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I don’t know exactly how I landed amidst a bunch of negative reviews for a children’s book…

It was a couple of weeks ago. I was researching something online, clicking this link and that, and I found myself transported into what felt like a mob of angry parents who, in 2009, were simply outraged about this book written for their 5- to 8-year-olds. By Australian motivational speaker and writer, Matthew Kelly, the book was: Why Am I Here? A Story About Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.

I haven’t read the book. As far as I can tell, the whole story is pretty much summed up by the title. The question posed by the first half — why am I here? — is quickly answered by the second — to become the best version of yourself. It sure sounded like a safe enough answer. Positive, encouraging. I really couldn’t imagine why anyone would take issue with it.

(Most of the reviews were, in fact, 5-star gushes. But among the thousands of raves, there were dozens of furious 1-star slams. I had to check those out, just to see.)

The negative reviewers took issue not with the impossible existential question — why am I here? — but with Kelly’s gentle and welcoming conclusion. “No,” they said, almost in unison, “We are not here to be the best version of ourselves. We are here to be more like Jesus!!”

Interesting, I thought. Interesting that they didn’t see their answer and Kelly’s as essentially the same thing. I mean, it’s not how I’d describe it. But I would expect most Christians to equate the best version of themselves with being as much like Jesus as possible. Just as I would think most Buddhists try to be like the Buddha, and secular humanists might strive to embody good for all Humanity. Whatever floats your boat and feels like your best — be that. What’s the problem?

The problem seemed to be that Matthew Kelly wasn’t being nearly specific enough for some people. They didn’t like the opening to others’ personal interpretations of “best;” they needed it spelled out only on their terms: J-E-S-U-S. I wanted to ask, “Do you mean we should be more like the biblical Jesus who cared for the poor, hungry, displaced, and disenfranchised? Or the contemporary one that loves guns and money and hates queers and immigrants?”

I got kind of worked up about the whole thing.

George Carlin said, “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”

Thank goodness it’s changeable.

Hard questions are great, they keep us moving. Hard answers tend to put a stop to everything.

“Why me? Why us? Why this, why now?” are most excellent questions. They’ve drawn humanity through millennia of brilliant religious, philosophical, and scientific exploration. “Why?” has been the catalyst for progress, the spark of all innovation and art. “Why?” opens us up to new ideas and bigger possibilities on an ever-unfurling path of discovery.

“Here’s why —” as an answer, though, does little to satisfy any of our big questions. It’s never going to be a complete answer, at any rate. And pretending that it is or thinking that it should be mostly closes us off and shuts us down.

“Why” can give us a lift, or it can be a drag.  Like most thoughts and things, it depends on how we hold it. 

It becomes an unbearable weight when we think there’s an answer — the answer.  Whether that’s some elusive answer about which we’re discouraged because thus far we’ve failed to arrive at it. Or some certainty we believe we have achieved, and now our work is to defend it against all other perspectives and input, which is a mean and brittle way of being with life.  We end up either beating ourselves up for not having it, or defending ourselves against our own deeper expansion, expression, and fulfillment.  Ugh.

What if there’s no answer, though? Or the answer is — WHY NOT? Or — BECAUSE. Or — YOU. To me, that sounds like a personal invitation to a world of inspiration and unbridled creativity.

If we let go into the questions, we ourselves can be WHY. And MIGHTY.

I can’t wait to be with you mighty ones. This Sunday, March 19, 10:00am at Maple Street Dance Space in Nob Hill. XO, Drew

©2023 Drew Groves

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