Each time we come to grasp the vastness of the suffering in the world, a struggle goes on inside of us. How shall we, personally, respond? What are we going to do? For many of us, this was one of the few deep moral and spiritual questions we bothered to deal with anymore. Somehow the issue of basic human justice still had a hold on us long after questions of religion, God, even eternity, had lost their meaning. Perhaps it was because none of the rest made any sense if there couldn't be justice.
Whether our graduation speeches caused us to cringe or filled us with warmth, something powerful within us wanted to believe that we, as the future leaders of America, would make the world a better place. We had to, because our consciences were still working to the extent that we knew we didn't really deserve all that we enjoyed in this life. The golden rule we had been taught as children, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, made us uncomfortable about all those who went without our many comforts. But at least we noticed the injustice and we told ourselves we would make a difference. We would.
World events and personal inclinations have produced in many of us a radical view of the American way of life — its politics and business. Yet somehow, the events that etched themselves into our consciousness had a different effect on some of our closest friends and relatives. They did not take a radical view. Instead, they adopted more conservative, traditional views of how to make the world a better place to live. It was so difficult for us to see how anyone who truly cared for other human beings could put their trust in the system.
We wanted to bring an end to the injustice and suffering we saw in the world, but our liberal views constantly clashed with those of our conservative counterparts in society. And no matter how clearly we presented our case to them, no matter how many facts we marshaled, any dents we made in their minds and hearts were quickly recovered, even followed by a well-polished counterattack.
We had endless heated discussions and debates about everything from health care to Bosnia, from religion to politics, and back again. But in spite of all our seeming differences, we both found ourselves on the same broad, accommodating path in life, both casually enjoying the freedom and independence so abundantly offered in this pluralistic society. Most of us were raised from childhood as spoiled, educated, middle-class Americans. So after a while, we found ourselves right back where we started, having to deal with the same compromises every day, with none of us seeing any real alternative coming into existence. After all was said and done, the conservatives went back to their jobs, perhaps as aspiring corporate lawyers, and the liberals went back to their equally-successful professional endeavors.
And there, life remained an enigma. How did things get to be the way they were now? What had happened to us that our lives were virtually the same as those who had the wrong, insensitive, callused opinions about human suffering? Perhaps you have heard of Carl Jung's statement, "Man is an enigma to himself." Whether you've ever heard of him or not, that is what life is — puzzling, contradictory, its deeper meaning hidden or lost. We uncomfortably felt that we had been tricked and led astray from the way we once confidently felt we could walk — with a good conscience. All of our higher learning seemed to have enabled us to know everything that was wrong with the world and justify our enjoyment of that same world to its fullest. Something was deeply wrong, and we no longer know what.
There was an emptiness within as we realized the many, many ways we had not kept what we most wanted when we were young — a good conscience, righteousness even. For sure not the righteousness the religious people talked about, but the kind where you could sleep at peace when you went to bed, knowing you had treated others fairly. But the relationships with others (before, during, and outside of our marriages), the business deals we didn't like to think about, the intentional deceptions we tried so legally to pull over on the IRS (just like every filthy rich conservative we railed about) all of these weighed so heavily on our consciences when we were down.
So we sought to carry out our alternative views that we thought would change the destiny of this nation. Every new piece of literature we read revealed more and more things that were wrong with the system. Sources of corruption, ways of thinking and living, and ways of earning or spending money that might in some way hurt people were exposed. Every voice had its pull on our conscience and after a while it became hard to buy things because of all the companies we boycotted. It was much easier to see the problem in the other guy. You could get righteously angry at them.
Yet, it all came down to the same thing, no matter which side of the fence we were on. We wanted to get more involved, but we had to make a living! There were so many demands and responsibilities. Our jobs drained us of our time, energy, and talents to the point where we didn't have anything left to really get involved in anything we truly believed in. We just sent money to our favorite progressive foundations that were structured to raise money and establish programs to help the poor, oppressed, and starving people in third-world countries. We even sent money to political candidates who thought the way we did. But somehow it wasn't enough. And now as we grow older, we face the final temptation — to simply stop caring. Why not just stop pretending that your life made any difference? Isn't it easier that way? You turned and thought about your life and the emptiness you had felt for so long was threatening to become a chasm — a vast echoing nothingness. If this is what life had become, what came next?
Sound familiar? Were you hoping that the revolution within you, which had so profoundly affected your own outlook and made you, so it seemed, into a much more caring and compassionate individual, would finally affect the society around you? Wasn't that the promise made by every voice you listened to: Right where you are, you can make a difference. But deep down, where you can't hide what you really feel, you're beginning to wonder whether anyone is making a difference. Still, you give your money away and go to work everyday, getting on with your life, a way of life that is the essence of the problems you see all around you. It's hard not to become discouraged about the condition of the world and your own sense of guilt as you enjoy a life of relative luxury as an American yuppie.
From the grinding poverty of the migrant workers who pick the fruit for your table to the starving Central Americans who raise the beef you roast at your cook-out; from the stripped landscape of the tropical rain forests that provide the hardwoods your boat is built with to the acid rain from the emissions of power plants producing electricity for all your appliances; from the mistreatment of animals in modern science and agriculture to a dozen more issues of which you are probably aware, ranging from the heart-rending to the ludicrous; every voice, every issue, every circumstance holds a burden of guilt over your head. Even the American landscape you live in is strewn with Indian names — the rivers you canoe down, the lakes you vacation by, the states, counties, and cities you live in — enduring reminders of a race almost destroyed through broken treaties and bloody massacres. The more you look, the more it hits home that there is blood on your hands.
Unable to change the past or the relentless course of history, unable to reconcile yourself to the oppression of the downtrodden, unable to change the mind of even one conservative, unable to have a good conscience, your life degenerates to the point (although you surely don't recognize it) of eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you will die.
Is that all there is? Is there a life free from guilt anywhere? What can you do — go to a third-world country to live in poverty? Is it really better to be a victim of oppression rather than to benefit from it? Maybe that's why everyone says to work within the system to change things — because it is so costly to step down from even modest heights of wealth and privilege to rub elbows with the genuine poor. Is there any way to avoid feeling guilty when you still enjoy the best of everything?
You had always wondered how Christians could celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace and wage so much war. You couldn't figure out how they could claim to follow a man born in a stable who had nothing in this life, and yet they had so much themselves. You had read the Bible yourself once, and you knew it talked about the here and now ten times more than the hereafter, yet that's all the Christians talked about. And now that so much has been said and done, you find yourself understanding how they could act that way, because you have acted the same way yourself. Your beliefs have been no more real than theirs. The money they sent away meant just as much to them as the money you sent away, a tax deduction and good feelings. Both were just a way to appease your conscience for the life you didn't choose to lead, for a way of life too costly to walk — true justice, true peace, true life, true forgiveness... They didn't follow Jesus, and you didn't follow anybody.
Can you be cleaner than the nation of which you are a part? Those in the Peace Movement knew they couldn't. They were as guilty as their nation. It is what motivated them to act. The same identity that filled you with warmth as a child is now the source of your disquiet — your nation. You may not be a patriot, a Christian, or a conservative, but its people, conduct, policies, armies, covert agencies, and multinationals are yours. Like it or not, you're an American, and America draws the benefit of your life and work, and yes, your children. They will grow up to fight in America's wars. That's what the children of every nation do.
America acts in your name and for your benefit. All your protests, letters, and intellectual dissent only bolster the conscience of the nation; it is part of the greatness of America that she allows dissent. You're an American from the day you live till the day you die.
What you need is a way out, a place for the passion in you to blossom and not wither. You need to be able to get out so you can follow your heart. You need to be saved, even if that word has repelled you until now. The only ones who ever offered you salvation before always seemed to confuse it with being a good American.
What you need is to be washed clean of the guilt of this world, not immersed deeper in it. You need a clear conscience. It's not merely your political views that are at stake; it's your conscience. If you go against your conscience you've had it. You're finished. You will become like all the rest of those in the system that you despise. All men will be judged by whether they obeyed their conscience or not, regardless of whether they were conservative or liberal, black or white, Christian or Buddhist, agnostic or atheist. When you stand before your Creator to give an account for your life, you will stand or fall based upon how you obeyed your conscience. All mankind will be judged by this standard. Justice will come to all. No one will have any excuse.
You need to come to a place and a people where every trace of your former way of life — every bit of greed, fear, insecurity, anxiety, every bit of hate, anger, and jealousy (in other words, everything that has made you one with the corruption around you) — can be washed away. In that place you will no longer work in and for the system you once protested against. You will no longer do the will of those you don't know, motivated by the fear of want, to spend your life as part of the consumer society. You will know in your conscience that you are a life giver, not merely a consumer. You will weep for joy at your salvation.
You will be a part of the care and sustenance of a large, extended family, the way we were always meant to live. Under the good government of men who confess their sins and faults, you will live with people whose lives are marked by compassion and openness. You will live for them and in them — your kind, faulty, loving brothers and sisters. Your needs will be met by those who freely give to you, and your heart will be the same towards them. You will finally become a part of a tribal people, living the way you were created to live.
This common life of love and care you live will be the literal, actual fruit of being forgiven. Forgiveness will become such a sweet, sweet word. You will receive it and extend it. There is no healing apart from forgiveness. You will find rest in the One who intended from the start that His people would never find their identity or security in the nations of the world. These are His words, "At last the time has come! Turn from your sins and act on this glorious news."
Our life together is the fruit of His life. It is the demonstration that He was serious and that His life, death and resurrection do indeed have saving power. His name is Yahshua, and He is the way, the truth, and the life. If you abide in Him, among His people, you will be set free in deed! Until we, as human beings, are set free in our experience to love and cherish one another, to nurture and discipline our young, to receive as little children our elders, to obey our conscience, then nothing else we do will make any difference. We can't free ourselves.
The way out, whether you're a liberal or a conservative, is very clear. You must come to the only One who will truly receive your life. There you must die, just plain give up everything. To all who cry out to Him He is absolutely faithful. You will not be disappointed. You will receive a hope that no one can take away. You will experience a foretaste of the New Age right now, among His people. You will become a part of a new, holy nation — the restored twelve tribes of spiritual Israel — which will usher in the rule of Messiah on the earth, the true New Age.