Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tiring to Inspiring

Life is a never-ending flow of challenges. When at work, we are fiercely driven by demands from every corner. Deadline pressures can be overwhelming. Information overload can be distressing. Inability to meet expectations can be discouraging. At home we are fiercely driven by expectations to balance work and family, and still be able to squeeze out some time for ourselves. At social events, we are hard-pressed to put on our best selves, even to the point of masquerading our emotions under the pretext of smiles, a persona of confidence effectively maintained by a respectable set of carefully selected fashion-ware. The human ‘default’ condition is to put on one’s most handsome external, even if it means stuffing one’s messy internal into a neatly packaged box. We are indeed a very tired generation. Assaulted by a buffet of information and inundated by increasing winds of change, anything is left behind is likely to be gobbled up by the bug of worry. Visibly tired, one becomes vulnerable to weather changes, and easily swayed to marketing messages that promotes popping pills as a quick relief. How then can we cope? Some will turn to harmful drugs that work quickly but wound slowly. Gordon MacDonald, in his classic work: “Ordering Your Private World,” observes this phenomenon aptly.
I get the feeling we are a tired generation. Evidence of that fatigue abounds in a multitude of articles about health problems related to overwork and exhaustion. Workaholism is a modern word. No matter how hard we are willing to work in our competitive world, there always seems to be someone willing to put in a few more hours than we are. What is strange about our general fatigue as a people is the fact that we are such a leisure-oriented society. We actually have what is called a leisure industry, and it is among the most profitable in our economy. Whole companies, organizations, and retail chain stores are committed to providing the goods with which people can pursue fun and good times.” (Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, Tennessee: Evangelical Publishing, 1984, p163)
More than twenty years later, we are nowhere better than the 80s, despite having better technologies and more advanced medical knowledge, and sophisticated health curriculum. The huge success of the ‘Chicken Soup’ series highlights the modern cry for comfort and emotional therapy. Thanks to the increasing worship of technology, treating the human condition is fast becoming more of a science rather than an art. Supplementing this first technological sweep are attempts at inspiring a tired generation. Current books like Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” and Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret” regularly top the bestseller charts. I have mentioned both works here and here. Both of these books are considered ‘inspirational’, to help one to attain one’s dream and versions of success. (I do not have a problem with Pausch, but I cannot say the same for Byrne.) Whether it is psychotherapy or emotional drugs; chicken-soup stories or inspirational ideas; suppressing one’s mood or delaying any fall toward depression, one thing is clear: An exhausted generation needs not relief but healing. Lance Secretan, in his book “Inspirational Leadership,” tries to bring some sanity and hope into such a need. He correctly identifies inspiration as coming from the Latin word spirare meaning ‘spirit.’ I am not comfortable with his ‘source’ of inspiration, (Secretan is a Shamanism-inclined spiritualist). Moreover, Secretan’s work smacks traces of Gnostic beliefs, that the spiritual is far better than the material things. This is in complete opposition to Christian theology which recognizes that every good and perfect gift comes from God, both spiritual and material. Hence, I will compare and contrast motivation and inspiration according to my understanding. Below is a table I made, highlighting the differences:

Sin Has Never Left Us

The sin that tarnished the first couple in the Garden of Eden has never been truly expelled from the backyard of the 21st century world. Adam and Eve hide their naked conditions using clumsy leaves from the green foliage of the garden. Likewise, we in the 21st century tries to conceal our sinful selves using sophisticated devices available from the natural and synthetic production facilities aided by art, science, fashion and technology. God gave Adam and Eve, garments for clothes, and sent out of the Garden. We in the 21st century, are given Christ, that we may put on our garments of praise, and be sent out to the world to proclaim the Word, the Logos. How then can we in our sinful condition move from a tired state to an inspired shape? Motivational talks can help but will be extremely limited. Spiritual exercises brings some useful help but it alone does not suffice. Only God can do it in Christ. Jesus has said to his disciples that He is the vine and we are the branches and apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Of course. Paul the Apostle says we are already dead in our sins. Only when we are made alive in Christ can we begin the path of recovery, to true fulfillment of the soul. This truth is made the more difficult to take in our sinful world. In our minds we want to believe. In our hearts we hope to embrace. However, our eyes see more struggles that seem to head down the rabbit hole of despair. News events happening around us does little to fortify any optimism of a better tomorrow. Our society is moving from these fronts:
  1. Church: From Christendom to Post-Christendom
  2. Social: From Corporate Togetherness to Isolationist Individual
  3. Workplace: From Industrialism to Post-Industrialism
  4. Economy: From Industrial to Information Economy
  5. Era: From Modernity to Post-Modernity
  6. Lifestyle: From Face-2-Face Rendezvous to Online Social Networking
I believe that despite these changes, the underlying creature behind these seismic movements remain largely the same. I have some disturbing observations of human nature. If we recognize that we are fallible, why do we behave as if others have to be infallible? Our readiness to forgive one another is a clear demonstration of my question. Can we, upon recognizing our limitations be able to show more tolerance and acceptance of one another as we are? Having said that, there is also the other angle. What if we exercise our forgiveness stance, but come across a situation whereby the wrong committed clearly need to be addressed. Like a case of stealing. Or a blatant cheating situation. How do we clearly speak up on these cases? I will suggest that if one is not sure about the manner to approach it, call upon like-minded individuals, wise people who can guide. We need such people. We need mentors to help us navigate the tricky straits of life. The young needs the older folks to learn from history and the past. The old needs the youthful generation to remind them that they are not living back in time but in contemporary culture. The middle aged who lives between the two generations need to develop their moderation to mature and be a future resource for the generations to come.

There is a very interesting prose-poem written by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Oriah is a Shamanist, who is currently on an indefinite sabbatical. She is not an evangelical. I am not even sure if she is a Christian. Her adopted name 'mountain dreamer' means 'the one who likes to push the edge.' Her writings are influenced by a type of spirituality called Shamanism, which aims to be in sync with the spirit world. Oriah, because of her beliefs encourages readers to be inspired by reading and meditating on the 'Invitation.' However, the problem I have lies in the next step. Where do we direct our spiritual concentration? On Self or on the Triune God? On the animal and natural spirits or on the Holy Spirit? Oriah's invitation is open. Far too open for comfort.

For Christians, we take comfort that we commune not with the spirits of the world but we pray in the Spirit of Christ. The following from Oriah's "The Invitation" can be read profitably when we do so with a focus on the mind of Christ. Imagine the invitation is given by a spiritual director. Using this, then direct your prayers to God the Father and ask the Spirit to meet our longings. Move from a tired self to an inspired soul.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of
meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story
you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or
how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where
or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

From: Oriah Mountain Dreamer, "The Invitation" Harper Collins San Francisco, 1999


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