A remarkable story emerged from the Second World War when the U.S. Marines employed the services of the Navajo Native Americans as "code talkers."
These men played a pivotal role in the Allied victory in the Pacific. The Japanese were skilled code breakers who consistently cracked the codes of the U.S. Army during the war. But they failed to break the code used by the Navajo Marines. In 1942 the Marine commanders were persuaded that the Navajo language, only spoken in isolated parts of the American Southwest, would be the perfect basis for an unbreakable code...
It has just gotten harder to keep up with the Joneses. A byword for those who are always ahead of us, "the Joneses" are those we strive to keep up with in life--and they have just set yet another standard. Joneses spread from the United States to Australia came together in Cardiff, Wales recently to beat the world record for the largest gathering of people with the same family name. At the center of the assembly was an evening of entertainment Jones-style, featuring pop star Grace Jones of Jamaica, and opera singers Dame Gwyneth Jones and Gwyn Hughes Jones of Wales. In all, 1224 Joneses came together, confusing hotel guest lists and dramatically increasing the likelihood of running into a Jones on the street. (Jones is already one of the most common surnames in Wales.) Hence, the Joneses now hold not only our competitive neighborly attention, but the Guinness World Record to go along with it.
The familiar maxim "keeping up with the Joneses" depicts the competitive, though often subtle, nature of materialism, advancement, or accomplishment. We keep tabs on the status and stature of our neighbors; we keep a careful eye on those we deem in front of us in some way. At times this is our literal neighbor; other times it is an ever-changing, ghostly image of excellence, happiness, or success.
But contrary to what the phrase suggests, keeping up with the Joneses is not about keeping up with a particular person or family. It is not about the Joneses at all. It is about keeping up with the idol in front of us. Bypassing one Jones, we will find another ahead. It is a pursuit without a real goal, for it is a pursuit with another end always in sight. In this race, even the Joneses themselves cannot rest in their status or trust in their records. The Guinness Book of World Records will always have another edition on its way to print.
If we could step back from our current pursuit would we see its absurdity? Would we admit the fleeting nature of success and fame and treasure? Would we divulge the weariness that arises within the incessant human desire to keep up with the elusive Joneses? Perhaps it is true, as a wise man once said, that many of our curious ways are a meaningless chasing after the wind.
But this man also said there is one pursuit worthy of our days:
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"... Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.(Ecclesiastes 12:1-7).
There are many fleeting things in this world, including the grumblings of our own appetites, including the Joneses. But He who made the Joneses withstands the test of time.
Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
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