Lean In

My twitter profile describes me as an actor, writer, and impatient philosopher. Thinking is what I do. Exhaustively. And typically I enjoy it. Typically I can’t get enough of it and find myself frustrated when the banalities of Life require my attention over whatever I’d rather be thinking about at any given moment in time.

And yet there are those days when the very last thing on Earth that I want is to be left alone with my thoughts.

Today is one of those days.

And unfortunately today is also one of those days when my thoughts won’t leave me alone. My thoughts are a gang of bullies, picking on me, not letting me just go about my business but instead knocking my books off my desk and then teasing me for being clumsy.

Today is a Hard Day.

Nevermind why. Why is not the point. You know exactly the kind of day I’m talking about, regardless of Why, because you’ve had them yourself. Maybe not this bad. But then again, maybe worse. And you’ve had your own reasons why.

One good thing about this particular Hard Day is that’s given me license to reflect on an idea and write a post I’ve been mulling over for ages. As a word of minor caution, I will use some language some might find offensive. If that’s the case, if you are such a one, please know I have considered this topic fully and genuinely believe the words I use are the right ones for the job. And I hope that, come the end, you’ll agree.

That being said –

Jesus was a total badass.

(Note One: To my Christian friends who will immediately take issue with my use of the past tense for the Saviour, I say that I am not looking to discuss faith or religious doctrine in this post. This is a philosophy post, considering a particular human and a particular lesson at a particular moment in history. We can cover the rest another day. For now, I resume…)

No, seriously. And at the risk of offending, I feel so passionately about this that I am compelled to say it once again, with emphasis.

Jesus. Carpenter. Teacher. Total badass.

Now to explain.

Badassery is largely misunderstood, in my opinion. Badass is not a leather jacket and stubble and whiskey in a biker bar. Badass is courage. Badass is resolve. Badass is walking forward when everyone else has turned tail and run back.

Why do people swoon for firemen? Because they’re badasses. Think about it. Building’s on fire. The normal people, the Yous and the Mes, are all running and screaming because fear has quite understandably got the better of them.

But the firemen? Have you ever noticed how calmly they move? They pull up in the truck and they finish putting on their gear like they’re getting ready to go fishing and they check their masks for oxygen and then, like it’s any other day at the office, they walk into Hell.

That’s badass.

My parents were badasses. They were part of a generation of badasses. They were born at the end of the first world war, they grew up through the Depression, and then, just as things were looking up, they were told they needed to get on a boat for some far off land so that people they had never met and with whom they had no personal gripe could try to kill them. And they rolled up their sleeves and they said, “Okay.”

Badass.

To clarify, badass should not be confused with heroic. Similar, but not the same. (Note Two: See? I really have chosen my words carefully. To whit, I resume…) One can be a hero by accident. Things can happen and a person can do the right thing at the right time, perhaps even in the face of grave personal risk — but without forethought, without consideration — and that person could rightly be called a hero. To be a badass requires something more.

A badass is fully aware. A badass is not ‘fearless’ — a badass is not afraid of being afraid — a badass is just not governed by what frightens them. A badass knows fear and uses it. A badass knows this is gonna hurt, has the opportunity to walk away, and still accepts that whatever needs doing is worth the pain. Standing up to the bully. Walking into the fire. Serving a greater good.

A badass knows something else, too, and this finally brings me back round to my original point.

By the time I graduated Notre Dame, I had been through 16 years of Catholic education, and the only picture I was ever given of Jesus was of this quiet, bearded, oddly Westernized hippy, who seemed to float more than he walked. Gaunt cheeks and soulful eyes which, frankly, always looked rather stoned. “If someone slaps you, offer them the other cheek,” was a lesson to curb bad behavior on the playground and promote pacifism and passivism (sic). It meant, “Fighting is bad. Jesus said so.” It offered nothing.

I believe it may be the greatest single line ever to be effectively completely misunderstood by nearly everyone.

For me the lesson is this: Know yourself and know what you’re made of, and lean in.

Badasses know themselves. That is precisely how they are able to face their fears. They know their resolve — their courage, their cool, their calm, their intelligence, their faith, their love — is stronger than that which they face. They know that love is stronger than hate. The know that courage is stronger than fear. They know that being able to take it is stronger than being able to dish it out.

To love is more than to not fight.

Seriously. Consider this. Consider the badassery of being hit by everything someone can throw at you, and then leaning forward and offering the other cheek.

First, really imagine that. Imagine getting clocked, and taking it because hate and fear are no match for love and courage. And so leaning forward and so that the hate and the fear can burn themselves out. Leaning in and saying, “Here. Have another go.”

Now ask yourself, why would anyone suggest such a thing?

I’ll tell you.

Because the lesson has almost nothing to do with fighting and everything to do with living.

If you are going to be truly alive, there will be some pain. To really think about anything at all is to admit worrying ignorance. And I will tell you for sure, the only thing you can know with certainty is that it really is all just a matter of faith.

Don’t just love. Love courageously.

That’s badass.

Today is a Hard Day. There will be bunch more to come. But I was taught a lesson by a particular carpenter who, if nothing else, was a total badass.

And I’m leaning in.