New York Times columnist David Brooks says there are two different types of virtues, résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. I spent the first half of my life building résumé virtues. Most of us do. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a part of life’s rhythm. For the last decade I have been more interested in eulogy virtues.
Résumé virtues get you a job, keep you out of poverty, and if you are lucky, let you create a more just and verdant world. I believe in the church, that broken and messy community that occasionally gets it right when it focuses on loving God and neighbor and not much else. I devoted my working life to the church, though the majority of people within it eventually rejected me. Still, I would do it again.
But I was not the Rev. John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, content to minister in just one place. I was too ambitious and inquisitive. I embraced the Renaissance life, working in the church, social services, television, print media, and counseling. More than once I built something good. I tried not to leave bodies behind, though when you run something, anything, there will always be bodies left behind.
Then I was done. It was time for someone else to raise the money, cast the vision, dream beyond the ordinary, push the boundaries. I left the land of résumé virtues and embraced a life of eulogy virtues.
When you leave one for the other, there are great changes. You have fewer friends but deeper friendships. You listen more and talk less. You trust the flow instead of engineering results. You discover some things no longer feel like a choice. You do not necessarily want to change careers, but somehow you know you must. You have no interest in going back to school, yet you go back to school. You open the cobwebbed corners of your heart to all those things that were always so unreasonable. Some of them begin to pursue you with holy terror. Consequences no longer matter. Being true to the journey does.
If you previously took the road more traveled by, played by the rules and stayed safe, you know it is time to join Odysseus – not on his first journey – but his last. It is time to join Jacob on the quiet side of the river Jabbok, time to wrestle with God. If you choose not to go on this second journey, God will probably just let you go your own way, declining to fight. But if you do wrestle with God your defeat will be remarkable in and of itself, full of light and limping and love.
Within certain parameters, like needing to eat, drink, breathe and sleep, we all get to decide how we are going to live this life. To live the résumé virtues is important for ego development, cultural growth and civilized life. To live the eulogy virtues is to embark on a journey toward wisdom, undertaken with paradoxical measure of trepidation and joy. I enjoyed the first journey. The second journey? Well, enjoy wouldn’t be the right word. How about “breathtaking”?
Photo (Flickr CC) by Tom Blackwell