Such Great Heights

When I first became a Christian, I attended Winnipeg’s own megachurch for some time. Although I now reject much of what that church taught me, many of the catchphrases I heard there continue to jangle about in my skull.

Take the following pithy statement:

I’d rather shoot for the starts and land on the moon than shoot for the mud and hit it every time.

Like all good proverbs, the metaphors at work here do a number of things. There’s up vs down, large vs small, success vs failure—although the success in the second aim is pyhrric.

But the core idea is in setting your ambitions so much higher than what you think is possible, and to go for it. Not only this, but be willing to fail, be discouraged, and get disappointed in the process. Just keep in mind that failure might just look like landing on the moon.

But I’ve always wondered about the moon part, specifically, what would happen if I shot for the moon? The moon is a pretty solid achievement; definitely worth shooting for. But the sneaking suspicion latent in this aphorism is that, although we’re capable of reaching the moon, we won’t reach it by shooting for it. It’s only when our target is far beyond that we’ll reach such great heights.

This lesson has come home to roost in my ambition to post every day until the end of the year. I’ve missed a few days, and more recently, which has been discouraging. But I’ve made 28 posts in 36 days, or about 5.5 posts per week. If I’d said to myself “I’d like to post 5–6 times per week,” that I would have been anywhere near as prolific in my prose output. Although I was pretty sure I wouldn’t achieve my initial post-per-day goal, I’m glad I shot for the stars.

Remembering Differently

Remembrance Day is a day where we’re supposed to remember, but only in a certain way. We are only to remember the war dead as heroes, not as victims or suckers or murderers or villains. We are only to remember the wars in which they were murdered in as honourable, particularly WWII–the only war of the last century where a decent rhetorical case can be made to name it an honourable war.1 And of course, we are only to remember those killed on our side.

An especially fickle thing about Remembrance Day is that it evolved from Armistice Day, which was instituted to specifically remember the anniversary of the ceasing of hostilities in WWI, that Great War after which the thought of war ever occurring again was horrifying and, many hoped, unthinkable. But as the horror of WWI faded, Armistice Day evolved from a remembering of the ceasing of war to remembering and honouring veterans, leading it to be renamed in most places to Memorial Day or Veterans Day. The Canadian War Museum says the following about the rebranding in 1931:

The term ‘Remembrance Day’ placed the emphasis squarely upon memory – and by extension upon the soldiers whose deaths were being remembered – rather than upon the Armistice, a political achievement in which rank-and-file soldiers were not directly involved.

As the focus shifts from remembering the end of war to remembering the sacrifice of veterans, we are remembering in such a way that no longer questions war. The focus on the supposed honour of the soldiers’ sacrifice makes the question “what if those soldiers were just wastefully murdered as pawns of the powerful?” seem distasteful. Dissent is quelled before it has a chance to form.

Today, I remember differently. I remember that what we call Remembrance Day now once soberly remembered the ceasing of what was hopefully called The War to End All Wars. I remember that Jesus Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and that talk of the sacrifice of soldiers and their blood shed for us is part of the rival religion of the state, always demanding the blood of its children. I remember that love is stronger than hatred, hope stronger than fear, light than darkness. I remember into the future—this might be called hope—the end of war.

  1. Although I wonder what German, Italian and Japanese people remember on Remembrance Day? Losing? 

Thank You

This recent commitment to blogging every day is going to be hard. How will I come up with enough to say? What if it stinks? Do I really have to write every day?

Then I realized that my perspective was all wrong. I get to write every day, and the crazy thing is that some people will actually read this. We have these things called the World Wide Web and easy-to-use software like WordPress that let me instantly make my thoughts available to nearly everyone on the planet.

This potential is beyond the wildest dreams of most authors in most places at most times. And I take it for granted every time I feel like not speaking with you, dear reader. So thank you. Thank you for having let your flitting about the web cease long enough to alight upon these words.

Thoughts on Rest

Although I’m really enjoying my experiment with polyphasic sleep, I’ve been troubled by some of the implied values in the rhetoric surrounding its proponents. They desire more productive time in their life and are taking it from they only place they can: a full night’s sleep.

Being productive is a good thing in itself, but industrialization brought with it cold calculations of human worth based on productivity. You are only worth what you produce, and those who don’t or can’t produce are worthless. There is little room for joy or art or play in this view of the world, and there is no space for rest but what is absolutely required.

Rest is a theological concept that has to do with more than just sleep. Rest is connected to the idea of Sabbath, the day of rest mandated for the Jewish people by Yahweh. Sabbath became a broader concept for Christians, who were taught by Jesus that rest is not about legalastic observation of the Sabbath, but rather some broader concept of being in relationship with himself.1

Rest is here seen as a state of being and as a relationship to God in Christ. Rest seems to be a way to describe a life lived in harmony with God and God’s purposes. While productivity is no doubt a part of the rhythms of a restful life, it cannot be the main thing.

So, has my experiment with polyphasic sleep led to a frenzy of productivity? Not really. I’m still adjusting, which means that those extra hours of wakefulness haven’t been of the highest quality. But even when I’ve been alert, I’ve noticed that, so far, I’m not doing that much more, but what I am doing is much less stressful. It seems that having more time in the day produces the novel feeling that there’s enough time. I’m relaxed and unhurried. It’s delightfully strange.

We’ll see how things evolve as I keep on with this. Will I once again fill my waking hours to bursting? Will I maintain the more restful quality of life I’ve been experiencing over the last 2 weeks? Time will tell.

  1. See Mk 2:23-28 and Mat 11:28. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post about Martin Luther King, Jr. comes a day after his birthday, which is celebrated as a national holiday in the USA. That makes it possibly more appropriate than anything you heard yesterday, because King was also a man out of his time. It is only in death that King could be widely iconified, because in life he was more hated than loved.

The dissonance between King’s present sainthood and past villainhood is especially seen in his commitment to Christian nonviolence. Nonviolence is generally thought to be the domain of dreamy-eyed idealists; the refuge of folks too soft to deal with the harsh, conflictual realities of the real world. This pervasive view of the world believes that violence can—and often must—be employed in fight against evil and injustice. It’s the logic of the reluctant superhero.

But to these people, Dr. King has the following to say:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. … Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. King saw love and nonviolence as inextricably linked parts of a whole vision of human flourishing. This vision later led him down paths that seemed to many incongruous with his earlier activism against racial injustice, but King saw all that he did as growing out of his captivity to the radical love of God in Christ. It led him to campaign on behalf of poor people everywhere and to decry the systemic injustices of capitalism. It also led him to fierily oppose the Vietnam War, a move that cost him much of the support he had enjoyed during the more civil rights-focused years. If King had said the following today, he’d likely be called a terrorist:

Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America “you are too arrogant, and if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God. Men will beat their swords into plowshafts and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations shall not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore.” I don’t know about you, I ain’t going to study war anymore.

So, let’s call today Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Yesterday was the day of empty pieties; of endless 6 o’clock newsreel loops of “I have a dream” and vacuous assertions that King’s dream has successfully produced a post-racial era. Lets let today, and the 364 to follow, be the day that we take seriously King’s view that injustice against one is injustice against all. Let today be the day where we allow his statement that “I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live,” to penetrate our hearts and minds with its steadfast commitment to following Christ sacrificially. Let today be the day we’re are inspired by the whole vista that King saw just before he was assassinated:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Amen brother King, amen.

Note: all quotes above can be found on Wikiquote.

The Paralyzing Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is insidious. It paralyzes you into inaction—the worst action possible—perfectly designed to actually fail every time.

When you’re used to success, or live in a culture that demands it, the possibility of failure becomes the guiding principle. Which means that you never, ever, do any worth doing, since things worth doing are generally risky, unproven, and require a leap of faith.

For success (whatever that actually means, which is a whole other topic) to mean anything, failure must be built in as a possibility. To not risk is to already fail before you start. The fear of failure offers us the cloying scent of safety and stability, masking the stench of stagnation.

Seize the day, don’t seize up.