Monday, March 17, 2008

The 25-year track

In my last post I veered dangerously from the rule I made in my initial disclaimer to this blog: rather than posting what I was listening to, I posted what I should have (and should not have) listened to. Today, however, is my birthday; I can break the rules if I want to.

Rich Mullins, who is, of all the many people I have not met, the one who may have had the most direct influence on my faith, wrote in an article after his 40th birthday:
In my mid- to late-20s I had some romantic, highly exaggerated notions about an early death—taking off at 33—joining the company of Mozart, Foster, Jesus and other immortals who checked out in their early 30s. But this was a party I didn’t get an invitation to—a gang I didn’t belong in (me not being a genius and all).
In my highly memorable 8th-grade graduation (more memorable than high-school or college graduations, the latter of which I didn’t even attend), my art teacher, the most inspirational of my pre-college instructors, introduced us to the Latin carpe diem, exhorting us to seize the day for Christ. By 10th grade when I was attending my third high school, I had taken the message to the most ascetic extremes my teenage idealism could muster.

When I nearly died a month after turning 16, the mission to carpe-diem the world suddenly got bumped up a few notches in intensity. I could die at any moment, and then what would I have to show for my meager existence? I therefore wrote furiously and kept a file on my computer regarding the treatment of my writings after my death (“Publish it all!” was the general gist of it, if I recall correctly). I pondered my last words to anyone after each interaction. I took to heart the voices from my youth group that urged me to “Live like you’re gonna die tomorrow.”

And last week as I stood in Redwoods National Forest on a mountain overlooking the San Francisco bay, after a year of intercity ministry had surprisingly pushed me into the role of a graduate student preparing to be in school until my 30s, I had a sudden realization:

I’ve switched over to the 70-year track of life.

I’m not sure which track I was on before, whether it was the 33-year track like ol’ Rich or, more probably, the 25-year track like John Keats. But as I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge that afternoon I pondered how different life felt when I began to imagine that I was gonna be stickin’ around for a while. It’s okay to have not saved the world yet. It’s okay to be not living in the middle of my lifelong vocation. It’s even okay (and my teenage idealist would have wept to hear herself say this) to be not completely sanctified. I have plenty of time ahead of me for the rest of the story, after all; the first third of a book is mostly set-up for the real action anyway.

I have high hopes that this new track will allow more Grace in my shortcomings. After all, if life is the only Purgatory we Protestants get, it’s just as well for me to make the most of it. I need a heck of a lot more sanctification than 25 years could give me, and I’m quite happy to have the flexibility of a few more decades.

Today I’m bold to say that it’s just as well to be off of the 25-year track. What better day for me to say that than my 25th birthday?
At [25], people misjudge your character flaws as being mere bad habits that they might change. At 40, people misjudge every bad habit as being the mark of weak character and they either dismiss you as being a lesson in reprobation or just accept you as a friend. Anyway, you graduate from being a missionary project into being either a lost cause or one of the gang.

At [25], no one knows as much as you. At 40, you begin to understand the wisdom of Solomon in his saying: “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

So, stay alive. “A living dog is better than a dead lion”—and Happy Birthday to all of you from all of me.


Chestertonian Rambler said...

Good words. I think a desire to be perfect in everything is (in some ways) working against what God wants to do in my life. I think if I can just try hard enough I will have the faith and actions of a mature Christian. In some ways that is just my prideful attempts to be self-sufficient.

On the other hand I'm a bit freaked out--today is also my 25th Birthday.

I don't read that many blogs--very strange that one should be written by someone born on the *exact same day* as me. Very weird indeed.

Em the luddite said...

My goodness... if it wasn't for the fact that I had been the one to initially write on your wall and not vice-versa, I would worry that you were being an internet stalker... sounds like some kind of a pick-up line. I suppose my ending with "Happy birthday to all of you from all of me" was appropriate in your case.

I'm delighted to be one of your few blogs. I'm pretty green (haha) in the blogger world and don't check many myself, but your Gawain earned you a place among my few as well.

Ashleigh said...

Hope you had a wonderful day, Em! (I don't keep track of b-days on fb anymore, so please forgive me for not knowing.)

It's it weird/exciting getting older?