YOLO! It's the tongue-in-cheek battle cry of a generation working too hard for too little, staying up all night to get lucky, and wondering what the purpose of it all really is. From the earliest days of America this fascination with one life has been passed from one generation to the next. The patriot Nathan Hale is famous for his last words upon a British gallows, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
For our forefathers it was not a hedonistic fascination with life itself, but the value of it in relation to something so much bigger. What Nathan Hale conveyed so articulately was, 'If you only live once, then you only die once.' For this generation death is the end; life is just the story between birth and death. For our forefathers death was not the end, but rather the pièce de résistance of life.
Pièce de résistance is a French phrase which literally translates into English as “piece of/for resistance.” It's modern connotation is the part of a thing that gives it it's unique quality or the finishing touch that lends it flair. It has something to do with the quality of a thing, not the quantity. I like the connotation, but I like the literal translation better in this context.
Death, the pièce de résistance of life, is that part of us that defies the common nature of existence. So many youths, whether in body or spirit, of this present day and age are merely existing. Substituting pleasure for purpose and then slipping away fat, happy, and peacefully abed on painkillers. Death for those who do not defy the common nature of existence is just the back cover of a book that no one will read after the author's passing.
For those of you who may not have caught the story on CNN, there is right now a woman in Khartoum, Sudan who has been sentenced to death for her Christian faith. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is a 27 year old woman who was born to a Muslim father. She married a Christian man and bore him a child. Today she's in prison with her 20 month old son and has been convicted of apostasy and adultery. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that she is also eight months pregnant with her second child. The Islamic court has declared her punishment as 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy. She was given the opportunity to recant her faith, to which she responded in front of the court, “I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian.”
In the past the Sudanese court has stayed execution for women who were pregant or nursing until the child was weaned. Hopefully, Meriam's legal appeals will result in her freedom, but if not I do believe this is what Jesus meant when he said his disciples must take up their cross and follow him. We've spent two millennia watering that statement down though until the flavor is almost lost upon our spiritual palates. I think that Jim Elliot put it in words that might speak to us better when he said, “If we are the sheep of His pasture, remember that sheep are headed for the altar.”
If you don't know the story of Jim Elliot I strongly recommend you take the time to research it. The short version is Jim wasn't a very well known man during his life. He was just a missionary in Ecuador during the 1950s. It was Jim's death which made him famous. In effect he wrote his own epitaph with these words:
"We are so utterly ordinary, so commonplace, while we profess to know a Power the Twentieth Century does not reckon with. But we are “harmless,” and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are “sideliners” — coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh that God would make us dangerous!"
Jim's words are inspiring. Meriam's story is inspiring. Christ's commandment is clear. If we're only going to live once, then let's at least resolve to go out like Butch and Sundance.
Written by Ben Machia, 16 May 2014