The Road Less Travelled

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The gospel that Jesus came teaching was about the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. There is actually a reality pressed up so close to us that we can pretend is not even here. We can live in this material world as if maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is all there is. We bend inward on ourselves as to always strive for our own pleasure, measuring it in the eyes of the world. The measure is by a standard that is thrust upon us from a turbulent cultural river. The goal is to satisfy ourselves that we and our own have it as good or better than those in our eddy and that others believe this is so. All conversation and social interaction stands as opportunity to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, whether it is by enhancing perceived virtue or an outright grab for relief and pleasure.

But there is a road less travelled. There is a living for the audience of One. I know because I have tasted of that joy. There is a freedom of not living for my selfish gain but to work as unto the Lord, enjoying that only He is my reward. Only He knows my work and the injustice done to me by others. For it does not matter what man thinks. What can man do to me? Why does it not matter? Because there is this whole other reality of deep colors and sweet sounds and smells. There is joy beyond measure that is mine for the tasting if I just let go of material stuff and engage by faith.

How rare it is to speak with a person who demonstrates care for me. It has happened and it is so unusual. Maybe one or twice? How ready is the opportunity to stand out by loving well. But, I am surrounded by judgment, envy, narcissism and numbness. I am called to love those very people – not by going through the motions and actions of love, but by really caring for that one who sits in front of me judging me. To walk on that less travelled road means to really care for that offensive self-seeking man who is deaf to my words. And to love this lost one as God has loved me. To engage in the shallow world that he lives in with the hope and assurance and comfort of fellowship. Why try to speak to someone who never really wanted to hear? Listening and loving is the only hope for my lost friend who is spun up in this material world. I don’t need any worldly success or recognition, for that stuff is vanity, vapor and waste that is passing away.

Let me love boldly, listen well and work hard at service. Ascribe to the Lord the glory that is due his name. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. In the City of our God – not in this dusty place.

30 seconds of not being silent

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You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.

It is so easy to neglect to be thankful as I have grown accustomed to sunshine and blessing. There are joy pools all around me waiting to be explored with words of acknowledgment and praise. This Psalm 30 will be about 30 s for me. Don’t wait to praise Him with my words or actions. Respond now and do not let that moment pass. For I will extol You O Lord for You have lifted me up. And I will do it now without settling into complacent passivity.

  1. Explicitly affirm my love to my friend or family.
  2. Initiate a lunch with a friend or acquaintance.
  3. Memorize and meditate on that Psalm all the day.
  4. Excel in good work with perseverance as unto the Lord.
  5. Engage in the difficult conversation in love.
  6. Serve my neighbor or co-worker freely without strings.

Do these things as soon as they come to mind. Look to jump into the joy pools, forgetting the chill of the entry instant to relish in the freshness and splendor beneath the surface. Do not hold your tongue for even 30 s.

Surely He has done great things for me to be living and breathing today, and so much more. Praise him now!

 

To live a care-full life: V2 B1 C19a

I want to live a care-full life. I want to take risks to care for others where they might be in want or sadness. Such a careful life requires vigilance first, and exposure to people, and flexibility in my time. Missed opportunities cry out to me each day, and yet I often don’t react, allowing the momentum of the events of the day to remain unchanged. These opportunities are risky.

Here in the battlefield robber’s story, Thernardier, capitalizing on the tragic death of others, we find the opposite of this care-full life. The opposite of care-full is careful. In a careful life, I look out for myself in a scarcity mentality, minimizing risk and collecting and saving my resources, oblivious to subtle signs of suffering all around. There are always things out of place – a tone of voice in a word spoken, a person sitting or walking alone, an angry tone or a sarcastic comment. A careful life guards against these signs and avoids the problem with the easy diversion, even while appearing to be a caring person on the outside.

So why would I care? Why would I want to spend my days being care-full? And won’t that slow my progress down? Where is my progress taking me? Is this destination important enough to keep driving? Or should I pull off the road and care?

The Infinite and Irresistible: V2 B1 C18

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Hugo envisions that the movement of French politics was irresistible to the rulers despite a Waterloo victory. I see the same in American politics with various elections: the real lasting ideas are being formed in the practices and values of the people on the street.  But politics is much broader than elections and office. In 2017, consumerism and entertainment media addiction have a hold on our people. There is dissatisfaction and numbness and never ceasing advance into the darkness of distracted living. Higher thinking and engaged discourse are very rare because of the politicization of the issues. The politicization is driven by images, mental and virtual, that individuals hold as ideals for themselves, and it is usually about appearances. Even the rebellious are more interested in appearing as rebellious than actually helping people in some way through change. How can a nation walk the plank into the sea of self-destruction? When people are no longer seeing, hearing, or relating in the kingdom of God. Further, there is no desire to do or see anything different.

So this condition presents opportunity to be a difference. To strike up community among neighbors and ask the deeper questions and draw out those deeper answers. The purpose is in the asking and the drawing. It is about connection and community and caring.

The acedia of the culture seems infinite and irresistible, but though it is big and pervasive, it is actually rarified and incendiary. So let’s get busy talking and listening and loving.

New Every Mourning: V2 B1 C17

Hugo describes the nations persistence through the Napoleonic wars: the inertia of the cultures of England and Germany and France independent of Waterloo. Such wars where mothers abruptly lose healthy sons persist with us.  Its an easier thing for nations to resurge, buoyed by refreshed economic energy and distance from the personal pain for most individuals. Whether or not the cause seemed just, our children get caught in the bigger impersonal and unstoppable grind of events. And we will mourn again.

It is not only those relatively infrequent major crimes brought upon us by governments and power hungry despots from which we must recover. The terrible destruction that surrounds us cascades down from a holocaust to one lonely middle schooler sitting alone without a friend. Sadness scales, and the next day asks for our decision. Having experienced the sadness, will we start again? Can we successfully mourn and release the pain of past sufferings or disappointments to lay hold of the joy set before us? Is the hurt an anchor or a platform?

We get the chance to start over every day. We get to try again in relationships and life. We get to choose to pass others by or to greet them enthusiastically. We get to decide to pray or not. We can choose zeal and thoroughness in love, or we can veg out on business or TV. We can feed our selfish pleasures and erect our temporary temples to enjoy the better view, or we can exercise faith by loving even when it is risky and we end up looking foolish ourselves.

Each day is a new chance to mourn and release and try again, or a chance to distract ourselves and make sure we stay safe the next time.

Victory’s mixed blessing: V2 B1 C16

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Hugo downplays the significance of the victory on June 18, 1815 by the English/Prussians over the French, and even stipulates that the loser has more to gain. He writes of the greater aspects of a nation that are but little affected by the skirmishes of the armies. It seems to ring true that the temporary victories of an army do not last in the nations politics, and reasons for war are soon forgotten.

When one political party takes control of government, the power is secured for a time, but there comes with this privilege the burden that something positive must be accomplished or else comes the political backlash. And there seems to be always an appetite for political division and strife which will be satisfied no matter how much apparent uniformity is perceived by the power sharers. The key seems to be leadership and forward progress.

It is true in personal life that the apparent defeats often lead to precipitous victory in some parallel world of events. As a co-worker remarked yesterday, “the one thing that you can count on about the future is that it will change faster than you expect.” And often, change (even if it is perceived as defeat) indeed has represented an opportunity.

The paradox: So once again I am led to the conclusion that the point is not about the results, but about the process. Yet, we must focus on delivering the results in order to fully engage in the process. Simply talking about the process of handling the ship leaves one without wind for the sail. The beauty is then in being self-aware as we engage in the battles for what we realize is a only temporary victory at best. It is this self-awareness that makes the difference among men. And the true self-awareness is a gift, not an intelligence. It is revelation.

Bucking the system: V2 B1 C15

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Hugo paints Cambronne as the victor because he cursed in the face of death as he died. He compares Cambronne’s curse to the the Marseillaise – the stubborn rally song of the French Revolution.

“To fulminate such a word at the thunderbolt which kills you is victory.”

First, I don’t see a “divine wind” or courage in his act. Going down with the ship has to be for the right reason to be virtuous. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t heroes just because they went out in a blaze. It’s not about how you die anyway. It’s about how you live. Sure, giving your life for a just cause can be a virtuous act, but that makes all of the other soldiers, just as virtuous if their cause was just – irrespective of how long they lasted.

Second, I see these reasons for defiance of the circumstances even upon death: (1) fear, as if to admit the existence, let alone triumph, of an adverse circumstance is defeat itself, (2) pride, as if to say “I am better than you still, and you cannot make me do it,” (3) love, to stand in loyalty against evil because of love for God or others who might benefit from one’s suffering, (4) pure evil, which has drastically reduced perceived value of human lives (others as well as self), or (5) existentialism of Victor Frankel to make ones own reality through the power of being able to choose an attitude.

Finally, besides beligerance, other responses to an adverse circumstance would be:

  1. Resignation and adaptation.
  2. Looking past the setback to a Higher Order Purpose.
  3. Spend more energy on trying to overcome.

So I suppose Cambronne’s response might be a path worth choosing, and probably it was more about the emotional heat of the moment than any philosophical position. However, I see in myself a deficiency in stamina for the adverse circumstance such that I might use some philosophical reinforcements.

What’s worth dying for? V2 B1 C14

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The decision to fight to the death by the last few remaining French soldiers was made in a context of a battlefield. Perhaps these soldiers had been on such a battlefield before with such a real possibility and then faced death down. But probably they had not been in the shadow of such certain doom. I have faced death as a real possibility due to circumstances that I cannot control, but I lived. I might have missed out on the past 8 years of life which have been packed with wonderful personal growth, graduations and grandkids. When would I choose death? Certainly I would die to save a loved one, and probably even to accompany a loved one into death. Most likely I would die for other friends and strangers if it meant that I could protect them. But such choices are rarely if ever mine and therefore only exist in my virtual world. There is a clearer reality.

Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

See this excerpt from Oswald Chambers “utmost” website:

It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God. We are not made for the bright-shining moments of life, but we have to walk in the light of them in our everyday ways.

Whether it is 40 years or 4 minutes, I will die, How I lay down my life is completely my choice! To create and implement plans for loving people well. To get excited about moments of joy with another person. To walk in the light of reality in this illusion of circumstance. Reality of God, reality of relationship, reality of life with God in relationship.

Better questions: Who have  I loved in these past eight years? Who will I lay my life down for? What high calling do I have today?

Poise in panic: V2 B1 C13

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As panic set in amongst the French army and great numbers fled south from the battlefield: only a few remained to stand and fight. What was the right thing to do at the time? What was the best thing to do at the time? I don’t think there was any time to consider the questions – it just happened. Were those who fled were morally inferior than those who stood and fought to their deaths?

Perhaps the best way to discriminate is to say that the fleeing troops were less invested for the goal of the battle than the generals. And perhaps this is natural and necessary.

Consider now the dynamics of the workplace. In general the manager seems more invested in the strategic objectives than those who do most of the actual work.

Consider the family. The parents are more invested in the goals of training for right living and of quality family time than the children.

Any disfunction here means that there is an abusive situation where the leaders who have positional power wield it to their personal advantage. What is the leaders job if not to have greater vision and drive toward the big objective?

But poise in panic is a lofty goal. At a smaller scale, there is daily practice. I desire to have confidence in my daily living, stepping boldly and sleeping soundly. Yes, to recognize when I have been insensitive, and quick to apologize, but to be OK with some level of offense since people’s expectations are often ridiculous. Mainly,  good leadership living is to listen well to God and to others, and be slower to speak. And when I am bothered, to not jump to the extreme, and to dampen the extreme reactions of others.

Everyman by Himself: V2 B1 C12

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Sauve qui peut! The ordinary French troops fled in retreat.

The destruction of the Imperial Guard was now at hand and they bravely marched to their deaths. To what purpose? What was worth dying for to them? Their nationalist pride? No, really a dedication to their leader even unto death. And it is always emotional, such dedication. Seldom considered rationally.

But what of the retreat where “everyman” was for himself? Was it any better for them? What of the man who did escape and knew that he had fled while fellow soldiers stood and fought? Would he be better off? Or would his thoughts be haunted by his past actions and find no restful solitude? Once he forsook the brotherhood of a cause unto death, could he find relief in a peaceful life with friends and neighbors? I hear the soldiers often struggle to find such rest. But the one who has, in the heat of battle, chosen to be by himself may never find companionship again.

And in our normal life in peaceful suburb, the man who chooses selfishly to live for himself, not choosing vulnerability to be known and dependent upon another, must be everyman. And as he grows crooked and alone, unchecked by perceptions from others and left to his own misguided and twisting ideas regarding himself, he must experience the loneliness and regret without a friend who knows him.

Everyman for himself

Everyman by himself.