Friday, June 20, 2014

How long can you tread water?

      Many of us will remember Bill Cosby from the scads of wonderful television shows in which he appeared/starred (Oh, Cliff Huxtable's sweaters!).  Many of us will, likewise, remember all of the work has done in the field of education and parenting; he does, after all, have a doctorate in education from UMass. But my memories go WAY back to those 12' circles of vinyl we used to put on "record-players" at 33rpm.  There were so many classic comedy routines on some of those records that set the stage for some of Cosby's TV shows (think "Fat Albert").  But one of my favorites was the routine he did called "Noah."
      For those readers who've not heard (or seen) this routine, the context is a conversation between Noah and God about the building of the ark.*  Noah/Cosby doesn't quite understand WHO is addressing him.  He doesn't know what an ark is.  He's not sure about "cubits" (but, then, neither is God).  Part-way through the construction of the ark, as well as bringing on the animals, Noah questions God about who's supposed to clean the bottom deck (given what the animals do-do).  
 God had told Noah that he was going the destroy the world, and Noah had a role in ensuring that, despite that catastrophe, the world would be able to repopulate and continue.  So, make sure there are even two mosquitos!  Then, imagine what Noah's neighbors might be saying!  At one frustrating point, however, Noah tells God he's quitting the business.  To which God replies, "Noah, how long can you tread water?"
      It's NOT the current Russell Crowe film about Noah that brought the Cosby routine to mind.  It was another actor, Richard Gere, who occasioned the memory.  Several years ago, I was attending a conference, part of which coincided with a gathering of folks (including the Dalai Lama) discussing compassion. 
This week, I found my notes from that day.  During the main public event, I wrote that Gere said "We live in an illusion in the west that things are relatively okay.  But we're really drowning in mediocrity."  So I began to wonder if we ARE drowning, or are we simply treading water?
      I think Gere was on to something; I think we ARE surrounded by mediocrity in so many ways.  On the other hand, as I recall the students walking across the platform and receiving their diplomas several weeks ago, AND knowing what many of them are setting off to do, I am encouraged by their unwillingness to settle for (or drown in) mediocrity.  I am heartened by their eagerness to engage the issues we face.
     But I'm also reminded, on a daily basis -- whether it's in the pages of the newspaper, or the advertisements on television (or the internet), or in simple conversations with others, that the new graduates' excitement isn't necessarily shared by all.  There are times when I can't even think that we're settling for a happy "middle-way", but rather for something far less.  I am not disputing that they may be "out there", but are the visionaries that seek to change things for the 
better able to be heard amidst the clanging of the "mediocre bell"?   And are we willing to stop treading water in the "sea of mediocrity" and swim to shore to establish a new, enticing, exciting, way of being?  We ought all, always, be engaged in "commencement".
      One can only tread water so long.

Chaplain Gary
*The biblical story of Noah can be found in Genesis 6.5-9-17.  A recording of Cosby's version can be found here:

No comments:

Post a Comment