From Isaiah 40:
It is God who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them,
and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off
After elections, or any change of leadership, our attention often turns to the new people in charge. Maybe hopefully, maybe in frustration. But I think we should turn our eyes to those going away, and remember God's promise.
We're thinking of trying evening prayer together regularly and I'd like to use this song by David Haas, based on Mary's magnificat (Lk 1.46-55). It's sung to the tune of the Scottish folk song "Wild Mountain Thyme":
My soul is filled with joy
as I sing to God my Saviour:
you have looked upon your servant,
you have visited your people.
And holy is your name
through all generations!
Everlasting is your mercy
to the people you have chosen,
and holy is your name!
I am lowly as a child,
but I know from this day forward
that my name will be remembered
and the world will call me blessèd.
I proclaim the pow'r of God!
You do marvels for your servants;
though you scatter the proud-hearted
and destroy the might of princes.
To the hungry you give food,
send the rich away empty.
In your mercy you are mindful
of the people you have chosen.
In your love you now fulfill
what you promised to our fathers.
I will praise the Lord, my Saviour.
Everlasting is your mercy.
That's a line from one of my favorite movies, Big Night. A few weeks ago we had dinner at the Chestnut Street Inn (where Heather is now gardener) and they were serving the fantastic menu from that movie. One of the great food movies. I've been meaning to write about the meal, because it was quite an experience. And free, given for all Heather's work in their garden.
The dinner was seven courses. The first was crostini with herbed fresh goat cheese, roasted pepper, crispy kale and balsamic. Then a spicy minestrone soup, followed by seafood risotto, parmesan risotto, and pesto risotto (made with arugula Heather grew for them), arranged in three stripes like an Italian flag. Next, an unusual dish, timpano, which means drum. It's made with hard boiled eggs, meatballs, mozzarella, genoa salami, marinara sauce and penne encased in a very large pasta blanket, baked and then turned out and sliced. My favorite course was the Wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon with moscato grape sauce. And then cornish hens with parmesan roasted asparagus. In the movie, this was followed by a suckling pig, but our hosts wisely skipped this course. The dessert was tiramisu, made with ladyfinger biscuits soaked in coffee, smooth and creamy mascarpone cheese, and chocolate. I'm a little amazed we made it through it all (any more would have sent us to God). Really great food.
This means a lot to me because Heather really enjoyed meals like these when she was growing up in France. Here, it's hard to find anyone cooking like this, much less afford it on what we live on. And yet God has provided this treat for her anyway.
With the baby coming in about three months now, I've found myself a little nervous about questions of identity. Needing to clarify who I am, what's important to me, what my life's about.
Part of it, I'm sure, is that having a child will be a big change in our life, and I'm sure I'll be letting go of some things I've gotten used to. I just want to make sure I don't inadvertently let go of what's most important to me. Another part of it, I think, is that becoming a "father" seems like a big identity change, or it feels like it's supposed to be. With that, there's the thought of how the kid will see me, and also what example and values do I hope to offer to my son. Those all seem like identity questions.
Struggling with these questions a few days has brought me back again and again to thoughts about being the anawim. The poor, weak ones who trust God to be their help. That's been central to my identity as a follower of Jesus. I see that as the identity Jesus himself took. There seems to be a tension, though, between that identity and traditional image (in any culture) of what a "father" is. A father provides and protects. A father is strong. A father is who the poor, weak ones look to for help. But that's not a role reversal that I want to undergo. Jesus' words come to mind: "Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven... and you are all brothers and sisters." (Mt 23.8-9)
But while there does seem to be a tension between the usual image of fatherhood and the identity of the anawim, I don't see a big conflict in the actual care of and relationship with a child. I foresee many occasions in parenting that will lead me to a place of need and helplessness, where I'll be crying out to God. And a child is the very image Jesus gave for those who would enter his kingdom. The image of the meek and lowly anawim. Those I have wanted to both care for and be like.
All this points to being a father who is not a hero, or a god, for my child. But discovering together what it is to become children who utterly trust their loving Father.
As I've gotten older, I've become more aware of the "fourth dimension." Time. How things and people change with the passage of years. I'm trying to see people less statically, and more as what they simply are now, which is not exactly what they have been or what they will be.
One of the more difficult effects of time to accept, for me, is the common process by which younger people rise to take over positions of power from their predecessors. Those challenging authority become the authorities. And then they almost always end up nearly identical in their use and misuse of that power as those before them.
People who are very critical of power when others have it can become surprisingly understanding when it's put in their hands. When they see the chance to use that power for "good." Then it turns out the ends may justify the means after all.
That's my problem. When those who challenged authority with me become the authorities, then that power is seen by them as a good thing, useful now that it's in the right hands. That's where it feels like I lose them. Because I don't want to make use of their "useful" new influence, and I don't have any interest in working for the survival of the organization, which is now a central part of their job description. So I see little opportunity for collaboration, and experience a loss of the friendship feeling of working towards a common goal.
And what's most upsetting is that it seems so universal, it happens over and over and over, with each change of "leadership." So is this loss inevitable?
Yes, I suppose it is. People who will reject power when it's offered to them are quite rare. It's a depressing thought. Until you remember that others are changing in time also. New people are stepping into the places that the others have stepped out of. New collaborators are rising up to challenge the institutional authority that in its nature remains the same, though different hands wield it (or are wielded by it). As some wine skins harden into the organization, the new wine is poured into fresh skins. God's Spirit of freedom "blows where it will." So it's important to keep looking for and embracing that Spirit, where it's appearing next. That's where I'll find co-workers and the friendship of a common goal. I need to trust God to provide them, like I was telling my friend last week.
And I also need to remember that time continues to change people. The experience of being in positions of power is one of the best arguments against it. So I'll also look for the Spirit's return, and the chance to be co-workers again.
From a letter to a friend:
...I think I understand about the desire for an inspiring Christian community. Although, as you noticed (I think), often communities that seem great from one vantage point turn out to have a darker side when seen from within, or when we get a little older and more experienced. I'm actually glad, in a way, that the community I'm in now is weak and not very unified. Because it makes them a lot more flexible and willing to allow differences. Often "unity" and strong community spirit lead easily to oppressive practices and the expulsion, in one way or another, of those who don't fit in (including those who don't fit in for good reasons).
The only community that is truly unified and not oppressive is the one body of Christ. But I don't see us getting a full or homogeneous experience of that here, in the sense that the community we're in will always be a mixed one (even the same person is sometimes with Christ and sometimes against). Like in the wheat and tares parable. And the attempts to try to institutionally mimic the true body always show themselves false eventually, often catastrophically so. That's been my experience anyway.
But I believe we can experience the body of Christ here and now, and so satisfy our current needs for fellowship and inspiration. It just won't be in a massive, homogeneous group. And it won't be the same for everyone. It will be here and there, "where two or three are gathered," God showing us his people when we need them, letting us know the body is real and present. Just mixed in, and so not easily identifiable. The more we know what to look for, the better we can recognize it, I think. This seems better to me, too, because there isn't the temptation to try to leverage the power of a large group of people. And it's also a community without centralized human leadership, so it's easier to see the common spirit and cooperation as coming from God's spirit directing all the parts of the body. That's inspiring to me.