Tag Archives: Harvey

The need to be smart

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” – Elwood P. Dowd

“For years I was smart…”  If you don’t have any other reason to watch the Jimmy Stewart movie, Harvey, that quote and the way it is borne out through the movie is enough.  Elwood P. Dowd is a gentle man who is simply kind.  But, for years he was smart. 

Can’t you just picture this?  For years, he wouldn’t believe something unless it made sense to him.  He had to have the answers and share the answers.  He corrected those who were wrong, suffered when he was found to be wrong, and argued for his perspective to be right.  Facts, information, details—these were the altar at which he worshiped.  Understanding and proof were his gods.

Okay, we don’t really get the backstory on Mr. Dowd, so I don’t know these things.  But I have met people like this.  In some ways, I have been a person like this.  I hate being wrong and I love to search out truth.  I greatly desire to understand.  I fear saying something that isn’t right. 

There are two directions to go when you have to be right.  You can find a set of facts and stick with them no matter what.  Allow no questioning, no second looks.  Fight for this truth and win, no matter how ugly you become. 

Or you can question everything, doubt anything, and motivate others to question as well.  Let nothing be sacred, be content with no mystery, challenge everything.  Cultivate doubt, even despair, with abandon.

These appear to be opposites, but they are really two sides of the same coin—the need to be smart.  The facts, either inviolably settled or shamelessly challenged, are still the god that is worshiped.  Understanding, and the control that comes with it, is the goal. 

Job was like this.  He thought he understood the system.  He put a hedge around his family and belongings.  He crossed his T’s and dotted his i’s.  He worked so hard to do everything right, to understand, to control.  Then everything fell apart.  But that wasn’t the real challenge for Job.  The real challenge came when he met God.  Read Job 38-42 and see if you don’t fall on your knees yourself.  Job was humbled and said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” This is when Job found grace

Grace introduces us to the Lord who is far bigger than we are, bigger even than we imagined Him to be.  Grace smashes our holy systems and stomps on our silly challenges to truth.  Grace teaches us to stop thinking we are so smart.  Grace allows us to look into the face of our amazing Lord and shuts our mouths.  I know far less than I used to, because of grace.

For years I was smart.  I recommend pleasant.


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Filed under grace, heart, Theology and mystery