Who is Your Nemesis?

By Graham Glover

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I hear a lot these days about the importance of having a mentor. We are told that we need someone who can help counsel, advise, and otherwise guide us in our chosen vocations, relationships, or faith formation. There is certainly goodness in having a mentor. Like most, I have a few individuals that I turn to when various questions about life confront me. These are trusted confidants who offer valuable insight that I typically would not – or could not – glean on my own.

So by all means, embrace your mentor, or if you don’t have one – find one, and learn from their wisdom.

But what about a nemesis? Do you have one of those? If not, I suggest you find one to play a similar role in your life. It’s time, if you haven’t already done so, to consider identifying that person (or persons) who is your nemesis. These should be people with whom you have sharp disagreements. They can be people you compete against or just individuals that stand in opposition to some belief or deed you hold dear. It’s even ok for these folks to be friends. Yeah, that’s right, your nemesis can be someone you like.

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Unclear what I have in mind? Think back to your younger days and recall that person who was your rival in a particular activity: that person you competed with for a spot on the team, a part in the play, or with whom you always disagreed in class. Nobody coming to mind? Then consider your station in life today. Who among those that you know really gets to you? Who do you long or dread debating a topic important to you? Who do you consider your rival? Your nemesis can be someone at work, a neighbor, a classmate, or even a close relative. If you can’t think of someone, I suppose it can also be a group of people, but the personal connection – as with your mentor – makes the role of the nemesis that much more valuable.

In high school my nemesis was a debate team (go ahead and insert lame joke here) from a school we competed against almost every weekend. These guys were good. Really good. For a couple of years they beat my debate partner and me at every competition. They outshined us on the state and national level everywhere we went. We wanted nothing more than to beat them and worked tirelessly to do so. We learned our nemesis’ strengths and weaknesses. We didn’t particularly like them. They were arrogant pricks. Still, they were good. We knew it and so did they. But things changed during our senior year when we finally beat them. A lot. Ultimately, they made us better debaters. We never became friends. I guess we respected them. But they were clearly our nemesis, and I contend it was that role that made my partner and I better ourselves.

Years later, I continue to have a nemesis is several aspects of my life. From my time at the seminary to today, there are peers within the LCMS who make my head spin. They clearly don’t share my “catholic” tendencies and regularly admonish me for reminding them that Lutherans are not Protestants. We have debated one another on what it means to be a Lutheran from the classroom, to Circuit Winkels, to District and Synodical Conventions, and now on The Jagged Word. For the past 7 ½ years I have had a nemesis or two (or twelve) in the Chaplain Corps as well. The differences here aren’t necessarily ones of doctrine (although those are almost always prevalent), but of style and vocational emphases. It may sound trivial but these differences can be quite divisive. I contend, however, that these vocational nemeses have made me a better pastor and chaplain. These nemeses of mine regularly challenge me. They question me. If they are good, they rebuke me in private and even in public. The point is that we represent different things. We believe in different things. Sometimes we really don’t like one another, even though we are pastors and chaplains.

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But I value the role of my nemeses almost as much as I do my mentors. My nemeses may not teach me what to do, rather what not to do. They don’t represent what I want to be, but what I don’t ever want to become. Still, I could not define myself, I could not refine myself, if I didn’t have individuals to stand in opposition to those things I value. Call them rivals, foes, or adversaries. How you classify them isn’t important. What is important though is you have one, or two, or three, or…

Find your nemesis. Identify them. Challenge them. Debate them. Rebuke them. And as you do so, recognize the critical role they play in helping you become the person you are and yet may become.

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