Sunday, August 31, 2008

Other People's Stories

I have just finished reading Michael Novak’s newest book, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. I always find Mr. Novak’s books insightful, provocative, refreshingly honest, well researched, and incredibly literary. This one exceeded the high standard he has set (in my mind) by all his past writings.

One of the things I have always admired about Novak is how honestly, openly and respectfully he engages the ideas, ideals, beliefs and values of those who differ with him. In this book, he is engaging some of our nation’s more popular atheists.

Novak reminds me of Bill Buckley, in this regard. I always respected how he engaged people who differed with him: even more so the fact that WFB’s friends came from every spectrum of the political, philosophical and theological world.

When we look around our personal worlds, whom are they peopled with? How many “people of color”? How many people younger and older? How many are from other cultures, other countries? How many of our friends are of differing faiths or, at the very least, have differing views of our common faith? How many of our friends ever get in our face and respectfully argue with us about beliefs/ values/ mindsets/ perspectives we hold dear?

It is very easy to gravitate to people who are like us in most every respect. Yet where is the “iron sharpening iron”? Where is the variety that spices up our lives? Who is going to put ants in the pants of our faith, our worldview, our philosophy, our way of being?

It seems to me that most people do not want to be challenged, do not want to rethink long held conclusions, revisit old certainties, preferring, rather, the comfort of people who pretty much only say Yes and Amen to everything they believe, to most every decision they have ever made, to their most cherished illusions. (The great thing about being disillusioned? It means we are being disabused of an illusion!)

All of us tell ourselves stories about who we are, why we are the way we are, how we came to be This Way, justifying why we believe as we do, act as we have, and how right (or wrong) we are about This, That, and The Other. The stories comfort us (even those stories that explain why we were or are "wrong") because, to our way of thinking, they are True. And once the story is True, all other possibilities are barred: all stories that would lead to other possibilities are seen as so many books to be burned.

This is not to say that we should never come to conclusions: only that our conclusions should be held humbly and with open hands, and they should never come before having engaged as many other possibilities —as many other stories—as possible.

When Novak engages an atheist, he does so respectfully and empathetically, walking in the shoes of the other, genuinely considering other beliefs, other answers to life’s questions (“What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope?” Kant), other possibilities, and other stories that were shaped by differing experiences … and his soul is nourished, deepened, broadened, challenged, and enriched by doing so. As will ours, if we decide to Go, and Do Likewise.

Or so I believe ...

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Powerful Forces Leave Powerful Impressions

Journal, August 1st, 2008

I am sitting in the Author’s Lounge at The Oriental in Bangkok. Over the years, many famous authors have come to this same room to write: Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward, James Michener, and Sommerset Maugham, to name just a few. I am hoping to soak up some of the residual energy of their genius! So far, all I can do is sit here in awe of the fact that such artists worked right here in this room. Amazing.

In a few moments they will begin serving High Tea, but right now it is quiet in here. Leather furniture, two beautiful desks to work at, hundreds of books in various languages placed in antique oak book cases, a Grandfather’s Clock, old photographs of famous authors hanging on the wall just above where I am sitting at one of the desks. The closest I can come to describing the ambiance here is to say it is full of light—literally and metaphorically.

Long ago, I discovered that various places— geographical settings as well as rooms—have a spirit, a certain feel about them, if you will, that was created by events that took place, sometimes long ago. Walking in a park, you feel an unexplained grief, only later learning that many men died in a battle on that exact spot. Other places elicit joy or optimism: the heroic character and great deeds of men and women leaving their mark on this room, that forest, or the Pub in London where you are sipping your beer.

Powerful forces leave powerful impressions.

Have you ever walked into a room filled with coworkers who, while they are each busy working in their individual cubicles, you just knew there had been a war going on there, only to find out that, minutes before you walked in, there had been an intense argument? How did you know this? The energy of the anger and acrimony lingered in the atmosphere. The same thing happens, over time, in many of the places we visit, work and live. Or so I believe.

So … what sort of impression are you engraving on the places where you live and work?

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

Talking Heads

Parrot: “Ack … Thus Saith Me.
Polly Wants Applause!”

Read the script, cite chapter and verse, be right, make him/her wrong, holding to the Company Line— Denominational, Theological System, Company Standards—challenging all deviations. Of course, your opposing Talking Heads have different chapters, different verses, different scripts, different metaphors, claiming the authority of differing author-ities.

Talking Heads Talking at Talking Heads: all of them forgetting the heart, the soul.

“I know.”
“No, I know.”

“I have logic.”
“So do I.”

“I have heard from God.”
“Me too … He says to tell you that you are wrong.”

“My heart/conscience is telling me…”
“Mine is telling me the opposite…”

“Well, you have an agenda.”
“And you don’t?”

Too many words
Not enough listening
Monologues rather than dialogues
Commands rather than conversations

“Choose Your Weapons.”

“Words at 20 paces.”

The man with the Most Words wins
The woman with the Best Looking Head wins
The person with the Biggest Head wins

But … wins what? He certainly doesn’t win over a “whom,” so what was the point of it all? And what if my Head is wrong? How will I ever be corrected, grow in knowledge and wisdom, if I do not consider and reflect upon what others have said … if I do not stop talking and truly and empathetically listen?

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Communal Well

A story told by, author, Paul Coelho

A powerful wizard, who wanted to destroy an entire kingdom, placed a magic potion in the well from which all the inhabitants drank. Whoever drank that water would go mad.

The following morning the whole population drank from the well, and they all went mad, apart from the king and his family, who had a well set aside for them alone, which the magician had not managed to poison. The king was worried and tried to control the population by issuing a series of edicts governing security and public health. The policemen and the inspectors, however, had also drunk from the poisoned water, and they thought the king's decisions were absurd and resolved to take no notice of them.

When the inhabitants of the kingdom heard these decrees, they became convinced that the king had gone mad and was now giving nonsensical orders. They marched on the castle and called for his abdication.

In despair the king prepared to step down from the throne, but the queen stopped him, saying, "Let us go and drink from the communal well. Then we will be the same as them.

And that was what they did. The king and the queen drank from the water of madness and immediately began talking nonsense. Their subjects repented at once: now that the king was displaying such wisdom, why not allow him to continue ruling the country?

The country continued to live in peace, although its inhabitants behaved differently from its neighbors. And the king was able to govern until the end of his days.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Some Friends Along the Way

Taken in front of the famed Elephant Bar, at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, in Phnom Penh. Some say the bright light on my right shoulder is the Light of God that goes with me everywhere; others say it is, Tinker Bell-like, the Tiny Fairy Princess; still others say that it is the reflection of Colonel's greatness, who was taking this photo. Come off it: the photographer forgot to take the flash into consideration!

Thanks to the good graces of World Emergency Relief and her husband Abet, Michele Laurel traveled with us around the Philippines as tour guide, aide-de-camp, logistical genius, and all around care-giver. When our plane failed to arrive in Naga City, it was Michele who helped rescue us: without her we would probably have spent more than only one extra day in that hot, muggy airport.

Colonel Doner and his son CJ. (The Indian is a member of Florida State University booster club.They're everywhere!) Colonel is my oldest and dearest friend. His son CJ is no longer merely my best buddy's son, but my friend and fellow conspirator.

Wally McCall: the glue that holds all of our organizations together, a financial wizard, omni-competent administrator, and dear friend.

Wally's husband, Captain (ret.) Bill McCall. I thought we would be helped by Bill's linguistic acumen. Turns out he is only fluent in Mandrin Chinese. Sheesh Bill, what's up with that?

Davide Zaccariello: Manages CME, an Italian Charity. Often suspected of being a member of the Mafia; a.k.a. Dartangnan: close friend, confidant, counselor, coach, and trainer. A prince of a man.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Cambodia and Thailand

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we visited the sites of Hagar International, a group who is tirelessly working to break the cycle of poverty by intervening in the lives of young women and children, offering aid, comfort, training and reintegration programs for those women rescued from life as a prostitute.

I wish I could show you photos of these women and the facilities Hagar uses to house and care for them, but it is necessary to protect the identity of the women, as well as the whereabouts of the facilities. All too often a
mama son or agent for the prostitute's owner will seek to track down the woman, so as to forcibly take her back to the brothel or street corner where she can return to making money for them.

Chab Dai is another organization we visited. This is a coalition of over 40 Christian Organizations working with victims or those at risk of being victimized. This organization tirelessly works at discovering or developing strategies for not only rescuing those women caught up in prostitution as sex-slaves, but strategies for preventing Human Trafficking altogether.

One simple strategy:

Worker: Hello Village Elders! Have any of your young women disappeared … been taken away to work as sex-slaves?

Elders: O, no way!

Worker: Uhhh, let me ask another way: have any of your young women been offered jobs in far away countries?

Elders: O YES!!!

Worker: Let me explain something to you …

A vendor selling his wares on an "alley" off of the Chao Phrya River that runs through the heart of Bangkok

New Construction!

In Bangkok, Thailand, we saw the works of Home of New Beginnings, Rahab Ministries, and Nareethon.

Each of these works is dedicated to serving and caring for women who have been victims of human trafficking and sex-slavery. One of the main goals is to equip these women with skills/trade so that they can support themselves. As you read earlier, these women usually cannot go home, and definitely will have trouble ever finding a husband, as they are no longer virgins. (It constantly baffled me: the same men that used these gir's services are the yahoos screaming, “What: Me marry a woman who is not a virgin?”)

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Mother Joan: Naga City, Philippines

Mother Joan Clare Chin Loy, born in Jamaica, is the Founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, Sisters --Regina Coeli Foundation: a phenomenally energetic, compassionate and savvy lady.

Our first stop was to the Garbage Dump outside Naga City, where a town has emerged filled with people who barely make $2 a day. Here, Mother Joan reaches out to the children, offering them food, medicines, vitamins, and other aid so as to demonstrate the love of God.

Over the years we have sent tons and tons of supplies, material, and etc., to help her work here.

Children lining up for a meal

Colonel Doner, feeding the children

As you can see, one of the treats the children received was a sucker!

Not only does Mother Joan go out into the streets and garbage dumps to serve the people, she also has established a trade school and clinic, where the children are fed, taught, catechized, and showered with love.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Baseco, Philippines

Baseco is built on the banks of the disgustingly dirty Pasig River, where there is very little electricity, and no running water. Children make money by going and buying water and lugging it from shack to shack, selling it for $1 per gallon. They also sell their bodies—prostitution is rampant, and the selling of a kidney for $2,000 is quite popular. As I write this paragraph, there is a newspaper article on the table next to me about a young man who died, selling his kidney. Seems the Doctors didn’t think to check the boy for hypertension. “Do no harm … unless you can make a buck.”

Just before I arrived, a buddy of mine who was just here, wrote to tell me that anyone who comes here had better have no fear, and know how to take care of their selves. Uh, thanks for the Heads Up!

It is quite difficult to get to Baseco by land so we took a skiff. If the locals want to catch a ride on one of these water-taxis, they often will barter their young daughter's bodies

You know how here in the US communities spring up around golf courses, tennis courts and shopping areas? Here communities spring up around garbage dumps. Over 70,000 people living on 125 acres of garbage. They either utilize what they find for building a “house,” or they sell or barter it.

The smell of sweat, refuse, dirty water, and tons of garbage create a stench that is nauseating. Here in the US we treat out pets better than this.

One of the problems here, as you can easily guess, are the typhoons that sweep across the area. In 2004, 2500 people had their homes dumped into the river.

HOWEVER, there are a number of groups that have braved the challenges and are working to make Baseco a safer place for its inhabitants. One of these groups is the “Center of HOPE,” specializing in child sexual and physical abuse cases.

They have an amazing Community Center here where hundreds of children receive love, food, and entertainment. The reason there are no photos of this Center is because Monte forgot extra batteries. So rather than shooting photos, let's just shoot Monte.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Philippines: Twenty Years Later

I love the Filipino people. I have been pretty much everywhere in the world and without equivocation I can say that I have never met a more gracious, hard working, or hospitable people, especially out in the Provinces.

Filipina Friend: So, what is it like to return after 20 years? What would you say has changed, since then?

Me: Not enough. I don’t know if it’s a case where I am 20 years older, so am far more realistic about what I am seeing, but it appears to me that you guys have failed to live up to the potential for peace and prosperity that I believe was and is possible. Things became much better under Presidents Aquino and Ramos, and then appear to have gone down hill ever since.

When I first arrived, Marcos was holding on to his “democratically elected” despotic grip over this nation. He was using the people’s fear of the New People’s Army (communist insurgents) and the Muslim secessionists on Mindinao as leverage to stay in office, as well his close ties to the US, and its massive military presence. But the consequences of his rule became so painfully unbearable that the people were ready for and demanding a substantial change (this is as opposed to a symbolic change that appears to be all the rage with Obama-maniacs here in the US). Anyway – When I first arrived, it seemed to me that the people here were ready to realize their potential, as soon as they could figure out how to depose Marcos and find enough vans to cart away Mrs. Marcos’ thousands of pairs of shoes.

I just knew that I knew once the people here could elect a government that was actually going to abide by the rule of law and that would, at least, generally serve the people rather than using them for their own selfish ends, this place would become the economic powerhouse the World Bank had predicted it to become just 10 or so years earlier. Okay, Japan had already beaten them to the top but that’s okay … Come on man, their GDP was 5 times larger than that of South Korea’s: these people were on the cusp of an economic explosion! Or at least I thought so.

Now, twenty years later, China and India are the Big Boys over here, with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan not far behind, and the Philippines bringing up the rear. What happened?

Prosperity requires the rule of law, national peace, free markets where the best product at the best price is allowed to win and losers go back to the drawing the board, and a national emphasis on both rigorous education and Research and Development in the fields of technology and science. Sadly, the Philippines still haven’t committed itself to making any of this happen.

Rule of Law and Peace
The rule of law is corrupted by a handful of families and special interest groups who can still manipulate the law to their own ends. When only the poor and powerless are held subject to the law of the land, with the rich and powerful being free to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want, only the rich and powerful prosper. Crickey man, around 20,000 of the nation’s police don’t even have weapons--this is out of 125,00 policemen, which is quite symbolic of the misplaced priorities of the government.

Free Market
Given the power of these families and special interest groups, the market is continually tipped in their favor, so that there is no even-playing-field for true competition.

Our taxi-cab driver: Do you wanna know the only three ways to become wealthy here? Become an Arms Lord, A Drug Lord, or a Praise the Lord (TV Minister).

Education and Research and Development
When power and personal aggrandizement on every level of political power are the general practices of politicians, there is not a lot of dollars left for teachers and scientists.

Don’t misunderstand me here: a day doesn’t go by that some politician doesn’t publicly call for reform on every level, and the people here are definitely ready for change. The challenge is with the “ruling class” whose self-interest stands athwart such reformation, screaming “Over my ever-increasing bank account!”

Back in the day, people from across Asia came here looking for work. Today, thousands upon thousands of the nation's youth are headed for Singapore and elsewhere to find jobs.

So, what’s the answer? Well, whatever it is, it won’t be easy: reformations never are, and they do not happen with a single wave of a magic wand. Furthermore, they usually begin at the bottom, with a little help from a few of the more influential members of the ruling class that give voice to the masses of discontent.

Here in the US, true reform is difficult, as too many voters only think of their own pocketbook: “Which politician will give ME the most benefits?” The same goes for the Philippines. There can be no reform without enough people standing up and saying, ENOUGH.

Stop protecting the wealthy at the expense of the poor

Stop tilting the market place in favor of the special interest groups who are lining the pockets of politicians

Start providing for our police and see to it that every one is equal before the law

Start devising and implementing plans for a robust push for Research and Development in Science and Technology, which means, among other things that we

Begin demanding and providing a more rigorous education for our children

Or so I believe ...

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Philippines: Laguna Center of Hope

This community was built to serve children who have been sexually or physically abused, and is largely funded by World Emergency Relief, who we will be partnering with in fulfilling their vision.

The services offered are comprehensive. There are the social workers who interact with child, family and courts; therapists who counsel children and families; school teachers; advocates who help the children walk through the criminal proceedings; and a staff that looks after all of the children’s daily needs.

I don’t think I have ever seen such a work in either scope or depth. The breadth of care offered, the detailed attention given to creating an atmosphere conducive to supporting the children’s healing … incredible stuff.

Each child is placed in a home with house-parents whose goal is to serve these children and their families, leading the child to a place where he or she can function in a healthy manner back home or in a foster home. Depending on the degree of abuse, the children can be here at Laguna for as long as two years or only for a matter of weeks. Miraculously, all of this care only costs around $300 per child per month!

Narative Therpay: The counselor has the children periodically draw pictures of what happened at home, how they are feeling "today," and whatever they want to draw, helping the counselor and the child to "see" where the child is psychologically, noting the images that are possibly floating around in the child's psyche. Second Row, First Drawing: Note the black creature with horns placed just outside the child's house.

Given what has happened to these children, the depth of joy we encountered here was stunning

Four of the young ladies being cared for

CJ (Colonel Doner's son) thought this the perfect pose for me: Monte on the Special Bus. The art work you see here is displayed throughout the community in all of the buildings, homes, etc., helping to create a pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere for the children.

The people here are doing an incredible work, helping to give hope to children who were terrified of life and without hope of every being "normal" again. May God continue to bless their work and provide for their every need.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

Welcome to Asia: The World's Brothel

I have held Ethiopian children in my arms that died of starvation and disease only moments later. I have spoken with men and women who lost arms or legs during bombing raids in South Sudan, and watched these same people boiling tree leaves, hoping for some sort of nutrition to give their children. I have spoken to Filipino pastors who were tortured by Muslims because they refused to renounce their Faith. I have witnessed battles in the Philippine Provinces where the New People’s Army cut down innocent men, women and children. I thought nothing could match the horror of what I had already seen … until I saw 12 and 13 year-old girls being forced to sell their bodies.

In Vietnam and in nearby nations where our soldiers enjoyed R & R, when our military pulled out (1975), there was far more supply than demand for sex. The solution was two-tiered: begin marketing to local men, and to crank out an international marketing plan for sexual tourism.

In Phnom Penh, for example, 5 or 6 buddies from places like Japan and Europe will check into a hotel, have a few drinks, and then be whisked away in an SUV to visit a brothel, where they can choose girls whose typical ages range from 12 to around 19 years old. The 12 year olds fetch the highest price. Why? They are chosen because these children are virgins and, thus, disease free or simply because some men prefer children. Imagine the psychological and physical damage these barely pubescent girls suffer when having sex with older, abusive men.

The same basic scenario is played out throughout the nations we visited—The Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, as well as across the rest of Asia.

Some girls are ripped away from their families and villages and taken across international boundaries to serve men in places like Tokyo and Bangkok. Some are taken and sold to brothels or mama sons (think: older female managers) in other villages or larger cities in their own nations.

Not all of the girls are captured and thrown in the back of trucks or in vans. Many of them are lured to far away cities by the offer of jobs: entertainment, domestic work, secretarial work, etc. Sometimes the agents for brothels will conduct a “beauty contest” where the “winners” will get to travel and compete in another country. Once they arrive, however, they discover that they have been sold as sex-slaves.

The recruiters are usually someone the child knows: a friend, a trusted older woman (a covert retired sex-worker), a boyfriend, an aunt or uncle … a parent. Sometimes the parent doesn’t realize what they are sending their child to do; oftentimes they know exactly what they are doing. They are poor and $50 dollars for a daughter is a month’s salary or more.

I was told that in Northern Thailand some families have actually begun grooming their daughters for prostitution, seeing their girls as a cash crop. In many villages, the farmers will receive a down payment for their future rice-harvest: a Tok Khiew, meaning Green Harvest. Parents can now receive a Tok Khiew for their daughter’s future services. How could they do such a thing?

In general, women in Asia are not afforded much value, especially in comparison with males. Quite often the birth of a girl is seen as a burden, as her parents will have to feed and care for her, and then pay for her marriage dowry just when she is of age to contribute to the families financial needs. Many Buddhists see being born as a woman as proof of Bad Karma: the child must have done something evil in a past life to be cursed by returning to this world as a female.

Another avenue into the sex-trade is rape. When a girl or young woman is raped she is seen as unworthy of marriage. Often the man who raped the girl will then become her pimp. Sometimes the raped girl will volunteer to become a prostitute, as this will be the only way she can support herself. After all, she is now a pariah in the eyes of her family and community.

Still another avenue is where the girls will be married off to husbands who will then pimp them out to their friends.

Some of these prostitutes are paid well, work in a clean environment with men who won’t beat them or force them to perform certain acts. These women usually work in Bangkok or Tokyo. These are the women who are used to paint a Pretty Woman, romantic and lucrative picture, so as to seduce young girls into the trade. They may comprise 3% of the Asian sex-trade. Typically, the girls will live in squalor, subject to severe abuse, being required to service as many as 10-15 men a day, being paid wages that leave them starving to death.

After the girls are enslaved, they have to keep working so as to pay off their debt: a debt that can be as much as $30,000 dollars. (Recruiter fees, manager’s cut, travel expenses, room and board, salaries for guards/security, etc.) It is not unusual for the slave-owner to sell the girl just before her debt is paid off. She is old (19), can no longer demand as much money for her services, is about to become an economic liability, and so is sold off to a far away village where the men can only afford $1 a visit, and she, once again, is in debt.

She can’t go home because she no longer is a virgin. In fact, one aspect of the psychological warfare used with these girls (physical abuse to make the girls more compliant is also used) is to threaten to call her parents, telling them what she is doing. Better they think she is an entertainer in Bangkok than to hear she is a prostitute. Anyway, even if she wants to run away, she doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t even know for sure where she is.

Many girls are never allowed to see the light of day, and, if they are, guards accompany them. They also don’t have the money for a flight back home, and are in the country where they are working, illegally. If she is legal, the manager has her passport in a safe. If she does escape, the local policemen, being paid for his trouble by the brothel’s management, will recapture her and return her to the brothel. Speaking of the police—

Yes, there are often laws against prostitution. The UN has passed resolutions for 60 years, damning this practice. If prostitution isn’t illegal in a particular nation, at least there will be laws against human trafficking (taking girls against their will across international borders) and slavery. In the Philippines, for example, prostitution is illegal. However, the government also requires prostitutes be licensed and receive periodic medical examinations! (I have often wondered why the men who visit these girls are not required to have medical exams, especially as most of them refuse to wear condoms. Yes, HIV is rampant.)

There is no magic wand that we can wave, ridding the world of such horror. What is needed is worldwide education as to the realities of human trafficking and sex-slaves, people who will address these practices on a national and international platform, and people and institutions that will go into the cities and villages where these girls are trapped, offering hope, help, a home, reeducation and a community of caring friends.

The reason we have come to Asia is to seek out people who are already doing such work and to see what we can do with and for them. Better a well-funded and staffed organization that can offer first class help to these young women than 10 such organizations that each can barely care for only a few girls.

Or so I believe …

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Choosing Life: A Moment-by-Moment Choice

A dead thing can go with the stream,
but only a living thing can go against it.
GK Chesterton

There has been two times in my life when I knew I was going to die. I wrote about one of those incidents, Why I Go. The other time occurred on a Memorial weekend, driving down I-4 just east of Orlando. It was around one o’clock in the morning when I woke-up, realizing my car had left the road. I overcorrected, causing my car to bounce end over end down the Interstate. I was 18 years old and for months had been praying to die.

Everyone thought I was on top of the world. As a Baptist evangelist, I was experiencing the sort of success (by Southern Baptist standards) that most ministers only dreamed of. It was the hay-day of the Jesus Movement and “thousands were walking down the aisle” to give their lives to Jesus. I had huge crowds, popularity, money was pouring in … ah, the Spirit-filled life. Problem was, I had begun to feel that I should warn people about Christianity, not be an advertisement for it.

As I was experiencing it, there was more Bad News than Good. “Good News: You get to go to heaven. Bad News: You have to get the shit kicked out of you for 70 years before you can go!” One of my arguments with God was about all the “great and mighty deeds” attributed to Him in the Bible that, as I was taught, were either for those immature saints in the Old Testament, those people in the New Testament who didn’t have the Bible yet, or were for sometime around The Great Escape (Rapture). Evidently God was on a holiday, until the world went to hell in a hand-basket, so there wasn’t a whole lot He could do for the suffering people who were coming to me for answers.

Having no answers for the suffering, and in massive confusion regarding the nature of God, I became so depressed that I began praying to die. “If this is all there is to the Christian life, count me out and take me home. I am tired of life. However, if there is something more—if what I believe and see of the Christian life is not what You intended—show me.”

Cue car wreck: (Monte wakes up to the sound of gravel ricocheting underneath the car, overcorrects, hurtling car end over end.) I wake up and scream, “GAWWWD, I DIDN’T MEAN IT!” When the police arrived 3 hours later I asked them what took so long: “We were told you had to be dead and there were people we could save.” I kid you not! No problem here, as I had 3 hours to contemplate how much I really liked being alive.

No one is weary of life. No one. “O Lord, I can’t take all this life any more: please kill me … it is just too wonderful.” No, what we grow weary of is death.

The death created by our false images of God.

The death created by mindlessly accepting the dogmas of others.

The death that comes with seeking to be someone other than the person God created you to be.

The death created by crucifying your God-created senses (seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting) rather than learning to expand and manage them.

The death created by ripping your heart out of your chest, and becoming a Stoic.

The death created by ignoring the very real presence of the all-powerful Spirit of Christ in and around you. (Choosing Death is choosing to believe that, “The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead … resided in the NT believers but is not my/our lot in life.”)

I chose life on I-4. And what a life it was … for about 3 years, when I began choosing death all over again. O, I didn’t see it that way at the time, of course, but that is exactly what I did.

I began choosing to ignore my heart and live out of my head.

I choose to ignore what God taught me and “humbly” accept the teachings of other more powerful and more educated people. (I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. GK Chesterton.)

I choose to ignore my desires and dreams and lived for the desires and dreams/vision of others.

I choose to deny my feelings, intuitions and warning signals, fearing rejection and abandonment.

I. Chose. Death.

Choosing Life

Do you want to live life, or just pass through this world?

What Choosing Life is not:

Not the same as running from fears, as quite often the only way to get to “life” is to press through those fears. Jesus had to go through rejection, persecution, suffering, and death, before he experienced the resurrection, yes?

Not the same as “justifying my existence.” God created you: you don’t need any other “justification,” proving you are “worthy” of such a gift. You don’t earn gifts: you receive them, with a heart of gratitude.

Choosing Life is not accomplished by reacting to other people’s choices or paths. Choosing life is not done reactively but pro-actively. If I choose a path only because someone said, “Don’t go that way,” then THAT person made my choice for me: which means that I have yet to Choose Life.

The Way of Life is often blocked by Dead People. Like Jesus said: “Let the dead bury the dead.” Walking corpses constantly try to get you to postpone or to divert your quest. “That way is too painful, too lonely, too costly…No one else is traveling that path … that path is wrong … you have disqualified yourself for Life, Joy, Happiness, Contentment … my path is The Path for you.” This is why following your path is sometimes a lonely journey: your world was peopled with The Dead. However, once they all leave, you will find that Life-Seekers begin to re-people your world.

Choosing Life: You will know it is Your Path, as your spirit, soul and body resonate with a YES … or, sometimes, at least with a yes. Which doesn’t mean that, once you are on your path, you will always feel this way.

Choosing Life is choosing to remain aware and awake. Temptation to leave Your Path comes when sadness, despair or suffering strikes: “Let me go back to sleep!” Stay awake: more life is right around the next bend.

Choosing Life is Choosing Love: love for God, for others, and for self. As you consider the various paths before you, where do you see/hear/feel the most love? Yes, I said, “Feel.” Discovering and Choosing Life is something we do with the whole person, not just our heads.

Choosing Life is not a One Time Deal. All of us stumble and fall. We may find ourselves on a strange path and have to retrace our steps until we find our way again. The key to getting back up and finding our path is asking God’s forgiveness and choosing Life—again and again and again. By the way, refusing or resisting God’s forgiveness at this point leaves you stuck where you were when you fell. You can’t Choose Life if you insist on beating yourself up for your failings. Remember: the Good News is that Jesus took your beatings for you.

Choosing Life is not solely an intellectual exercise. In fact, I suggest that the “intellect” often gets in the way, as we are seeking to reason our way toward “rightness” (Being Right), rather than discovering life through leaps of faith guided by intuitions of the heart.

Or so I believe …

The last 5 years or so of my dad’s life were spent in physical agony, as his diabetes had taken a severe toll on his body. I once asked him if he ever thought of suicide, to which he replied with an emphatic, “No!”

“My responsibility is to do everything in my power to live: my death is in God’s hands, not mine.”

“To do everything in my power to live …”


Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

Your Very Own Groundhog Day

What would you do if you were stuck in one place ... and every day was exactly the same,
and nothing that you did mattered?

Phil Conners in Groundhog Day

Those of you have seen Bill Murray in Groundhog Day know the story. Phil Conners (Murray) is an arrogant and heartless TV weatherman who has traveled to Punxsutawney, PA, to cover Phil the Groundhog, only to discover that he is reliving the same day—February 2nd—over and over and over again.

I was in the Virgin Islands once.

I met a girl.

We ate lobster, drank pina coladas.

At sunset, we made love like sea otters.

That was a pretty good day.

Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?

Phil’s despair grows so intense that he begins devising and implementing various ways for killing himself, only to repeatedly wake up to Sonny and Cher singing, “I Got You Babe.” For the self-aware individual, there is a knowing -- a realization that this theme has all too often been lived out in his or her own daily experience.

Up at 6, brief prayer and Bible reading while sipping coffee, exercise, shower, a few minutes checking the news and sports or, if you are a parent, getting the kiddos ready for school or sitters, off to work at 8, home from work at 5.30, dinner, a favorite TV show or DVD movie, maybe some time on the internet or reading a novel, off to bed, up at 6 … blah, blah, boring blah.

You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil.

I'll give you a winter prediction.

It's gonna be cold...

It's gonna be gray...

And it's gonna last you

For the rest of your life.

(Shades of CS Lewis’ words regarding the wicked Witch’s curse on Narnia, where it was “always winter but never Christmas.”)

When Phil discovers that he cannot die, he decides to begin educating himself: he memorizes poetry, he learns to play the piano, he gains detailed information on everyone in the city, but, at least in the beginning, all with the goal of entertaining himself, and seducing the fair Rita. (Played by Andie MacDowell.) While Rita warms to Phil, she never succumbs to his manipulation, as each day she realizes (again and again) that his care for her is utterly self-serving.

What is it that finally delivers Phil from Groundhog Day? Love. True. Genuine. Sincere. Love. A love that is all about The Other, not The Self. A love that deeply cares, that is willing to sacrifice, that gives itself freely and wholly to the happiness and the wellbeing of The Other(s), with little thought of Self … A love that wishes to know more and see more of The Other, and, in this knowing and seeing, finds that it is growing deeper and broader with every passing day: days that are “new every morning.”

As I was writing the above, I ran across a story by Paul Coelho who describes this love in his metaphor, The Cloud and the Sand Dune. (Found in his book, “Like the Flowing River.”)

Not long after a young cloud was born over the Mediterranean Sea, a great wind blew the family of clouds toward Africa. As they floated over the Sahara, the young cloud spotted a sand dune it wished to inspect and, so, found a gentler wind that would help it hover over the dune. While the other clouds called for the young one to move on toward the forests in the South, he decided to remain, as he had fallen in love with the golden haired dune.

“'If you would like, I could rain on you now. I know I’ve only just got here, but I love you, and I’d like to stay here for ever.'”

“'When I first saw you up in the sky, I fell in love with you too,'” said the dune. “'But if you transform your lovely white hair into rain, you will die.'”

“'Love never dies,'” said the dune. “'It is transformed, and, besides, I want to show you what paradise is like'”

"And he began to caress the dune with little drops of rain, so that they could stay together for longer, until a rainbow appeared."

"The following day, the little dune was covered in flowers. Other clouds that passed over, heading for Africa, thought that it must be part of the forest they were looking for and scattered more rain. Twenty years later, the dune had been transformed into an oasis that refreshed travelers with the shade of its trees."

"And all because, one day, a cloud fell in love, and was not afraid to give his life for that love."

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2008