"They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth." Amos 5: 10
"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light; as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him." Amos 5: 18-19
"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies… Take away from me the noise of your songs; to your melodies I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5: 21-24
Watching a bit of the political party conventions reminded me powerfully of these epigraphs from the prophet Amos. First, the showiness of it all, and the hollowness of the show. The words being uttered for public consumption are meaningless. They signify no real commitment to justice, no real compassion, no reality at all.
But what has struck me most forcefully is the bind that we place ourselves in, over, and over and over. Seeking salvation, we flee from one ill into the arms of another, or the same, ill in a different form. We accept the binary "choice" between candidates who will, in fact, not change anything for the better. The bombs continue to rain down. The elites continue to profit from the public treasury. We continue to allow our civil liberties to be eroded in the name of security. We continue to plunder the Earth for her riches. We flee from the lion only to be bitten by the serpent.
This is not only a problem in our politics. It is a problem in our psyches. We sense the destructive impulse, the uncaring lust for power and control, in ourselves, and we run from it with all our strength. We wrap it in lovely, deceptive verbiage. Running from it, and unwilling to face it, we find it repeated in new forms and new faces wherever we go. This sounds like pretty cheap armchair psychology, but there is a truth here. We have been running from evil to evil for millennia and we continue to do it. We fool ourselves over and over, that this time we won't get fooled. But lo and behold, here's the new boss, same as the old boss. But their words were so fine! We were so moved by them, so excited! Surely this time they must mean what they are saying!
This pattern of the evil that appears to be the savior who eventually proves to be evil, thus sparking the search for a new savior who turns out to be another evil, has been going on for such a long time (clearly at least since the time of Amos), that by now you would think we would get it! That we would see it! But no, off we run again from the present perceived evil into the arms of the new one. We are seduced by hope, and all we get is the endless destruction of life.
There has only ever been one solution to this. We have to stop running. We have to stop reacting. We have to stop and take a good look at it all. We have to pay attention to the world and to ourselves. That means facing the false choice of the "lesser" evil, and it means facing our own demons that drive us in the first place. We have to have that inner revolution, or the outer revolution will be forever contaminated by the illusions we refuse to face in ourselves.
I'm not saying there is any magic here. I'm just saying we can't resolve this binary problem by continuing to operate under its influence. We react out of fear, and run straight into the trap once again. See it. Just see that it is so. And then maybe don't react. Don't run. Bear it. Bear the almost unbearable weight of it. This running from evil to evil is fundamental to our human condition. This monstrous fact is alive and well in us, all of us. Take that in, and see if that doesn't change how you view the game being played in our politics. You can't even begin to talk about alternatives to the status quo until this has been seen: We want to be fooled! We want our illusions to be confirmed. We want to be shielded from inner and outer reality. We love the politicians and journalists and superstars who keep our illusions intact, and we hate the prophets who tell us the truth about ourselves and the hollow, destructive, self-centered world we have created.
The contemplative life has always been about seeing this very clearly. And in seeing it, reversing it. By paying careful attention to the whole movement of life, revealing our illusions, and becoming aligned with reality.
Bernie Sanders has been a prophetic voice in our world this last year – with his own blind spots, to be sure, but more able than most to speak the truth as he sees it. Now he has temporarily thrown in his lot with the Democratic Party, a party that does not at all live up to its name. I think that was a mistake. His campaign opened up an energy for a real non-violent revolution, and then he backed away from it, settling for the kind incremental non-change that he used to rail against. He may have been threatened, who knows. But somehow the Fear of Trump got into him, and he seems to have backed away from the more revolutionary aspects of the movement he encouraged.
There is never a safe time to shake up the system. There is always the very real possibility, the likelihood given our proclivities, that when the current system is challenged, something even worse will take its place. We have seen that over and over, in Egypt, in Libya, in Iraq, maybe now even in the UK. But at some point that risk has to be taken, or we remain caught in the endless exploitation system of the status quo.
There is never an easy or risk-free time to stand up for life, but at some point we have to stand our ground. We have to call out the liars – regardless of political party - who continue to exploit us and destroy the planet. We have to face our own love of the deceivers who tell us we do not have to change, that everything is just fine the way it is. We have to face the profound changes that we all must make to create room for life – all of life – to thrive.
Everything is not fine. In no way is it fine. We are destroying the tree of life at its roots. It can't continue. We need radical change.
But – and this is a very big problem - if we don't pay careful attention and understand our deep desire to be fooled again, we will be fooled again. We will end up with something worse. We will distort reality to fit our illusions, whether we come from the left end or we come from the right end or we think we reside in the middle of the political spectrum. We will run from one evil into the arms of another, and we will rejoice in our escape, until we finally realize we have built yet another trap and walked right into it.