Between Thieves

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This week begins a three week Easter contemplation:

Life is not easy. So much of our existence is relegated to the experience of competing for resources. We grow up with so many competing and contradictory messages, philosophies, strategies, and advice. We live amidst what Donald McCullough called, in his book The Trivialization of God. A Pantheon of Deities.” The gods of the worlds of politics, business, religion, academics, science, and the arts reveal just how corrupt the thinking of men and women have become. The evil within us has created a world where our strategy for survival is to pick alliances that we believe will help us rise to the top. Adopt the group think, become part of the echo chamber…or lose your place in line to someone who will.

Pride and Fear motivate the whole thing.

Muddled in the midst of this is our generation looking upon the whole system and questioning the point of the whole thing…even trying to dismantle it. Some of these will be spun into the vortex by opportunities which they will deem as worthy pursuits, while others will remain on the sidelines condemning the whole thing, resenting the people and systems, in a defiant sort of entitled self-pity. The point that I’m inviting you to consider, is how, whether you are a part of the system, or seek to be free from the system, there is within us all, the same hope for a life that is better than the one we presently possess.

What do we really hope will happen in our life? Are we young enough to think you can avoid all the trappings by living out our passion in some van or tiny house off the grid? For a season we might be able to, but as those around us work their way through the system gain increasingly more options, or if we find love or have a child, we quickly see that our anti-establishment ethos, combined with our advancing age has robbed us of even more options.

Thief number one steals our life by convincing us the system is for suckers.

Those who have the discipline, patience, and social intelligence to thrive within the system are not blind robots, or “sell-outs” these outsiders think previous generations to be. There is an interconnectivity of all people that us “makers” understand and thus we enter the stream fully expectant that opportunities will come our way as we gain skill and experience. We wait our turn, pay our dues, and cash our checks. We assimilate. However, as we gain skill and experience and begin to connect our work with the acquiring of new options and economic success, we come in contact with thief number two.

Thief number two steals our life by convincing us the system is our savior. We are convinced the system is reality.

Both thieves have appraised the difficulty of life and made a decision with regard to the world system: resentment or surrender. It matters very little if our generation resents the system or seeks to gain power from it. Politics represents the strife between both criminals which obscure the truth of the third option, which lies crucified between them. We can know a thief has stolen from us, when we can no longer discern that the system is designed as the place we must all go to die.

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.” (Luke 23:32)

No one stays at the top even if they make it there, the same is true for those on the fringe. Makers and takers alike comprise the system where one hates the other, blaming “the other” for their form of suffering. As Thomas Merton says: “Hell is that place where nobody has anything in common.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

If the thief of resentment or surrender has stolen from us, it means we have conflated our survival with the identity offered by the system. Only our death can allow this to be recovered. The system is where we all go to die. The sentence of death (death or loss of the self) is the blessing which allows us to discover who we truly are. Be warned if you think you already know. According to the system, the third option of cross bearing is a death sentence, which it is, but not for that part of us that longs for a better world, it’s the death of our false self, that resents or surrenders to the system.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

From the cross, one thief began to see that the system into which he has placed everything, was not REALITY, but a delusion.

… for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:41-42)

The paradise we seek is not the same as the world system’s success stories. We think we want financial freedom, a comfortable life, and recognition…but not really. The paradise available to us today, comes as our pseudonym hangs crucified suffering. Salvation is seeing it and letting it go…that’s when we get real… we surrender our outcomes instead of trying to control them.

Life is hard…by design. The world system (kosmos) has been benevolently designed with so much friction, that suffering is an immediate and inevitable result of our deluded understanding it. Pain comes from our efforts to make our home in the system. Our longing for a better life is not resolved by anything within the world system (death chamber), this longing is a homesickness for a kingdom that exists, in the midst of the system, not because of, nor despite it. If we look to the Center, we immediately find the ONE who can “remember us“, who knows us, who seeks to find us, and in whom we will ultimately find ourselves. This not through conversion to religion, but by following Christ to our own cross…then beyond it…to where things get REAL.

Freedom from the two thieves is entering into option three, where paradise is visible…palpable…experiential…, from there, the system makes sense. We no longer are compelled to resent it, nor surrender to it. We now join those who seek to redeem it. The kingdom within us subverts the system without, not in retribution nor “power over”, but in restoration and service.

This is how we join the Risen One in making all things new. The system which stole our lives by darkening our minds to see everything as meaningless and which leaves our life with no real purpose, has been displaced by a kingdom where every molecule has meaning, and each second of our life has tremendous purpose.

Crucifixion is not our horrible end, its true beauty, where the New World begins.