The Nordic Vikings of old had a term we Anglo-Saxons translate as “Berserk”. ‘Bersekr’ literally means ‘bear shirt’ or one who would run into battle in a crazed confidence wearing only the animal skin as armor. Not a safe life, but a confident one.
I’m not advocating a Viking lifestyle, generally we have evolved in our domestic and international diplomatic relations past shield walls and pillaging. The old world of desperation and scarce resources has been replaced with modern comforts and a surplus of goods. But I do want to speak against narratives of safety, security, small thinking and small living. We don’t have to settle for the safe, we can step onto the field with a fierce confidence and stare an enemy in the face. Life doesn’t have to be boring, we can choose to go ‘Bersekr’ .
We can choose the safe life that’s largely all about us and our comforts and security, that’s the mythology of the American Dream. The more as a culture we pursue this dream, the more our use of anti-depressants is rising; correlation? Is it possible we just have all the wrong dreams? What we thought would make us happy, content, purposeful, fulfilled are not the things we are pursuing at all? Something deep inside us wants to armor-up and go ‘Bersekr’ but we are choosing the fool’s gold of the American dream. There is nothing wrong with a safe life, it’s just boring. 😉
10 years ago this past March, I lost one of my best friends to colon cancer at the age of 32. I visited his grave this week and it got me thinking. His name was Mark Palmer and he was as much my friend as he was a co-mentor in my life. We filled that role for one another. I walked with him as he grieved the loss of his 26 yr. old wife to stomach cancer. I walked with him as he suffered through his own battle against cancer. What I observed in my friend was a heart of courage that would never give up on his fierce commitment to hope for himself and the community he loved so much. He gave up the pursuit of the American Dream of comfort in order to live in solidarity with the poverty and suffering of his neighbors. He made it his life and calling to mentor young hearts who were filled with angst, passion, talent and pain and dreamed for a better world. He lived his life on purpose. He got 32 years to ‘Bersekr’ in his own giftedness and then he gracefully passed over the veil to the reality of another Kingdom in fullness.
Friends, we get one life. ONE! We will be buried not with any of our creature comforts and not with one of our retirement benefits, not with any piece of security. All that the American Dream offers us, we get buried with none of it. It’s a fool’s gold, a chasing after the wrong dreams. We live in a broken world crying out for hope, leadership, courage, peace, goodness and the identity shaping of fierce community. You can live a safe life, it’s just boring. You can choose to go ‘Bersekr’ and make a difference with your one wild and precious life like no one else with your skill-set can. Oh the stories people will tell at your funeral, it won’t be about your stuff, it will be about your amazing life and battles won for the good of all. We get one life, choose wisely, all of life depends on it.
“I guess what I really want to say is this: be hopeful. Don’t stop fighting. On some level this thing is bigger than all of us. It’s not about having a wife die of cancer at 26, and then 2 years later getting the same terminal illness. It’s not about me and how I fight this disease or how our little family walks through it. The bigger picture is the battle against sickness and death that we all face because we live in a broken world. But it’s even more about the Kingdom that has broken in and offers us a chance at relief from that disease. It offers health and victory where before there was none. There is hope in the midst of hopelessness. Death is not where we lose; the onset of hopelessness is the great defeater. So allow hope to rise up within you. And when it seems that hopefulness is the least appropriate response in this situation, let it rise up even more. Whisper your hope when you lie down at night; scream your hope when you wake in the morning. Live your hope as if it is the one and only thing that sustains you in this ravaged world. You will not be disappointed.”
-Mark Palmer, last blog post before he passed 3/25/06