A Letter to Taylor

I’ve just recently read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. 

My take was, perhaps, unusual considering that the underlying theme of this classic story didn’t emerge, for me, as one of a young man ultimately destroyed by his quest for vengeance. You see, what stood out to me in this story was something of the perils of covetousness and jealousy; the concealed potential for human savagery behind even the most [seemingly] benign gossip; the mercurial nature of human relationship; and the dangers of a spiteful tongue.

That’s just my take; you’ll have yours. 

In many Christian circles, pride is considered to be the most potentially insidious sin, yet Solomon wrote, “ Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” Thus, and seemingly in agreement with Solomon, I would offer the sin of jealously as the most insidious sin, transcending even the illustrious sin of pride… or dare I say, tobacco! You see, Jealousy seldom stands alone, but is almost always accompanied by resentment, gossip, and hatred without cause. The definition of jealousy may be paraphrased as a person who views himself vicariously through someone else’s position in life. Rather than focusing on one’s self and one’s own ambitions, he chooses to focus on the life and ambitions of another. He begins to explain away the accomplishments of his subject as some sort of cheating or foolery. Finally, he begins to spread word to not be deceived by the person’s ostensible good nature, and that what may appear to be success may be better explained as a hoax.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, a young boy named Edmond Cortez was blessed by his God and his superiors well beyond what others may have assessed to be his “dues”. Jealousy and hatred without cause developed in the minds of a few onlookers, and through a few spiteful words, a malicious plot was conceived, developed, perfected, and implemented. Indeed, a plot which would ultimately englobe everyone close to Edmond, including those who hadn’t wished to involve themselves. What ensued would become one of the most notorious stories of human hatred, jealousy, covetousness, and yes… vengeance ever penned.  

David prayed the following prayer to a group that he said hated him without cause:

Let the angel of the Lord pursue them

For without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit

Which they have dug without cause for my life

Let a destruction come upon him unexpectedly

And let his net that he has hidden catch himself

Into that very destruction let him fall 

(Psalm 35:5-8)

You may note that this prayer wasn’t said against an encroaching enemy, or a far-off resistance force; this prayer was offered against individuals who were previously considered friends and neighbors. 

Read on and see:

(Speaking of those against whom he prays)

They reward me evil for good

To the sorrow of my soul

But as for me, when they were sick,

My clothing was a sackcloth;

I humbled myself with fasting;

And my prayer would return to my own heart

I paced about as though he were my friend or brother;

I bowed down heavily as one who mourns for his mother.

But in my adversity they rejoiced

And gathered together 

Attackers gathered against me

And I did not know it;

They tore at me and did not cease;

With ungodly mockers at feasts 

They gnashed at me with their teeth

(Psalm 35:12-16)

Throughout each life – indeed, even the most passive and inwardly trodden lives – antagonists will emerge. These antagonists boast that they are your enemy, and they’ll assume that you have time for such trivialities. You haven’t the time, thus you should pay such people no attention. In reality, these antagonists aren’t your true enemies, as they have assumed. Never allow others, especially your antagonists, to establish who your enemies are and where your focus lies. Narrow your focus on your own successes, and help those around you as needed. Remain wary of all but the closest one or two people in your life, and play your hand very closely to your vest; play the game purposefully, for life is indeed a game. Never slow down to help others who are not in the race; but help as many runners as you can as your life briefly touches theirs while passing by. Keep a strong and steady pace. If you must, then pray the prayer of David over your antagonists, and do so quietly. Never speak of of these people with others unless there is a specific resolution that is being sought. Label your own enemies, and never allow others, about whom you might otherwise think very little, to label themselves, thus potentially elevating themselves in your life. 

In football, it’s often said that a team should never allow the referees to decide the final outcome with a few bad calls. Build your life so solidly that your antagonists can not destroy you with a few slanderous words. Walk as upright as you can, let no one set your pace for you, hold your goals close, and pray daily.

I believe that while following Christ’s example you may very well offend some people along the way. Not that you set out to offend, but it may simply happen by default. I’ve heard it said by many Christians that we should “Go against the grain”, and certainly such a mindset is mere foolishness. Perhaps for some the adjunct has become the objective, if not the very center of their pursuit of faith. We are called to a course, and if the collateral damage of that course is a chaffing against the status quo, then we apologize no more than would a train which stirs up the dust while pursuing its destination. Christianity is an exclusive belief system, and it is that exclusivity that will occasionally offend.

 

~ Nathan Gray

 

The Elusive Great Life

Lately, I’ve been marveling – I suppose even lamenting – over the assumption by many folks that “the good life” is something you must wait for, or perhaps something that comes with qualifications. Such thoughts seem to often coincide with the belief that a great life is something that simply or eventually happens by some twist of events. I would suggest that a great life is something that one builds for himself; something that one puts together in pieces, much like building a wall. And the greatness of that life, again much like the greatness of a wall, is the result of the time and effort one takes to build it. Think about that for a moment, and imagine how many folks trek meander skulk through the years, waiting for a great life to build itself for them. Perhaps they imagine that a brilliant business idea will strike, or great wealth will befall them; perhaps they imagine a beautiful spouse may appear, or their boss will offer a lucrative promotion.

 

And years pass by. Literally, years. This gives me pause.

 

Let’s assume, for the moment, that you’re penniless. Or may we at least assume that the great life hasn’t struck for you? You may have even tried to build the life, but you’ve paused to wait for proper supplies and building materials to arrive. Maybe you’re still waiting for supplies, or maybe you’ve realized that those supplies aren’t coming.

I would ask you to stop at this moment, and look around. What do you see around you? What have you done with the few supplies you do have? Have you built anything yet? For you, will the promotion be the usher for the great life or merely a supplement. 

Do any of you know a builder? You know, somebody who builds houses or something similar. I do, and I’ve noticed something about builders. If you give a builder a weekend, some nails, a hammer, and a pile of lumber, then come back on Monday, and I assure you he will have built… I don’t know, a tree house, or box, or a shelf, or something! He’ll not say that he didn’t want to build anything because he couldn’t build EVERYthing. He’ll see what he could build – what he COULD build – with just what’s in the pile. Then he goes to work, and he builds.

I want to assure you that if you think it’s appropriate to waste years of your life planning for what you’ll do when life begins, then there is no great life coming for you. You see, success has nothing to do with position or wealth; nothing to do with cars or houses; nothing to do with watches or jewelry. Success is about taking whatever you have – anything you have – and building something amazing with it. There’s a fellow I know who is one of the greatest photographers I’ve personally met. This fellow tours all around the US and Europe just taking spectacular pictures of many things. Would you believe that I recently discovered that this fellow with this incredible life earns his living by power washing houses? And he doesn’t work for himself; he’s an hourly employee. The photographer didn’t wait for his promotion, and I would urge you to consider his lead; reflect on his vervacious (like verve, don’t judge me) attitude about building his life without delay; without supplies; without wasting a little time, then years, then a life that could’ve been great if it had only been built. I made up that word “vervacious”, but I’ll let you use it. Maybe put that word on your mirror tonight, and live that word tomorrow. Build your life. Build it broke, single, in debt, in a mud pit, in a tough job, but build it vervaciously.