Friday, July 1, 2011

14 Ways to Resist the Mainstream

...they experienced a new ease and a profound freedom known only to those captivated by truly important things.
Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus and Community (1982)

The priority agenda for Jesus, and for many of us, is not mortality or anxiety, but unrighteousness, injustice. The need is not for consolation or acceptance but for a new order in which men may live together in love.
John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution (1971)

If we are truly going to survive and flourish, we've got to build our lives on some teachings that have stood the test of time. When we live these out with a community of sincere truth-seekers it's just like building our house on a firm foundation that defies floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes. We will experience a rare brand of joy and freedom that can only come from a committed countercultural movement that refuses to be prostituted by power, wealth and an addiction to the admiration of others.

1. Be salt and light (a source of both seasoning and guidance)

The mainstream has convinced us, in a myriad of mediums and messages, that we need to protect ourselves and comfort ourselves and reward ourselves. This self-absorption has soaked right through us, leaving us unfulfilled and void of meaning. Narcissism sucks. Many of us are so bogged down with unresolved pain and guilt that all we can do to cope with the overwhelming burden of life is to seek our own salvation through various strategies of pain avoidance, leaving us with very limited reserves of empathy and service to others. An alternative lifestyle that spreads unconditional love to everyone around us--while bringing us true joy and fulfillment--will involve disciplines like prayer, fasting and simple living that shift the focus away from ourselves on to the real needs of our friends, acquaintances, co-workers, strangers and rivals.

2. Seek forgiveness & reconciliation (channelize anger, don’t repress it or project it)

The myth of redemptive violence has enormous strength in American culture, from our post-9/11 wars to our harsh punishments for drug & violent crime offenders to all our personal revenge fantasies. When we are victimized (in any form) and project violence on to others, the violent cycle continues to intensify (with no end in sight) one generation after another. And when we repress that violence, we internalize outcomes leading to addiction, mental disorders and even cancer. This fermenting rage needs to come out in healing conversations with friends, counselors & pastors, as well as with the victim or perpetrator. In addition, we need to seek out "aqueducts of anger," outlets like political advocacy, education & research, art & creativity, fundraising for peace & justice projects & campaigns, food and fitness that make the world a more healthy and adventurous place to live in.

3. Embody sexual discipline

One of the greatest ways to resist the corporate takeover in America is to simply refuse to buy into advertising that is mostly dominated by sex and sensuality. It is subtle and works effectively to penetrate our subconscious and get us to buy, buy, buy. Corporations know all about our collective addiction, obsession and fetishization of everything sexual and they use it against us. The road to sexual discipline may start by unplugging the TV altogether and being highly selective with the movies we watch. Take a 30-day TV fast. Throw away the men's fitness and women's health & beauty magazines. Ultimately, the epidemic of sexual dysfunction in the West is a symptom of our inability to experience deep intimacy and find meaningful community.

4. Say what you mean and mean what you say

Honesty, transparency and authencity, when modeled and experienced, are better than when your spouse fetches you a cup of cold water in the middle of the night. And it is tremendously contagious: when we dare to speak the truth--about ourselves and our world--it becomes an epidemic of full disclosure.

5. Refuse revenge, but demand dignity (nonviolent resisters put up a boundary!)

Nonviolent resistance to evil does not mean we become a doormat. When we face unjust leaders and abusive lovers with our truth and our bodies, they are confronted with humanity. Back in the 1950s, when the Civil Rights marchers descended upon Birmingham and took on firehoses and police dogs, the rest of America watched it on television that night after work and public opinion dramatically changed.

6. Humanize your enemies. Extend love to those who dish out hate.

We cannot afford to live any longer with resentment and hatred. There are consequences for either repressing negative energy or releasing it into violent behavior (see #2). When we work to understand our enemies, we realize that they are just as human as we are, full of anxiety and self-protecting copings. When we get to the root of evil, we can more fully see the pain in their eyes...and eventually forgive them.

7. Resist a bloated religious identity: practice prayer, fasting & generosity in secret.

There is a strong pull within our culture to find our religious identity by attaching ourselves to celebrity pastors and large congregations. Others find it with uber-spiritualized language that attributes every agenda and motivation (no matter how self-interested) to God's Sovereign Will. Perhaps it is best to refuse to allow our left hand to know what our right hand is doing and to find a little secret space to pray to the only One who knows every longing of our hearts. We will be strengthened when we resist finding legitimacy through famous men and large numbers.

8. Don’t hoard wealth. Live simply.

This is tremendously revolutionary in a culture sustained by advertising and commercials that exist for one reason only: to coax us into buying shit we absolutely do not need. There's enough for everyone on this planet...only if those of us living in the West start sharing a lot more of it.

9. Don’t be consumed with anxiety over finances, food and clothing.

Scarcity is what defines the mainstream. So let's live abundantly and simply. We can embrace generosity when we take into consideration the needs of others who live with far less than ourselves. We have a lot of pressure to keep up with the Joneses, magnified by advertising. Let's say "NO!" to the extras that we, not only do not need, but actually add more anxiety to our lives. We don't need more stuff: things are thieves of time.

10. Take your own inventory.

One of the best strategies to resist transformation is to fetishize the weaknesses of others. This includes workplace gossip and celebrity scandals. We use these spectacles to prop ourselves up, rationalize our own dysfunction and distract us from our unresolved wounds. Only when we take the time to ask ourselves hard questions about the roots of our addictions and counterfeit copings can we truly grow into a force that transcends the establishment. And, of course, when we come out of hiding, others follow. Transparency is contagious.

11. Don’t offer wisdom or advice to folks who are unwilling to change

Mark my words: as soon as you start taking some of these tangible steps to break out of the establishment, friends, family & co-workers will inevitably engage you with debate and cliche. Save your breath for sincere and eager pilgrims who possess the courage to seek transformation no matter what it takes. Don't waste energy on folks who get off on trying to convince you of convictions and practices that have large followings and celebrity endorsements, but leave practitioners unfulfilled and void of meaning.

12. Treat others as you would want to be treated

An economy built on self-interest creates self-absorbed consumers who struggle to acknowledge others besides what kind of function they play in society. Let's flip the script and unmask these brothers and sisters so that we can truly give them dignity. For example, that's not "the busboy"--that's "Juan," our neighbor who migrated from hundreds of miles to the South so that he could have the opportunity to support his wife and kids.

13. Judge the teachings of a leader by how compelling her lifestyle is

Truth is always embodied. What does the life of that celebrity, this political leader, that famous author and this pastor really consist of, beyond the rhetoric and good looks? The teachings of these powerful and privileged opinion leaders need to be held accountable. There is a wide canyon between the words and actions of most of our leadership. This basic litmus test will lead us to the Promised Land.

14. Beware of over-spiritualizing with God-talk. Let your actions speak for your faith.

We should be very careful about speaking on behalf of the Mysterious One.

--> These 14 practices are an EasyYolk paraphrase of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. For the original manuscript, see Matthew 5-7.