A Stellar Cast
We crawled through thick traffic to the ZANE conference on the second hottest day of the year and, considering Wimbledon is on, it was surprisingly well attended. My friend Paul Boateng – past High Commissioner to South Africa made an excellent chairman. The ambassador Catriona Laing was a star- it’s clear that the Zimbabwe job is highly sensitive and they choose their stars to serve there. We were lucky to have Richard Dowden- director of the Royal Africa Society- and my old friend and clubfoot champion Chris Lavy. All in all a very worthwhile day.
Back to the kind hospitality of ZANE donors.
Whilst in the car on the way to the conference with Jane, I asked our driver Markus if he looks at women in the street.
“Oh yes,” he admitted, “I always have done!”
“So do I”
“Oh yes Tom,” Jane said sweetly, “do you think they are looking at you?”
Nice having a wife.
Over the last couple of years, we have watched a sad procession of desperate men facing jail sentences and complete ruin for abusing minors. And we read of others destroyed by drink and drugs.
Before we set off this morning, my eye was drawn to yet another sad tale in the paper of a celebrity’s fall from grace – and it set me thinking. These “criminals” have been destroyed by their shadowlands overwhelming them; and there by the grace of God go I.
Something to Die For
We are all created to make a difference. Martin Luther King wrote that, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, then he isn’t fit to live.” A rather extreme sentiment, but he makes his position very clear. Rather more gently, Sir Walter Scott said that to be productive we need, “a maiden to woo, a battle to fight and a cause greater than ourselves to live for.”
The ominous fact is that if we are unable to make a difference then we will find a substitute because none of us can live without some sort of purpose. It follows that unless we can find our God-given role, we are likely to find an alternative one that the Almighty did not mean us to play. What do I mean?
Occasionally I have had experiences that were so profound I can recall each moment as it happened with clarity: I remember exactly what was said and who said it.
Some years ago on a business trip I was persuaded to visit a “camp” in California for a week. The course’s purpose, I soon discovered, was to put its participants in touch with their inner feelings.
I am a fully paid up member of the church reticent with deep conservative instincts embedded in my DNA: I am English, RMA Sandhurst trained, and my default position is the stiff upper lip. So when it became clear that this place was completely outside my radar, I wanted out fast. But my hosts were insistent I participated and so I rather weakly stayed; in retrospect I’m rather glad, because the experience taught me a great deal.
At the outset we were sworn to secrecy (though, don’t forget that when I’m sworn to total secrecy, it only takes me a week before I forget quite how secret the secret was; in two weeks, I can’t remember that it was a secret at all; and when three weeks have passed, I can’t even recall who told me the secret in the first place.) Anyway, as all this happened many years ago now, I can relate the experience with a more-or-less clear conscience. (Note: be careful before telling me your secret!)
To get back to the camp, numbers were used rather than names, and to create a degree of anonymity, we were all obliged to wear green tracksuits. We were softened up by having to participate in various vigorous games, racing up and down hills and passing rocks backwards and forwards (performing many sits ups if we were too slow). Meanwhile, ramrod instructors screamed the sort of crude insults that I last heard way back in my Sandhurst days. The frenzy and shouting increased as the week progressed.
In the evenings, we were made to form a circle while our leader persuaded us to open our “inner selves” and talk about our feelings; this gradually progressed to exploring our deepest hopes and fears.
Then, on the last couple of nights, psychodrama was used to persuade us to consider our relationship with our parents…. And then we were encouraged to discuss our sex lives.
I managed – just – to retain a sort of lofty detachment and I (thankfully) rediscovered an acute speech impediment from my childhood, so I sat there rather pink and more or less mute. However, several men began to talk brokenly of hidden sexual secrets and miseries. Perhaps this is something only Americans can do with relaxed fluency, although even they found mentally undressing in public difficult.
Then the mood changed… one man admitted that in the past month he had had sex with three women whose names he didn’t even know. Now the floodgates of revelation began to break all around me. Many of the men admitted that they were addicted to using pornography, despite the fact that doing so left them feeling disgusted and emptied. Others admitted – weeping as they did so – to secret drinking; another man was hooked on cocaine, and he saw no means of escaping.
I understood then what Thoreau meant when he wrote that, “men live lives of quiet desperation”.
The course leader told us we all have a shadow mission. Carl Jung wrote that each of us has a “shadow side” whose patterns of thought and actions betray our deepest values, and lead to misery, bad consciences and destroyed families.
I find the description of the “shadow” helps, as it explains my sense of secrecy, chaos and profound feelings of loneliness that my sin creates in me.
So just as we all have a mission in life – a way of using our talents to carry out the work God intends us to fulfil – we all have a shadow mission, our default position if we cruise along with our minds stuck in neutral. We were told that our souls are stained indelibly with the colour of our leisure thoughts.
The shadowland is where we can end up if we allow our natural temptations to lust and greed to dominate. To illustrate this point, one man stared fixedly at the ground as he told us: “My shadow mission is to spend afternoons with a prostitute and let the rest of the world go to hell. My life is so structured, I need some chaos to help me through.”
A few men giggled nervously and then fell silent: the man had no aspiration to be Saddam Hussein or Stalin, such a prospect would of course have appalled him, and so we contemplated instead this sad and all too mundane story of humiliation and degradation. We realised how easy it is to slide into negative and sinful pursuits that can easily become a way of life. It was the sheer hopelessness and utter banality of his shadow mission that gave it the tang of truth.
We reflected how shadow missions can take over our lives. Celebrities are imprisoned for sexual criminality with minors as their shadow missions first overwhelm and then destroy their careers and families.
Being clear about my own shadow mission has been hugely helpful to me, for I now see it for what it is. I realise I do not want to devote any part of my life to it. Shadow missions consume time, money and emotional energy: at the same time, they are wholly negative and replace creativity. They risk family happiness.
Wrestling our Demons
Shadow missions lead to the same destination: Satan’s broken wasteland of lies, disgrace and shuddering despair. Jesus was tempted by a shadow mission: we read in Hebrews that he was tempted like us “in every way”, but he rejected it. In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to achieve his mission without hunger and without pain. “All the kingdoms of the world I will give you.” But Jesus walked away.
We are all subjected to temptation. In Conan Doyle’s The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes wrestles with his archenemy Moriarty on a cliff edge wreathed in mist high above the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.
Just one tiny push, that’s all it takes, and Holmes will fall to destruction in his shadowland.
So very true Tom.