Pioneer Life

Pioneer picture

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…” – Colossians 1:15, NRSV

“Who wants to go first?”

In my heart of hearts, I almost always want to respond to this question with an enthusiastic “Not me!”

This despite the fact that I am the firstborn of five children and, as a consequence, have weathered more than my share of firsts over the years. First to help smooth out the wrinkles in mom and dad’s parenting techniques, first set of braces, first to fall off a bike, first to go away to summer camp, first non-voluntary recipient of piano lessons, first to experience the business end of dad’s fraternity paddle, first to know teen love and teen heartbreak. First to leave the safety and security of home.

Can I be a little more direct? Going first sucks.

When you are first, there are no tracks in the snow for you to step in… no one has gone ahead and tested the water for you or triggered the booby traps or flipped the coin and headed down the wrong path.

When you are first, there is no “benefit of experience” to call upon. You ARE the experience.

The first person at anything is much more likely to be remembered for their mistakes than for their achievements. Others will likely point to your pioneering example and say, “Look there… see what he did? Now go out there and do exactly the opposite.”

In gatherings of large groups of aligned people, homage is often paid to “those upon whose shoulders we stand.” But rarely, it seems, is their groundbreakingness appreciated in the heat of the moment. Pioneers are usually laughed at. They are called names.

And yet, in any of people, SOMEONE has to go first. Someone has to break the ice.

While I have not studied this species rigorously or scientifically, I’ve discovered that there is a very particular spirit that epitomizes those who belong to the Fellowship of First-Goers. It is a curious combination of a boldness that responds to the call of adventure, and a humility that knows going in that toes will be surely be stubbed in the process.

I will also posit that first-goers are probably not that great with detail and documentation. They rationalize this deficiency by saying that when they are out there on the prow of the ship with the winds of history blowing wildly in their faces they can’t be bothered taking notes. Let others tend to that kind of stuff. “We’re too busy pioneering!” they shout.

Interesting related fact: no matter which way the November presidential election goes, we will all experience an historic first. Either the first woman president will lead our country, or the first reality TV star with zero elected office experience.

As the above passage from Colossians reminds us, Jesus went first… boldly and humbly. The only roadmap he had to go by was the one created by his rich prayer life and his attentive listening to the voice of the Spirit. His trailblazing was wholly sacrificial in nature, his body laid down as a bridge between God and humanity… the temporal and the eternal… heaven and earth… life and death.

As Paul reminded us, in his ultimate act of first-going Jesus, “… emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” and, “… humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” (Phil. 2:7-8, NRSV).

Sometimes people get ribbons, medals, or plaques for going first. Sometimes they don’t.

Jesus knew his reward for going first would be the cross.

And he went first anyway.

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