber and Red and Orange don’t thrive, neither does Green.
Saint Paul, in Romans, says:
Bless those who persecute you… So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom. 12:14,18)
My experience is that both sides of the divide feel judged and cursed and persecuted by the horrible other side. But Paul gives us clear marching orders. When we’re persecuted, godly people bless in response, rather than judge more harshly still. And “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
And then in one of his great theological statements, Paul talks about the whole reason Jesus came to earth as being along these lines.
In Ephesians 2, we’re told:
For he is our peace; ...he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)
This is talking about peace between two particular groups of people--Jews and non-Jews.
But the spirit of Paul’s point clearly goes beyond that, saying that healing divisions between people who don’t see eye to eye at all, who are hostile towards one another, is one of Jesus’s major gigs.
So if we’d like to be the godly people who help lead us out of our current morass rather than reinforce it, What might we do?
Here are some thoughts from the great spiritual teachers.
1. Look to expand your spiritual capacity.
A couple podcasts back, I talked about how one of the promises of regular, prayer and contemplative practice was to expand our spiritual capacity. So, God forbid, let’s say you really hurt me. And maybe for a good two years I still thought about it with pain from time to time.
Perhaps, as a disciplined pray-er and meditator, someday after I got hurt in a similar way, it might last for, say, two weeks. And then maybe a little down the line, it will last for two days.
Wilber has some technical terms for how this works. He might say that we might have a greater stage, but not a greater span.
So we might progress from RED to AMBER, but still have a pretty stunted spirituality. So for him one reason that the GREEN leading edge has failed so prominently to not just transcend but include would be for this reason. Green has a greater stage, but not a greater, spiritual span.
Saint Paul talks about this in Philippians when he says: I will continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith. He’s pondering whether he’d just be happier dying and being with God, but he recognizes how he can help the Philippian believers EXPAND THE CAPACITY of their faith, which will lead to joy. And that’s so important to him that he says he’ll put off dying for the moment.
So we and our friends can be part of the solution by expanding our spiritual capacity, by recognizing how central that is for this and many other reasons.
Second, we can:
2. Be mindful when we’re outraged.
So a major time waster for me is scanning the news feed on my phone. And it’s a given that multiple times a day, an article will go by about the latest outrage from the other political side.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s the nature of media to want you to read their stuff, and one way to guarantee that is to outrage you. And I’m, of course, not saying that the other side won’t do outrageous things. I’m thinking that both can be true.
But a key spiritual growth opportunity is to choose mindfulness when that happens. We’ve talked about how a great image of this is entering an alcove behind a waterfall. The waterfall is our emotions and thoughts and reactivity. And stepping into the alcove behind the waterfall isn’t to try to STOP it, but to OBSERVE it, just to notice it, and to learn how powerful it is to direct our attention at what’s actually happening in our lives, rather than just reacting.
So when I’m outraged, I try to be aware that I’m outraged. And then I’ll notice my breathing and focus on it for a moment. And then I’ll try to name what I’m feeling and notice what that’s like for a moment. And I’ll often discover in doing that that my trust in the God of the universe is actually greater than my trust in the outrage I’m reacting to.
3. Look to speak of your opponents from a place of love.
Jesus, in this spirit, has some pretty direct advice:
Anyone who says (to a brother or sister), ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Here’s the thing about our political and cultural opponents. We might think of them as somehow tribal in a way that we are not, but it’s human nature to want to belong.
The other day, I took delight in hearing about a profane song parody that went after a leader on the other political side. My wife, Grace, pointed out that my delighting in this wasn’t in the spirit of not--as Jesus puts it--mentally murdering our opponents. To which I agreed, while defending myself just a bit by saying that at least I took pleasure in my mental murdering. And she supportively smiled, but her point was made.
One friend, hearing this point, says she notes when she’s condemning people along these lines and then, mindful person that she is, internally says: “Child of God.” As of course they are.
This doesn’t mean you quit believing what you believe, or acting on that belief. Transcending and including doesn’t mean refusing to transcend. But it does mean “including,” which means moving past the kind of sneering and judging and name-calling that makes that inclusion possible.
Look to speak of your opponents from a place of love.
Let’s take a brief break to talk about a key objection to any of this.
So a friend, hearing these thoughts, shook their head and said, “Yes, but I just don’t know that I have the faith that people who are dug in on either side will be able to rise above, no matter what the Journeying Spirituality crowd does.” And of course that has the ring of an irrefutable point. But I don’t know that it’s on target to the heart of what we’re talking about here.
Paul, remember, talks about living at peace with people “insofar as it depends on you.” So it seems like that’s our starting point. At the very least, it would be lovely not to be among the spiritual people making the problem worse, which it turns out is very hard to pull off--everything is set up for all of us to make the problem worse. As Wilber points out when he lays the lion’s share of the blame on the progressive “greens”--while by no means himself being a conservative “amber.”It’s hard not to be at the heart of the problem.
And, beyond that, wouldn’t it be awesome to join in with friends to engage in the kind of spiritual practice and growth--in the spirit of Paul’s encouragement in Philippians that our faith can be characterized by growth and joy--that might point the way for the whole world towards a way through this worldwide cultural division that would have God right at the center?
4. Consider what some contemplatives would call “loving-kindness meditation.”
Others call it “compassion meditation.” And Jesus would call “loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” So Jesus says this practice involves high stakes!
Here’s how this works.
So I talked on an earlier podcast about how the man who is likely our most famous Buddhist contemplative, the Dalai Lama, does a full hour of loving-kindness meditation each day on behalf of the Chinese hardliners who drove him out of China and persecute him and his followers.
Actually, as a little reminder, here’s how he talks about that to John Oliver.
John Oliver/ Dalai Lama interview. Start at 10:58: “So let’s talk about China.” Go to 12:01: “...and compassion. I practice that.”
His good Christian friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, applauds that as he talks about how he practices something similar. The way it works is to, in your daily prayer practice, come up with a prayer you’d like to pray for yourself and your loved ones. So maybe something like, “In Jesus’s name, may I be safe and joyful and alive to God.”
So you pray that for yourself. And then you pray it for people you only love--your spouse and kids or good friends or whatever. Then maybe you pray it for someone you have more mixed feelings about. Then you pray it for someone who feels like an enemy. And so on.
When asked about the Chinese hardliners, right?, the Dalai Lama says, “I have only love for them. I practice this every day.” This goes back to the expanding our capacities point.
It’s not that he, being a nice person, chooses to love people who are persecuting him and those he loves, it’s that he engages in a spiritual practice to produce this love. And, for those of us who believe in a living God who hears and answers our prayers, it means we are actually blessing those who persecute us.So we grow and change and they get more of God than perhaps they’d get otherwise. A win all around.
America is at a tough spot politically and culturally. But so is much of the rest of the world. We can get myopic that, if our side can just win the next election, we’ll be back on the right track. But the reality is that all of those people who voted the other direction from you in the last election still exist.
If Wilber has any point at all--and if he’s right that sixty-five percent of our world is Amber or Red--then even if you’re that twenty-five percent in Green--or the smaller percentages in Turquoise or beyond--and even if you win an election...you’re still cut off from sixty-five percent of the people around you.
Jesus, we’re told, came to break down the dividing walls of hostility, not so much to vanquish our evil enemies. Let’s join together to lead the way in this.
So when you do your spiritual practice, right after hearing this podcast perhaps, do you want to try a little loving-kindness meditation in the mix and see how it goes for you?
That’s it for this week’s Journey On podcast. Thanks so much for being here!
Again, consider joining in with like-minded friends from around the U.S. and beyond by dropping in on a vibrant online group on Wednesdays at 9pm Eastern time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
See you next time!