Carry the Spear

A pastor colleague of mine told a story yesterday. He grew up in South Africa, and spent many years in the struggle against apartheid. He recalled a large funeral service for two young adults killed in the struggle. At one point, the pastor took a spear and dropped it to the floor, saying “These two can no longer carry the spear. Who will now carry the spear?” One after another, people walked up front, picked up the spear, then passed it to the next person in line. It became a powerful, spontaneous ritual, a symbol of what little chance apartheid had of sustaining itself.

My friend ended the story by saying, “These people had something to live for, and something to die for.  My sense is that few people in the U.S. have this clear and distilled sense of purpose.” That really struck me as terribly true.

Coming of age in the late ‘80s, I remember being mesmerized reading Brett Easton Ellis’ first novel, Less Than Zero. If you’re not familiar, it’s the story of a college guy from a wealthy Hollywood hills family, and how nothing really mattered much in his life. He and his friends had access to everything, but life seemed to add up to (in the words of an old Elvis Costello song) “less than zero.”  It was a chilling portrait of what my generation could wind up looking like, if we didn’t have something to live for and something to die for.

This is a serious question about meaning and purpose in life, and yet I don’t like to get so serious as to veer off the sunny side of the street. I can’t live my life as a nihilist, and yet live or die passion doesn’t come easily or often for me. Breaking a wooden seat while watching an Eagles game doesn’t quite rise to the “pick up the spear” passion I’m wondering about today.

I think for many of us, economic reality is breaking the spell of numbing, robotic consumerism, but we’re still discovering what’s on the other side. If all we connect to is “stuff” then when stuff runs out, we’ve got to find what really matters. For me, I’m taking family relationships less for granted. I’m becoming more passionate about my work as a writer especially. But my friend’s story has made me realize that I am doubtlessly more daunted by larger issues than I should be. I’m not a “cause” person, even though I have strong feelings about things like climate change, child sex trafficking (see previous post), the death penalty, ongoing racial inequity and tension, and men wearing pastels (kidding 😀 ). Maybe it’s time for me to pick up the spear on some of this stuff.

How about you? What will cause you to pick up the spear these days?

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3 thoughts on “Carry the Spear

  1. Hey fellow introvert… thanks for this post. I am trying to take some of ‘the stuff’ out of my life just to see what emerges. Media’s expanse of global ‘reach’ has tended to dull my sense of care. We have reduced our cable package from 78 channels to 12. This excludes Connie’s Hallmark channel and my Yes which carries the daily serials of my Yankees. I am hunching that if I care less about them I’ll care more about something else. I have the urge to plant a garden this year. Maybe I give some of the food away. Maybe I’ll follow Jesus a little further.

  2. Blaine,

    I like this. Little things mean a lot, I think. Small pieces, loosely joined, can create an unstoppable movement. Or at least provide a summer’s worth of mesclun greens.

  3. One more note of clarification: my South African friend and I are both pacifists. “Carry the Spear” is not a call to violent struggle, but a call to get off your bum and actively oppose that which is just plain not right.

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