Last Tuesday, the midterm elections saw the lowest voter turnout in over 70 years. Then a few days ago an article about a New York best selling author, whose life had come undone and who couldn’t even get a holiday temp job at the Container Store went viral.
It may seem that these two incidents are unconnected, but I think not.
After the election the general comment about the turnout was predictable. “If you don’t vote, don’t complain” and “we need more people to get involved if we want change,” that kind of thing. We hear it after every election. But maybe the low turnout was the involvement, was the commentary.
In the article, the writer tells her story of falling out of the upper middle class and into the abyss of destitution. Since Barbara Ehrenreich wrote her book Nickel and Dimed: On (not) Getting By in America in 2001 numerous articles, stories, books and commentaries have been penned about the destruction of the American middle class at the hand of predatory global capitalism. These stories have helped fuel the Occupy Movement, some other smaller protests, numerous cries from certain politicians, but above all, the Sound of Sheer Silence.
Faced with the crushing power of an omnipresent Empire, please go see Citzenfour to get the full impact of this reality, most people have made the determination that there is no choice at the ballot box, at the town meeting, at City Hall, or the Capitol building.
I can now hear the screams of all my political, involved, liberal friends. What do you mean we can’t make a difference? Do you mean just give up? On and on. And to boot, they will trot out several decent examples of changes that have come from activism or protest and say that these things prove me wrong.
And this objection to my comment comes from, I believe, two places. The first is that it is so painful to realize how fully ‘we the people’ (which is really a code word for White Dudes and a few other privileged folks) have been betrayed by the principalities and powers of the world, that it’s easier to soldier on in delusion. The second is that we (whoever the objecting, struggling we is) want some of the goodies! We want to believe that the American dream is alive and well. Then we read this article, and we hear the woman’s pain, and amazement that someone with a Harvard degree can go begging for a job, and the bubble bursts for just a second.
But just as quickly the illusion returns. For the greatest power of the corporate titans is that they have succeeded in anesthetizing us into a zombie-like state. So even as we awake for an instant, we are just as quickly lulled back to sleep by the buzz of our phone, by the latest ad, by our constant anxiety, by our overbooked schedule.
Because after all, what can we do anyhow?
Yet the spiritual life tells us that we must lose our lives to find them. The starting point for true transformation is the clarity the comes from the powerlessness in front of us. Rather than criticizing the 67% who didn’t vote, what if we embraced their intelligence? What if we ‘gave up’ but didn’t go back to sleep? What would that look like?
We know because it’s happened before.
In the face of both the power and the slow demise of the Roman Empire, small groups of people began to form alternative communities, trying to live a more human, just, spiritual life. These were the people who eventually came to be called monks and nuns.
Their actions were nothing short of a Kingdom (of God) Revolution, and in doing what they did, they weren’t concerned in the least about changing the Empire. If they ever had that goal, they had long since given up. Rather they dove into the depths of their powerlessness and realized that what was needed was something radically new.
Off and on there is talk about such things here in America. New Monasticism, Christian Communities, these are some of the names applied to the most recent iterations of the conversation. Yet almost as quickly as some of these groups arise, they disperse, and the momentum is usually short lived. I’ve commented that if I had a dollar for every person I’ve met who says they want to form a Spiritual Community but then can’t make even the first meeting, I’d be a rich man.
My hope is that this changes. I believe we need another Kingdom Revolution. Those of us who read stories of that fall into the void of alienation, inhumanity, and market reallocation, need to stop saying “Oh that’s horrible,” rather we need to change our lives. We need to function differently with others, with ourselves, with our money and our time, and with the earth. And just as the last Kingdom Revolution caused the rise of all we claim is good in our society – education, medical care, science, and art -anyone who begins to focus on this new way of being, will be part of the next movement of humanity into the future.