If I have learned anything from the responses I receive writing on this blog it is that people do not like to hear bad things about themselves. We are loathe to examine our imperfections and weaknesses. And yet they are the starting point for improvement. The world record for the 100-meter dash is 9.58 second. If you consider your time of 13 seconds satisfactory, you are never going to approach 9.58 seconds. The only way to motivate yourself to run faster is to realize that you are not running fast.
Most people, if they are honest will note that while the world is improved in many ways since WWII, in many ways it has not. The technological leaps are amazing, the ease of life and the economic plenty the western world enjoys is stupendous. But there is a reason those that suffered and fought in WWII are called “The Greatest Generation.” As much as we have gained since WWII, we have lost much too. We no longer are willing to sacrifice even for a long term goal, let alone the greater good. Our values are not what they were. That is, I think, a reflection of the fact that our technological and economic achievements allow us to hide from our weaknesses and inadequacies.
These thoughts occur to me after seeing “Dunkirk” on Friday. The film was a major disappointment. John Podhoretz’ commentary on the film puts a finger directly on perhaps its biggest flaw. I could go on to name a few more were I so inclined, but instead I want to focus on something positive I took from viewing it. I think it helps us understand, in a odd way, what made the greatest generation so great. The film has three story lines running through it and two of them features characters that should be considered cowards. In one case the cowardice was so extreme in its consequence that I was actually repulsed by the unspoken acceptance of it. The other case involved only a breach of military discipline, understandable in the situation, but which nonetheless got people needlessly injured and killed. These characters are juxtaposed with stories of amazing, and relatively anonymous, heroism. War, it seems, forces us to choose between giving in to our weaknesses or overcoming them – it leaves no middle ground.
This explains why the greatest generation was so great – they had no choice. Our current circumstance gives us so many options that the result is confusion. When we are not forced to examine ourselves in such harsh and unforgiving light, we don’t.
Recall the famous story in which the resurrected Jesus comes face-to-face with His disciple Thomas, so-called “Doubting Thomas.” After this face-to-face, when Thomas’ doubt has been removed, Jesus says to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The greatest generation was, as odd as it sounds, blessed to endure the crucible that made it what it was – just as Thomas was blessed to be in the presence of the resurrected Jesus. But Jesus finishes that story by promising greater blessing to those that learn what they learned without the crucible.
This morning I pray for that greater blessing, unpleasant though I know an answer to that prayer will be.