Erwin Raphael McManus (GLS 2003, 2011) released an inspiring new book this month entitled The Last Arrow. The excerpt below comes from the first chapter.
William Osborne McManus married my mom when I was about three years old. He wasn’t my birth father, and he never legally adopted me or my brother, but for all intents and purposes, he was the only father I ever knew. We became close, and I imagine that in my childhood, I loved him as much as any son could love a father. When I was young I called him dad. Later in life I simply called him Bill.
This man was a contradiction in every way. He was warm and engaging, charismatic and winsome. At the same time, he was a con man for whom truth was simply material woven into whatever lies he needed to tell. Over the years, Bill caused my family deep pain, callously disregarding my mom and my two little sisters, the daughters he had fathered. By the time he left us, when I was 17 years old, all the love I had felt for him had turned to disdain.
When (my son) Aaron was 15, he wanted to meet the man I called my father. I felt I owed him that. So even though I hadn’t spoken to my dad in 15 years, I tracked him down as if he were a stranger I was trying to meet for the first time. We found him in a small town outside Charlotte, North Carolina, called Matthews. He was more than happy to see me and more than happy to meet my son. I think I had caused him great sadness by extricating myself from his life for the past 15 years.
I didn’t know what to expect, but the reunion went well enough—for a while. Then there were the last words I heard him say as we were leaving (not just the last words that day but forever, as he died not too long afterward). He said to my son in my presence, “I don’t know what your dad has told you, but he was average. He was just average. His brother was exceptional, but your dad, he was just average.”
Those words cut me like a knife. Please don’t misunderstand me. What hurt most was not that those were the last words my father chose to say about me. Nor was I most hurt because my son heard this judgment. What cut me deepest was a terrifying sense that Bill McManus was right, that I was just average.
And while I always hoped that one day there would be something special about me, the truth is, I made my home in the average, if not the below average. I found a strange solace and safety in my power of invisibility and made obscurity my residence.
I am in no small part indebted to that conversation with Bill for all the thoughts that follow in this book. I do not believe anyone is born average, but I do believe that many of us choose to live a life of mediocrity. I think there are more of us than not who are in danger of disappearing into the abyss of the ordinary. The great tragedy in this, of course, is that there is nothing really ordinary about us. We might not be convinced of this, but our souls already know it’s true, which is why we find ourselves tormented when we choose lives beneath our capacities and callings.
Bill’s was a statement of outcome and actions. I walked away from his house that day with a clear resolve that although I have no control over whatever talent has been placed inside of me—no control over the level of my intelligence or whatever other advantages or disadvantages my genetic composition might have brought me—I will take absolute control over my personal responsibility to develop and maximize whatever potential God has given me for the good of others.
The journey of The Last Arrow begins when you raise the bar. We need to raise the bar of our standards of our faith, of our sacrifice, of our expectations of ourselves, of our belief of the goodness and generosity of God.
We can refuse to be average. We must refuse to be average.
We must war against the temptation to settle for less. Average is always a safe choice, and it is the most dangerous choice we can make. Average protects us from the risk of failure, and it also separates us from futures of greatness.
The Last Arrow is for those who decide they will never settle.
The Last Arrow is about leaving nothing undone that was ours to do. It is squeezing the marrow out of life. This journey is about ensuring that when we come to the end of our lives, we will arrive at our final moments with no regret.
Erwin Raphael McManus (GLS 2003, 2011) is an iconoclast, artist, and cultural thought leader known for his integration of creativity and spirituality. He is the founder and lead pastor of Mosaic, a Los Angeles-based church of faith recognized as one of America’s most influential and innovative churches. His most recent book is The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life.