Thursday, July 31, 2008
Around 30 years ago, I was speaking to a group of people who knew very little English and even less about Jesus Christ. Just before the outdoor meeting began, I sat down with my translator and went over the general ideas I would talk about so he would understand the point of my message, as well as give us the opportunity to clear up any confusion regarding idioms/word choices/etc.
Translator: Won’t work.
Me: What won’t work?
Translator: Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Me: Why not?
Translator: Most people here are unfamiliar with bread and, even if they know what it is, it is a rare thing, not a staple of life. Bread won’t work.
Me: I’ll think of something … what is something they eat every day?
Me: (To myself) O my … Jesus as the Mango of Life? Dad will not be amused.
But that is exactly what I used, and, of course, the people got the point of the metaphor. After all, what use is a metaphor that no one understands?
Which leads me to another fruit as a metaphor for life.
What can bananas teach us about life, you ask?
What do you do with an old black banana that is so rotten it falls apart in your hands?
You throw it away.
What do you do with a green banana?
You put it away and wait for it to ripen.
What do you do with a ripe banana?
You eat it.
Thus saith The Three Bananas:
Rotten Banana: Throw your past away
Green Banana: Leave the future in the future, waiting for the opportune time to peel and eat it
Ripe Banana: Live off of the moment, live in the moment, eating the ripe banana, while keeping your eye on that Green Banana or it too will rot and end up in the trash, rather than in your stomach!
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Thoreau
“Read your stuff on the Cost of Dreams and Turning Away From Success. While I am sure they each helped many of the people who read them, they served to drive home my awareness of the fact that I am not only without dreams but I no longer want them. Dreams torment me, they do not give me hope. As a Christian, I know better than to succumb to such despair but I am presently in a state of utter indifference. Can you write something that would help people like me?”
Despair: Feelings of not being “enough” for her/ him/ them/ it/ life
Despair: The distance between how I am and how I wish to be
Despair: The infinite gap between what I had hoped for and the realization of that hope (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Proverbs 13:12)
Despair: The conviction that I have done something so terrible, so horrid, that I am now disqualified for life, hope, love, and happiness
Can’t stop sleeping
Can’t stop eating
“… then black despair,
The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
Over the world in which I moved alone.” Shelly
Always ebbing and flowing
Yet never really going
Except here and there where
Choice ceases to exist.
I think Thoreau was correct: most of us have had or are living with various degrees of despair. My own experience is that you cannot reason your way out of despair, treating it as some mathematical formula that, if you can just get it right, will solve the problem. (Avoid all friends and counselors who treat your despair in this manner!) My experience is also teaching me that you cannot wrestle it to the ground, making it cry out “Uncle!” Fighting it only seems to make it stronger. On the other hand, accepting that “It is what it is” seems to lesson its intensity.
I wonder if the wiser tact here would be to ignore it? I do not say, “Deny it,” as this would be unreasonable and counterproductive: only … get about your life, accepting that the despair is there, yet not allowing it to dictate your behavior. With Macbeth, we want to say, “They have tied me to a stake. I cannot fly, but Bear-like I must fight the course.” This, I think, is the beginning of the Way Out: Fight the Course, Keep Moving. With Shelly our mantra must become, “No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.”
One of the things I have experienced with despair is that it can often act like a narcotic that induces indifference. The more we take the drug of despair, the more indifferent we become, and the more we wish to keep taking the narcotic. Hope becomes The Enemy: no hope = numbness … indifference is my friend. But, as with all addictions, this only masks the problem, it does not bring healing.
Sometimes despair is a way of punishing myself. I am evil, I am hopeless, I am helpless: so I call down the wrath of Self on my own head. Pierre Charron spoke to this when he wrote: “Despair is like forward children, who, when you take away one of their playthings, throw the rest into the fire for madness. It grows angry with itself, turns its own executioner, and revenges its misfortunes on its own head.”
When I stop punishing myself, embracing the reality that Christ took my punishment upon himself …
When I accept my loss and acknowledge that my despair (or some part of it) might actually be a temper tantrum or a form of self-flagellation over not doing/ being/ getting what I “should have” done/ been/ gotten …
When I accept losses that were beyond my control and cast myself into the hands of the God Who is Good And Always Does Good …
The despair slackens.
And when my despair is over the fact that I am not who I thought I was?
Samson, the strongest of men, failed miserably
+ David, the most spiritual of men, failed miserably
+ Solomon, the wisest of men, failed miserably
= Get over yourself!
I think remaining active is one of the most useful things we can do, when we are in despair.
Never despair but if you do, work on in despair. Burke
I must lose myself in action less I wither in despair. Tennyson
It becomes no man to nurse despair; but, in the teeth of clenched antagonisms, to follow up the worthiest till he die. Tennyson
I am not referring to the frenetic behavior of those who are seeking to avoid pain, pretending it is not there, and staying so busy that they do not face their demons. No, I am speaking about that activity that keeps putting bread on the table, and, more importantly, is pointed toward building a future. When I previously wrote that we needed to ignore the despair, I also noted that I was not referring to denying it was there. Activity with periodic time set aside for meditation and reflection is the balance we are seeking.
An activity that is motivated by running from reality is not healthy: activity that serves to help us deal with reality is healthy. Like Kierkegaard said, “Face the facts of being what you are (I would add “where you are”), for that is what changes what you are.”
Accept (face the facts) that you are in despair,
Accept where you are culpable (if you are),
Accept What You (presently) Are,
And change will occur.
I also think serving others is a great way of decreasing the intensity of our despair, or at least a healthy way of ignoring it. One of the challenges for people in the grip of despair is not allowing yourself to become centered on your Self. This is not, of course, to suggest that you should not take care of your self, only that we must remember that our malady does not release us from the laws of love.
Along this same line of thought, I also think it helps to hang out with our friends. While you will want to avoid “Job’s friends,” you need to be with those friends “who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing ... not healing, not curing ... that is a friend who cares.” (Henri Nouwen)
While some solitude is healthy, always being alone is dangerous for anyone, even more so when you are in despair. If you find that your present reality is that there are no such friends, then force yourself to get out-and-about and begin meeting people ... and pray that God sends some friends who will listen and Be There for you.
It is not good for man to be alone. Gen. 2:18
Planning a Future
Something else that helps us manage our despair is mapping out our future.
“But I don’t have a future, Wilson, at least not one that holds any promise for happiness: why do you think I am in despair? Remember the ‘not enough,’ ‘hopeless,’ lines you wrote? Hellooooo?”
I do understand this. Yet, what if you did have a future?
Pretend for a moment that the despair is gone: if you had a future what might it look like? Yes, yes, I am only asking you to pretend. If you want to hold on to your despair—better the devil you know than the angel you don’t—by all means, hold on to it. Stroke it, caress it … “There, there my preeeecious.”
So, let’s hallucinate here that the Good God still loves you, still has a purpose for your existence, other than serving as a warning for others: what might that future look like? Maybe you can only imagine a few small things: fine, go with that … but Go With That!
Our belief system really does matter, don’t you think? If we believe we do not have a promising future won’t that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Won’t our attitudes and actions follow our faith/beliefs here? However, what if we nurture the belief—or at least hope—that we just might have a future?
“But I have no hope and my beliefs hold no power.”
Fine. Pretend that you do have hope, and that your belief in a promising future is rock solid: Go, and act accordingly.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I was speaking to someone about my blog regarding the Cost of Dreams, and they mentioned someone who was constantly “sabotaging” himself because of his fear of success. Sure enough, there are people who do this: “What if I can’t handle this? I know … I will fail so I don’t have to find out what I am capable of!” However, this is not the case in every person that appears to constantly have his efforts thwarted.
We say, “O, that poor fellow, he would have succeeded had he not sabotaged himself by falling asleep during the job interview!” "My, my, my, it is so sad that the relationship she wanted was sabotaged by her forgetfulness in showing up for dates.” Question: Did they sabotage themselves, or were they successful in actually achieving what they truly wanted: the pity and emotional support (and sometimes financial) of all their friends.
For others, another reason for not achieving success is feelings of unworthiness and guilt, or even fear of being (or appearing) prideful. (Many people don’t mind being prideful as much as they do appearing prideful!) “Look at how Robert the Righteous suffers: he is far more worthy of success than I am. And what of Humble Harry, God? He has suffered setback after setback: how could I accept this success when I am not nearly as humble as he is? Wouldn’t it be prideful to accept these blessings? And what will my fellow Christians think if they hear about this raise/new relationship/new house/sports car? Won’t they think I am full of pride?”
Helloooo? At the end of the day is anyone “worthy” of God’s blessings? And what happened to Paul’s admonition to rejoice with those who rejoice? “That isn’t right: you aren’t humble ... you are a sinner (and they aren't?) ... I haven’t ever experienced such success, what makes you so special?” Isn’t this a sign of faulty character in those who refuse to celebrate our successes with us? And should we sacrifice our success and happiness on the altar of their faulty character?
Me: O Lord, I just can’t accept the rewards, the success that has come my way. I feel guilty, and soooo fear being prideful.
God: Okay, give them back to me.
Me: Lord, here: take it all back.
God: Now – receive these blessings, without guilt or pride, and simply enjoy it as my gift to you.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008
A friend is a second self.
He who hath many friends hath none.
My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.
Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.
The antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.
Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.
Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.
It is simplicity that makes the uneducated more effective than the educated when addressing popular audiences.
How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms?
When the storytelling goes bad in society, the result is decadence. (Think Hollywood)
We make war that we may live in peace.
It is more difficult to organize a peace than to win a war; but the fruits of victory will be lost if the peace is not organized.
A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.
No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.
Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy. (LOL)
There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man.
Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.
Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind.
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.
For what is the best choice, for each individual is the highest it is possible for him to achieve
It concerns us to know the purposes we seek in life, for then, like archers aiming at a definite mark, we shall be more likely to attain what we want.
Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.
It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.
Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.
The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
About a month ago, a man called for some advice and encouragement, as “my life has spun out of control.” As we spoke on the phone, I began writing down things he was saying that “mattered” to him … mainly this had to do with what others thought about him. After about an hour, I realized that what I was writing down were the “laws” he was living by. I rephrased them a small bit so that he could see the true nature of each law he was seeking to obey. I then put them into an email and sent them to him. He called it “shock therapy,” and said that he was so stunned by seeing his laws written down that he began weeping and then laughing at himself. “It was quite a freeing and cathartic experience!”
These were his laws.
I. You must live for their happiness.
II. You must never trust your own thoughts/intuitions/heart, but allow them to think their thoughts through your brain, and feel only what they deem appropriate for you to feel.
III. Their judgment and evaluation is the voice of God for you.
IV. You must see every conflict and every painful circumstance in your life as your fault, and God’s punishment.
V. You are never to believe or feel that you are worthy of love.
VI. Fear and guilt prove that you are humbly walking in reality.
VII. Peace or, God-forbid, happiness, prove that you are arrogant and walking in unreality.
VIII. Christ’s suffering on the cross was insufficient payment for what you did … and they will decide what payments you must make and for how long.
IX. What they want for you is good; what you want for yourself is evil.
X. You are forever to be defined by your past failures.
My prayer for you is that you would refuse to submit to Their Commandments and remember what Jesus said: My yoke is easy and my burden is light. So, if it isn’t “easy and light,” it didn’t come from God. +
I am off for Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. Some of the places we will be working aren’t exactly friendly to Christians or Americans, so, when you think about it, please pray for us. The main purpose of this trip is to begin taking over a Foundation that specializes in rescuing girls who have been sold into sexual-slavery, and seeing to it that they are educated and equipped for a far, far better life. Will write about the trip when I return, sometime during the first week of August.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008
Monday, July 7, 2008
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
(In September of 2007, I posted a series of essays on the subject of love. I recently went back to my journal to re-read those essays and discovered one that I didn’t post.)
In I Corinthians 12-14, Paul writes to the Corinthians about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and then his famous words regarding what love is and what it isn’t, and finally about the proper use of the gifts. Question: Why write about the gifts, take a detour regarding love, and then go back to writing about the gifts? What in the world was he thinking? I believe it was because, while the people of Corinth were all-about-the-gifts, Paul wanted them to see that they should stop following after gifts and follow after love: that it was only when we follow after love that the gifts He gave us will have the impact (both on us and others) that they were designed to have.
Most of my early journey was filled with teachers who spoke of love like an engineer speaks of plans for building a bridge or like a mathematician explaining formulas or like a stoical Spartan speaking of doing his duty. Even when they spoke of I Corinthians 13, there was no poetry, no feeling, no passion or compassion, no enthusiasm … and no fire.
Unlike one Christian theologian I read, I do not believe that emotions came when Adam and Even went their own way. I do not believe that God is a Vulcan, and definitely do not think that Stoicism is even remotely a Christian mindset, much less a Christian virtue. Come on. Isn’t a love that is void of feelings far, far beneath what God intends for us to experience for Him and for others? Sure, some people need to remember to bring intelligence and willpower to demonstrations of love, but just as many need to take their hearts out of cold storage.
The Danger of Love
Love is dangerous because it is the nature of love to surrender, to lose control, to be vulnerable to the point of becoming fragile. And herein is the reason so many people avoid allowing themselves to love as they were meant and made to. Love is both a wonder-filled experience and a painful one. (See Birth of Jesus and Jesus on Cross) As many people have a predisposition to avoiding pain, they close their hearts to it, and in doing so close their hearts to love.
It is far safer to approach love for God and others solely as acts of our wills: do your duty, and keep your commitment. Just do it … but don’t feel it, because once you throw your heart into the arena, someone is going to step on it.
Ask yourself this: Do you feel loved by friends who resign themselves to performing their duty toward you?
Monte: Hey George: I really don’t feel like serving you today. I have no sense of compassion or affection toward you, don’t even care about you, but… I… Will… Serve… You.
George: You can leave now.
Love requires our brains, our strength, our willpower … and our hearts. And yes, there are certainly times when your heart just isn’t in it. However, if this is a lifestyle, if this is my way of being in relationships, then something is terribly wrong with me.
Love is a flame: it ignites, it blazes, it consumes. The flame both warms us and often burns us. Sometimes the blaze purifies, sometimes it scars; sometimes it empowers, sometimes it is an earthquake. If there were a sure-fire way of only experiencing the happier aspects of love, more people would love more freely. But love is dangerous … like dynamite or wine.
So many people go through life hiding from love. O, underneath the cool exterior there are hearts filled with the desire to love and be loved, but they keep that longing in a cage, buried deeply, far away from the risk that comes with bringing their longings to the surface and into the light. But this is not living as God created us to live. Okay, sure enough, if we live this way, we will be safe: safe from pain and suffering, and safely shut away from truly living.
Following After Love
Do this experiment: Rather than solely asking yourself what is Right or Wrong about a particular decision you are facing, ask, “Where is love? While considering each possible action, where do I experience passion or compassion, enthusiasm, affection, desire, care? Where is love drawing me? What is the love that is in my heart telling me? Upon what path do I sense love?”
Another experiment: The next time you have a desire to call someone or to go see them—if the mere thought of a family or individual comes to mind—act on this immediately. Give them a word of encouragement or ask yourself what small act of kindness you can do for him/her/them, so as to demonstrate your love. And then stand back and watch the power of God released, both in them and in you.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. -- Plato
Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. -- Carl Jung
To be loved for what one is, is the greatest exception. The great majority love in others only what they lend him, their own selves, their version of him. -- Goethe
Your body needs to be held and to hold, to be touched and to touch. None of these needs is to be despised, denied, or repressed. But you have to keep searching for your body's deeper need, the need for genuine love. Every time you are able to go beyond the body's superficial desires for love, you are bringing your body home and moving toward integration and unity.
-- Henri Nouwen
The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, "What are you going through?”
-- Simone Weil
It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say. -- Thomas Merton
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
-- Rome and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
-- Zora Neale Hurston
Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what it loves. -- Pascal
There's always one who loves and one who lets himself be loved. -- Somerset Maugham
The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost. -- G. K. Chesterton
Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings. – Anais Nin
We all know people who try to cover up their kindly gestures with irony and indifference, as if love were synonymous with weakness. -- Paul Coehlo
To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. -- Lao Tzu
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. –CS Lewis
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain
In this life, suffering and sacrifices come to us no matter what: we might as well go through hardships that are preparing us for the realization of our dreams, rather than suffering hardships for … nothing. Monte E. Wilson
I was reading the biblical story of Joseph the other night: his dad gives him a special coat, his brothers seethe with jealousy, he has a dream, brothers become even more jealous, they sell him into slavery, he suffers, suffers, and suffers in Egypt, until the dream, years later, is realized.
What is it about the dreams of others that bring out the worst in people?
“O, that is just not who you are!” Really? How would they know? At the end of the day, how does anyone know who you are except God? And what if it is a case where the pursuit of your dream is part of the process that is going to transform you into who you are to become?
“You can never do that … it’s just not practical.” Joseph’s brothers couldn’t have said it better.
Family and friends usually mean well, yet when they hear about your dreams they all too often either project their disappointments onto you or they seek to install their dreams for you into your mind.
“I didn’t make it, didn’t pull it off, didn’t follow through, didn’t have the courage or fortitude, and the pain of the failure is so life-altering … man, I don’t want you to suffer the same disappointments, so don’t even start down this path.” Same thought with a twist: “I didn’t have the courage to even try. If you succeed, my failure will be magnified," so, “Come away from the edge of the nest little birdie, you can’t fly.”
Those with a bit of a god-complex decided long ago who you were and what you were to do. Going against their wishes is, in their minds, going against God. And, if one of these well-meaning gods is a parent or revered teacher or friend, going contrary to their counsel just may actually feel as if you are going against God. Then it’s, “Let the condemnation begin!”
You can’t …
You aren’t …
You are …
You had better …
You better never …
You must …
Thus saith god …
This is not to say we shouldn’t seek wise counsel or that we should resist the words and wisdom of those who detect errors or foolishness. But there is a difference between conviction and condemnation.
Conviction pierces the heart with a scalpel that wounds on the way in and heals when it is withdrawn
Condemnation beats you down until you feel unworthy of every breath you have ever breathed.
Conviction humbles and exalts: it takes you to your knees and then tells you to come boldly before the Throne of God.
Condemnation tells you that you are a turd in the punchbowl of life and always will be.
And herein lies some of the cost of following after your dreams: you sometimes lose the good graces and opinions of many of those whom you truly love. And for many of us, this “cost” is far greater than any other price we will pay for realizing our dreams. However, you are the one who will give an accounting to God for what you did with the gifts, graces, talents, and, yes, dreams that He sent to you, not these loved ones. And, besides, people who truly love you will ultimately support you in your quest.
My childhood dream was to give my life to music. I remember the first time dad saw me weeping as I was listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony: “Billie (my mom), he is cryyyying over muuuusiiiic!?!?!?” (He was visibly thrilled when I brought home my first girlfriend.) However, my father and mother totally supported my love for music to the point of sacrificing for me to go to a private University to study. Dad didn’t understand, feared it was a frivolous pursuit, but never once flinched in his absolute support of my dreams.
I didn’t have people in my life that told me I couldn’t follow my dreams, and for this I am deeply grateful. Who was the primary enemy of my dreams? Myself. My internal conversations were constantly filled with fear, doubt and condemnation. My number one self-condemnation? “If it makes me happy, if it gives me joy, if it doesn’t cause hundreds of people to walk the aisle on the fiftieth verse of ‘Just As I Am,’ giving their lives to Jesus, it has to be a sin.” I didn’t need some brothers to sell me into slavery: I did it to myself.
Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008