Management Strategy Seven: Enjoy The Fun of Being a Nobody

‘Nothing so much beguiles those who have some natural excellence, but are not yet perfected in virtue, as a desire for fame … “that last infamy of noble mind.” ’12 Seriously, what person in their right mind would want to be idolised by human beings? Have you ever taken a close look at what’s going on when that happens? Why is it that the ones being idolised so often treat their worshippers with contempt?

We celebrate fame and idolatry but hide it under code names: ‘entertainment’; ‘club pride’; ‘good business practise’; ‘national pride’; and even things called ‘worship services’, ‘conferences’ and other Christian get-togethers where mostly what the participants are thinking about is what others are thinking of them, their prayers and their stories.

With the desire for fame so deeply woven into our national psychology, it’s not surprising that our gifted offspring are deeply infected with this instinct to rush, push and shove, cheat and cut corners, lie and steal, trick and smudge in order to be the greatest. This is so eighties-modernist!, so Wall Street, so entrepreneurial-social-network. And sadly—in worst case scenarios—it’s victims are seduced into Faustian-style magician’s bargains with the devil.

So what’s the problem with not being famous? There’s so much sweet air down in that place of being an ordinary person, taken for granted no matter how great the sacrifices you are making. Enjoying, as Jesus said, the blessings of going into your secret closet with God and having good and beautiful God-secrets that never see the light of the fame-day.

Ironically, anyone doing good anywhere in the world already has God as a work-mate and may even be famous with God. It was Jesus who pointed out that ‘many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first’. That in itself—being a light-bearer or Christ-bearer—will get you enough attention, and even a certain amount of infamy amongst the spirits of darkness in your neighbourhood.

So why not be content with that? Accept that Christ has given these beautiful gifts to you. Thank him for them, affirm that they are a burden and a privilege every day in your prayers. Commit yourself to stay close to those who will protect you. ‘Run away from anything that gives you the evil desires that young men/women often have.” (II Timothy 2:22-24). Learn to be content being a nobody—without making it obvious.

And beware of reacting to all the idolatry with judgemental attacks on your beautiful fellow human beings: even writing this article puts the author on dangerous ground. And beware great overdone shows of false modesty and spirituality. Rather, when you get involved in worship times, bible studies and prayer sessions with your brothers and sisters, practise good inner world habits—like asking yourself, ‘When I walk away are they thinking about me or about Christ?’

And how is that going to come about? Certainly not by telling them to forget about you. Rather, a prayer might be in order, maybe something like this: ‘Can you do something with me so that others would be under no illusion about where these treasures of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”* are coming from?’

12 Lewis CS. The Discarded Image p.83 1964 CambridgeUniversity Press
* The fruit of the Spirit as listed in the Letter to the Galatians 5:16 (RSV)

Nine Strategies P. Volkofsky

Management Strategy #6: Recognise The Fact That You have a ‘Shadow Self’

This strategy is a minefield of philosophies and theologies. So beware if your goal is to ‘find what will work for me’. This is quicksand for the soul and the place from which alchemy and witchcraft have been selling their wares for centuries. You will find a thousand sites on the internet offering you the keys to self-mastery—for you! of course.

But if your goal is—at any price—to love God and your neighbour and to go with what stands the tests of truth, sanity and grace, you are in a much more objective position and far less likely to crippled by self-interest. You would do well to consider deeply the teachings of the New Testament and the ‘heart-music’ that sings when you experience the birth of a child, falling in love, or even the burial of a beloved family member.

For myself, one such body of ‘heart-music’ has been the first and last of George MacDonald’s fantasy works: Phantastes and Lilith. He is regarded by many as the father of mythopoeic fantasy and has much to say to the post-modern mind, which (although he lived almost two centuries ago) he understood and deeply sympathised with. Below are some excerpts and commentary on his insights on the matter.

‘Anodos enters the cottage of the Ogress, she is reading: “So, then, as darkness had no beginning, neither will it ever have an end. So, then, it is eternal. The negation of aught else, is its affirmation. Where the light cannot come, there abideth darkness. The light doth but hollow a mine out of the infinite extension of darkness. And ever upon the steps of light treadeth the darkness; yea, springeth in fountains and wells amidst it, from the secret channels of its mighty sea. Truly, man is but a passing flame, moving unquietly amid the surrounding rest of night; without which he yet could not be, and whereof he is in part compounded.” This strange speech discusses the source of darkness, associated with evil in Christian imagery. The Ogress asserts the substance of darkness, of evil,and suggests that man’s existence is grounded in the darkness. Yet the fact that she is an Ogress implies that she is somehow evil so her words must betaken not as MacDonald’s own view, but as the opposite of it.’

‘Inverted, this speech outlines the Augustinian conception of substance and goodness (light). Darkness and light are in opposition, but light is substance and darkness is the absence of substance. … Although the inversion and falsity of her speech is confusing, her chant points toward the meaning of evil as the absence of good. Anodos’s acquisition of the shadow illustrates MacDonald’s Augustinian conception of evil and the self. Unfortunately for Anodos, his perverse impulse, his disordered desire, motivates him to open the door of the closet … out of which his shadow, evil, `finds him. After he sees a figure travelling towards him, he “looked round over [his] shoulder; and there, on the ground, lay a black shadow, the size of a man. It was so dark, that [he] could see it in the dim light of the lamp, which shone full upon it, apparently without thinning at all the intensity of its hue” The shadow has no independent existence, does not have its own substance,but is the negation of light, of good. It lives as a parasite on the self of Anodos. After gaining the shadow in the “Church of Darkness”, Anodos’s vision of the world is distorted by it. When he sees a child with a magical toy, “straightway he was a common place boy”9 …

‘Anodos visits a town where if he gets too close to people they appear terrifically ugly when the shadow falls upon them. Eventually his self and his shadow are tangled up together, and he cries, when at the Fairy Palace:“‘Shadow of me!’ I said, ‘which art not me, but which representest thyself to me as me; here I may find a shadow of light which will devour thee, the shadow of darkness!’”. Yet there is no evidence or implication that the shadow has a self or a substance separate from Anodos—the shadow was “in[his] heart as well as at [his] heels”. Anodos’s loss of the shadow reveals the relationship of self and evil.’ …

‘When Anodos focuses on himself, when he ignores the advice given to him by others, the shadow begins its terrorization of him when it comes from the depth of the darkness. In that shadowed state, Anodos no longer tries to seek the ideal, but only seeks to serve himself. This turning to self instead of looking toward God, the true ideal, is what Augustine pinpoints as the invasion of evil into the self. All the things which the self-centered try to achieve are good in themselves, but have been distorted by the disordered desires of an evil will which turns to the self, the lower good, rather than focusing on That Which Is, on God. Anodos escapes evil when he turns away from himself and toward the true ideal, making his journey a working through of what Max Keith Sutton calls the “disorders of a narcissistic personality…’10

The book of Proverbs tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23) This ancient book is filled with remarkable wisdom collected over thousands of years — via oral and then written history: Proverbs 24 is a great example, filled with proverbs on ‘the fool’. It warns us that not only do we have a ‘shadow self’ and a self to be treasured and guarded but that there are people out there who have remarkable powers to get a man or a woman to first devalue their body and soul and then to throw it away.

But don’t be fooled, this road starts close to home. The big and obvious temptations out there: drugs and sex for example, are red herrings in some way. For very few of us ever sit down one day and say, ‘I’m going to wreck my life.’ The first step will come from close to home via a family member, a friend or a leader you trust: ‘beautiful, good and decent’ leaders in your local community, churches and schools—and they (not the drug dealers and film stars) are the ones who will most likely get you started on this pathway. They are the ones Jesus spoke of as the ‘children of the devil’: the ‘life, child and family destroyers’. And it all starts when you get deeply hurt by one of them. Then comes despair, and then comes the temptation to self-destruct, which is where the drug dealers and others come into the story.

So, remember, “You can’t get done over if you are not on the playing field whether it’s bitterness or drugs.” You can decide how you want to live and that you are going to set tactics and strategies in place so that it’s extremely unlikely that you will be one of their casualties. Stay away from their turf. As CS Lewis says; ‘I really think that Christians should avoid wherever possible, the company of liars, cheats, bullies, and the immoral, not because we are too good for them, but because we are not good enough.’

The letter of James has this to say: ‘Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.’11

9.http://www.academia.edu/2127376/Riddled_with_Evil_Fantasy_as_Theodicy_in_George_MacDonalds_Phantastes_ and_Lilith

10 ibid

11 James 3: 16 – 18 The Message Version

Management Strategy Five: Phawesecapees or What?

In this strategy the definition of the ‘idolatry of beauty’ obviously applies to a wide range of situations from art galleries to opera to the actual person themselves. ‘Participating Responsibly’ might be sweet or it might be bitter: it’s a two-edged sword. On one hand it’s the theme song of our society and promoted by organisers of main stream music festivals where you can join in with the beautiful people and go get what you want without getting damaged. But in some ways this is the most dangerous option because it implies that what’s going on externally is all that counts.

I would imagine that the first time Jesus walked into a market place and sat down with the publicans and ladies of the night there may have been an awkward moment when they (and everyone else) wondered if he was about to throw away his beautiful and amazing potential to be the greatest teacher in Israel. After all the fuss was he just going to be another gifted young man who was looking for nothing more than a bit of dodgy fun? Hence the slander about being ‘a drunk and glutton and friend of publicans and sinners’.

Time itself told the truth that he was in fact participating responsibly, but not in the way that we mean when we talk of being ‘responsible’. Our safety-obsessed, ‘being-responsible’ world got this way, not because of it’s Christianity, but because of it’s conclusion that this life is all there is and so you’d better keep the volume on three and get as a good an insurance package for everything you have because ‘if you haven’t got your money and your health you’ve got nothing eh?’ Interestingly the Pharisees—who were mostly offended at Jesus—had the same kind of vision: ‘what’s on the outside is what counts’. You might say they were precursors of western, secular capitalism, or ‘Phawesecapees’.

In our world’s mind, Jesus walking in amongst the hard core people was not The One reaching out to them in love but a good responsible boy trying to make them live a bit better: kinda like us. And yes, he had friends and family telling him that he would be a hit if only he would go and get unearthed—as a popular guy, a revolutionary, or even in a seminary somewhere. That’s how he became the Christmas and Easter of billions right?

The word ‘responsible’ actually means ‘having an obligation to do something, or having control over or care for someone, as part of one’s job or role.’ It also means ‘being the primary cause of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it.’ In that sense you could say Jesus gets the blame for the fact that all (except possibly one) of his close followers were persecuted and died violent deaths. But he also gets the credit for a thousand beautiful facts. And here are some examples of Jesus-style responsibility as laid out by Indian philosopher Vishal Mangawadi.

‘Bible translators and missionaries did not merely give me my mother tongue, Hindi. Every living literary language in India is testimony to their labour. In 2005 a Malayalee scholar from Mumbai, Dr Babu Verghese, submitted a seven hundred page doctoral thesis to the University of Nagpur. It demonstrated that Bible translators, using the dialects of mostly illiterate Indians, created seventy three modern literary languages. These include the national languages of India (Hindi), Pakistan (Urdu), and Bangladesh (Bengali). Five Brahmin scholars examined Dr. Verghese’s thesis and awarded him a PhD in 2008. They also unanimously recommended that his thesis, when published as a book, should be required reading for students of Indian linguistics.’6

Mangawadi’s book, contrary to popularised missionary myths, makes it quite clear that—despite glaring mistakes by missionaries who adhered to the wrong kind of ‘responsibility’ and still do— there were droves of missionaries who were determined to do what Jesus did, what the colonial powers did not want them to do: to bring confidence, freedom, power, language and autonomy to the local indigenous population.

The fact is that bringers of ‘Jesus-style responsibility’ were also at work back home in the country of the colonisers: England. There, the ‘missionaries’ introducing the influence of Jesus were frequently artists and poets. William Blake (for example), bitterly criticised England for her ‘dark satanic mills,’ but it was the influence of Jesus that gave him somewhere to go with this and—instead of becoming just one more really cool poet—he was prompted to write his poem Jerusalem, which is still sung in English churches today. It’s last verse virtually coming straight out of the bible …

‘I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.’7

Yes, there will be many Phawesecapees who still sing that song, completely misunderstanding what William Blake was talking about, but that doesn’t change the beautiful facts of Jesus-style responsibility. So, next time you go to a concert, festival, or party you might want to ask yourself whether you are going there as a responsible Phawescapee or the way Jesus might go to it: is going to it.

‘Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.’8

6 Quoted in Mangalwadi V. The Book That Made Your World p.169-170, Thomas Nelson 2011

7 Ibid p.174

8 Romans 8:6,7 The Message version

Management Strategy #4: Offer Yourself Blindly.

Ted Bundy seduced and murdered thirty eight women. At his trial, a whole bank of extremely beautiful women showed up every day and sat in the front rows of the courtroom, giggling and making eye contact with him.

Sometimes this kind of thing comes from a place of utter despair, but more commonly it comes from the fascination of the beautiful with the evil and brutal. And it constantly takes us by surprise because we forget that beautiful people—whether they be physically beautiful or makers of beautiful music, art, buildings or simply beautiful people to be around—are (like us all) fallen creatures. And with beauty comes the temptations of beauty, one of which is to wield power over others: to even get drunk on power.

We human beings (especially civilised ones) can find a special delight in being able to arrange our lives, the lives of those around us and even our entire world, in such a way that everything is ‘just so’. But we fail, get desperate and then long to somehow borrow or steal some of God’s magic in order to make it all #*X! work. Rather than longing to be filled with the things God wants to give us—like love, joy, peace, patience and kindness; we long for the unattainable qualities of God: perfect beauty and eternal youth, absolute power, infinity and so on.

Frustrated by our impotence and tired of all the talk of God’s love and grace, we look for something that works! and beauty—real stunning beauty—works like magic. If you’re looking for those kind of results that is. And so does evil: as in what might be called ‘white line evil’: the kind that says ‘I don’t care what it takes—I’ll make a bargain with the devil, I’ll do whatever brutal things it takes to get what I want.’

Chesterton explains it this way: ‘I believe that the black magic of witchcraft has been much more practical and much less poetical than the white magic of mythology. I fancy the garden of the witch has been kept much more carefully than the woodland of the nymph. I fancy the evil field has even been more fruitful than the good. To start with, some impulse, perhaps a sort of desperate impulse, drove men to the darker powers when dealing with practical problems. There was a sort of secret and perverse feeling that the darker powers would really do things; that they had no nonsense about them.’ He continues, ‘Sooner or later a man deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think of. It is felt that the extreme of evil will extort a sort of attention or answer from the evil powers under the surface of the world. This is the meaning of most of the cannibalism in the world… It is notable not only in ethics but in aesthetics.’ 3

‘A South American idol was made as ugly as possible, as a Greek image was made as beautiful as possible. They were seeking the secret of power, by working backwards against their own nature and the nature of things. There was always a sort of yearning to carve at last, in gold or granite or the dark-red timber of the forests, a face at which the sky itself would break like a cracked mirror.’

Chesterton goes on to talk about the way that ordinary souls are often blind to this sort of thing because it is so alien, so awful and almost impossible to imagine and thereby hides itself under a cloak in broad daylight, even when we are looking right into its face. He says, ‘This inverted imagination produces things of which it is better not to speak. Some of them indeed might almost be named without being known; for they are of that extreme evil which seems innocent to the innocent. They are too inhuman even to be indecent. But without dwelling much longer in these dark corners, it may be noted as not irrelevant here that certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of black magic. There may be suspected as running through it everywhere, for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood.’4

This antagonism towards humans, especially to children is a hallmark of evil in every culture. In our own society for example, which has ironically launched a national investigation into pedophilia (which an excellent thing in itself) at the same time that our homes, families and especially our children are being systematically torn apart by things we deeply cherish in our way of life. Like those women filing into the courtroom each day—where evil in one heart communed with evil in another and both hearts celebrated a perverted form of power—we are participating in a denunciation of one form of evil whilst at the same time communing with and celebrating something we have in common with it.

Walter Brueggemann suggests that instead of just getting angry at it or joining in with it, we need to recognise that the darkness holds a clue to the puzzle. He suggests that the problem with us is that it’s not just that we are afraid of evil, we are afraid of all that is mysterious, awe-inspiring or numinous. And that our society (and even at times our ‘Christianity’) has a vested interest in the elimination of wonder and “abiding astonishment,” because ‘In our modern experience but probably also in every affluent culture it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness … The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life is rooted nowhere else.’5

So perhaps, rather than scoffing at those beautiful women entranced by blatant evil, and rather than joining in with them, we could have a conversation with them.

Management Strategy #3: Contempt

Beauty’s Angst

As a way of coping with the intense annoyance of the attention you’re getting because of your ‘beautiful’ problem, and constantly having to consider others and their admirations and jealousies, which are no fault of your own—you choose to give in to your exasperation and blatantly enjoy the power regardless of the hurt this causes. Contempt now presents itself to you as a new weapon in your armoury (and you are building an armoury by the way), because these people who have been asking for it all along, deserve nothing less than to be scorned. They need to be taught a lesson, and the very idea of finding a solution via agape love, which is ‘slow to lose patience and looks for a way of being constructive,’* seems laughable. The trouble with this ‘get tough’ strategy is that people get offended and then become desperate and dangerous, which of course invites even more contempt from you.

This is a dangerous moment in the journey of a young human being who no longer feels or even remembers that they and their beauty came out of the heart of God. In their anger, they respond with either gut emotion or cold logic as a way of fixing the problem when the real solution lies in the soul (or the heart): that half-way place between the head and the gut. But if your family and your culture has also forgotten where it came from, how are you (the young and beautifully-burdened and frustrated person) going to find your way to that mysterious place of grace. CS Lewis metaphorically calls this middle place the ‘chest’, and says, ‘We make men (and women) without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’1

* 1st Corinthians 13

1. CS Lewis The Abolition of Man