Statistics suggest I'm midway through this thing called life. Sure, I could live to be 100; then again, I could get hit by a car tomorrow. All things being equal, I'm at half-time, and I've watched enough sports to know that there's a whole lot of game left in the second half. Although my first half seemed dismal, my outlook on the second half is miraculously bright.
Everyone has a story. I've decided to tell a little bit about my story, not because it may be any more interesting than anyone else's; rather, I'm compelled that my having some hope for finding meaning in life might inspire someone who may have gone through similar circumstances that their lives are still worth living, too.
I say "a little bit," because I'm not particularly proud of all of it, especially the parts that highlight how stupid I've been. I've read autobiographies and found it humorous that a person could write an entire book in which he was always "the good guy" and everyone around him was bad, wrong, etc., especially when in reading other historical works on people surrounding that person, the "other side of the story" is quite in contrast. I'm certainly not interested in subjecting anyone to a similar treatment or convenient interpretation of my life, and those who know me know I'm not perfect, not by a long shot. Enough said.
I'm working on my theological opus, The Gospel According to Duane, which doesn't even have a chapter outline yet. My life story makes more sense as a component of that work, because one of my key understandings is that the gospel is powerful as it impacts real lives in a customized way - this is part of the explanation for why there is no book in the Bible called "The Gospel According to....Jesus." We might have thought, "if his words were so important, why didn't he just write them down himself so we'd have no confusion over what he was saying?" I say that the words are almost meaningless until they impact a real life; thus, we have a guy named Matthew telling us what the gospel meant to him in the gospel according to Matthew; and a guy named Luke telling us what the gospel meant to him, in the gospel according to Luke, etc. Tune in for the long form of this thought in the book.
Preamble done - thanks for getting this far. Now, let's talk about the bird. Why is the penguin my OughtThoughts.com mascot?
There are a couple of versions of the parable of the talents, one in Matthew and one in Luke. While there are differences worth penetrating, the gist of both are similar - God gives us talents or "gifts", and with the gifts we are given we are to make meaningful contributions that derive achievement - not material acquisition, but that through the sharing of our gifts we make things better. One of the issues in the gospel treatment for one particular fellow is that he had fewer gifts than others around him. Feeling hard done by, he did not invest his gifts in such a way that his master, upon returning, might appropriate his "usury" (interest, growth). The master is not happy with his servant's poor stewardship and holds him accountable for his lack of production. That he had fewer gifts than others was no excuse, for indeed his only responsibility was to grow what he had, with no comparison to what others had; alas, he had been distracted from what was most important, and failed to do what he could with what he had.
In analyzing this parable, some might suggest that the poor fellow should not have seen his fewer gifts as negative at all - he had less because he actually had more talent than the others, and was capable of doing more with less; thus the few gifts were actually a compliment to his immense talent. Others would posit that the gifts were irrelevant, and that his responsibility was to do his best in faith that miraculous help would amplify his sincere efforts, so that achievement would go on record as that magical mingling of the human and the divine, like the Jericho walls crumbling, not by jackhammers, but by the sound of trumpets.
I was that guy. I was supposed to earn a Stanford PhD in social psychology and a law degree but a funny thing happened on the way to the academic stratosphere - life. Today, I have none of the above, while around me are so many of my friends who have gone on to achieve PhDs, law degrees, MDs., MBAs...I want to say "Hey God, why couldn't you help me out? Things happened the way they did and I'm left with nothing. What am I supposed to do with nothing?" I was in danger of ending up just like the bloke in the parable.
And then I saw a penguin. Essentially, for the first time.
A penguin is a bird that can't fly. What is a bird that can't fly? Flying is what birds do. Fish swim. Bees sting. Dogs bark. Birds fly.
I imagined a penguin, hanging out with his other bird friends - the eagle, the albatross, the falcon...feeling left out (yes, I know these birds do not occupy the same environments, and there are other birds who also don't fly, but stick with me here, I'm getting somewhere with this...)
And I imagined him looking at his reflection in the water and cursing his useless wings. "Why, oh why," he yells at the sky, "would you give me wings if I can't fly?" A quiet, patient voice replies, "I'm God, and yes, I gave you wings, and yes, you can't fly...think about it."
And, as the penguin stared at his reflection in the water, he thought about it. "God, in infinite wisdom, gave me wings. I can't fly with them, but I'm still expected to put them to use...hmm..." And he thought, and stared, and stared and thought...pretty soon, he begins to see beyond his reflection (and his limits) in the water, and started seeing the water itself....
"Perhaps," he thinks, "if the sky is not my realm and air is not my medium, then maybe the sea is the place to be, and water is my element." So, with a big breath, he dives in. And soars. Underwater.
The next day, while hanging out with his buddies - the eagle, the albatross, the falcon... he chuckles to himself. They wonder "What's with you today? Why so uncharacteristically chipper?" to which the penguin replies "Y'all think you're special because you can fly. You're birds, birds fly, big deal. You guys are all the same, but me? I can swim."
So, this remarkable bird, the penguin, is a symbol, a reminder that, while I may not have had certain things, or done certain things, or achieved certain things, relative to my peers, yet God still expects me to use the gift(s) that He did give me, and it's up to me to find my element, even if it's not conventional. I can do things with the wings he gave me - maybe not fly like my peers, but I can find a way to soar nonetheless.
If the penguin can do it, so can I.
And so can you. Have you found your element? Are you soaring at being you?