Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Butch, Sundance, and Jesus at the Top of the Cliff

I noticed a news story the other day that suggested perhaps Butch Cassidy didn’t really die in a shootout in Bolivia: that he actually lived to a ripe old age as a business owner and solid citizen in Washington state. It was an interesting coincidence, running across that story, since I had been thinking about a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for a couple of days previous.

You remember the scene: Butch and Sundance are pinned down on a mountainside, their implacable pursuers closing in (“Who are those guys?”). They decide that their only chance for escape is a leap off a cliff into a rushing mountain stream. Butch notices that Sundance is reticent about making the jump.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asks.

“I can’t swim,” Sundance says.

“Are you crazy?” Butch hollers, “the fall will probably kill you!”

Then they both rush to the edge and fly out into thin air, shouting a word that many of us might use under similar circumstances.

For some reason, Butch’s opinion of Sundance’s priorities about the dangers facing him reminds me of something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:34, he says, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I’ve heard this verse paraphrased as, “Why worry about tomorrow? Today will probably kill you.” And with these words, we arrive back at the top of cliff, standing beside Butch and Sundance and staring down into the gorge.

In times like these—or I don’t know, maybe in all times—it seems like Butch and Jesus have a pretty good point. Not that it’s a good idea to live carelessly; quite the opposite. In uncertain times, we should live with our eyes wide open, with every sense engaged, savoring each moment as it goes by, because after all… there aren’t any guarantees about tomorrow, are there? Why would you want to miss anything, as long as the ride is still moving? Besides, the fact is that borrowing worry from the future is a debt with no amortization schedule.

Now, the people who know me very well—especially the ones who live with me—are probably rolling their eyes as they read this. I am pretty lousy at not worrying. But I want to get better at it; I really do. In fact, greater trust and less anxiety are consistently on my Top Ten request list for God. And, they do say that knowing you have a problem is the first step toward a cure…

My guess is that, especially in the current unsettled environment (and again, aren’t all environments unsettled, to a greater or lesser degree?), lots of folks would like to learn to “travel light,” as my friend Max Lucado might say. To allow each day to worry about itself, rather than packing so much future worry into the present. To seek to notice more, and seek to control less. To live right now, listen to what’s around you, see all the colors, and smell all the smells.

So go ahead… take the leap.

I’m right behind you.

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