Skip to comments.Losing One for the Gipper
Posted on 04/22/2005 12:49:28 PM PDT by sionnsar
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "wasting time fighting" that so many laypeople speak to me about.
"Why waste time with the Episcopal church? We're going to fail anyway."
"Why waste time with the Anglican Communion? The Primates have not achieved internal discipline."
"Why waste time with the Archbishop of Canterbury? He has not appointed the Panel of Reference."
"Why waste time working in my diocese? We'll never achieve orthodoxy."
"Why waste time running for vestry? It's a hopeless parish."
"Why waste time teaching a Bible study? I'm outta here, with my following of two!"
Indeed. What I hear from so many is "battle fatigue". They've been fighting for so long and it seems so hopeless. Let's face it . . . one more "slog up the mountain", [to mix metaphors] shoulders aching, breath short, legs burning, makes the climber begin to wonder if, after all, the mountain's peak is actually worth it.
I think these questions are good questions, as far as they go. After all, we are all conscious of short lives, too little fun , too much work, and precious few hours with loved ones before we cross over to glory. It is vital that one choose one's battles very carefully, or we could all end up dying in ditches, constructing mud huts, and struggling over molehills.
But those questions also fail to take into account two important principles.
First,life is one long struggle, one long fight. We struggle to be born, struggle to walk, struggle to use a fork, struggle to learn long division, struggle to drive a car, struggle to graduate, struggle to find a job, struggle to buy a house, struggle to fall in love, struggle to maintain relationships, struggle to live, struggle to . . . die.
As Christians, we believe that struggle is, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, a vital part of growing up and maturing. It is a vital part of character formation. Scripture teaches us that: "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." We want these gifts, these character traits, friend, and one way or another, battles will come our way that will -- we hope -- build our character.
Scripture also seems to imply, in the testimony of the saints who have gone before, that our lives are built on seasons of struggle. King David, who desired above all to build a temple for the God he loved -- a place of peace, beauty, and worship -- was told that it was not to be. His role was that of warrior, and his actions of warfare, not of peace.
And so . . . when thinking of battles, the question is not "how may I avoid them" but rather "have I chosen the right battles". It is important that the battles we spend time on are good, worthy battles. I can think of a few broad categories of "worthy battles" to fight. We fight a worthy battle when we work to save a marriage or a family relationship. We fight a worthy battle when we work to use our gifts in our vocations. We fight a worthy battle when we work to achieve health and vitality. We fight a worthy battle when we defend our country. And we fight a worthy battle when we work to repair a facet of Christianity.
Now, if you're not an Anglican, you won't need to fight a battle for Anglicanism, and I will not make an effort to convince you of its virtues. But if you *are* an Anglican . . . and if you're like me, and believe that this expression of Christianity is a unique, spectacular way of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ, then I can assure you that the worthy battle of this time, and this place, and this portion of history is the struggle to assure a renewed, orthodox expression of Anglicanism within the United States. If you don't believe that, then you should probably choose another expression of Christianity -- and go work hard for that! But if you do believe that -- then the only viable choice remaining is one of battle. Battle for a worthy thing, and a thing you love.
The second principle is fairly obvious as well. But it is one we often forget. That is, that one cannot base the worthiness of one's efforts on the likelihood of failure or success. One fights for a deeply cherished spouse or child because it is a worthy fight, regardless of success or failure. One does not hold back from fears that "I will fail, and then I and others will know that I've wasted my time."
One fights for the expression of one's unique, God-given talents -- whether they be tennis, or writing, or healthcare, or start-ups, or painting, or counseling, or theology -- because it is a worthy fight, regardless of success or failure. One does not hold back from fears that "I will never sell a painting and will die like Van Gogh -- a failure."
One fights for the achievement of personal vitality because our bodies and minds are treasures, and we are not "gnostics" -- only concerned with the "spiritual" or esoteric. God has made us temples of His Spirit, and those equipping those temples for our life on earth is a worthy fight, regardless of success or failure. One does not hold back from fears that "I will fail at my diet, and in my running times, and in my physical therapy, and will look like a buffoon to boot."
One fights for one's country. And assurance of success is a luxury that, for instance, George Washington certainly did not have 235 years ago.
In fact, betting men might have forecast a colossal failure, if they had the chance to read a few of Washington's letters.
Take this portion, for instance, from a letter of August, 1780, to "The Committee of Cooperation".
We are now arrived at the middle of August if we are able to undertake any thing in this quarter, this campaign, our operations must commence in less than a month from this, or it will be absolutely too late. It will then be much later than were to be wished, and with all the exertions that can be made, we shall probably be greatly straightened in time.
But I think it my duty to inform you that our prospects of operating diminish in proportion as the effects of our applications to the respective States unfold, and I am sorry to add that we have every reason to apprehend we shall not be in a condition at all to undertake any thing decisive.
The completion of our Continental Batalions to their full establishment of 5th Rank &
file has been uniformly & justly held up as the basis of offensive operations How far we have fallen short of this the following state of the levies received and of the present deficiencies will shew
By a return to the 16 Inst we had recd from.
New Hampshire .457
Rhode Island ..502
New York ..283
New Jersey 165
. . . If the amount of these deficiencies & the detached Corps, necessarily on the frontier and at particular Posts be deducted, and a proper allowance made for the ordinary casualties, and for the extra calls upon the army for Waggoners, Artificers & c. it will be easy to conceive how inadequate our operating force must be to any capital enterprize against the enemy. It is indeed barely sufficient for defence.
. . . In the article of provisions our prospects are equally unfavourable. We are now fed by a precarious supply from day to day. The Commissary from what has been done in the several States, so far from giving assurances of a continuation of this supply, speaks in the most discouraging terms, as you will perceive by the enclosed copy of a letter, of the 15th Inst. in which he proposes the sending back the Pensylvania Militia, who were to assemble at Trenton the 12th. on the principle of a failure of provisions.
As to forage &
transportation our prospects are still worse. These have lately been principally procured by military impress - a mode too violent, unequal, oppressive and consequently odious to the people, to be long practiced with success.
In this state of things, Gentlemen, I leave it to your own judgment to determine how little it will be in my power to answer the public expectation, unless more competent means can be, and are without delay put into my hands. From the communications of the General and Admiral of our allies, the second division, without some very unfortunate contrariety, will in all probability arrive before the time mentioned as the ultimate period for commencing our operations. I submit it to you whether it will not be adviseable immediately to lay before the several States a view of our circumstances at this juncture, in consequence of which they may  take their measures.
I have the honor to be
with greatest respect & esteem
Your Most Obedt Servt
In the April publication of Imprimis, from Hillsdale College, David McCullough, historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author of John Adams, Truman and Mornings on Horseback, among others, says this about the wonder of past events.
"And it seems to me that one of the truths about history that needs to be portrayed needs to be made clear to a student or to a reader is that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at any point along the way, just as your own life can. You never know. One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Actions have consequences. These all sound self-evident. But theyre not self-evident particularly to a young person trying to understand life.
Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington they didnt walk around saying, Isnt this fascinating, living in the past? They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we dont know how things are going to turn out for us, they didnt either."
The lack of knowing, the fear of failure, is one of the most difficult challenges to face when fighting a worthy battle. We want success so badly. We see the urgent need of success. But all we need focus on, in our current struggles within the Episcopal church is: "Are we fighting a worthy battle? Will we look back on this fight -- success or failure -- and be grateful that we fought it? Will we have grown from the struggle?"
Those are the questions that count.
McCullough goes on to say this about the founding of our country.
"Keep in mind that when we were founded by those people in the late 18th century, none of them had had any prior experience in either revolutions or nation-making. They were, as we would say, winging it. And they were idealistic and they were young. We see their faces in the old paintings done later in their lives or looking at us from the money in our wallets, and we see the awkward teeth and the powdered hair, and we think of them as elder statesmen. But George Washington, when he took command of the continental army at Cambridge in 1775, was 43 years old, and he was the oldest of them. Jefferson was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. John Adams was 40. Benjamin Rush one of the most interesting of them all and one of the founders of the antislavery movement in Philadelphia was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration. They were young people. They were feeling their way, improvising, trying to do what would work. They had no money, no navy, no real army. There wasnt a bank in the entire country. There wasnt but one bridge between New York and Boston. It was a little country of 2,500,000 people, 500,000 of whom were held in slavery, a little fringe of settlement along the east coast. What a story. What a noble beginning. And think of this: almost no nations in the world know when they were born. We know exactly when we began and why we began and who did it."
Friends, we none of us have any prior experience in reformation of a denomination. Or the establishment of a boundaried, disciplined, identity for the Anglican Communion. We are feeling our way, improvising, trying to do what would work. And we do not know how history will write our story.
We may well fail.
But George Eliot, the great English novelist of the 1800s, said the best thing I know about failure.
"Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure."
Should we fail in our striving in this "Anglican mess", this "Episcopal crisis", we can be confident that we do indeed have a "striving good enough to be called a failure."
So in one sense, I am saying this, with a knowledge of irony, about the possibility of failure: "Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they've got and lose just one for the Gipper."
Win or lose, if the battle is worthy, then that is all we need know.
Let me be clear, though. I want to win. I want the Anglican Communion strengthened. I want the conciliar method of authority and accountability to be recognized and further defined. I want a disciplined denomination, a disciplined Communion. I want the reasserting Episcopalians acknowledged as the legitimate expression of Anglicanism. I want us -- reasserters, mind you -- to repent of our many and manifest sins and weaknesses. I want us to become better people. I want us to besiege others with the gentle yet powerful gospel of Jesus Christ, beautifully expressed through the instrument of Anglicanism.
But, lets be clear here. We may not get it all. And if we fail, if we leave it all on the field, and walk away defeated, that's okay.
We will know that, if we act and struggle, someday someone will say something like this about us:
"[Anglican] History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at any point along the way, just as your own life can. You never know. One thing leads to another."
I can't do better than quote David McCullough again.
"Theres a line in one of the letters written by John Adams where hes telling his wife Abigail at home, We cant guarantee success in this war, but we can do something better. We can deserve it. Think how different that is from the attitude today when all that matters is success, being number one, getting ahead, getting to the top. However you betray or gouge or claw or do whatever awful thing is immaterial if you get to the top.
That line in the Adams letter is saying that how the war turns out is in the hands of God. We cant control that, but we can control how we behave. We can deserve success."
Is it really "losing one" or knowing that our activities are those small incursions in a larger battle?
I didn't really like the title.
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