This week, I join the long line of people convinced that Teddy Roosevelt is the baddest U.S. president ever. This guy got shot five minutes into his speech and kept going until he felt he'd finished. This guy once skipped across a battlefield during a fierce conflict just to show his soldiers they shouldn't be afraid of death. When Teddy's first wife died, he vacated his state senate seat, jumped on the train to Wyoming, and became a cowboy for three years.
And the man spits straight fire. Example:
"Every person who is striving to do good public work is traveling along a ridge crest, with a gulf of failure on each side—the gulf of inefficiency on the one side, the gulf of unrighteousness on the other.”
(The Strenuous Life: Essays)
Teddy devoted most of his life to being a reformer. Don't let that word frighten you into a corner: you're a reformer if you see that things around you are not as they should be.
Your extended family has unraveled into some strange mixture of conflict, dysfunction, chaos, and distance.
Your marriage has cooled off.
Your school unintentionally kicks people to the curb.
Your Jesus looks indifferent from so far away.
Your neighborhood is separated by cliques.
You say harsh things to yourself, dripping with such disgust and quiet animosity you'd never say anything similar to anyone else.
You're a reformer if you peer into these situations and find them wanting. You're a reformer if you want to be a part of the solution.
T.R. says we reformers are walking along a ridge crest, pebbles crumbling off the sides into two gulfs of failure on each side.
On one side, the gulf of unrighteousness. Basically, you're willing to reform but chuck your moral compass in the process. You might get results, but you compromise your values. Or you start honorably, but your conscience falls asleep at the wheel, and when you wake up your lust for recognition & admiration isn't in the driver's seat. You might be making changes, but you've still failed.
But on the other side is what T.R. calls the gulf of inefficiency. You think things aren't as they should be, you can even envision things as they should actually be, but for whatever reason you don't take the half-steps necessary to get practical results.
T.R., in some ways, thinks this failure is worse. He says the real enemy to the genuine reformer is the voice who says all their efforts are stupid or pointless.
These voices come from outside of us: as we work for reforms, there will always be people who aren't in the trenches that criticize: whether they are mean-spirited, sincere, or think that taking a few college classes makes them the supreme authority, they're like the parent who shows up to their kids' games so they can make a powerpoint of their mistakes.
And there are voices that are inside of us that keep us. They whisper that it's not worth the effort. We don't have enough time. We have better things to do. Somebody else will figure it out. Or, most powerfully for me, that I got to read up and have it all mapped out perfectly before I take the first half-step.
Teddy's message to us: grow up, stop timidly shrinking from all contact with the rough world of actual life, and stop calling it virtue when it's actually "uneasy, self-conscious vanity."
Harsh words. They're no more harsh than actual reform itself. Whether you're trying to repair a family dynamic, belong in a community, mend fractured relationships, speak gently to yourself, re-learn to pray, or heal anything broken, you know you're doing it when it feels hard.
And though dreams and ideals are lovely things, the half-steps necessary to achieve them aren't.
For me, it's prayer. I talk a big game when it comes to prayer, which is actually a big reason why I have a hard time doing it. Sometimes, when my thoughts wander, I think about how much I'd like to pray and trust God throughout all my day.
This might sound crazy, but when I catch that thought walking in, my half-step reform is that I'm going to take a small moment and actually pray.
What do half-step reforms look like for you?
photo credit: http://mentalfloss.com/article/12789/time-teddy-roosevelt-got-shot-chest-gave-speech-anyway