Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Unbearable Burdens


Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
- Jesus

After all these years, you have yet to become the change-agent you dreamed of being when you were young. Few people are gathering ‘round to soak in your wisdom (Facebook followers don’t count), and your gifts and talents have not made room for you on the stage you intended to act upon nor brought you before those whom you longed to influence.   

“I so wanted to make a difference in the world of fill-in-the-blank. Life is about making things happen, isn’t it?! Well, the only thing that has happened is that there is hole in my soul where my dreams use to reside.”

And now your days are spent doing what? Going over all the “could haves, would haves, and should haves”? Fighting feelings of anger or victimhood? Sinking into despair or indifference?

But what if the hole in your soul is actually a self-created angst?

Consider These “What ifs …”
What if life is not about making things happen? What if, instead, your daily ambition was to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, to work with your own hands, so as to be of good repute to all who know you, and to be able to take care of your own needs? (St. Paul) What then?

Rather than running around seeking to make things happen, what if your life was organized according to the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah: He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Jesus told us that we were ”to seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” Rather than grasping for what you want added to your life or seeking first your agenda, religious or otherwise, what if your primary focus was seeking after God’s reign in your heart and mind, and waiting for Him to add whatever He deemed best and most useful?  

And, finally: what if you lived your life in accordance with reality? You know what I mean. What if you played the game of life with the cards actually dealt you? Yes, yes, you had hoped for a Royal Flush and have been bluffing ever since, but what the all knowing, all wise, and loving God dealt you was two of a kind. And trust me here: those closest to you see what you were and were not dealt. You can’t hone gifts and talents that were never yours to begin with. (I’ll leave those who were dealt four of a kind but behave as if they are holding a busted hand for another post.)

The burdens Christ lays upon us are light. They are so because He gives us the grace to bear them. However, seeking to sit at the head table when we’ve not been invited, pretended callings and talents, kicking down doors God never opened, and chasing after fantasies, rather than seeking to be obedient, create unbearable burdens. They are so because He did not give them to us.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

American Spirituality and Nameless Gods Who Never Make a Nuisance


I'm normally not a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me Superman. – Homer Simpson

(CS Lewis, regarding his past belief in Absolute Idealism): It would never come “here,” never (to be blunt) make a nuisance of itself….There was nothing to fear; better still, nothing to obey.  - “Surprised by Joy”

I think Lewis nails it here, when it comes to the defining nature of, not just Absolute Idealism, but also modern day “spirituality”: there is nothing – No One - to obey.

Now THAT is my kind of religion!

Think about it. If you have ever had a conversation with such a spiritual person, they’re quite, well, spiiiiiirrrrrritual … UNTIL you bring up, say, the god of Judaism or Christianity. Why: because in these religions there is a named god whose nature is revealed in his commands: a god who requires worshipful obedience. And the bugaboo for modern spirituality is that such a god obviously is all about meddling with your life.

Can’t have that!

Of course, American spirituality doesn’t have a problem with your worshiping Yahweh or God the Father, as revealed in Jesus Christ, as long as you don’t bring into the conversation the commandments of your god. Even here, however, if you see these commands as only applying to those within your spirituality-of-choice - your “spiritual tradition” - then you’re good to go. When, however, you assert that the Creator’s Ten Commandments are universally binding and applicable, you are a judgmental, close-minded, religious fanatic.  

I’m just not comfortable with such a god.

Or with people who worship such a god?

Correct!

So you want a spirituality that fits within your comfort zone … a god that allows you to feel good about yourself, while letting you figure out on your own what works for you, what feels right to you. You want a god who respects your uniqueness but doesn’t have you behaving in ways that causes your spiritual “individuality” to be at odds with your surrounding culture.

That would be a yes … only my description would be far more nuanced.*

BTW This applies, as well, to a “universal mind,” which, tellingly, always seems to reveal what the spiritual person had already wanted to be true. Especially when it comes to morality. Come on. How is it that the universal mind always mirrors the modern zeitgeist?

Nameless gods - gods who answer to any and all names (O great Fred who sprang from the bowels of my desires, preferences, and felt needs: I really like you!) - are easy going gods: gods who respect your feelings and privacy, and who allow you the right to define personal morality according to the prevailing spirit of the times. So, what you want is Homer Simpson’s Superman who saves you from any discomfort and then goes back to leaving you alone.

If there is One God who does have a Name, however, your so-called spirituality is nothing more than so much self-worship. Or worse. 

Just something to think about …
 
* I’m getting to where whenever I hear the word “nuanced,” I hear, “Warning: incoherent communication ahead, whereby the speaker rambles on and on, presenting his thoughts so as to sound ‘enlightened’ while defying the laws of logic and ignoring what was actually asked or asserted.”

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Emersonians and the Problem of Evil


I ran across a quote of Emerson’s the other day where he wrote that he never could give much reality to evil and pain.  My first thought was, Yowzer: if you can’t face the indisputable reality of evil and pain, then why in the world did I ever read your books. And how was it that I missed this sentiment when I did? O. Right. I was in high school.  

If we juxtapose this quote by Emerson with that of the following words of Solzhenitsyn’s, then I think we can get a clear picture of one of the deepest issues dividing American society today.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

On the one hand, we have Emersonians of various degrees who, if they even acknowledge the problem of evil, see it as primarily an institutional one. That is to say that societal progress depends upon reforming or overthrowing institutions. For others, however, evil “cuts through the heart of every human being,” which creates an entirely different mindset when seeking to deal with societal maladies.

If you believe that “evil” primarily exists in our nation’s institutions, then you will go about seeking to shape society accordingly. (You will also see society as living in a constant state of victimhood, but that’s a topic for another day.) For example, your solutions for societal cancers will be largely political in nature. If, however, you believe that these cancers are due to the evil that lies within each of us, your main focus will be upon how to deal with human nature.

And herein lies the divide: because we differ on the nature of the problem, our paradigms for remedying the situation are at odds.

Societal Progress Through Institutional Reform v. Individual Spiritual Transformation That Leads (to various degrees) to Societal Transformation

Political Problems v Spiritual Sickness

Tellingly, the former place little or no value on Religion, Church, and Faith – at least when it comes to dealing with the myriads of social problems that we are facing. On the contrary, these people often seek to marginalize churches, religion, and faith, if not negate them altogether. You can especially see this in action when people of faith begin speaking about the reality of evil, the necessity of the conversion of hearts and minds, and the application of The Faith to specific issues. This, of course, is when they do believe in human evil – it’s within the troublemakers who are publicly asserting such things.

Institutions do evil things because all of us, including those working in the institutions, have evil cutting through our hearts. We humans are the problem with society and any cure we wish to apply must begin with the spiritual curing of individual hearts. Anything else is only the application of Band-Aids covering over a cancer.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ethiopia and Somaliland, May 2017


Part of my preparations for project travel is to spend as many hours possible researching the lay-of-the-land in those nations and regions where I will be serving. I want to begin formulating a sense of place and circumstances before I hit the ground.

  • ·      What is the poverty rate? Are people poor … or destitute? In other words…
  • ·      Are people struggling to make ends meet … or are they experiencing severe sufferings with no resources to bring to bear?
  • ·      What is the mortality rate, especially among children 5 yrs old, and younger?
  • ·      What are the medical conditions: malnutrition, diseases, etc.?
  • ·      What are the environmental challenges: drought, food distress, access to clean water ...
  • ·      What are the people doing to make a living, where possible?
  • ·      What is the average person’s level of education?
  • ·      Are there any reports from other Government Agencies and NGOs regarding this area in the last 2 years? (The charities I represent pretty much only go where no other charities or NGOs have been.)
  • ·      What are the political conditions? Are we welcome or seen as threats? Are there particular sensitivities to which I must pay attention while working? 

Another reason for the research is that, while I learned long ago that I can never fully prepare myself for what I am going to witness, such research does give me points of reference to keep my nauseous-self focused on “why we are here” and “what will be useful knowledge and pics for our donors.” 

I also spend a few weeks before each trip, making sure my mindset is conducive for being effective while on the ground. I don’t care how seasoned an aid worker is, my experience is that we are always a nanosecond from losing sight of all the good we are doing by allowing our minds to focus on what is being left undone.

What if we had had more food and water: we could have helped so many more people.


What if we had been here only a month earlier … then this child would have survived, that pregnant mother wouldn’t have lost her baby …

Such questions are best resisted by focusing on the people whom we are helping: we have brought in x-tons of food, so many meds, so much water, that results in helping x-amount of people. It also helps, of course, if you remind yourself that you aren’t a savior much less a god: we are humans doing our absolute best with what we have, for as many people as we are able, wherever and whenever possible.


Daka, Ethiopia

I had hoped to post pics on Facebook of our work here on a daily basis, but the government has shut it down. I was told that part of the reason for this is it doesn’t want pics of malnourished babies going viral. There is a concentrated effort to discourage or delete any mention of the word “malnourished.”

The government there is also making it difficult to distribute food to villages where people from the opposing political party – the majority of people - reside. Charities who do so have to pay over $5,000 for a special audit of its distribution.

You guessed it: the villages where we served were on the audit list.

Ethiopia is the second poorest country in the world, after Niger. In the best of circumstances, the average family makes around $50 a month.

Our team was able to distribute bushels of flour and salt, along with cooking oil, to 400 families. 








Typical home 




Sool, Somaliland 





When the camels are dying, how in the world are humans going to survive?
 



We are the only charity that has ever been to this region. Why?

“Too difficult to get to…too dangerous to be here.”

This area  - Sool – has not seen rain for almost 3 years. 

Only 3 decades ago, this area was covered with forests … there were actually herds of horses running wild. People began chopping the trees down for firewood and not replanting what was cut down. Denuded the land. 


  • ·      80% of people in this region make their living via livestock. Because of this drought, 90% of livestock has died.  
  • ·      Starvation and malnutrition have spread across this region with a vengeance.
  • ·      People here are suffering acute water crisis, which is sorely affecting pregnant women, children, and the elderly.
  • ·      Even in those villages where there is water, it is unsafe to drink.
  • ·      Without water, there is a huge problem with sanitation and personal hygiene, resulting in cholera and UTIs, and other diseases. 





                                   Those trucks are filled with 16,000+ gallons of clean water!

 


Note the tennis ball in the boy’s hands. We bring along around 100 of these on most every trip to pass along to the children – who go nuts, laughing, kicking it around like a soccer ball, throwing them at each other. Their mother’s smiles are priceless 




If it were not for this team of soldiers and police, we would not have been able to deliver aid, here. 


Maintaining rapport with the soldier who chose to give me close protection: he is from Atlanta!



I am so grateful to be serving the suffering in Ethiopia and Somaliland, as well as for all the supportive prayers and emails sent my way while there. (Lake Awasa, Ethiopia)

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017





Monday, April 24, 2017

Money, Capitalism, and Morality

Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.
- John Wesley

Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.
-St Bono of U2

Jesus’ Parable of the Talents A man is headed out of town for an extended journey. He calls his three servants together and gives one of them $5,000, another $2,000, and the third $1,000.  When he returns, he calls the servants for a confab and asks them about his return on investment (ROI). The guy who received 5 grand had doubled his master’s money. The master told him that, from now on, they would be partners. The guy who had received 2 grand had also doubled his master’s investment and, therefore, was promoted to being a partner. However, the guy who was given 1 grand, being risk averse, decided to bury the money so that he would still have it when the master returned. His master told him that, at the very least, he should have put the money in a savings account where he would have had some ROI. This guy was fired.

The moral of the story: The God who gave you your gifts, talents, capacities, and opportunities expects a ROI.

Your Money
It is telling that Jesus used money as a means for conveying his message. There is nothing here about giving all your money to the poor, and nothing about sacrificing your wealth for the good of society and being rewarded in heaven. On the contrary, the two men who doubled their master's money were rewarded in-this-life, while the man with no ROI for his boss’ money is fired.

Money is a symbol of productivity. Money represents your labor, your talents, your skills, your time, your faithfulness, and your aptitude for decision-making. In a free society, where men and women of good will exchange their best efforts in mutual self-interest, your wealth is based on the degree of your productivity, how well you manage your resources, and upon the value of what you have to offer in the marketplace.

One of the reasons I believe a free market economy – capitalism – is so critical is that it gives us optimal freedom for being good stewards.

Capitalism
Capitalism respects your right of ownership. “You shall not steal,” says God. Socialism, believing in its own omniscience and omnipotence, does not regard this law as having any application to the state.

Capitalism respects your individuality and the inalienable rights with which you were born. Socialists only respect the will of the state, the will of the ruling elites. As they see it, life and death (both literally and metaphorically) are not in the hands of God, but, rather, are in the hands of the Omniscient State.

Capitalism, rightly understood, supports human dignity: to wit, Yes. You. Can. All other systems treat the individual as an idiot, a slave of the state, or a victim who is incapable of making his own way. Ever. How in the world people think that treating individuals in such a demeaning manner as evidence of compassion or respect is beyond baffling.

Capitalism allows you to enjoy the rewards of your labor, as well as to learn from your failures. Socialism decides who best deserves the rewards you’ve earned, and whether or not you will be allowed to succeed or fail.

In other words, socialism interferes with your stewardship before God.

Morality
As opposed to all other economic systems, capitalism allows you to make as much money as you are able for your own sake, for your family’s sake, for love’s sake.

It’s this last attribute - for love’s sake - that makes all the difference in the world between being consumed by money and possessions or by love: whether the blessings that come our way are being stewarded as blessings from God or being used to degrade our selves and others: whether we are pursuing our own selfish ends or a life well-lived, which includes pursuing virtue’s such as love, goodness, and justice. *  

Freedom comes with rights and duties. Our nation’s founders never envisioned democracy as a morality-free zone, where, exchanging liberty for licentiousness, everyone runs around doing whatever is right in his own eyes. They understood that, without a moral people, democracy would degenerate into anarchy or tyranny. The same goes for free markets. If we remove love for God and others from the marketplace and our individual economic pursuits, then all we will be left with is not a marketplace but a den of thieves.

* Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. - Proverbs 31: 8,9 

Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life. - Proverbs 22:22-23

If you love me, keep my commands. – Jesus, John 14:15 This includes not making money an idol (e.g., living for self-aggrandizement), no bearing of false-witness regarding your product/skills/ competition, no stealing or cheating, no coveting, as well as honoring –protecting, caring for - the family.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? – I John 3: 16,17

(All passages taken from NIV)

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Visciousness of Envy


I am Envy...I cannot read and therefore wish all books burned.
- Christopher Marlowe

Capitalism is brutally honest. By this, I mean that, in the arena of achievement, you cannot hide your shortcomings and failures. You contribute or not. You produce or not. You cannot sell or trade hopes and fantasies: you have something of value to contribute in the marketplace, or not.

Consumers are interested in meeting their needs and desires. The entrepreneur who does this with a quality product and at a cheaper price than his competitors is rewarded. I may be a wonderful upstanding guy who people really like, but if I have nothing of value to offer in the marketplace, I am invisible to the consumer.

Today, however, people are acting like the aristocracy of old, demanding to be rewarded without having produced much, or demanding equal rewards for unequal production. Fifteen-dollars per hour for the French Frying Queen! These are the envious people who want what the successful person has earned and, if not, they don’t want anyone to have such rewards.

Envy is vicious.

It is one wrong thing to be jealous of the success of another. For example, I am jealous that you have a new BMW and I drive a ’92 Buick. Envy, however, goes farther, believing that, if I can’t have a Beemer, you shouldn’t have one.

The Envious: I deserve to be wealthy but I am not. However, successful entrepreneurs are wealthy. This is wrong, immoral, unfair, blah, blah, and blah. Confiscate their wealth!

Really? The product is not illegal or immoral and the consumer was neither defrauded nor coerced. Tell me at what point, then, did the profits become immoral? If you are saying the product should be illegal, then make your case. However, when your recriminations are solely against the wealth produced, all you are doing is demonstrating your envy. (Reference: Productive Christians in An Age of Guilt Manipulators, by David Chilton.)

To the envious person, the damnable thing is that the market has placed a different value on his contribution than he believes is “fair.” “Someone must do something about this miscarriage of justice!” and by “someone” he is referring to state and federal governments that must join him in declaring all out war on the producers of wealth via confiscatory taxation … that, of course, is to be redistributed to the poor … after the state and federal governments take their 80% handling fees.

The deal is, however, it is not “justice” the envy seeks: it is retribution and destruction.

Such is the damnable viciousness of envy that, if it becomes the majority voice in a culture and, consequently, the inevitable happens – i.e., poverty and unemployment rates skyrocket – and all then become equally poor, you will see a smile of satisfaction on its twisted face.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2017