lament of a shipwrecked man

Leviathan, O beast of sea,

“To the last, I grapple with thee;”

For decades long, you’ve haunted me.

“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee.”

This fiend was never mine to hunt,

But for my sake, I bore the brunt;

For honor, praise, and vengeance sweet,

I stove the deck beneath my feet.

Down, deeper down, and deeper still,

I chase the face of man’s free will;

Lo! Fast away, there swims my prey,

The battle’s lost another day.

The surface shimmers o’er my head,

“Too far to reach,” I think with dread;

And soon I see (with failing breath)

For vict’ry’s sake I must seek death.

I’m just a man: I’m doomed to fail,

Alas, I could not kill my whale;

I don’t advance, I don’t retreat,

I close my eyes, accept defeat.

A shipwrecked man will often find

That all his life, his eyes were blind,

That to his hunt he was enslaved,

That he must drown so he’ll be saved.

So take me down and bury me,

Come sink me deep into the sea,

Where eyes of men have never seen,

And only there to be made clean.

Now listen, child, to this tale:

I found life when I lost my whale;

Though wild and fierce the waves may be,

In them a man will find he’s free.

arrogance is a virtue (in some situations [maybe])

I’ve mentioned it on here before, but ever since I was in the third grade or so, I’ve wanted to write a book. Not a self-help book, or an inspirational book, or a biography, or anything like that. I just want to write a completely made-up story so people can enjoy it (and give me money for it). Unfortunately, I’ve found that it’s far easier to start writing a book than it is to finish one. And that’s one of my problems.  I get so bogged down with trying to make sure the plot is interesting and logical, the characters are dynamic and realistic, the concept is original and relevant, etc., that I’m continually editing, re-editing, rewriting, and completely scrapping projects rather than completing them.

But the greatest hindrance to writing a book has nothing to do with my ability. Most days when I sit down to write, I can’t help thinking how arrogant I must be to think I can write a book worth reading. Who do I think I am? I’m just a dude from Kansas, one of three hundred million people in the United States and seven billion people in the world. Why would a publisher read the first page of anything I’ve written, much less take the time to copyedit, print, design, advertise, distribute, and pay me for my book? It’s a completely ridiculous idea, and it—more than anything—keeps me from finishing anything. Because, after all, what’s the point?

My intention with this post is not to curry sympathy with you, or to coax you into filling my inbox with verbal salve for my wounded pride, so please abstain from that. In fact, I am actually arrogant enough to think I could write a book worth reading. The issue comes from having to persuade other people—particularly agents and publishers, you know, the people with the power—that this is the case. All I have to do, though, is walk into a bookstore and see just how many people have gotten their books published. Many of them—if not most of them—probably faced the same concerns that impede my progress. The primary difference between them and me is that those authors—however talented they may or may not actually be—dealt with those apprehensions and pressed on anyway. And they were rewarded with publishing contracts.

Recently I’ve been trying to change my attitude when it comes to writing from “why me?” to “why not me?” I know I’m at least a fair writer, so who’s really to say that I can’t get a book (or two) published? Granted, I may write a book, send it to a bunch of publishing companies, and receive only rejection letters in response. If that happens, it’s okay. At least then I’ll have a clear answer to the question “why not me?”

But there’s still a chance—however infinitesimally small (or otherwise) it may be—that I could write something that ends up on a bookstore shelf somehwere. The only problem is I’ll never know if I don’t actually finish something. So, if writing a book is something I really want to do, I know I need to just bite the bullet and give it the old college try (to borrow two separate colloquialisms). Failure is most certainly a possibility, but, then again, so is success.

I guess that’s the way it is with everything, and I’m really not breaking any new philosophical ground. “You won’t know until you try,” your mom always said, usually when she wanted you to eat a dish with a suspicious amount of vegetables in it. And dadgummit if she wasn’t right! So why are you still reading blog posts? Go do your thing, whatever it is, and I’ll keep trying to write a book. You may just succeed with it. But if you fail, you can always come back and read my blog posts.

humanity: yea or nay?

I was listening to a podcast the other day in which the host posed the following question to several interviewees: do you believe humanity is inherently good or evil? The answers given ran the whole gamut of cogency and hopefulness for humanity, but I found very few of them to be satisfying. However, I couldn’t figure out why, so I set out on a quest to determine how I would answer such a question.

The first issue I encountered when trying to answer this question is that I found myself struggling to coalesce my theology with my experience. Romans 3 states that “There is no one righteous, not even one;…there is no one who does good, not even one.” I took issue with this initially because I wanted to believe that humanity is inherently good, but this passage seemed to suggest otherwise. However, the more I wrestled with this idea, the more I came to a semblance of clarity. Without making a determination about the inherent goodness or wickedness of humanity, I was able to identify that—whatever else we may be—we all begin on a level playing field as far as our inborn morality.

But what is this level playing field on which we all begin? Reformed readers (were I to have any) might suggest that this level playing field is the congenital state of total depravity that afflicts all of humanity. And while I can’t really argue with such a proposition, I prefer to interpret such a dismal state a bit differently. A few chapters later in the book of Romans we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, while it may be true that we are naturally given to depravity, we are also worth dying for. That’s one heck of a level playing field.

Here’s where things become a little muddled. When it comes to deciding whether humanity is innately good or evil, I choose a third option: I think the only thing inherent about humanity is the state of being human. Forgive me for being savagely obvious, but perhaps you’ll humor me a moment. Being human, as it were, evokes a great deal: failure, hope, fear, joy, weakness, love, foolishness, peace, despair. Being human involves all these things and more—and it also mean being worth dying for. I don’t really believe in “good people” or “evil people”. Instead, I believe in people who do good things and people who do evil things, but the things they do are not what define them. What defines them is their intrinsic humanness. No matter who they are or what they’ve done, they are human—and being human means being worth dying for.

So: Is humanity inherently good or evil? Frankly, I don’t know. All I know is that humanity is worth dying for. There isn’t anyone I’ll ever meet or even catch in my periphery who is anything less. Ascetic saints, politicians, civil rights activists, school shooters, philanthropists, dictators, schoolteachers, con artists, law enforcement officials, evolutionary biologists—we’re all the same. We’re all human, and we’re all worth dying for.