It was not the film with John Wayne or even the re-make starring Jeff Bridges which inspired the title and theme of this blog post, it was my wife’s insistence that I write about grit! Using a great deal of perseverance herself, she brought to my attention this small scale, gritty phenomena. Grit is the title of a book by Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Grit is an American publication but has courted significant publicity in this country in recent weeks. Duckworth’s premise is that intelligence and talent are not the foundational characteristics which lead to success. She insists that the grittier qualities of self-awareness, self-control and a longer term task setting are the personal virtues which provide a winning formula.
Wasn’t it always thus? John Wayne would believe so. Starring in the film version of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, Wayne helps a teenage tomboy, on a mission of “justice”, which involves avenging her father’s death. She recruits a tough old marshal, “Rooster” Cogburn (John Wayne), because he has “grit”, and a reputation of getting the job done. So here we have grit lived out in the Wild West but out of a less than satisfactory motivation. Grit in this respect is used as the descriptor for ‘hard’ personality types, driven people, who get their way no matter what. I don’t think that Duckworth’s grit is intended to fall into this archetype. In fact, I think a better interpretation of grit is through the perspective of 2000 years of Church history.
It starts with the use of a parable, a pithy teaching used by sages and rabbis in the ancient near east. This particular parabolic saying caught the imagination of its hearers and instilled in the people of faith a power of passion and perseverance:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13: 45-46)
From something so small and of such beauty, the pearl represents true grit. The pearl was conceived and engineered out of grit and it is transformed from that state into a jewel of great price. The greater the iridescence of the pearl, the greater the price. We are told that this was a fine pearl which the merchant bought. And so to our faith and our Church and our great Christian heritage – our tradition has been born out of grit, the grit which has produced pearls of great value over the last 2000 years of varying shapes, sizes and colours.
Today, we are faced with a church which through the world’s eyes is failing; declining in number and relevance. Yet I sense that there is grit in the people and the buildings, true grit. The virtues of passion and perseverance are grinding away to shape the pearls of great price today. The quality of these pearls is difficult to calculate but catholics, liberals, evangelicals have inherited a grit which is producing a priceless gift, that of faith. This is not a parable of success or failure but about transformation out of the grittiness of the Christian gospel. What beauty, what joy, what purpose – true grit!