What good is a single bucket of water on a house fire?
If you had that single bucket of water, would you pour it on the house aflame? Or would you put it on the wall of house next door, to help prevent it from catching? Or would you offer it as a drink to the other people fighting the fire?
Just don’t despise your single bucket of water. Use it. Then go fill it again and use it again.
Bob Dylan was able to tell an entire story in just a few lines of verse. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. Take the first verse of The Times They Are a Changin.
A repetitious and technically basic guitar strumming carries the song. It is just fast enough to make you to cause some internal tension, but it never sounds rushed. He calls out far and wide “come gather ’round people wherever you roam” and asks them to reevaluate their position in society and in life “and admit that the waters around you have grown”.
He spends just a little extra time to draw out his question – “if your time to you is worth saving” and follows it rapidly with his own answer “then you better start swimmin or you’ll sink like a stone”, but this game of question and answer is just a lead up to what he really wants to say. “The times they are a changin”, which he accents with a blast from his harmonica. This is the centerpiece of all of the song.
That is a truly outstanding level of storytelling. Bob is compelling and leaves you with a chill, and the entire song is less barely over three minutes long.
However, today I also want to talk about another artist, and a specific song that has blessed me many times, and just yesterday I was singing it very loudly in the truck. It has such a well-crafted first verse, that can be written in two distinct, yet equally true and beautiful, ways.
Consider the first verse – “I am weary with the pain of Jacob’s wrestling, in the darkness with a fear” – describing the state of being and then referencing this very famous story immediately gives us an entire perspective on that state. Not just weary, but weary as one would be after years of self-seeking and deceiving family members, years of living in fear, working incredibly hard for a goal only to be conned out of it by his own uncle. And then the next line in the song is magnificently written – because it can be written in two distinct ways and either way is completely accurate.
Option 1. “But He met the mourning-wounded with a blessing, so in the night, my hope lives on”. I take this to mean that He (Christ) met the mourning and wounded man (Jacob) with a blessing. As you know in the story, Jacob wrestled all night long and would not let go of Christ, and his (Jacob’s) hip was thrown out of socket and he received a blessing, a new name, from Christ. Therefore the hope of the songwriter lives on because even though he may be wounded and mourning, Christ will bless him in due time.
Option 2. “But he met the morning, wounded, with a blessing, so in the night my hope lives on”. Reading it this way, I can see a focus on Jacob wrestling all night long, and not letting go. He (Jacob) made it all night long, and even though he was wounded, he received a blessing when the morning came. In this case the songwriter takes heart in remembering the suffering of Jacob, now and his hope will live through the night because he has the example of Jacob to remember.
I don’t know which way Andrew Peterson thinks of when he sings this song, but it blesses me as it is.
I thought that, by now, this would be easier. I expected that after a hundred public posts, I wouldn’t feel any more fear sharing my thoughts.
Kind of like preg-checking cows. I thought that the pain was going to go away from that too. My arms were bruised, sore, and swollen for the first few weeks on this job. Early on, every next cow was yet another stab of pain. In the same way, the first posts here made me sweat a little, made me second guess myself at every little sound of an incoming email or text. It was that thought, way in the back of my mind, saying it would be someone angry at me for something I wrote, saying it would be someone telling me how wrong I am.
I don’t feel like I am injured on every cow anymore. Sometimes it still hurts, sometimes my wrist has still ached, and my forearm occasionally tender, but it is manageable. The pain doesn’t prevent me from doing my job anymore. The pain is there. The pain is real. There are even many things I do now to prevent injury ….but the pain is not what guides me.
And also with these posts. The fear must still be addressed. Like a feral dog just outside the light, the temptation to hide, to mince my words, to water down my thoughts, to avoid saying the hard things, to make everything a little softer than I truly believe it should be – is still there.
There is a time for soft words, and there is a time to speak the hard things. Proverbs 27 says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. That isn’t a very pleasant picture to my mind – two pieces of iron grinding against one another. I don’t find it comfortable to think about being one of those blades, and yet as I mature, I find good coming from that place of conflict. Not always comfortable, not always pleasant, but good.
I’ve been holding onto a hundred different ropes. Every one of them is a thread running to something in my life – something that I believe has potential. Something wild to be taken and tamed. It’s high time to let go of some of those ropes.
All this time, I am eagerly anticipating that day when I defeat a Bengal tiger at the end of one of those ropes.
Anyone can subdue a lamb. Many have tied up a calf. It is nothing extraordinary to catch a squirrel.
The future belongs to the one who bears the gaze of the tiger, and then binds it.
I’ve been waiting and preparing for that life or death dance with that proud beast.
The myriad of squawking chickens and noisy toy monkeys on the end of my ropes are distractions. It’s time to let them go.
It’s time, with both hands, to take hold of the line that leads directly to the snapping jaws.
I once reviewed some promotional material for LASIK surgery. The video was from a partnership of opthamologists that specialized in that type of surgery. One of their biggest selling points was the hefty years of combined experience of the group.
They went on to even brag that no one on their team had less than some number of years (I don’t remember for sure but I think it was at least 5 years). I thought it was great they could have such an experienced team, but I grew concerned when one of the senior partners said, on the video, that he believed you should never get LASIK surgery performed by someone who did not already have years of experience.
I thought this was a strange thing to say. It angered me.
How could someone ever get any experience, in a world where only those with prior experience get the chance?
How did this fellow talking justify his early days, his first experiences? Should those patients have never let him perform those first surgeries? Taken one step further, why should someone ever let a surgeon with 5 years of experience operate on them, when there is a surgeon with 6 years of experience also available?
Can’t we culturally make room for people just starting out?
Can’t we allow others into the game, even if they are going to make some mistakes along the way?
Where is the novice in our cultural story? Where is the space for the person showing up, failing, and still showing up again.
We need a retelling of Rocky, of someone going the distance, irrespective of whether they win or lose.
When I had only 17 years to my age, almost half a lifetime ago for me now, I spent a day volunteering at the District 4 Headquarters for The Ohio Department of Natural Resources. There were three of us, and we were taken in the employees’ only section to an empty conference room where several boxes sat full of papers on the large wooden table. Our supervising officer showed us how to take a paper from box 1, fold it into a paper from box 2, slip them both into an envelope from box 3 and then use the little sponge to make the sticky stuff sticky and close the envelope.
For the next several hours we did just that. Fold, stuff, seal, repeat. Those little envelopes would be picked up later by the postal service and sent all across the state to former patrons, asking them all once again for their money and support to the ODNR.
There was no glamour. There was nothing exciting. It was simply something that needed done, and we were willing to do it in order to make the connection with the district officers. I even felt like I was contributing to a distasteful part of our society (junk mail) but I convinced myself these letters were much less junky than all those that were simply selling something. Yes we were asking for money, but it was for a good cause.
At one point, we took a break and spent a few minutes peaking through the nearby rooms. Its true that we were “in the back” in the employees’ only section, but we figured we sort of classified as temporarily in the employ of the ODNR, plus the rooms were on our way to and from the bathroom.
Well my friend Jerrod noticed a coat rack in the one of the other rooms, and hanging up on that rack was that unmistakable symbol of the Ohio Wildlife Officer, a forest green jacket. This one was the winter model, complete with the fur lining around the neck. We stood in awe for a second and then Jerrod took it and put it on. One by one we tried it on, the coat worn by those select few who had achieved what we all dreamed, to be a game warden.
I was suprised at how I felt when I put it on. I immediately knew that it was too large for me. I wasn’t ready to wear that coat. I was just a kid, and someone in that position had a heck of a lot more experience, wisdom, and age than I did. I was an imposter. Now at 31 years old I am learning more and more that I can never, ever, be ready for every situation.
I am learning the art of navigating troubled waters. I am learning to live with the flames close by. I am learning to walk in the light that I have, even when all else is dark around.