Theodore Roosevelt published a speech in 1899 (two years before he became president of the United States) entitled, "The Strenuous Life." He was for it. And he would have been proud of me this past week: watching me paddle my canoe 17 miles in hot sun with kids young enough to be my grandchildren. We slept on the river bank without benefit of showers, running water, or electricity...
and we lived off hot dogs and peanut butter
. I managed to only fall in the river three times.
Okay...my strenuous experience was only for a couple days...and then we all went to a retreat center with air-conditioning for the rest of the week. But still, ole Teddy would've been proud. Granted, Mr. Roosevelt did much more strenuous stuff than I did last week. But keep it all in perspective: the dude died when he was 60...in part from over-doing it. Come next month, I'll have outlived him by 4 years, provided I don't do anything else in the next three weeks with the youth group.
"Teddy," (as he hated to be called) found rebirth in the strenuous life. As a child, he was sickly, asthmatic, and puny. His father gave him a short lecture one day: "Son, you've got a fine mind, but if you want to amount to anything, you need to do something about that body of yours."
So Teddy set about to toughen himself up. He started exercising and eventually developed a massive chest. He took up boxing. He moved to North Dakota to become a cowboy and big game hunter. He became a politician. He led the rough riders, guns a-blazing, in the Spanish-American War. He paddled the Amazon River.
He got shot in the chest once, while giving a political speech...but insisted on finishing the whole script before letting doctors help him.
He skinny-dipped regularly in the Potomac River...in the winter...during his presidency. Our 25
president was no weenie.
This brings me back to last week's trip on the Buffalo River. Jordan (leader of the youth trip) knew that this trip with his teenagers would pose many dangers. It was not an expedition for the faint of heart. We faced potential dangers from snakes, sunstroke, runaway canoes, and raccoons (in the Ozarks, racoons have learned how to unzip your tent and help themselves to your stuff.)
But the biggest potential danger of all would be if one of our comrades, under pressure, betrayed the rest of us by morphing into a weenie. When teamwork is essential for the well-being and success of the group, who can abide a whiner, a quitter, a fraidy-cat, or an overindulged individual with self-esteem issues?
Jordan knew that it would be pointless to require everyone to read Theodore Roosevelt's speech on the strenuous life. (And besides, Roosevelt is quite sexist in that speech...and would not have believed that the girls in the group could hack a canoe trip.) So, Jordan did the next best thing. Each time someone complained that the work was too hard, the sunburn too painful, the van too crowded, the hot dogs not roasted right, the weather too hot, the inside of the tent too sandy, or he or she got stuck with a klutz for a canoe partner, Jordan would order them to repeat after him, in falsetto voice: "Please don't make me do this...it's really hard to... (insert problem here,) ....and I'm just a weenie!"
Sometimes facing fears, complaints, and intimidations with humor works. It did on this trip. The kids did great. No bellyachers all week. I did get tired of hearing them mimic Jordan's line by the end of the week...but Teddy would have been proud of them too.
When Jordan first asked me to go on this trip with the kids, I wasn't too excited. After a year of eye surgeries, hand surgeries, pneumonia, a sprained ankle, and worsening arthritis, I was beginning to settle into being a weenie myself. Week after week I found myself mumbling about
all my challenges
, "I'm getting too old for this."
But I also knew that the way to get off this slippery slope was to add more strenuous activity to my life. I needed to start saying, "I may be old, but watch this!" Successful aging is not for weenies.
Living a good life isn't for weenies either. Nor is it possible to be a weenie and lead the church through such times as we find in this culture. It's tough out there in the world, not easy to avoid "weak resignation to the evils we deplore." It's
really hard to
fight injustice, exercise good character, practice love, make peace, face the truth, tell the truth, and execute changes when they are needed. None of that stuff is for weenies!
Think of all the biblical characters who
could have saved themselves lots of trouble, if they would have just whined to God, "get someone else to do this, I'm just a weenie." We never heard that from the likes of Jesus, Paul, Mary, David, Esther, or Moses.
Thank God for strenuous opportunities, even when we'd rather make an excuse. Taking up the strenuous life, as individuals and communities is the risk we must take to revival and the good life. To Mr. Roosevelt's idea, I say, "Bully! Bully!" We can learn a lesson from him. Let's just not get too literal, though, and overdo the skinny-dipping next winter. --Mike