Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writing a Big Story

I just finished Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose (check the margin). It was a well told story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition from the fledgling United States on the Eastern seaboard all the way through Indian territory to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson wanted an all-water route to the sea. It didn’t exist, but Lewis & Clark came back with massive amounts of information and pulled off a tremendous feat, journeying into the unknown.

One of the key lines early in the book was where Ambrose says Jefferson’s “vision was breathtaking.” To borrow a line from Andy Stanley’s book on vision (Visioneering), Jefferson saw what “could be” and was taking the steps to turn it into a “would be.” The US was having a hard time filling the land they owned – why would they double the size of their land? Jefferson had and agrarian bent and was looking down the line for generations and the need for land.

Jefferson gave the daunting task of traveling to the unknown to a dear friend, Meriwether Lewis. Lewis grabbed kindred spirit and 30-some men and went across the continent. It was a great feat of fortitude, leadership, followership, and providence. They were instant heroes upon their return. Clark got married and seems to have lived a fruitful life. Lewis, however, seemed to lose purpose. He went to his share of parties and governed the Louisiana Territory, but he battled with bouts of depression. He finally takes his own life on the way to Washington DC to answer for some gubernatorial expenditures.

I’ve only read one book and I’m no psychologist, but I wonder if Lewis lost the passion and purpose in his life because his vast vision and challenge had given way to “managing” life. Not sure, but there’s something to think about.

I was listening to Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) preach at Mars Hill Bible Church (Nooma’s Rob Bell’s church in Grand Rapids) on iTunes (11/10/2007). Miller preached about story and what makes a good one. Short version: we get caught up in small stories, but seem big to us – like going to buy a Volvo. Nobody is going to watch a movie about some guy buying a Volvo. We like stories where something is at stake, where big risk is taken that will make a difference in the lives of others. Miller asks, “What will happen if you don’t finish your story?” Is it one less Volvo purchased – or are there drastic results because you’re living for something big?

This is a challenge to me. Am I living for something big? Am I living for God’s Kingdom? Or am I “managing” life, looking for comfort and counting days? Buying a Volvo or changing the world? And you?

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