Tennessee Mountain Stories

How do you Measure Success?

Today’s blog is part philosophy and part mountain history.  Do you ever experience a series of conversations and articles that seem to direct your thoughts toward subjects you might not otherwise even think about?  Ah, could that be The Holy Spirit guiding my thoughts?

Well over the last few days several sources have driven me to consider success The Steve Laube Agency blog recently talked about missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming and Roger Youderian who were killed in 1956 by The Huaorani tribe they were trying to evangelize.  Dan Balow points out in this article that the day these men set up camp near the tribe’s village they were in the center of God’s will – at least they certainly were striving to be and they had prayed and sought God’s will in making this bold move.  Three days later the Huaoranis killed all five of them.  Were they successful?  Well, those men have been inspiring Christian people for sixty years with some going into the jungle to carry the Gospel to remote peoples, others coming to salvation and many others drawn closer to God through their testimony.  I could only hope to be so successful.

A missionary was recently touted as a great success while another man was accused of being a depressed complainer.  The latter I know to be a strong man of God, one of those people who runs toward a fight to seek justice for the helpless when most of us run toward a safe corner.  Can this man ever be a success if the world around him calls him names and advertises his flaws?  Probably.  Do we measure our success by our reputation?  If so, Martin Luther was a great failure for he had no acclaim in his own lifetime yet his reforms have shaped the very way we worship today.

A few weeks ago I made a passing comment in this blog from the James Watt Raine book about the mountain man’s love of leisure.  He says in The Land of Saddle Bags (Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1924) “…if one is satisfied with Nature’s own providing…why reproach him for indulging in philosophic and contemplative leisure?” (pg 70).

Raine makes a good point.  Why must we judge our neighbor’s success by our own goals?  I have a nice home and I’m very thankful for it but just down the road is a man living in a single wide trailer with neither running water nor electricity.  I’ve heard it my whole life but I now question whether I can call him sorry, or do-less, if he’d rather live there.  If one man chooses to work from daylight till dark, earn a six-figure income, drive fancy cars and vacation in Europe should we compare him to his brother who works just forty hours per week, has bald tires on his ten-year-old car and hasn’t been out of town in years?  Seems like you’d have to look a little deeper at these lives and see whether the meager living of the one man is allowing family-time and church-work. 

As I study the history of the Plateau, I often ask “why” and work hard to find the answer.  I say this often, but it’s really hard to understand yesterday when measured by the values of today.  An elderly relative recently remarked that her children “eat-out too much” and that they will never “amount to anything”.  Her depression-era values tremble at our budgets that plan for Sunday dinner in a restaurant or grabbing some fast food on the way to an appointment.  Many of us today aren’t “amounting to much” as our wages are drained by the electric bill required to air condition large homes, cable and cell phone bills that were completely foreign to past generations, and the endless fuel our cars burn.

From an historical perspective, I drive through old towns with stately homes that have stood for generations and I admire them.  In our neck of the woods there are home-places with only fallen chimneys and bright yellow Easter flowers to mark our grandparents’ childhood.  We know from the stories that have passed down there was both joy and sadness in that place and we are the product of their lives.  I suppose the measure of their success is in my life and yours.