More battle scenes please
Once teaching a high school American Literature class — and let me tell you, once is enough —a student he says, “I don’t understand The Red Badge of Courage. It’s a war book, but there are hardly any battle scenes. I don’t get it.”
So we did a little Socratic dialogue, and while I don’t remember particular questions, I can say I did great. That day, I was an awesome teacher, leading the maturing man through a process of growth.
[So OK, sometimes once isn’t enough. But I can also say such awesomeness did not happen often as a teacher, which is why I’m a writer who occasionally teaches, instead of a teacher who writes.]
Anyway, at the end of the line, the student goes, “Ohhh … That’s why there are hardly any battle scenes. It’s not a war book. It’s an anti-war book.”
And bells rang and angels sang. Saint Johnny, tell the young man what he’s won.
A minor epiphany is what he won. I can say, humbly but without qualification, he learned.
So, many years later I’m driving home after dropping my son off at work. I’m rehashing several examples of things people have been “off” about in recent months, including me. Stuff what has sucked and stank and made my life not what I want. Insurance companies, friends, people I need to interview for articles, how it’s going to go wrong today and tomorrow and the next day … real major suckage.
It was awl wrohng, as my wife’s New Jersey born-and-bred mother says.
Sometimes this stuff has taken hours of back-and-forthing, only to end up, I’m not kidding, right where we started. We, meaning “me and me” but this time I also mean “me and God” because I am cursing and railing him like he just cut me off on the freeway.
“What the fuck is going on?! This bullshit is a total waste of time!”
Again and again and again.
You get the idea.
This lasts about a mile: less than a minute how I’m driving. Then I really nail Him. I mean I spring the big question on Him. No way He comes back from this one. I don’t care whose God He is.
“And why can’t we Goddamn fucking get it right?!”
And I get my own little epiphany, just like that young man in the lit class.
Just as ignorant and immature in my way, too.
But I did see. As the blind John Newton says in the film “Amazing Grace” —
“Didn’t I write, ‘I was blind but now I see’? And now it’s finally true.”
For the goal, I saw that once, the goal is not to get it right. We’re not here to get it right, or help everyone else get it right, or, heaven forfend, make ‘em get it right. It’s not irrelevant or no part of the plan, but it’s not first.
The first thing is love.
If we do that, we’ll often get “getting it right” thrown in. Maybe not. But outcomes are not our problemo; that belongs to God. Our task is the work. Our task is the love.
I had it wrong for a long time past, which is going to affect the long time future. First I thought I had to make it right, and kinda sorta mostly make other people get it right.
Even when I matured to helping them get it right — guiding, counseling, directing, whatever — that was still not the thing. For the Holy Spirit is the one who guides into all truth. And I’m not the Holy Spirit.
Now look — apologetics wants to get it right. Algebra wants to get it right. Hell, even flower arranging wants to get it right. We all do want to get it right, and to help others get it right — guiding, counseling, directing, whatever. [Making people get it right is excluded, completely.]
We help remove impediments.
Accentuate the positive.
But it’s not the goal.
The goal is love.