Archive for the ‘Guests’ Category

My Wise Wife   3 comments

Kimberly spoke at length with a friend today by phone and afterwards sent her an email.  I found the email so insightful, I wanted to let you in on it:

I thought I’d share the things I was reminded of during our conversation today:
1.  Growth doesn’t offer immediate rewards in terms of good feelings. In fact, it usually feels worse at first! Humans don’t like going into unknown territory, especially areas they’ve been avoiding their whole lives! So it feels bad at first, which makes us think we are doing something wrong. But be encouraged. Difficult feelings don’t mean bad things are happening. Growth is very challenging to our comfort levels, and often other people don’t like it because they are comfortable with the old ways, too.  Which leads us to #2.
2. Being a good Christian doesn’t mean everyone will always be happy with us.  We do have to be responsible, and that means for our own well being as well as others. We cannot always choose to make others happy over ourselves. That is a way to create toxic and dysfunctional relationships that don’t honor God…but instead make others walk all over you and become selfish because they always get what they want. God doesn’t want us to enable others, but often asks us to challenge them by being honest about our own needs. Then it offers them the chance to grow by having to think about being more generous themselves!
3.  Anxiety usually means we are entering new emotional territory. We all have fear and times of being insecure, but when anxiety becomes a regular and strong experience, it does mean something new is happening and it is so important to learn what it is and nurture the growth aspect. But again, anxiety doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. It actually means your spirit is open in a new way that makes something new possible. We aren’t anxious when we are doing the same old comfortable thing. So think of it as being pregnant with new life. Anxiety…the “labor pains” of growth… comes when we are ready to give new life to something in us.  Something is trying to get born…like labor pains…and it hurts! So we need to go with the labor pain and encourage it  to come. In your case now, I think that is being willing to make a decision that others aren’t happy about (being willing to choose your own needs even when you know someone else won’t like it) and also allowing for grace when something you decide turns out to have a negative impact on people you love.  Yikes! Hard stuff!
These are all my own issues, also! I am still trying to get more comfortable with the idea of challenging others rather than always trying to make them happy. Challenge is a part of love, we need to remember. People need the chance to make better choices, to become better than they are by coming up against the needs of others. They do need comfort, too, which you and I are good at… but our growth area is challenge.
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Posted April 25, 2016 by janathangrace in Guests

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Should Faith Control Emotions?   5 comments

This interaction occurred several days ago on Facebook with a friend who got a brief response from me after she posted a quote.  You can see she is very gracious and open.  I have changed the names for privacy’s sake.  Our FB interaction is followed by a personal message I wrote to her.

Jennifer: “You either pass on your fears or your faith”     to think about…
 

Janathan: sometimes how I express my faith stirs up your fears and my fears expressed calm your fears.    to think about.

Jennifer: good point Kent, still reflecting on your comment. My initial thoughts on the area of fears … sometimes expressing or admitting our fears ‘demystifies’ them, & I can see value in that,.. also hearing others admit their own fears helps me realize i’m not the only one… I think what I appreciate about the above quote is the thought of being able to ‘transform’ a paralyzing fear into a faith action. Rather than being immobilized by fear, moving towards trusting God with it. Fear does not come from Him… whatcha think??

FAITH CAN MAKE YOU SMILE!

Janathan:I think I’m wary of what seems over-simplification to me, assuming solutions when I haven’t taken sufficient time to fully understand the emotional dynamics at work (a definition of “pat” answers). We might say ‘love’ and ‘faith’ are simple, clear, easy to identify… until we start realizing how common misconceptions are, confusing love with lust, possessiveness, admiration, etc. I think we have to agree that all emotions were created by God and of high worth. God created fear in us, and the Bible regularly commands us to fear. My biggest fears tell me something really important about my own woundedness, and if I try to simply control this fear with ‘faith” and not understand my deeper heart issues, I think it causes real personal and relational problems. What is your perspective?

Janathan: On the other hand, one can be equally disrespectful of one’s own feelings by exacerbating them rather than listening to them (though I think conservative Christians tend to err on the former side… as one well-known writer titled a book “Emotions, the Believer’s Greatest Enemy.”

Jennifer: hmmm i don’t like simplistic answers either.. and will often ‘chew’ on a thought for a long time (including your quote 🙂 but at the same time, I’ve had to face some of my biggest fears,… and in the midst of those fears have often found myself unable to do anything else with but transfer them to God. “perfect love casts out all fear” is a concept i don’t fully understand yet it seems to involve trusting the Source of Love to such an extent that we have nothing that’s too big for us to face. The kind of ‘fear’ you refer to,.. i would associate with a respectful fear.. and not an immobilizing fear. appreciate your thoughts..

HIDDEN UNDERGROUND

Janathan: I agree, Jennifer, sometimes fears are so intense we have to find a means of calming them before we can begin to understand them. I think there are many ways of doing this, such as adding a safety net or sharing our fears with someone who is safe for us (this is an act of faith as well). I know I have had numerous misconceptions of faith in my past, misconceptions I still struggle with. One of the biggest ones was to use “faith” to shame my feelings, in which case my feelings went underground, seeming to be conquered, but simply adding another layer of distance between myself and my heart.

Jennifer: hmmm good points. I’ve had to work through ‘fear of admitting fears’…. because as I looked back on my life i realized that the fears i ‘verbalized’ (admitted out loud) were exactly the ones that i ended up having to face in reality. 😦 Still working thru that one, but I think one of the lessons I’ve come away with, was that God wanted me to experience His peace even in the midst of my biggest fears (and I did,… for the most part! 🙂 From what I can tell, fear doesn’t GO AWAY.. we just learn to manage it. I’ve prayed endlessly for God to take away my fear of flying.. but it’s still there. What I had to face was my fear of dying instead.. With cancer, I had to face my fear that His plans weren’t good ones (from my perspective),.. but as I look back,.. so much GOOD came from having it.

Beth: Such thought-provoking comments. You’ve both alluded to the idea that fears have a variety of sources. Yes, fear can be emotionally based, but it can also be based on objective facts and truth. Jesus said “… I am the truth…”. Truth is his very essence and thus he also knows all. I’ve learned that I can trust my God more than I can trust myself. We can all be easily manipulated (emotionally) and we can also manipulate others and we can even manipulate ourselves. But God can not be manipulated. Thus I choose to put my trust in Him who is truth, and pray that he gives me the wisdom to discern the source of my fears and take control of all my thoughts. (2 Cor 10:5 “…destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”)

Jennifer: thanks for your input Beth… i like the verse about ‘taking your thoughts captive’ … i think it fits the discussion. Though I have to admit.. i’m a very practical person… and as much as I understand the ‘exercise’ of doing that,.. i still don’t understand what are the practical, tangible results.? In other words,.. what actually changes in relationship to our fears?

Beth: Making our thoughts “captive and obedient” to Christ is definitely practical, with tangible & transformational results. Emotionally based fears are often reinforced by our thought life. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). It seems that fear and faith can not co-exist. Paul repeatedly tells his readers we have real power to control our thought-life, leading to transformational living. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2). As we renew/change our thinking, our emotions and behaviour will realign accordingly. When our focus is Christ and his attributes, it will result in our minds being filled with his presence and peace (Phil 4:8-9). Faith and fear do not co-exist.

Kent McQuilkin: Ah, Beth, what a very different view you and I have on emotions and faith!

Jennifer: Will need to reflect on your thoughts Beth… Sometimes it just takes time for a truth/principle to move from my head to my heart,.. and then into action. 🙂 Curious about your view on emotions and faith, Kent. 🙂

Wow, Jennifer, where do I even begin?  I understand Beth’s view, I was raised with that view.  There are good and bad emotions and we must choose the good and refuse the bad.  The good emotions are telling us the truth about the world and God, and the bad emotions are telling us lies.  We encourage the good emotions and discourage the bad emotions by thinking the right thoughts about each, often using Scripture as the basis.  We talk ourselves out of the bad emotions and into the good ones.  This is how faith works to free us from bad emotions–I keep telling myself the truth until I believe it (and truth comes from propositions, not from feelings, which can’t be trusted), and as I slowly believe more, my bad emotions dissolve.

In a sense I believe and follow this approach for superficial matters.  As everyone knows, emotions can be very changeable and fleeting (which makes us reluctant to trust them).  If Kimberly does something that slightly irritates me, I throw some “truth” at my feelings (“she also has to forgive me for my irritating behavior” or “she’s just tired”) and let it go.  I can do this because I am secure in our relationship—I know she cares deeply for me and respects me and my feelings.  It is just an emotional hiccough I feel.  However, if the feeling persists, I know it is telling me something I need to hear.

To suppose that emotions are fickle and unreliable because they constantly fluctuate is a serious misunderstanding I think.  What I see with my eyes constantly changes—I see a chair, then a table, then you, then my book… does this mean my visual perception is unreliable?   On the other hand, if I kept staring at the chair and it turned into a cat and then into a pecan pie, I would have major doubts about my visual perception.  Just like my eyes, my emotions are “reading” constantly changing situations, so that to be consistent, they must constantly fluctuate, but when that situation returns, that emotion returns.  Emotions are remarkably consistent and reliable measures of how our situations are impacting us.  We realize this when we use all our reasoning powers to change our feelings about someone, and one look from them brings those feelings flooding back.  In other words, our emotions are telling us something profoundly true and accurate, stubbornly so, though we may misinterpret them easily if we have been raised in a culture that teaches us to doubt them.

I think that is where we get thrown off the track.  We assume that our emotions are measuring the facts about the current situation, and this consistently proves false.  But that is like blaming the gas gauge for giving the wrong mileage.  Our emotions can tell us things about the current situation that our minds cannot (we call it intuition), just like our gas gauge can help us estimate how many miles we have driven.  But that is not their purpose.  Emotions primarily tell us about our own hearts, not about external situations.  This was very hard for me to grasp at first.  I thought my anger against a friend measured his guilt.  It doesn’t.  It simply says something is going on in my heart that I need to figure out.  Whether he is guilty or not is a very different issue, related but different.

If my emotions are given to me by God, they are all good and valuable when treated as they were designed.  But if I suppose some are bad, then I will refuse to listen to them, perhaps quite effectively drowning out their voice, the voice of truth.  I may credit Biblical thinking and faith for this result, but I feel strongly that such an approach ultimately hurts rather than helps me.  If anything, I have discovered that faith can do the opposite—it can give me the safety and courage to identify and listen to my unwanted emotions instead of pushing them away.  I think that blaming and fixing my emotions is much like using my finger to push the gas gauge needle to “full”.

It is true that I want to be free of those feelings of fear, anger, sadness (and even joy and peace) that are harmful for me and my relationships, but after failing in a life long effort at using the typical “biblical” approach I described above, I learned that listening to my emotions with compassion and understanding was the only way to discover my true brokenness and needs and take the long term, deep approach for transformation.  I put “biblical” in quotes since I find myself now with quite different understandings of verses like “take every thought captive” (ones that do not involve pitting my reasoning against my emotions—wouldn’t it be wonderful if our emotions and intellect could work as partners instead of competitors?)

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Janathan

Posted September 27, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, thoughts

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Kimberly’s Story of Ground Zero   4 comments

Kimberly supported her dear friend Lisa as they visited Ground Zero 3 months after the attacks.  Lisa’s father was a fireman who died in the inferno.  This is her recounting of that visit.

“Sixth and Houston,”

…said my friend, Lisa, as we slid into the back seat of the New York taxicab, shaking the snow from our scarves.  “There’s a fire house there.”

The driver pulled away from the curb, and the sights and sounds of the city night flooded our senses.  It had been a long journey already—driving to New York from Virginia, and taking the train into the heart of Manhattan–but we knew it was only the beginning.  I silently asked God to calm my nerves so that I could be a support to my friend through this night.

Handing the cab driver the fare as we stood once again on the snowy pavement, and turning toward the brick building that housed the FDNY 2nd Battalion, we were faced head-on with our mission.  There, among 8 or 9 others on the glass window in front, was the striking portrait of Richard Prunty.  It was the same smiling face that stood framed in the curio cabinet of his widowed wife’s living room, next to the honors and medals he had received during his career as a fire fighter.

Upon entering the building, we were greeted by several gregarious uniformed men.  We shook their hands, and Lisa introduced herself.

“Hello, I’m Lisa—Richard Prunty’s daughter.”

We were taken through the station house to the kitchen to wait for our “escort.”  We walked past brick and steel walls covered with cards, letters, pictures, and posters scrawled with children’s disarrayed letters: “T-H-A-N-K  Y-O-U  F-O-R  H-E-L-P-I-N-G  U-S.”  and red, white, and blue hearts, angels, and crosses adorning them.

As I passed the racks of helmets and huge burn-proof jackets with the familiar reflective yellow stripe across the middle, I kept reminding myself that I was not on a movie or television set.  This was real.   I had seen the “Third Watch” special episodes in September…and I kept expecting to see cameras and TV stars waiting for the next “take.”

Then, I felt like I was drifting somewhere above the floor…and I couldn’t feel my body.  Was I real?  Was this a dream?  Why was I here?  What was I thinking?  Who did I think I was, this naïve, insignificant girl from the Mid-West…  Suddenly, I needed a bathroom.  I was directed to a dirty, tiled room with a urinal and toilet, and I closed the door slowly, so as not to alarm Lisa.  Then I bent over and allowed my stomach to empty itself into the toilet.  Immediately I felt connected with my body again.  I prayed that God would help me …for Lisa’s sake.

I joined Lisa in the kitchen where we sipped coffee for a few moments until a tall, sandy-haired man in his thirties came in.  “I’m Mike Simon,” he said as he warmly shook our hands.  “Please come with me.”  He fit every ‘New Yorker’ stereotype I could imagine:  the thick accents, the dark-skinned ruggedness, and the loud, matter-of-fact way of speaking.

We headed back out into the blustery night, and stepped into the big van marked with a yellow and blue “Fire Squad” insignia.  Lisa and I piled into the bench seat behind the driver, who greeted us with a warm smile, and Mike Simon settled into the passenger seat up front.  Then, we were navigating the slush-covered streets once again—our final leg of the journey into this night.  We drove further on, passing a point marked, “Only WTC Vehicles and Deliveries Beyond This Point.”  The police guard waved at the van as we moved on past, and we drove toward what is known to rescue workers simply as “the pit.”

The snow seemed to pick up as we exited the Fire Squad van and followed Mike through a series of scaffoldings with spray-painted instructions and warnings.  Then we entered the Command Post—an actual old firehouse that was now the nearest intact building to our journey’s end…Ground Zero itself.

Finally, we began to ascend the stairs that would take us to the 4-story rooftop for our closer-than-bird’s-eye-view of the disaster site.  This was the place where Lisa’s father had spent his last moments, and the taking of family members to this place was hoped to bring some kind of closure to the ongoing grief…perhaps some reality into the hundreds of images running through the minds of loved ones.

From our four-story vantage point, my eyes took in a scene that would forever be etched in my mind.  A large area on the ground level was clear of debris, and roads and ramps had been constructed in what looked like a whole separate world.  A four-by-six square block area of the city had been transformed into a world of steel and concrete piles.  Hundreds of orange-vested workers scanned and roamed on foot, while scores of construction cranes, dump trucks, and other machinery moved along the dirt roads, picking up mountains of steel and moving it to smaller piles to be sifted through.

At the heart of this newly created world was a downward sloping dirt ramp.  It began at the ground level, where three demolished buildings (there were seven destroyed in all, with others missing tops and floors) had been completely cleared so trucks could drive easily around the sorted piles.  The ramp then spiraled down.  Trucks drove slowly downward to where the city streets were now high above them.  The cranes there were still tearing at walls that towered over them.  These were the walls that were once hundreds of feet above the city streets.

The fireman explained that every foot of debris at that level comprised approximately one floor of each World Trade Tower.  Each floor was still on top of the others as they should be…only compacted down to a mere foot of rubble.  Mike pointed to a landmark on a building across the way and told us that was how high the rubble originally stood.

“When the debris was that high,” I asked, “…how did you begin clearing it?  I mean, I see the cranes now picking up the piles, but what did you use when the piles were higher than any piece of equipment could reach?”

A SECOND IWO JIMA

He turned to stand directly in front of me, feet shoulder width apart, and stretched out his hands, palm up.  That had a deep impact on me, and I only stared at him.  “Equipment and tools were worthless then.” he explained to me.  “People just went right up to it and started tearing at it with their hands.”

I looked at Lisa, her eyelashes covered with snowflakes as she drew her scarf closely under her chin to shield her from the wind.  As my arm went around Lisa’s shoulders, I asked, “What do you need, Lisa?  Is there anything you are going to wish you had done when we leave?”

Mike seemed to be inspired by that question, because his face softened, and then became serious as he looked Lisa straight in the eye.  “I worked with your dad a lot.  He was an amazing man.”  He paused briefly, as if to get the courage to say what he was thinking.  “He was in the lobby that day, Lisa.  He had heard the call to evacuate.  He was calling his men back down the stairs.  He knew he was in danger…but he would not leave his men there.  He was not that kind of chief.  He wouldn’t leave them.”

Then, there was nothing more to say.  Mike looked at the face of his chief’s daughter…standing in the dark night overlooking that fateful site…and had nothing left to say.  “Could you give us a few moments alone?” I asked him softly, and he nodded thankfully.  “Sure,” he told me.  “Take as much time as you need.”

I knew I could offer my stoic friend no words of comfort now.  This was way beyond words, and because of that, I hesitated to do the next thing I did.  But I also knew that the Presence of God is deeper than words, and calling upon Him now was what we needed.  “Lisa,” I said softly as she stared straight ahead.  Her face glistened in the lights from the wetness of the snowflakes.  “Can I pray now?”

She nodded without changing her expression.  Then, my eyes moved from her face back to The Pit.  I had no idea what to say, but I threw self-consciousness to the wind.  Neither of us would remember any words spoken now.  I simply wanted God in the experience of this night.

When my eyes turned back toward the piles of debris below, suddenly there was an unmistakable impression upon me.  My view was transformed.  I had been staring at a pit of destruction a few minutes before, my mind clouded with questions and sorrow.  But now I could not see any of the things I had just looked upon.

My eyes fixated on the lights.  Large, football-stadium lights had been erected all around The Pit, shining down into it, a light that was brighter than day.  The light snowfall emphasized the path of light as it came down from the sky and shone over the work below.

What had been mountains of rubble and trash months earlier…the tomb of thousands, with chaos and fear…overwhelming images of destruction…had been transformed, as I had said earlier…into a whole new world.  What I now saw below was human resiliency.  I saw order.  I saw people volunteering their time to sift through piles piece by piece, to drive trucks to and fro, clearing the chaos.  I saw the pieces being picked up, and life moving along.

And the glaring image I was receiving into my senses now was that it was only possible to do this around the clock because of the light from above.  A power source greater than these mere people was surrounding the entire area, making forward movement possible in darkness.

Lisa and I stood in silence for a moment, watching the beams of light cut through the dark, snowy night.  The ground was covered with a fresh blanket of white, not slowing down the workers, but giving onlookers a sense of freshness.  Pure white now covered the place that was once blood red.

Only one word was fit to be spoken, then.  “I can see,” I whispered reverently into the night air, “Redemption.”

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Posted September 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests

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Encouragement for Failures (part 4 and last!)   4 comments

Mardi self portrait

 

Understanding and accepting that success has no actual value in itself, causes one to abandon the pursuit of success in achieving goals and instead to look for what other purpose God might intend for the  activities and choices with which we fill our life. And I can come up with just one answer: Love.  The only thing God wants us to spend our time, our effort, our knowledge on is love. Love is not concerned with results.  If we are disappointed that our love is not returned then it is merely affection or goodwill, not love.  Affection and goodwill are admirable pastimes.  But love is not interested in results.  Love is about abandonment of all interest in personal gain of any sort and has become enchanted with only one thought, the pleasure of the beloved

We cannot think that our own actions, efforts or knowledge actually achieve particular results.  In any given instance, with any given project, goal or ambition, the results are not a product of our actions, efforts or knowledge.  Results are given by God as a gift.  Success in anything we attempt to do is not ours to achieve.  It is not a result of anything we can do or know.  It is not connected in any way to our abilities.  It is a gift just as the rain is a gift and the sun is a gift and the families into which we are born (and to which we give birth) are a gift.

So if our efforts are not about getting results what are they about?  Well they are gifts too, gifts to amuse us, to keep us busy, to exercise our minds.  And if our purpose is not to achieve the goals we set then what is our purpose? Perhaps it is just to love.  Perhaps the question we need to ask at each step is not “which choice will best work to help me reach this goal?” but rather “which choice is, in this moment, the one that expresses love, participates in love, opens the possibility of love flowing?”  We become detached from trying to imagine and control the future results of our actions (which we cannot do anyway) and become invested instead in the present moment where God eternally exists in infinite love.

You notice that my theory has shifted from dealing with whole lives to consideration of individual events.  It is concerned with success as the results of any goal we set and not merely as a general evaluation of life as a whole.  Of course I still feel that each individual life is given a success ratio that is designed to teach each person unique and special lessons.  But beyond that we can each look at every event in our life for which we are trying to manipulate a successful outcome and realize that success is not going to be a result of our actions and knowledge but will be a gift from God.  It changes our perspective on what we do, how we do it and why we do it.

These assumptions have even permeated our religion and theology causing us to think and speak of our relationship with God in terms of cause and effect.  We have developed the Protestant work ethic as if it were actually God’s plan for the world.  We explain scripture as if it were a handbook of instructions for achieving the goal of union with God.

The problem is that both of these premises (the use of cause and effect to interpret life, and the belief that results are achieved through effort and knowledge) are based on incompletely understood material-based models and are incorrect and inadequate to the observed patterns of life.  In fact the truth is that we cannot control even the smallest elements of our life.  In life, as opposed to the material world, effects do not proceed from knowable causes.  The correlation is only apparent and not actual.  We keep trying to figure out how to make it work because we are terrified of the alternative option – recognizing and admitting that we are not in control of anything, nor can we ever get in control of anything.  We are, in fact, totally, completely, helpless and dependent entirely on the grace, mercy and benevolence of God.  Even people who purportedly love and trust God find this realization frightening. And people who don’t believe in God would be left with no hope at all.

Success in anything we attempt to do is not ours to achieve.  It is not a result of anything we can do or know.  It is not connected in any way to our abilities.  It is a gift just as the rain is a gift and the sun is a gift and the families into which we are born (and to which we give birth) is a gift.  We are responsible for doing our best with what we are given.  But the results are not connected to what we can or cannot do.  The results are given by God for his own inscrutable purposes.  We can neither know nor understand his ways of granting his gifts.  We cannot change or affect his choices and decisions.  We can only accept everything that comes to us – as a gift.

And while our lives are all wrapped up in trying to achieve a success we will never attain, God is not in the least concerned or interested in success.  For him success and non-success are equally unimportant.  The only true purpose in life is love, not success.  What he wants from us is our love.  And he knows that all we really want is love in return.  And for that we do not need to achieve anything.

Mardi: horse & baby

Posted July 19, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests

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Encouragement for Failures (Part 3)   1 comment

Yes, Mardi often writes very long letters and emails! 

And as for my assertion that my life is essentially unsuccessful, you really do have to accept standard methods of measuring success.  It has to be one or more of the following :

1) the quantity of people affected by your work or personality – the greater the number the greater the success

2) the quality of people impressed by your work or personality – the higher the level of expertise of the persons doing the evaluation the higher the success

3) the amount of money, recognition, or power achieved by your work or personality – the greater the financial, acknowledgement or power achievements, the greater the success.

4) the number of things which you attempt to do, which you actually do.

So you really can’t honestly place the achievements of my life anywhere near the top end of any of those measures of success.  But if that isn’t a problem for me it shouldn’t be for anyone else.  In fact you should be really grateful to the Lord that He has given you the privilege of having a member of your immediate family be given a non-successful life trajectory.  There are things which can only be learned from that perspective, truly valuable and meaningful things which cannot be perceived from the perspective of the successful life trajectory.  By being included in my life, there are things that you can learn that you could never learn from your success-intensive life style!

Each person is given certain things in their life in order to learn some unique and individual aspect of the True Reality, not the perceived reality of our cultural environment.  Learning that particular thing your life has been designed to teach is the purpose of every person’s individual life.  And as each of us spends a life-time learning that one thing we have been given the advantages to learn, all of us – as a culture and as humanity – move forward toward our corporate goal.

Now you say, but what has all of that got to do with God’s plan for us.  Well there is one overall general plan he has for everyone – to turn from ourselves and surrender to Him and to begin the journey with Him and for Him and to Him.  However within the context of that universal plan there is a unique individual set of gifts given to each person.  And those gifts include the disappointments, the pain and the difficulties of life as well as the blessings.  Our weaknesses are as much a gift from the Lord as our strengths; our failures are as much a gift as our successes. And the purpose of all of it is to teach us something special and unique; and through us to bless the wider communities of which we are a part.

Success has no intrinsic value in itself as such.  The experience of failure and success can both have value if you begin to learn from them. And by that I do not mean that we learn from our failures how to avoid failure in the future or from our successes how to increase them in the future. That whole business of putting a value on success as something to attain and a negative value on failure as something to avoid is totally illusory. Are you believing me yet?  Failure has taught me the absolute illusion of the idea that success has value.  It has freed me from the dominating tyranny of the need to succeed.  So failure has a lot more value to me than success.

Why don’t you see what Buck Hatch [Christian psychology professor at my alma mater] thinks of this theory!  I’ll bet he likes it!  But you’ve got to present it as I have and not your personal bias on what I’ve said!

And as for my argument that art is a skill that anyone can learn.  If you came to stay with me for one month and took lessons from me for 6 hours a day (2 three-hour sessions a day) and practiced in the hours remaining, I could have you drawing as well as me.  I’m really not that good compared to the average working artist in America today.  I’m at the low end of mediocre.  That’s not a problem though.  I was a bit discouraged when I first began to honestly appraise my work on a number of levels and had to admit this about it.  But now that I’m inculcating my own philosophical perspective of the uselessness of success, I’m a lot more comfortable with honest appraisals of my work and my life that don’t turn out so attractively.

You can think about my theory and send me your rebuttal when you’ve got it all worked out.  But you have to have a workable theory that pertains to anyone –  like mine did.  You can’t just say you don’t see my life in that light and try to prove how my life doesn’t fit that pattern.  You’ve got to come up with an alternate theory of all of life that applies to anyone and addresses all those issues and resolves them with your theory!

Posted July 18, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, Uncategorized

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Encouragement for Failures (Part 2)   1 comment

Mardi’s letter to me continued:

I began to think of life as a school in which each person who is born is given a unique curriculum especially designed just for them.  It includes many gifts that will give pleasure and gifts that will give pain.  There will be things to strengthen and things to challenge.  There will be things that seem to help and things that seem to block us.  But the purpose of everything is not to become or to achieve or to acquire any of the things we end up using our lives to become, achieve and acquire.  They are all given to us in order to teach us something more, greater, something of Real value.

People who are successful have been given a curriculum that includes success in the things they attempt.  But the purpose is for them to learn something through the experiences of success.  They cannot take credit for their success.  It was given to them.  What counts is whether they learn that thing of Real value that success was given to them to learn.

And non-success can be given to others for the same reason, to learn something Real that only the experience of non-success can teach.  That thing is the real purpose of the experience – the real purpose of all the experiences of our life.

Everyone seems to think that success is not only a thing of great value, but it is perhaps the thing of greatest value in life.  In fact it appears to be such an absolute necessity that everyone gets very upset when I assert that I am unsuccessful and they try to come up with a definition of successful that will allow me to be included.  They don’t seem to understand when I try to explain that success really isn’t valuable.  We don’t need it. We can live very happily without it!

But how does this relate to your pursuit of your own dreams.  Well, when I came up with this theory I decided it wasn’t so important that I figure out how to overcome my non-success and achieve the great American dream of success.  I thought perhaps it was more important to sit back and thoughtfully evaluate the experiences of my life so far.  I think you need to be at least in your mid-30’s before you have enough life experiences to begin to recognize your individual pattern.  It seemed clear that for whatever reasons, my life was being exemplified by large amounts of non-success.  So instead of fighting a pointless battle to achieve a dubious goal, I decided to accept my gift of non-success and begin to try to explore it’s potential for leading me into an even deeper spiritual awareness.

So perhaps for you, you might want to take a look at your life and see what degree of success you can expect given your track record so far!  I like to call it a success ratio.  It’s a ratio of the percentage of our efforts that have been successful as compared to those that have not been.  If you’re having only a moderate success ratio, or a low success ratio in the various areas of your life, then perhaps you won’t want to pursue the more elaborate and intense version of your dreams.  You might want to scale down your expectations and re-think your dream in terms of what you might be able to achieve.

I don’t know if you like that idea.  I can hear the high-power achievers calling it “defeatist”.  But is it defeatist for a guy who is 5ft.2 to decide that maybe he should try to be a jockey instead of spending his life trying to get into the NBA?  You could mention Muggsy Bouges.  But in addition to being given a short body he was also given extraordinary skills, great speed, a consuming passion for the game of basketball and a high success ratio.   In evaluating our potential in life we need to consider all our gifts, gifts of strength and gifts of weakness. If success is something that is given to us in order to learn something of greater value, isn’t it simply wisdom to accept our personal success ratio, learn how to live with it and learn from it.

Well, since we couldn’t finish our discussion on success ratio, I thought about it on the way home and polished up my argument a bit more.  I realize that everyone is so uncomfortable with my ideas on success because our Reformation Protestant European work ethic perspectives have equated success with our personal value, our meaning in life and our fulfillment as persons.  We think we must have success to have value, meaning and fulfillment.  In fact none of these are actually connected to success and most other periods of history and other cultures understand this much better than the average American who has put them all in the same computer file.

So to say I am not successful – and probably never will be – does not mean that my life has no value.  My life derives its value from the fact that I am made in the image of God.  Every life has the same value.  No life, however successful, has any more value than another, no matter how desperate a failure.  The value of each life is, incredibly, as valuable to God as His own life!  If I am feeling devalued or being treated as of no value by those who have misunderstood the nature of the value of life, I have only to meditate on the true value of my life.  Value is not something you can be more or less successful at.  It’s not in the same category as things which can be rated as successful or not.

Lack of success also does not mean that my life has no meaning.  My life has been given meaning, a purpose and a goal by Jesus who came to show us God and to make a way for us to return to God who is our only true Love and only true Home.  And he made himself the way, so that we have not just a sure pathway but a loving companion.  That is all the meaning any life could need – to walk with God, through God, in God, to God.  And once again that is not something I can be successful at, it is simply something that has been given to me and I enter into the gift.

And fulfillment in life cannot be attached to success either.  That which produces fulfillment in life is love – giving love and receiving love.  Love is something that comes out of your heart, it’s not an accomplishment which can be achieved in varying degrees of success.  It is like your breathing – you breathe in the love of others and you breathe out love to others.  And the ultimate source of all the love we have to receive and give is God from whom we come and to whom we are returning through Jesus.

Success not only does not produce value, meaning or fulfillment, it also cannot affect these things.  They are totally independent of success.  The imaginary value of success in our culture is purely illusory.  It has no real value at all.  And yet people assume it holds the very key to a valuable, meaningful, fulfilled life.  This illusion is so pervasive that even Christians get uncomfortable when I assert that my life is essentially unsuccessful.  They do not want to listen to my happy acceptance of this assessment.

Posted July 17, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests, Uncategorized

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Encouragement for Failures like Me (Part 1)   2 comments

My sister Mardi is a visual artist in multiple media as well as a poet.  I love her work.  And she thinks deeply like I do.  This is the first part of a letter she sent to me while I was struggling with my own sense of failure in India.

What is success, really? And why do we value it? Does it have any actual value in itself? It can have many meanings for many different people, it could have to do with how much money a person or project earns, how much recognition it receives, how many people it influences.  In simpler terms, for those of us who have a vision, a dream, a goal we are trying to achieve, success could mean simply achieving that.  But in our economically driven society there is another aspect of it: that we would like our dream to support itself (at least) and also support us (if that’s possible).

We have the dream, we plan a strategy for reaching it and we begin investing our life in it’s accomplishment.  We give our time, our thought, our energy, our money.  And the dream grows and expands and becomes more complex and elaborate.  But how do we measure the success? By the first criteria – achieving the dream, or by the second – supporting itself and us?  What if we can be successful with the first and not the second?  What if, for all our efforts we can be successful with neither?

My life has been an experience in non-success.  I am intimately familiar with all the various ways to be unsuccessful in all its nuances.  So I have learned a number of ways of dealing with this without giving up the dream. And I have developed a philosophy about the nature and purpose of success itself.

When we are trying to achieve our dream one of the first things we can do is recognize when it seems that the original plan is not working. We try to re-evaluate the situation.  Adjust our goals. Modify our expectations to something that seems perhaps more achievable given our resources and limitations.

Mardi Woodblock Print: Seagull

In my life, after years of trying to sell my work, promote my work, create work that would be popular, I realized I was not going to get a large response to my work.  But there were people who loved it and always responded enthusiastically to anything I created.  They were few enough and poor enough that they couldn’t have supported me for a week if they all got together!  But the spiritual support and encouragement they gave me was invaluable.  So I began to create just for this limited audience, with hopes that eventually my work would achieve a wider success.  Since these people couldn’t afford to buy work, I give it away as Christmas gifts.  Occasionally some one who has contacts loves my work and I have a brief experience of selling.  But even in very good years I’ve never made $1000 and when you take out the expenses for materials I’ve always lost money. Some years, with great effort, I just lost less.  By any standard you’d like to use I am unsuccessful.

I began thinking in recent years about the whole nature of success.  Some people think that success is the result of hard work, skills in some area or a combination of the two.  But I knew many people who worked very hard and could never reach that place where they could be considered successful.  I also knew people with great talent, skill and ability, people with magnificent vision and insight.  Yet they were completely unsuccessful.  At the same time there were those who were neither hard working, skilled, nor wise who were achieving success in numerous ways: receiving recognition and honors, making money, achieving the goals they set for themselves, doing the things they loved, enjoying the things they did.

In my own life I was exhibiting in local and regional art exhibits with hundreds of other artists.  But because I was in the category of printmaking I was actually competing against only 2 or three other people usually.  The odds for me winning awards should have been very good.  Yet year after year I never won any awards, even when I created very complex, very large works. I felt my work was much better than many of the pieces that won – but then what artist doesn’t feel that!?

What struck me however was that it was repeated year after year with all sorts of different judges and different shows, and different other artists.  The sheer volume of the rejection was becoming compelling.  It seemed that the ones who won the awards were also people who seemed to be successful in many other areas of their life as well, financially, career achievements and all that.

So I began to think that perhaps success was not something that we achieved at all, either by effort or by skill or by insight.  What if success is simply something that has been given to us, one of the criteria of our life, like our family, our intelligence, our size, etc.  What if it is not an end or a goal at all but merely one of the many things through which we can learn those things that have Real value?

I began to think of life as a school in which each person who is born is given a unique curriculum especially designed just for them.  It includes many gifts that will give pleasure and gifts that will give pain.  There will be things to strengthen and things to challenge.  There will be things that seem to help and things that seem to block us.  But the purpose of everything is not to become or to achieve or to acquire any of the things we end up using our lives to become, achieve and acquire.  They are all given to us in order to teach us something more, greater, something of Real value.

Mardi Woodblock Print: Butterfly

Posted July 15, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests

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