There’s a scene in The Princess Bride when Westley, Fezzik, and Inigo Montoya are outside the castle gate, which is guarded by sixty men. They have less than twenty hours to raid the castle and rescue the Princess Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdinck.
WESTLEY: Our assets?
INIGO MONTOYA: Your brains, Fezzik’s strength, my steel.
WESTLEY: It’s impossible.
INIGO MONTOYA: No!
WESTLEY: My brains, his strength, your steel, against sixty men? It can’t be done. I mean, if we only had a wheelbarrow, that would be something.
INIGO MONTOYA: Where did we put that wheelbarrow the albino had?
FEZZIK: Over the albino, I think.
WESTLEY: Well, why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place? . . . now, what I wouldn’t give for a cloak.
INIGO MONTOYA: There, we cannot help you.
FEZZIK: Will this one do?
INIGO MONTOYA: Where’d you get that?
FEZZIK: At Miracle Max’s. It fits so nice, he said I could keep it.
And lo and behold, so armed with wheelbarrow and cloak, they rescue the princess. (That’s not really much of a spoiler. Of course they rescue the princess.)
To Westley’s credit, I’m pretty sure this is the only time in the movie when he declares that something is impossible; he’s really a pretty resourceful guy. But what he does in this scene is a lot like what many of us do every day—we can’t possibly do such-and-such, not without this thing, and this other thing…it’s impossible…it cannot be done. We look around, take stock of what we have at first glance, and give up. Or maybe we do a little something—some modified goal—but actually rescuing the princess, we are quite sure, is out of reach.
Notice, though, that when Westley names the assets he needs, they appear, seemingly out of thin air. Wheelbarrow? Check. Cloak? Check. And suppose there hadn’t been a wheelbarrow, but Inigo Montoya had had a pogo stick stashed away? Couldn’t they have made that do?
It’s often easier to throw up our hands and say “impossible!” We can’t possibly have a First Day School…we can’t possibly provide all the pastoral care that’s…we can’t possibly host an open house for our community…we can’t possibly build a new church website…
“Impossible” gets us off the hook.
Fezzik’s got a cloak stuffed down his shirt. He knows he has it, but he’s hiding it—not on purpose, not selfishly, but just because it never occurs to him that the cloak might be of any value in their situation. He’s the only one in their little trio who knows he has the cloak, and yet he doesn’t bring it up until cloaks are specifically mentioned, not even when Westley asks Inigo Montoya to list their assets.
This is another phenomenon that we tend to repeat in our faith communities. We might have a particular resource (extra time on our hands, a spare bedroom) or carry a particular spiritual gift (writing clearly, teaching, helping new people feel welcome), and the rest of our meeting might never know it. We hide it—not on purpose, not selfishly, but just because it never occurs to us that what we have might be of any value to the meeting.
What do you have that you could give? Can you make sure your faith community knows this? You don’t have to announce it with trumpets; it doesn’t have to come off like boasting. A simple, quiet, “I have some teaching experience and would be glad to offer that if it’s ever of use,” is a good start.
BEING INIGO MONTOYA
The other reason no one knows about Fezzik’s cloak has little to do with Fezzik and more to do with Inigo Montoya (and Westley, for that matter).
Westley looks right at Inigo Montoya when he asks, “What are our assets?”
And Inigo Montoya responds without even checking in with Fezzik. “Your brains, Fezzik’s strength, my steel…” (By “steel,” in case you haven’t seen the movie, he means his skill with a sword.)
The other men have pigeonholed Fezzik because he happens to be a giant. Fezzik is big; what he has is brute strength; “lifting heavy things” and “Fezzik” are synonymous. It’s so obvious to everyone what Fezzik brings to the table that they don’t even ask him. And therefore, they miss a part of what he has.
Do you pigeonhole anyone at your church? Is there an accompanist who you assume is “the person who plays music?” Is there an accountant who you assume is “the person who clerks the finance committee?” Do you think of one person as being too young too be helpful? Another as being too old?
Assumptions are incredibly easy to make, especially when a person has served long and skillfully in one particular position. But can you ask the question? Can you say, “Just out of curiosity…are there other things you’re good at or would like to try?”
When Inigo Montoya hears the question “what are our assets?,” he doesn’t even stop to think about it. He names the three most obvious assets—the assets that everyone knows about and that are right in front of him at that moment. He forgets about the wheelbarrow that he left in the woods. He fails to ask Fezzik if he’s missing anything. He’s not inclined to take time to really consider their assets, which one has to confess is idiotic for somebody preparing to storm a castle guarded by sixty men.
LIVING IN REALITY
We have princesses to rescue.
Obviously, no one of us is asked to save the world by ourselves. And yet collectively, the Religious Society of Friends is a covenant people charged with building the kingdom of God on Earth. This is not a small task. This will take miracles, and what I want to put forth today is that miracles do not happen when we declare them to be impossible.
Miracles come from reality. Reality is the stuff from which miracles are made.
When we’re open to it, God calls us to do things that may appear, at first, to be impossible. But as I’ve said, “impossible” gets us off the hook. The same goes for, “we could do this if we only had a wheelbarrow.” I mean, it’s okay to say that if you really do need a wheelbarrow, but if you don’t have one, you don’t get to spend the next twenty years lamenting your lack of a wheelbarrow. Find a pogo stick and get on with things!
We often ask the question, “What do we need in order to do this thing we’ve been called to do?”
But the better question is, “How will we do this thing with what we have been given?”
Miracles from come reality. They require a rigorous assessment of the assets at hand. Everything. The assets that are obvious, the assets that individuals might be unintentionally hiding, the assets that nobody ever noticed, even the assets that we’ve left behind someplace that might take a little time to go back and get. It’s a treasure hunt. It’s exciting. How do we get from here to there with what we’ve been given?
God doesn’t ask us to do things that are impossible. If something is genuinely impossible, then that must not be what God is asking us to do, at least right now. This is a fact. But too often, that fact is used to justify this kind of thinking:
1) What are the obvious assets we’ve given?
2) What can we do with those things?
3) Therefore, what we are called to do must be something on that list.
And that’s backwards. The miracles I’ve witnessed have happened this way:
1) What are we called to do?
2) Wow, that’s a big thing. But if that’s what we’re called to do, we must already have—or be about to be given—everything we need in order to do it.
3) So what do we have, and how can we use it in order to do this thing?
Miracles don’t fall out of the sky. Miracles come from reality. Which means reality, though often very difficult, isn’t an obstacle to miracles. It’s the stuff from which miracles are made.