by Pastor Doug Kings

For this “vacation week” I am sharing a post from early in my ministry at Gloria Dei. Its relevance hasn’t diminished in the 4+ years since I wrote it.

“Garbage in, garbage out” (or GIGO) is a computer saying from way back. It refers to the truth—not always obvious—that a computer with bad programing or bad data will not and cannot produce a good output. Computers are not magic. Their value is completely dependent on the quality of what is put into them.

Related to people, wisdom teachers and spiritual sages through the ages have said much the same thing. A life of meaning and satisfaction will elude us if our “software,” the operating principles guiding us, are flawed. We will not experience real happiness or accomplishment if the “data” we are taking in is erroneous, if what is regularly entering our head or our heart is illusory or excessively critical. This is the insight supporting the oft repeated urging of Oprah and other pop counselors to rid ourselves of negative people in our life. If they’re our friends, then we need to find new friends.

Similar ideas are found in both the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps the best known from Jesus is this in Luke:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness.”

Using the eye as a metaphor, Jesus emphasizes the flaw within us that lets in “bad” light. This idea is behind the related (and graphic!) teaching of Jesus to pluck out our eye if it causes us to stumble. Better to enter the kingdom seeing clearly with one eye than stumbling with two. Jesus’ language certainly gets out attention but also underlines how seriously he viewed this matter. Recognizing the metaphorical meaning of his healings, it is no surprise that so many involve the deaf and the blind.

Filtering out the “garbage” is one of the most important spiritual tasks we have today. Previous generations often focused on avoiding “immoral” books, movies, music, TV, etc. While not dismissing that concern, I think there is another kind of “darkness” clouding our hearts and minds that is more troublesome. It is not new but has taken on new destructive power, especially through mass media. This is the “bad eye” that causes us to see everything and everyone divisively: like me or unlike me, for me or against me, safe or dangerous, friend or foe, right or wrong, teammate or competitor, winner or loser, to be trusted or feared, to be protected or destroyed.

The ability to make distinctions, and to make judgements based on those distinctions, is one of humanity’s most important qualities. It allows us to manipulate our environment unlike any other creature, and it keeps us alive. When an animal is running toward us, we can’t sit down and consider the possibilities or just wait to see what happens. We need to decide immediately whether this is, for example, our dog running to greet us (get ready for a tongue bath) or a lion wanting us for lunch (run like crazy).

Yet over the centuries, spiritual guides and prophets have taught that what lifts humans to a higher plane is our ability to recognize a profound and essential unity or oneness that transcends all of reality’s divisions. It is this “good eye” which enables us to see that, beyond our differences, we are all part of a single human family. It helps us to recognize that we do not just live “in nature” but we are all part of a profoundly integrated creation, for which humans have unique responsibility.

Jesus reflected this vision throughout his life. He welcomed children as well as adults, women as well as men, the sick and the well, sinners and law abiders, friends and enemies, Samaritans, Romans, Gentiles, and foreigners of all types. For Paul, Jesus revealed the profound reality that all human differences are overcome by him: “We are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our culture is now energized by division. Politicians and the media have mastered the art of manipulating our need for identity and for enemies. They know what buttons to push and we all have them. Doing so requires our permission, however. We must allow their “garbage” in. And it is garbage because it is based on a lie: that what divides us is more real than what ties us together. It is garbage because to believe and live by it inevitably invites our own destruction.

So, if you are looking for a new year’s resolution, consider this: keep out the garbage. Turn off FOX and MSNBC. Step away from the blogs and the talking heads. If you can’t shut down or redirect arguing and dualistic demonizing by your family, friends and co-workers, then just walk away.

Richard Rohr, along with other leaders of the new spiritual renewal of the church, teaches that the contemplative vision enables us to see God at all times, in all places, and in all things. This profound realization overcomes the dualisms our mind wants to impose on the world and people around us. God is manifest everywhere, even in our enemies, as Jesus provocatively taught.

When we embrace such a vision, society’s divisions become false, unreal, and they lose our interest. They are certainly unhelpful and not something in which we want to invest our time and energy. Frankly, however, many of these division have been our friends for a long time: race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, political party, social class. But they’re not helping us. It’s time to find new friends.

Blessings in your life and ministry.