Funny to see this today, after yesterday's entry...
“Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig.”
I suspect that when Leon Bloy wrote that famous line, he was not thinking of himself as a hero. Perhaps the other one. If so, it might have been of some comfort to him to discover that actually there are no heroes in the kingdom of God.
At least Jesus didn’t seem to think so. That is, if “hero” is taken in its common sense: a great person who we can look to as a model and source of hope. Jesus resisted even being called “good” himself. “Why do you call me good?” he said. “No one is good but God alone.” (Mk 10.18) And Jesus taught his followers to respond the same way. Should they expect admiration for living the life he taught them?
“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Lk 17.9-10)Jesus turned our attention away from heroes, people we’re inclined to admire, and away from the admiration of other people, and directed our attention towards God. No one is good but God alone. You have only done what you were ordered to do. It is not the servant but the master who is the source of any goodness, and the source of hope. Later, Jesus used imagery of vine and branches to present this even more clearly:
“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15.4-5)
It is God who is good, and who brings good into the world. Not heroic people. The apostle Paul taught the same thing when some in the early church started choosing heroes for themselves:
When one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor 3.4-7)God even intentionally chose servants who were not great, wrote Paul, not admirable, not heroic:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1.27-31)
What matters is not human greatness or heroism. Those are more of a hindrance than a help to the followers of Jesus. What matters is the God who is the source of goodness and life. To live as a child of his kingdom, inspired by God in our actions big and small, noticed or unnoticed, this is all that matters.
When Jesus was asked about John the baptizer, he acknowledged that John was a hero of his time: “I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John.”
“Yet,” said Jesus, “the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Lk 7.28)
After a rerun last year, I managed to come up with a new haiku for Christmas this year. How I see the story from where I'm at this year:
A dirty shepherd
stumbling through the stable door
Our cat died last night, a victim of a neighbor's stray dog. We're sorry to lose her. We talked about memories of Claire today and buried her in the flower bed behind our house (where she liked to lay in the summer). And I remembered this entry from six years ago:
I think Heather finally convinced the cat to make our back yard her home. Claire (the cat) used to live in the valley, but her owners are moving to the city and can't take her along. So we've been trying to lure her up to our place. But even with our feeding her only up here, Heather had to bring the cat up at least ten times. She's a skittish cat and kept wandering back down to her old home, where she felt secure, even though there was no food there.
With patience, though, and a lot of coaxing and stroking, I think we convinced her that we'll take good care of her up here. She even caught two mice the other day, which probably makes this place more attractive as well. I think it will be a much better life for her here, with more attention and care and more territory to explore (without trucks and tractors roaring through). I was beginning to think we'd have to give up, and was frustrated that she seemed to prefer to starve rather than move to a new territory. But she's spent the last two nights here now.
It made me think, too, that we're usually a lot like that cat. We're being offered a life that is much better for us but we cling to our comfortable habits and places that make us feel secure just because they are known. We are so slow to trust. Especially when we are so used to just scraping by, and the offer seems too good to be true.
But God is patient and persistent with his offer.
I think I’ve distilled a little more about our glorification of the “adult,” productive part of life. It starts early, that seems clear. Partly because children have a distorted view of their parents’ capabilities. It seems to them as if their parents are all-knowing and all-powerful, and that’s what they expect of adults. And they yearn to have that kind of power themselves. By the time they are in their twenties, people usually don’t see their parents as all-powerful, but this is often because they are flush with their own growing capabilities and think they can correct the failings of the generation before them.
Again, it’s a mistaken view of how capable or powerful adults can be. When we’re kids we admire and long for it, as young adults it seems to be coming to fulfillment, and it’s not until maybe middle age that our limitations become undeniable. Relative to children and the elderly, yes, people in the “prime” of their lives are more capable. But we still can’t solve all the problems (sometimes it seems like we can solve very few of them). And we can’t just do anything we dream, anywhere we dream of doing it. There’s lots of frustration and burnout in trying, and everyone experiences lots of failures in life. But we don’t usually see clearly how limited we are until quite a way down life’s road.
And even then, there’s reasons to keep up the illusion of heroic “adults.” The next generation is now looking up to us with admiring eyes. And people are looking for role models to inspire them. I suspect the inspiring picture presented of most role models isn’t quite the whole truth, but it’s for a good cause, right? And society as a whole promotes the idea of capable human beings, able to overcome our problems, especially if people work together. It helps people to hope, right?
The big drawback is that the hope is directed towards a mistaken image, rather than the truth. So there’s confusion and frustration and guilt when we don’t become the heroic adults we believed we would be (or should be). And when many of the problems of our lives persist despite all our efforts.
Then there’s the spiritual side of this. The image of capable, heroic adults focuses our hope and trust on them (us). It doesn’t help us direct our hope towards God and encourage dependence on him. It’s not surprising, then, that Jesus wasn’t like the usual image of a capable hero. And that he said we must turn and become like children to enter the kingdom of God.
If we expected to be “like children” our whole lives, not heroic or even “in charge” but continually looking for guidance and help our whole lives, then we’d be a lot closer to the truth and closer to God. And there would be more of a continuity in our lives. Not a pre-life and post-life tacked on to our prime “adult” years, but practicing the same dependence the whole way. Learning to turn that dependence towards God, and to never turn away.
I haven’t had a lot of time for focused thinking and writing these days. But maybe that’s not so important. I say that because of this little something that’s been nagging at me lately.
For quite a while I’ve believed that my life began sometime in my college years. My real life. Everything before that had been my pre-life, just a preparation, gathering the necessary materials for a life, while being mostly just an accessory in someone else’s life. Then gradually I woke up and my life began. It was when I became aware, and could start making free, conscious choices of my own, when I could begin to shape my own unique identity through the actions, the path, I was choosing. My life began.
Now, though, I wonder if that belief was just another form of the common assumption that the productive “adult” part of our lives is the part that really matters. The middle part, when people are at the peak of their powers. When they are inventing and building things and managing households and businesses and nations. The part when these people are running, and “saving,” the world. This is the part of people’s lives that is reported in the news and written about in history books. The important part of human life.
But, being in that part of life, while spending most of my time caring for people who are not in that part of life, I’m beginning to wonder. The assumed “important” part of life is usually less that half of it. Maybe a third. Is childhood and old age, the majority of our years, just preface and afterword to the “real” story of our lives?
Is that what God had in mind, in creating human life like it is? From what I’ve seen, God doesn’t have the highest view of people “at the peak of their powers.”
I’m going to let this nag at me some more...
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
Saw this in an article about a new U2 album that was given away free (to a half million iTunes users) at an Apple event. Apparently Apple paid for that album:
“We were paid,” Bono [said]. “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”I don't get it. People should pay for sacraments? Or getting paid makes it more holy, in his opinion?