Hope, Horror, and Context

A meander in several parts on Mormons and tragedy, and an ongoing struggle to keep the beast at bay.

* * *

Zombie lore is founded on the idea of thoughtless, mindless pseudo-people seeking to steal precious life—to no apparently constructive purpose. The twin terror of insatiable hunger and relentless pursuit by a foe that cannot be reasoned with speaks to an ultimate horror of battle that must be waged, but can never be won.

The metaphor isn’t even remotely subtle. Cast it as shambling hoards of the undead seeking to devour your brains, uncounted minions of the netherworld seeking to devour your hope, or armies of mindless Mormons swarming like locusts to devour individual identity in the name of vapid, happy groupthink it’s all the same—I have no responsibility to even try to understand those un-holy un-people.

If the battle of ideas can never be won, then I’m perfectly justified in characterizing the opposition as mindless, vapid, or unthinking, and casually dismissing them en masse.

Like godless atheists. Or Christian fundamentalists. Or Yankees fans.

It may be a lazy excuse and a hopelessly self-congratulatory proclamation from my (non-denominational) Rameumptom, but as long as enough of my own unthinking hoards back me up, I won’t actually be called on to thoughtfully justify myself.

* * *

While discussing the story of 12 year old Jesus in the temple this past Sunday, someone raised the idea that Jesus operated with a more complete understanding of his own identity. As a result, he had more agency and could make better decisions. The deck was stacked in his favor.

It was a small point, but I had to argue the question of agency. To my mind, Jesus had precisely the same agency as any of us (ability to choose); what he had more of was context. When you understand the end-game, some decisions do become easier to make—just as the consequences of some mistakes become that much more painful when their impacts on the whole are better understood.

Context matters. But understanding the end result doesn’t make individual decisions necessarily easier; agency always plays, and you can choose to abandon the long game in favor of the short one. If you’re sold on the long strategy, then some choices may indeed be easier. But that just adds more stress to the initial commitment, and more weight to the interim choices. Like mass and energy, the weight of commitment seems to be conserved, even if it’s distributed differently in light of context.

Knowing the ultimate effect of taking the bitter cup did not make the suffering any less painful—it only gave that pain context and meaning. The long anticipation of the depths required by that choice must have been horrifying.

* * *

If you talk to any professional athlete or performer, they will have a veritable trove of stories about booted plays, lost games, or disastrous moments on stage. At the moment of failure, they felt the same pain of loss or embarrassment as any other performer—made all the more exquisite by the size of the audience.

But successful professionals have notoriously short memories of past failures except as a means of improving future performance. It’s always about the next show. They keep the endpoint in sight, and see the tragedy of past error as a useful stepping stone toward that ultimate goal. And they are relentless in pursuit of that unseen goal even when others fall to the side and give up.

Not because failure hurts less or because they are mindlessly incapable of caring, but because context matters and a career is longer than any one outing. So the relentless pursuit continues, and they move on from this pain and endure to the end.

* * *

Whether the long goal is worthy, the pursuit is noble—even as others decry you as a thoughtless, mindless zombie incapable of ordinary human compassion or understanding of the tragedy of failure along the way.

But you know better. Because it’s only tragedy if your will fails before the end. Context matters, and changes both the shape and trajectory of failure and pain. Death, where is thy sting; grave, where is thy victory?

Stories just as worthy, and perhaps just a tad more useful. In the end.

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3 Responses to Hope, Horror, and Context

  1. Th. says:

    .

    Fail boldly. Otherwise you’ll never gain the knowledge necessary to succeed.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    One of the things that struck me about the lesson materials this last Sunday was the following from Lorenzo Snow:

    “When Jesus lay in the manger, a helpless infant, He knew not that He was the Son of God…. he grew up to manhood, and during His progress it was revealed unto Him who He was, and for what purpose He was in the world.”

    Which seems to fly in the face of your classmate’s claim. Perhaps more interestingly, it makes me wonder about the story of how Jesus came to know who he was. It’s a startling thought, for me at least.

  3. Wm says:

    “The long anticipation of the depths required by that choice must have been horrifying.”

    I think we forget that, although we do some glimpses of it in the scriptures.

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