Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Letter #3

My dear Blankweed,
                                                Now please settle down and stop bombarding me with questions. I know you’re anxious, but this patient is young and we have time on our side. Remember, we’re playing a long game here.
I’m a little puzzled by your attitude to time, incidentally. These humans live constricted by time, not us. So I’m not entirely sure where your “what if” questions come from. However, let’s look at one of you “what if” questions as an illustration of a general principle.
“What if, “ you ask, “ she decides to go to one of the tradition services at this church she’s attending? All your advice would then not apply. What would I do?”.  Blankweed, it is all perfectly straight forward: you simply keep a level head (admittedly, something you don’t seem to find easy) and change strategy.
Human beings are forever engaging with these types of questions. Should I take this path or that? Which would be the better option? Young adult humans can get totally caught up in such questions, almost as if they believe that there is one right route for their lives which they somehow have to guess at. Even those engaged in the Enemy’s service can get caught up in these kinds of questions: what does the Enemy want them to do now?? How will they know? Should they move to this town or stay where they are? Should they go to this church or another? Ironically enough, for both the Enemy and for us, these questions are, generally, irrelevant. They’re irrelevant to the Enemy because he simply wants them to engage in the right way in any path they take. You’d think His instructions were pretty straight forward: rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances sound like simple enough instructions to me.  Or love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with your G--.  That’s all He wants. But of course we like to tangle them up in theological knots, so that even a single one of these instructions becomes complicated and fraught with difficulty.
For us, these questions are irrelevant because they simply offer different opportunities requiring different strategies. This is the principle you need to understand: any situation offers different but equal opportunities.  It simply doesn’t matter which kind of service she goes to, Blankweed.  A “low” family service and a higher or more traditional service offer the same level of opportunity for distraction and temptation: we simply employ a different strategy. The only exception to this rule is a decision to serve or not serve the Enemy. When a terrible event such as this arises, when a human is faced with this decision, we really are against the wall. But if – hopefully not when – this happens,  we’ll send back up. You won’t face such a terrible event alone.  Of course, the Enemy will employ an army. But we have armies too.  Harmwink and his staff are, as we speak, developing new weapons that will be impervious to the Enemy’s attacks.  Or so we hope.
But let us continue with an exploration of this particular case.  If your patient decides to continues to attend the family service, then we bombard her, as I outlined in my previous letter, with issues to do with unfamiliarity. As I say, humans hate feeling out of place. But if she decides to attend a traditional service, then we bombard her with temptations or distractions based on her contempt of the familiar. Because, curiously enough, while humans hate change and feeling out of place, they are also contemptuous of the familiar and immune to the dangers it presents.
When your patient sits in a traditional service, she may initially feel peacefully at home, and of course that is a very bad thing. But with a little skill, after a short period of time,  you can both distract her and/or fuel her discontent.  First, distract her. Let her revel in the poetry of the language, as if alliteration and metaphor were the equivalent of prayer.  As long as her focus is on the words themselves rather than their meaning, and her engagement with and affirmation of that meaning, then she might just as well be reading or listening to Dylan Thomas.
If you’re feeling really artful, then you could make this “love of language” the primary reason for attending church: make her an expert on ecclesiastical language if you like. Of course, there’s always danger in humans being exposed to prayer in any form, even its most turgid, but if you can get her to say the responses for the sheer joy of how they sound, or the way they transport her back to “a more innocent time” (there’s that nostalgia theme again!), or even for their theological appropriateness or subtlety, then those prayers are of no use to the Enemy at all, in fact may become actual barriers between your patient and the Enemy. Make her feel strongly about how the words should be said, so that if one service leader says the words in a way other than the way she prefers, she can be absorbed in impatience.
Alternatively, fuel the little beast with discontent. As I say, humans are, in some strange way, contemptuous of things that are familiar to them.  We work on marriages by fuelling this contempt of the familiar: a woman can be contemptuous of the man she once loved and disregard all his needs and everything he says simply because she’s seen him in his pyjamas every day for 20 years. In the same way, we can encourage people working in the same place for a long period of time to become dissatisfied with their work, even if it is, objectively speaking, interesting and well-paid work, solely on the grounds that they feel they’ve done it all before.  Even though both work and relationships are forever changing in subtle and complex ways, human beings can be made blind to this fact because they have this sense they’ve seen it/heard it all before.  Contempt of the familiar: it’s a fun tune to play!
So, if the words of the service or the hymns are familiar to her, play on her contempt. The church hasn’t changed in 30 years, so how can it possibly have anything relevant to say to the modern world? How can something couched in the language of the 19th Century have relevance to a world imbued with technology undreamed of 150 years ago? Who are these people, sitting in the church listening to and saying the same old words week after week, and not even seeing the world change around them? Are they stuck in a time warp, some theological bubble? If you’re really playing your cards carefully, she could even sing those hymns and say those words ironically, enjoying the language but playfully delighted by her sense of their irrelevance.
With any luck, these people in the pews will generally be older than she is – in fact, most of them will probably be a lot older. We have done a sterling job over the last 50 years in the Western world of instilling in younger people (ie those under 40) a fear of the elderly. The outcome has been excellent: it means that the elderly feel side-lined, neglected, invisible, and helpless, and any wisdom the older generations might pass on to the younger ones will be entirely unheard. I’ve looked in the church report: there are some powerful members of the Enemy’s ground troops attending this service, which should present a real danger to us in regard to your patient. But there is no danger: she’ll look around the church and see a mop of grey curls and bald heads, and some very unsightly cardigans and baggy trousers, and she’ll steer well away.
You see, Blankweed, it’s all a matter of strategy. Any situation offers unique opportunities that we can exploit to our advantage. Learning to turn on a pin and think on your feet can be a very satisfying experience. And if you can’t think quickly, enrol in a remedial course in contingency planning.
Your affectionate friend


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