I have an ASUS computer tablet I use daily for my work.
And every time I turn it on, I see these words flash on my screen as the machine boots up: “ASUS: Inspiring Innovation; Persistent Perfection.”
These words have become so familiar. I think I’ve almost memorized them by now….say them in my sleep.
Almost every day I see, over and over again:
“Inspiring Innovation; Persistent Perfection.”
Of course, the computer company, looking to capture its mission in a catchy tagline or mission statement, came up with this phrase: “Inspiring Innovation; Persistent Perfection.”
From it, we get a sense of the company’s desire to be exceptional, to be the greatest, to be about constantly striving and reaching for more, newer and better.
And on top of that, is this – one could argue outrageous – claim to be persistently perfect; or at least relentlessly pursuing perfection in its digital systems.
Regardless of the merits or deficiencies of the ASUS tagline, I think it does reflect the underlying assumptions, and prevailing philosophy by which we all live, consciously or not – especially in the western, developed world.
Take for example our competitiveness.
And not just in sports, or among business competitors, but also between high schools, universities, between churches, between brothers, sisters, cousins, even between spouses.
That impulse to “one-up” the other, even in our close and daily relationships.
It’s there, if we look hard enough.
Or that anxiety to prove ourselves worthy by always doing more.
Or that incessant drive to acquire more money, higher status, more and better stuff.
And so we buy that high-end car, live in that upscale neighbourhood, or wear only the top-trending clothes from the high class…and expensive stores.
We’ll even bury ourselves in deep debt just so we can get it and have it.
No wonder recent statistics show record-breaking household debt in Canada.
So, there’s that relentless, largely self-seeking pursuit of perfection, upward mobility, acquisition and ladder-climbing. At all costs. No matter the costs.
This exhausting way of being, says notable theologian and author Richard Rohr, is typical in the first half of life, when the ego is forming and seeking to assert itself and make a mark.
A time of striving and constant restlessness.
The second half of life can be, not always is, but can be different, Richard Rohr says.
We tend to slow down more, accept things as they are, and embrace the complex reality of our lives and world as it is.
We still have passion, energy and purpose, but less of a drive to have to prove ourselves worthy before others.
There’s a greater ability to receive, accept, and have greater compassion for ourselves and for others, a greater ability to accept paradox, mystery and contradictions in ourselves and others.
We tend to be satisfied with less.
We tend to see and appreciate the value and worth in ourselves, as we are, without needing the trappings of extra money, title, fashion, status, car or house.
But this awareness only comes in time, with age, with experience.
The difference between “first-half-of-life” and “second-half-of-life” mindsets cannot be more apparent than in the example of Jesus and his disciples in today’s Gospel reading from Mark.
Jesus speaks of the inevitability of suffering and death coming soon in his life.
The disciples, on the other hand, are “afraid” of what Jesus is talking about, don’t even want to go there, and instead preoccupy themselves with first-half-of-life questions:
Who among them is greater, more exceptional?
Who has the more shining charisma, the tough courage, the inspiring leadership qualities, the exemplary oratorical and persuasive skills to draw the crowds and bring people along?
The disciples’ mindset is completely enraptured in exceptionalism, greatness, and self-aggrandizement.
And then there’s Jesus, talking about suffering and dying out of love for others.
Jesus invites his disciples to imagine that abundant life, the good life, comes not through amassing power and wealth, but through displaying vulnerability, not through personal accomplishments but through service, and not by collecting powerful friends but by welcoming children.
These are small things when you think about it:
Opening yourself to another’s need…
Being honest about your own needs and fears…
Showing kindness to a child…
Welcoming a stranger…
These “little things” don’t get press coverage or the media spotlight. No.
But they are available to each and all of us every single day… in the midst of our ordinary, sundry routines and interactions with others.
And each time we make even the smallest of these gestures in faith, we will eventually begin to catch glimpses of the gracious and good Reign of God breaking in, wedging itself into our world.
Moments when we realize, even despite ourselves, our fears and vulnerabilities, that God’s presence is among us, that God’s love is stronger than hate, that goodness is stronger than evil, that life is stronger than death.
Moments of realization that we indeed are held by a power far greater than any one of us.
I want to share with you something that caught my eye in my reading; a piece of history.
It was about an American radio show, broadcast on August 15, 1945, the day after V-J Day, when Japan surrendered, effectively ending the 2nd World War.
This particular radio show featured some of the era’s biggest celebrities: Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and others.
But a most striking feature of the show, exemplified especially by its host Bing Crosby, was its tone of self-effacement and humility.
And that’s remarkable, because if you think about it, the Allies had just completed one of the most notable military victories in human history, and yet, there was no fist pumping or chest beating.
Bing Crosby opened by saying, “Well, it looks like this is it. What can you say at a time like this? You can’t throw your [hat] in the air. That’s for run-of-the-mill holidays. I guess all anybody can do is, thank God it’s over.”
And Bing Crosby concludes by saying, “Today….our deep-down feeling is one of humility.”
What a surprising, unexpected response, really, when you think about it! Imagine that! On the day after a huge military victory.
No proud, puffed up statements of the superiority of Western powers.
No glorifying pronouncements about the might and strength of the wining military forces. A “yay for us!” kind of thing.
No, none of that.
A sense of weariness at the carnage and death and destruction that preceded.
Almost an embarrassed kind of admission of the collective brokenness of humankind, of human existence.
A weary sigh of solidarity with the rest of humanity, no matter which side you were on.
Who really is greater? Who really is more exceptional?
Only God is.
And we need to let God be great and exceptional, so we don’t have to be.