There’s this story that gets circulated around leadership conferences about this experiment involving monkeys. As I understand it, some researchers put a bunch of monkeys in a cage with a pole in the middle and a bunch of bananas at the top. Every time a monkey started to ascend the pole, they would spray the monkey with water making it impossible to climb the pole. In time, the monkeys would help each other out. When a monkey forgot and started to ascend the pole, the others would quickly grab him and keep him from ascending so he wouldn’t get sprayed. Eventually, one by one, the monkeys in the cage were replaced until finally none of the original monkeys were left. And yet still, every time a monkey tried to ascend the pole, the other monkeys would grab him and pull him back down into the cage.
Today, over on Facebook, lots of people will make the choice to walk away from Facebook as part of the Lenten discipline. (I’m making the same choice.) And later today, some smart ass on Facebook will write some status update making a joke, mocking the people fasting from Facebook.
Today, people will take ashes on their heads, and as a spiritual act, they will choose to give up coffee, chocolate, meat, alcohol, etc. And they will tell their friends, and their friends will laugh, tease them, say things like “well, then I’ll have another on your behalf.”
Today, there will be a conversation in a workplace over lunch, and someone will be wearing the ashes and some wiseacre will loudly say, as if he’s the first person ever to think of this line, “I’m choosing to give up Lent for Lent.” or “I’m choosing to give up (insert something that they don’t actually do) for Lent,” and will be the only one laughing at his own joke.
We’re all a bunch of monkeys who can’t stand when someone else aspires to climb out of the cage.
Here’s what I know, from sitting in my office talking to people, from sitting over beers/coffee/lunch and hearing peoples’ stories. I know that people who choose to willingly give up stuff, who are vulnerable and honest enough to admit that they don’t have their shit together – these are the brave ones. The ones who choose the road less traveled, who choose to swim upstream, who choose to really think about their lives, who choose to chart their own path and not just get caught up in the flow – these are the people who are worth knowing. These are the people who change their worlds because they are first changing themselves.
So here’s to you Facebook-giver-uppers, alcohol-fasters, and coffee-deniers. Today is the first day of your Lenten journey. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. For some, today is a day of freedom, for some, today is white-knuckling-get-through-it-one-hour-at-a-time. Whatever your state of mind, here’s to you. Here’s to the journey you are on, where you discover your truest self as you discover God. My best to you on your Lenten journey, on whatever pathways you may walk – even if they rest of us don’t understand.
Let the monkeys squawk. Let the lemmings walk off the cliff.