Three years ago, when I was 47 and contemplating the horizon of my fifth decade on the planet, I had an introspective fit–the kind that proves that encroaching mortality starts to get in your head.
Yet, I’m not sure that these moments are aberrant; in fact I would say not. I’d say we are all created with a small, internal hedge-fund of eternal awareness, that-assuming the markets are clear–gain gradual interest and makes us wonder when the bubble is going to pop.
This led me to to write this column, Jimmy Hendrix set his guitar on fire, and because of that I’m changing my life. To quickly summarize, Jimi’s famous pyrotechnic shenanigans at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival have transcendent meaning for me. They also probably mean he was riding the whitecaps of hallucinogenic drugs, but just let me have my moment; it was a victory over the temporal in deference to something more.
I love that moment so much, that few years ago, during a church youth camp (of which I was a musician), it occurred to me that THIS was the place that Jimi decided to go all “Pyrrhic Stratocaster up in this crib.”. If you enter the arena, to this day nothing has changed, The same wooden floor/stage is there, along with a burnt spot that has been accentuated by hapless, sycophantic knuckleheads like myself.
I talked my friend Cody into sleeping on that stage, just so I could say I did it. And on an inflatable mattress I slept–on top of Jimi’s Schizoid Magnum Opus.
Most notably, my article leads up to this moment of abandon, that if I had my ‘druthers, would happen in short order:
But the moment he torched his Stratocaster at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival does have a takeaway. Temporal over eternal. Whether or not that was Jimi’s point, we’ll never know. But his willingness to disconnect from his material Doppelgänger is instructive. In fact, I’m hoping one day, Itzhak Perlman is ricocheting that bow off his 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, playing Paganini’s 24 Caprices, and then suddenly stops, looks at the audience, and says, That’s it. I’m done. Gandkids are waiting for me in the truck. Goodnight Dallas! Then shoves the Strad scroll right through the monitors, and bounces out.
This leads me to my review of this book, “The Last Arrow. Save Nothing for the Next Life.” I had hastily written it for Amazon, mainly since I’ve been a fan of Erwin McManus since February. Two problems emegered when I posted my review:
- I found out I was not a “verified purchaser,” and because of that, Amazon gets to use some kind of sheep/goat algorithm to throw my review into the margins–kind of the like the cheap seats my wife and I had at a Don Ho concert in 1996, where he was supposed to ignore me because I didn’t buy dinner.(Word up: He didn’t). So chances are, my review will only be read by people who specifically circumvent the search feature that forces me into the sackcloth of the marginalized, Molokai lepers of “non-verification.”
- I can’t edit a syntax issue that’s driving me nuts.
But since I don’t like NOT seeing what I think is a decent run-down of a book I love so much, I hereby plagiarize myself thus:
I discovered Erwin McManus when I attended the 2017 Poets & Preachers conference in Redding, Ca. I remember sitting there when he walked out, realizing he was the author of the book I had just purchased a few hours earlier, The Artisan Soul.
I also recall sitting there certifiably stunned at what was an amazing communication style; part storyteller, part latent, observational comic, and seemingly effortless distiller of even the most redundant biblical account into something somehow hidden by the heretofore.
I left there, along with a daughter on the cusp of adulthood, realizing that I was not the only one that was going to continue listening to anything and everything he sets on the road. His podcast is a common staple of my life now, and even better—there’s a 17-year-old that actively listens to, and speaks of his messages to others—no mean feat.
My copy of “The Last Arrow” arrived on September 5, and it took me 24 hours (thanks to a day job that represents a million burnt-plows) to read it. I won’t make a long-scope essay about it, but understand this; he is not advocating the shallow, nihilistic “eat drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die” flag that is planted in Isaiah; he is saying, “we have a purpose. The worst thing we could do is fall short of that by refusing to expend the potential God gave us.”
The book’s centrifugal point is the story of Elisha, who gives what seems to be a simple command to Jehoash, which is to result in a victory over the Aramean army: Open the East window, and fire an arrow over them.
Simple enough. But then he commands Jehoash to take the remaining arrows and “strike the ground.”
He strikes three times and then stops. Elisha becomes angry. He tells Jehoash, that because he stopped short of expending the last arrow, the sure victory was evaporated.
Elisha dies. End of story. We are left to extrapolate that Jehoash wasn’t committed to victory, but obedience to the technical catalog of direction. This was a case in which the letter of the law actually killed people.
And it comes to this: What was he saving those arrows for? If not him, who? If not now, when?
From here, McManus invades our comfort zones, by applying this to every aspect of our life. But when I say “invade,” I don’t mean that this is a book that tries to classically “put rocks in one’s bed,” or ”push our boundaries.” On the contrary, this book leads by gently pulling. Beckoning. Reasoning.
Some great examples from culture, film, dance, and a myriad of scriptural parallels. He even broaches The X-Files, in case you find yourself equally intrigued by the connecting tissue of conspiracy theories.
Neither is the book some philosophical Pollyanna. He makes no bones about the fact that rising above the status quo has social consequences, as those who prefer to remain in safe—or ”average” zones with regards to anything do not generally find comfort in those that shirk that position. However, it is possible to “find your tribe” among those who, no matter their origin, circumstances, wealth or social position, hold these same values—and that it’s okay to make them your primary friendships.
He also gives great cautions between burning the bridges to the past vs. burning the ones that define our relationships. There is a great benefit to a consuming fire charring irredeemability into the ruins of the past—but wisdom must dictate these moves, because if Jesus isn’t manifest, it’s worthless.
In short, this book in some ways, represents the actual, tangible skeleton off of which the prosperity gospel’s flaccid epidermis was ripped; God does have things for us to do. He does have gifts and treasures waiting for us. But the real treasure lies in our purpose and relationship to HIM. There is no greater joy than to be right where He wants us to be. And by George, if he gives you a quiver full of arrows, and a finite number of days upon the earth, there is no greater obligation in the world than to open the East window and fire into the unknown until He calls you home.