The “I”s Have It

Posted on March 19, 2020

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If you think you’ve heard the expression, “the I’s have it,” you are right, but not using “I.” Rather the traditional expression is “the ayes have it” in referring to a vote where those voting “yes,” say “aye” in the old English. It may be a nautical term, since in the Navy we hardly ever said “yes sir,” to a command or a superior officer, but “aye, aye, sir.”

So, where are going with this? Not too long ago, at our weekly meeting of the “Church of the Chick-Fil-A” in Northport, we were discussing some verses in the Book of Philippians. We are a group of guys, although have had one member of the distaff side of humankind participate on occasion, who meet to study the Bible at 6 a.m. At our age, most of us are early risers. It is hard to recruit, and keep, someone under fifty or so. I am, to use another old Navy phrase, the SOPA, or the senior officer present afloat, a phrase to designate the senior officer in the squadron when it was anchored or moored somewhere. I am not senior officer at the Church of the Chick-Fil-A by virtue of my rank, but I figure by virtue of my age. I am older by a few months than Joe Doug [last name] but we kind of share the “old man” role with the other youngsters in our group.

Ok, we were discussing Paul’s affirmation of some of the great Christian principles he addressed throughout his ministry. While doing this Paul tended to personify his trials and troubles. I think we all share this sentiment to one degree or another, and this is the use of the pronoun “I.” Like,  I did this, I did that, I suffered, I endured, I triumphed, not all obviously associated with Paul but with humankind’s general devotion to one’s self. We excused Paul, since even when he was describing himself, it was suffering for Christ. See, for example,

2 Corinthians 11:23-28 – “. . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.  From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;  in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;  in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness…”  (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) Well, you get the drift.

What is troublesome with the pronoun “I?” We all use it. We can’t speak or write without it. It is a reflection, of course, of our very being.  Greats and not-so-greats of the past show us the way. Often thought as the father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) opined that “I think, therefore I am.”

The great—his opinion–Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) crooned away to millions of Americans, “I did it my way.” Old Frank managed to get two references to self in the same phrase, as did Descartes.

If you listen to politicians today, in an election year, the references to “I” finally become so shopworn, self-centered and even narcissistic as to turn me, and I suspect other listeners, away. Any cartoon channel is better. I prefer the Golf Channel. Golf is a humbling game, even among the champions of the world as they blow a simple six-foot putt. There is no “me” or “I” as they slump off the green, on to the next tee.

The real crossroad confronts us every time as we come to where the road divides and we have to choose the correct way. For many of us there are apparently no hints other than the one of experience, the rich and powerful and strong and winners go this way while servants, the poor, and the humble appear to go that way. Which one are you going to choose?

Are you going to take the road which rewards you for courage, experience, desire, and your own will to overcome and win power, wealth, in any and all situations, like, for example, elections? Or are you going to choose like Jesus counseled his disciples over and over when they came to him with similar questions.

In the course of teaching his disciples in Matthew 30, Jesus, rather curiously to the disciples and still to us 2000 years later, told them “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” He was using the parable of the rich young ruler who wanted to be with Jesus in the Kingdom of God and Jesus told him to sell and give away all his wealth, and he would then be prepared. The young man said he couldn’t and went away sadly.

What is your wealth? What are you striving to be? Are you the master of your fate? What can’t you give away to truly embrace the message of Jesus to become a servant first before expecting to rise up in the estimation of Jesus and God.

Before we drift off to other deeply felt teachings of Jesus, let’s return to “I.” While it speaks to what we think when we invoke it, especially in promoting ourselves in an election year, and it is a useful, well-nigh indispensable, part of our language and ourselves, it is not a beautiful word. It places you at the center of your universe. Who should be there if not you?

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest of all the Commandments, he didn’t miss a beat: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 New International Version (NIV).

There is no “I” in that teaching which came directly from Jesus, which is why it makes it not only so pleasant to the ear, but also so true to what Jesus taught. Or, remembering another parable with the lesson we can all understand given to us in a nutshell. “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24) I can’t improve on that. Sorry about the “I.”

Published as “I” is not a beautiful word” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, March 16, 2020