Mitchell Richards [Words]

Month: December, 2011

Reclaiming A Word: Living An #epic Life

This post is long overdue. I don’t know why, but every once in a while, our culture embraces funny words, slogans, icons, and things of that nature and we just run with it. For example: the entire Charlie Sheen incidents of recent memory. The US was completely obsessed with this guy and anything he would say. People are still using the phrase “winning” to describe anything and everything deemed decent. Or when the Jersey Shore was in the height of its popularity, I couldn’t go through my Facebook feed without seeing a post similar to “GTL lol”.

Every once in a while, our culture just latches on to these little moments, and while I try to stay away from them personally, I can’t help but notice how pop culture oozes its way into our lives.
That being said…can we all stop using the word “epic” to describe everything?

Epic is a word used to describe a great story or poem, it is supposed to be used to describe a great act of heroism. The Alamo is an epic battle and a grand story. Homer’s “Odyssey” is an epic poem. A picture of your cat playing with a ball of yarn? Not epic. Your night of singing “Jukebox Hero” at karaoke? Not epic. You twisting your ankle in pickup basketball? Not an epic fail.

But yet we use this word to describe everything that is happening around us. Can we kill it?

Using a grand word to describe a decent event is ruining the word we use, and not only that, but it is also killing our expectations of the grand things yet to come. If we use the word epic to describe the trivial, what word do we have left to describe the sensational? What word do we use to describe the heroism of the man who runs into a burning building and saves the entire family? What word do we use to describe the great story being written in someone’s basement right now? Epic? I just don’t think it works, because one man’s description of sweat and labor and great story is another man’s description of his cat’s picture.

But this principle of “epicness” also applies to our lives as well. By using great words to describe little things, we are also trivializing meaningless actions by calling them great. I must confess, I have never performed anything, or written anything great to be able to use the word epic to describe it. But what happens if I do? Society will have robbed me of my adjective.

On the same note, we are all trying to live this “epic” life, but my life, the story I’m living, is really not that epic. You look in the Bible and read some of those stories, and they are amazing stories. You’ve got this guy who thinks the world is going to flood so he rounds up animals and puts them in a boat. A boy who slays a giant, then becomes king. A tale of an entire group of people enslaved by the Egyptians only to be freed and then wander around in the desert for a long time. A baby born in a barn that grows up to die for the sins of the world. All epic stories. All epic lives.

Meanwhile, a man sits in his boxers in his apartment and types on his computer. #epic

If we are going to use the word epic, we have to reclaim its meaning by actually living an epic life. I have friends who do this, who just go out and do what God is telling them to do. They travel the world, they heal the sick, and they help the poor. And even though their lives are flawed, even though they sin, they live lives of great risk and danger, they live stories awesome enough that I want to write them down and tape them into the back of my Bible because that’s the place they belong, they actually live epic lives.

Meanwhile, a man sits in his boxers in his apartment and types on his computer. #epic

The greatest thing I have done in a long time is re-enroll in school. I haven’t been in college for almost 6 years, after I dropped out when I decided I didn’t want to do what I thought I wanted to do. By no means is enrolling in community college epic. But the roots of a great story have to be planted somewhere. In the Odyssey, Odysseus isn’t battling Cyclops and being tempted by the Sirens on page one. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker isn’t light sabering fools from the Dark Side in the opening scene. So while we can’t use the word epic to describe the small, unimportant occurrences in our lives, we cannot mistake the story God had written us into, the epic story of our own existence. The story we must decide to live in, the one filled with heroics and romance, difficult roads and twists and turns. I hope we can see the difference between what we call epic and the epic story we are actually in.

Grace: A Comedy About a Tragedy About A Romance

A few people know this already, but I figured I’d share the news with everyone else, not that you cared, but maybe you can help…I’m writing a play.

So far it has been really fun. It all stemmed from an idea, an idea that I’m going to write about here in a second, about being a broken person. I’ve quickly learned when I’m write this play I can’t get my point across like when I’m writing like I normally do. I can’t just have a character tell you the entire plot in one monologue and expect to get away with it. I can’t tell the audience what they should be feeling and thinking, and so it’s been a little tricky getting the characters to do what I want them to, and getting them to say what I want them to say, without actually saying it.

Without revealing much of the plot of this play, I will tell you it’s a comedy about this guy, Taft, who goes through some crazy stuff, has an accident, and ends up having something that he sees as a flaw and a problem. He has a hard time being understood by the people around him, quite literally, and he ends up getting frustrated. Taft thinks that he is a flawed and broken person, and as the play goes on, we see him trying to do everything in his power to fix himself.

In writing stories and watching movies and reading books, you notice that the hero of the story always goes through hell before he ends up on the other side. In almost everything I’ve read about the hero’s journey, it references Star Wars. Up until about a month ago I had never seen Star Wars, but after I watched them I understood why it is the perfect telling of a hero’s tale. Luke Skywalker was just a whiney little brat in the beginning of the movies, but by the end he knows his purpose. Not only does he know his purpose, he has actually achieved it. But he had to go through a lot to get there, through a lot of wrong turns and mistakes before he got to the end.

Right now, I’m in the process of writing Taft through hell. I’ve already got the final scene in my head, but I have to get him up to that point before I can write that scene, and no one will care about the last scene without all the hell first. But basically I’m writing Taft through the conflict of his life, the part where he sees himself as broken and the parts where he is trying to fix himself. It is both a pleasure and a torture to write this part, because this is the part where I relate to my character. The story of Taft is the story of you and me, it’s who the audience will connect to because we have all been there…broken and longing to be fixed.

As a Christian, this has been my whole life – pointing out my flaws and trying to fix them. It never seems to work though. Who would have thought that the same things I struggled with ten years ago are the same things I struggled with ten minutes ago. I am a broken person in need of repair, and so is Taft.

Luckily for me, I have grace. Unfortunately for Taft, he doesn’t have grace like I do because I have to write grace in as another character. I said I was writing a comedy, but it’s really a comedy about a tragedy. And I suppose the tragedy is about a romance. So the play is really a comedy about a tragedy about a romance. I can’t write Jesus in to the play as a hurricane that swoops up Taft in a whirlwind and fixes all of his problems because that doesn’t happen in real life. Jesus can’t come in to the scene in a pink bubble like the good with in the Wizard of Oz to fix Taft because he doesn’t do that in real life (and I don’t think I’ll have enough cash for the special effects). I have to write grace in a different way, and that is frustratingly beautiful. I can’t really tell you about it obviously because it is the climax of the story, after the part where Taft wants to die because he thinks he will never be fixed, but I can tell you what I want the play to tell you…

In the end, Taft realizes that he was never really broken. Even though he has this flaw that never gets fixed, he understands that it didn’t need to be fixed, rather it needed to be completed. Taft realizes that it wasn’t a flaw as much as it was a vehicle to understanding the grace in his life.

Which brings me to my own life, and my own flaws, and my own brokenness. Jesus is crazy because the things that separate us from Him are the very same things that bridge the gap to Him. Without my flaws and brokenness, I do not understand sin or being broken. I can try to fix my flaws and correct my sins, (which is important and good) but I will always wake up tomorrow and continue to sin. It is God’s grace that makes us complete and in no need of repair. Taft goes through the whole play trying to fix himself, only to find out that he never needed to be fixed, he only needed grace and it is that grace that completes him. I spend my entire life chasing after things to try to fill the voids in my life, trying to fix the pain of sin, but in the end I have to realize that nothing will fix me except for grace.

A couple months ago I was talking to one of my best friends about some crap that has been going on for a long time, I was confessing my sins to him which was really weird because I’m really bad about accountability and that stuff, so airing my dirty laundry isn’t easy. But we got to talking about how to remedy the situation and how to overcome some of the things I was dealing with. I told him about my struggles in the past about trying to be a good little boy and all that, and he quickly pointed that I was trying to clean up my act for God, but that God had never really asked me to do that in the way that I was trying. It struck me as odd that all this time [I] have been trying to please God by not sinning anymore and failing at it, rather than working [with] God to have him help ease that burden. God gets no pleasure in us trying to fix ourselves, that’s why he sent Jesus to die so that God can work WITH us to free us from sin. Just as Taft needs the girl at the end of the play, I need Jesus and his grace right now and always. We cannot do life alone; we will never find what we are looking for that way.

We cannot do the play of life alone, we can’t give every line, we cannot sword fight ourselves, we cannot fall in love with ourselves, and we cannot fix ourselves. Grace has to enter the scene and we have to let her speak her lines, we have to let her move around the stage, to flow from one side to the other, we have to let Grace sweep us off of our feet, and we have to fall for her, and then we have to embrace and kiss.