Art by Norman E. Masters
We will not renew society by archaic and authoritarian means -- controlling everyone, banning freedom of thought, emulating every detail of an archaic patriarchal culture that happened to be literate. We won't renew society by controlling sexuality and reproduction as commodities and private property, and women as chattel and vessels for nurturing paternal seed. Let us renew society, instead, by recognizing all people as free, by recognizing the "seed" of both parents, by validating both male and female (or more correctly, both right- and left-brained, or both linear and synthetic) thought processes, and by seeing sexuality as an expression of the sacred interconnection of all things. Let us protect children instead of sacrificing them or controlling them.
Souls are interconnected; we exchange essence of ourselves with many people, especially those we love and admire. We also exchange soul-essence with other creatures, homes, objects we are attached to, even specific places, whole cities or countries. All these become a part of us, and we become a part of them. No human soul is an island, a discreet entity by itself. Souls are incredibly relational, just as all matter and energy interconnect on the material plane, just as the Divine Spirit is present everywhere and in all things.
Heaven is here and now, not merely out in space, or only in the afterlife. Both Heaven and Hell co-exist here and now; both can be felt and experienced by nearly everyone. All experiences in life have their sacred and secular aspects; I no longer draw a sharp dualistic line between the "sacred" and the "secular" spheres. The "Kingdom of God" sounds both patriarchal and hierarchical as a term, but better terms can be found and used -- such as "The Reign of Compassion", "The Way God does things", or "The Creator's/Spirit's sphere of activity." It is cuddling 9-week-old kittens at a street fair instead of bombing other countries; it is people working together for a common goal to everyone's benefit, instead of multinational corporations moving overseas and depriving people of jobs on a huge scale. It is agitating for an end to economic sanctions on Iraq, Cuba, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and Bosnia, instead of persecuting people for being unemployed or homeless. It is standing against abusive relationships and all forms of oppression wherever they occur (and standing for justice, compassion, loving relationships and cooperative interconnections in society), because if it happens to my neighbor, it happens to me, it happens to God -- all of Creation is somehow affected. And the Creator is present everywhere and in all things, and cannot help being connected and affected. Let us be interconnected with oppressed people everywhere; to love our enemies often entails refusing to recognize them as enemies, regardless of government and other sources of propaganda telling us who our enemies are.
Whomever we are told to regard as undesirables, those are the very people we need to go out and meet. If we alienate ourselves from others, we also alienate ourselves from God (who is present everywhere), and from part of ourselves -- because we are interconnected and interdependent with everything and everyone, even with people we don't like. We don't have to like everyone. But it's preferable not to try to harm anyone -- except in self-defense -- as an expression of personal dislike.
Christians say that Jesus "came so that we could have life, and life in abundance", but people should be able to say that about each one of us. The story of Christ is supposed to be our story as well; all that he is said to have experienced in his life is also a metaphor for the spiritual development and journey of every person. He is Everysoul, and the anointed Avatar of the True Soul. We are seldom taught this. On the one hand, we are told that each of us is made in God's image, that we each have a divine heritage/ancestry and likeness. On the other hand, we are constantly taught to deny this, to project our divine likeness or aspect out onto Jesus, Mary or whomever, and to claim that we are nothing but mud, filth, evil, sin, etc., as if it is a terrible crime to be born human via sexual reproduction. This apparently comes from the Hellenistic conception of matter as being far removed from the realm of Spirit and "Perfect Order", and thus associated with chaos, evil and disorder in the cosmic schema. However, we don't need to split our selves into hierarchical layers, elevating some and denigrating others. Our chakras belong together.
The Divine Child identified with Christ is born in each of us, being the True Soul, Buddha Nature, Higher Self, Christ Consciousness, Nous Christos or "Mind of Christ", or Holy Wisdom incarnate. If God is Spirit and Ground of Being, then the reference to the Divine Child or Son of God is not talking about a specific physical person or entity. Rather, it is the truest part of each of us: the artist, writer, actor, astronaut, singer, musician, composer, farmer, fisher etc. -- whatever life we most long for, that for which we forget everything else, the pearl of great price. The birth of a baby is done by the parents, but the birth of the True Self or Soul is the Virgin Birth, accomplished by Spirit through each of us. This, I think, is the true meaning of both the Virgin Birth and this "born again" business: they are, in fact, the same thing. The Divine Child or True Self is that which is too often crucified/sacrificed by the "real world", or by each of us caving in to the dictates of "hard reality." However, it can and will rise again. It is stubborn, the spirit that refuses to lie down and die. It is the True Soul that redeems our neglect and denial of it as it rises again through its reconnection to Earth- and Spirit-Source, within the Virgin Womb-Cave of Holy Wisdom/Shekhina/Sophia.
The practice of one's art or true purpose is the Mystical Union, our human and divine aspects merged and reconciled within each of us. Jesus was not here to give us our divine aspect, but to remind us of it, as the human and divine were fully merged within himself. When this occurs, compassion then becomes a source of joy and fun, not a chore or sacrifice. To brush off the ego-aspect in total involvement with the True Self (as when dancing to qawwalis) is the true meaning of ego-annihilation, losing oneself or forgetting oneself. In such a state, it is very hard to sin. You just don't feel like it much.
Let our faith communities be open, radiating circles, not closed circles to which only certain people belong, where only some people are "God's people." What of our European, Asian, African, or American ancestors of the centuries BC; were they not cared for by the Creator/Creatrix as well? Are the Iraqi, Kosovar, Yugoslav and Tibetan people not children of the Creator/Creatrix? Of course they are, if they are not alienated from their True Selves. The abuse of anyone, or the stifling of their art, their True Selves, and their heart's true desires is soul-murder and among the deadliest of sins. Thus a renewed society cannot be based on control, authoritarianism and punitive repression, because these things murder and deform our souls at every turn. Rather, a renewed society will foster and aid the natural, organic growth of the True Soul as it wishes to develop. It will help each of us recognize our True Selves and commit to developing and expressing them to their fullest potential, regardless of who we are. Hence, my vision of a living future and a renewed society has little in common with that of reactionaries and right-wing "culture warriors" who want everything and everyone (including all information and textbook knowledge) controlled, homogeneous and under static, inflexible "shared values" that no one dares question. I share the view that "only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call Spirit flourish in its full diversity" (Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing).
In a renewed society, who we are shall be respected, cherished, celebrated, accepted, loved, gawked at and cheered on. The style of our clothes, the color of our hair, the type of bed we prefer to sleep on, our tastes in music, dance, gardens and jewelry will all be under our control and choice, providing our choices harm no one and do no significant environmental damage. We shall each determine and express our sexuality as it is, not as codes or dogmas say it should be. Again, our choices should not result in harm to others, and promiscuity should not be encouraged; but people should be free to be polysexual/ polyamorous if they wish. We shall be free to structure our households as we choose, according to our own needs and preferences, whether in solo residences, collective households, nuclear, extended or blended families, same-sex or opposite-sex families or groups, elder collectives or supervised youth collectives. It shall be for each of us to determine which household type and family structure best suits our True Selves and meets our needs for solitude or companionship, support and community-building.
The building and sustenance of community is a core value of a renewed society, along with networking and interconnection among neighborhoods and cooperative associations. Houses in a neighborhood preferably face each other and are situated around central plazas or courtyards, cohousing style, with cement-, stone- or brick-paved paths connecting houses with the central space, block streets, and each other house. People can choose whether to use yard spaces for raising trees, food-producing crops, small livestock or flowers; or to build play or leisure areas depending on the limits of space and household preference. Every third house shall be designated as a night shelter, to ensure the safety of people travelling or walking outside after dark. One house per neighborhood shall be a children's/youth safe-house, for when youth need their own space, or children wish to gather for special programs. At least one adult will always be present to staff and supervise each youth safe house and youth collective household.
All of our ethics and morality should be based, not on archaic notions of reward and punishment, but on each person's recognition and respect for (1) the fact that we are all interconnected and interdependent with each other and with all life forms and ecosystems; (2) the concept that the Divine is present everywhere and in all things (besides being outside the limits of three-dimensional time and space), and thus all things in Creation have immanent value and inherent worth beyond their usefulness for human ends; and (3) the importance of both individual freedom and sustainable community, hopefully with a satisfactory balance between the two. We shall not emulate, maintain or cling to any laws, codes, customs or dogmas which contribute to the oppression or suffering of any individual or segment of the community (the writer[s] of the Biblical Proverbs may have thought it was "loving" to hit their kids, but we don't have to agree with such repulsive notions merely because they have been canonized for centuries). No age, gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or level of physical or mental ability shall be elevated at the expense of devaluing or subordinating another. No one historical account or version of history is the "one true" history. History, in reality, is the "study of ancient journalism", and therefore all versions of history have some sort of bias, and all have been used to further someone's political agenda. "Unbiased history" is an oxymoron of the first order.
A renewed society should be one in which everyone feels at home, where everyone feels that they belong; where all are welcomed and valued, and where everyone is able to contribute to the health and sustainability of the community and its environment. Decision-making bodies should be on as small and local a scale as possible, and should include the active participation of all households in neighborhood, community and city councils. Neighborhood multipurpose activity centers and cooperative dining clubs shall be constructed (these functions can be combined in a single building if necessary). These can be the centers of activity and organization for community parties, festivals, ceremonies, concerts, drum circles and religious/ritual activities, inter alia. Council bodies shall play a key role in conflict resolution and mediation, including the mediation or arbitration of controversies where litigation might previously have been called for.
Neighborhood and community members shall take an active part in cleaning streets and other common-use areas, the beautification of common areas and individual plots, the planting of trees and shrubs, and the installation of erosion-control measures. Cash payment or work-credits shall be awarded for all such work.
Nobody shall be deprived of food, clothing, shelter, or other basic needs, as well as opportunities to contribute work to further community sustainability. Nearly everyone has skills and knowledge to make such contributions in exchange for work-credit currency -- even if it is only to teach others one's first language or one's experience with specific health conditions or structural problems in housing, for example. Community-run motels or apartments shall open vacant units to anyone in need in case of emergencies; food shall be contributed to such people by local market collectives in exchange for work-credit hours. People in the arts shall be valued and compensated for their contributions to community life through concerts, festivals, healing rituals, teaching, designing and leading public art projects, etc. They shall also have the option of joining and contributing to the work of other local cooperatives and work collectives.
Education of youth and adults alike shall be among the top priorities of a renewed society, and should be incorporated as much as possible into the everyday life of the community. Each person's level of mastery of a skill or subject shall be monitored and tested, but never graded. There is no pass-fail objective to dread or obsess on; the emphasis shall be on study and practice of knowledge and skills until they are mastered. Love of learning shall be more valued than competition, and students are often capable of teaching and sharing knowledge with their teachers and fellow students. Classes are held outdoors in pleasant surroundings whenever possible, and are often held at workplaces, museums, art galleries, religious/spiritual centers, forests, astronomical observatories, scientific or medical research centers, and other settings relating to the subject matter of a class, in order to place the material taught into a practical context. Students may choose a full range of educational options, including conventional public education, homeschooling, unschooling (or self-schooling), religious-based education, continuing education and vocational tracking. Students and their families will pay educators directly in currency or work-credits. School campuses should be locally based, pleasant places that do not resemble minimum-security penal institutions, but rather look inviting and not far removed from nature and other familiar settings. The establishment and encouragement of high-quality, local higher education centers worldwide shall be a concern of all educators, as this will nourish the intellects and potential of the greatest number of people around the world. The full potential and talents of people of both genders, all ages, races, religions and cultures should be nurtured and utilized in sustainable communities to the greatest extent possible.
Some primary concerns of a renewed society would include:
In a renewed society, industries should be devoted to creating, repairing and preserving ecological sustainability, biodiversity and the global web of life, as well as community health and sustainability on local, national, international and global scales. Rather than competing with each other, or buying each other out for the exclusive benefit of shareholders and business directors, businesses will be largely employee-owned and shall forge alliances across different industries based on a shared commitment to life-enhancement and sustainability. Such industries will include communications on a global scale, for example. Forestry will be converted into a biodiversity industry, devoted to nurturing whole natural communities of native plant and animal species. Hemp and other fiber plants will be grown legally once again as a primary source of paper manufacture. Other forms of farming will strive for diversity of crop selection and replenishment of depleted soils; topsoil renewal and nutrition will also be a major industry operating worldwide. Agriculture, livestock raising and fishing will emphasize community subsistence over export markets, though trade of local surpluses will occur once sustainable yields have been achieved. Members of communities shall be actively recruited for such varied activities as:
Music-sharing will play a major part in all such efforts.
Many people have asked how to prevent school and community violence, how to prevent Columbine High-style mass murders by youth, and how to teach appropriate values and combat a so-called "culture of death." Again, the tightening of social control, religious indoctrination, an authoritarian ethos and restriction of all weapons will not renew society, though these ideas are all that most people can see fit to propose at present. Little mention is made of the abusive, exclusionary, and scapegoating treatment of many students by their own peers. The allowance and tacit encouragement (via indifference) of such behaviors in youth merely teaches them that it is acceptable and normal to treat others with intolerance, rejection, violence and outright hatred simply for being perceived as "different", as if "difference" was a negative, undesirable quality in someone. Children who are encouraged in such behavior and thinking may grow up to perpetrate racial incidents, rape and sexual harassment, gay-bashing, religious hate-crimes, gang violence, political "culture wars", immigrant-bashing, and ultimately, war itself. Much of this could be prevented by exposing and acclimating children early on to different kinds of people and communities, encouraging children of different backgrounds to mix and befriend each other (from different households and within the same household), play together and interact cooperatively. It is critically important for youth both to learn acceptance and celebration of diversity, and to be proud and secure in themselves, their heritages and evolving cultures. Communities and families must strongly discourage scapegoating and other cruel and rejecting treatment of anyone, while guiding youth to learn positive alternative strategies for socializing and resolving conflicts. The Columbine High killers might never have plotted and executed their ultimate revenge if they had not been ridiculed, assaulted, rejected and humiliated so often with impunity. To stop youth violence by so-called "misfits", we must teach youth that putting anyone in the designated role of "misfit" or "scapegoat" is never acceptable. Ditto for the prevention of youth suicide, drug abuse, eating disorders and other self-destructive behaviors. In addition to community-building, people learning to live together in harmony and to accept each other as they are comprise critically important core values.
Youth must also have constructive ways to spend their time, and positive and highly valued roles to play in the community. Youth should be treated with respect, courtesy, dignity and hospitality -- not with fear, contempt, condescension, suspicion, and constant surveillance and punitive crackdown measures. They should be acknowledged and credited for their creation of culture and for their cultural impact on what has come before, instead of being seen as the generation that is "going to the dogs", accused endlessly of "bringing down civilization." There is much about our newest generation's culture that does not at all constitute a "culture of death." After all, the crowds of youth and young adults drumming and dancing ecstatically in the evenings during the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle were raising an abundance of positive energy; they certainly were not out shooting anyone or stealing each other's cars. Moreover, they were creating a sense of community through making music and dancing together, as well as empowering each of themselves as active performers serving their community, rather than being mere passive spectators "consuming culture." Such methods of self-empowerment and creating community will go a long way toward building a life-enhancing culture and a renewed society. I see evidence of these qualities and movements in many places: in community festivals, all-ages music venues, information-empowered youth communities, street-youth culture, drum circles and communities of musicians, jam session crowds, activist communities, cohousing communities and employee-owned businesses, among many others.