Last month, I was in Las Vegas attending a writing conference for war veterans when I met an old warrior from Utah who introduced himself as a Pulitzer Prize nominee. The claim was odd because I knew I hadn’t seen his name on the recent Pulitzer press release.
But neither was he lying.
Like many who make this claim, he simply didn’t understand the definition of “nomination.” He assumed that since his self-publisher had paid $50 to “submit” his work to the Pulitzer committee, he’d been “nominated.” After I briefly explained to him that the words “nominated” and “submitted” are about as far apart as “lotto winner” is from “ticket purchaser,” he confessed ignorance.
“That’s OK,” I said. “You didn’t know.”
Happy to live with his mistake, he was consoled by the fact the Pulitzer claim had “sold a lot of books.” The old vet knew that telling the truth isn’t always convenient, but neither is it always profitable.
This was also the lesson learned by a young captain I met during one of my deployments. The young man came to my office to discuss some problems that developed with his new girlfriend during their shared deployment. The girlfriend had recently returned home, and he was anxious to follow her.
Problem No. 1 was that they’d been intimate, and General Order No. 1 forbids sexual contact in a warzone. It is a court-martial offense and punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the UCMJ.
Problem No. 2. Recently she had sent him some photos of her herself — nude photos. The same General Order No. 1 forbids possession of pornographic images.
Problem No. 3. Oh, and did I mention that his girlfriend was married? Adultery is also a court-martial offense.
Furthermore, our commander had declared constantly that crimes committed during deployment would be punishable in the warzone. If discovered, this man was looking at a six-month incarceration in our base brig.
I think I count only four problems, right? Oh, wait, it just gets worse.
The real problem was that his girlfriend’s husband had found the photos and was threatening to release them to the commander. See problems 1-4, above.
“What should I do?” he asked.
I wanted to tell him that sometimes stupid just can’t be fixed. Instead, I advised him much like I did the old soldier coveting a Pulitzer: “Lead with the truth.”
Not wanting to see him in jail, I advised him to call a lawyer. “Tell your commander what happened before the enraged husband squeals.”
With that advice, quiet erupted, and he soon left my office.
These incidents remind me of the rich playboy who offers a woman $1,000 for illicit relations.
When the woman indicated she’d be glad to discuss the terms, the playboy countered, “How about $500?”
“Absolutely not! What kind of woman do you think I am?” she asks.
“We’ve already established what kind of woman you are,” the man says. “We’re just haggling over your current price.”
Like the woman in the parable, the old vet wanted to be truthful, but not if it cost him book sales. The young captain fancied himself an officer, but not if it cost him a lover.
Perhaps these stories prove the cynical adage that everyone has their price, but I suspect you’d take better council from Jesus’ question: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”
Jesus knew that, at the end of the day, selling out who we are costs us everything.