We live in excitable and noisy times. Our heads are daily filled with big ideas, big objections, big reactions, big fears…
I’ve been trying to pay attention to smaller things.
I spent Inauguration Day reconnecting with a friend in the Rocky Mountains. We talked about life, church, marriage, kids, sports, theology. We talked about some of the painful things that accumulate once you reach a certain stage of life. We drank coffee and walked around Banff. We sat in the hot springs and talked about good books that we had read.
We didn’t watch any of the spectacle or all the noise that followed in its wake.
At times, I felt like I was missing something, like I should be keeping up with who was saying what, like I should have something to say… But these feelings wore off as the day went on.
My teenage son loves music. He spends hours on his guitar or on his phone creating stuff on garage band. EDM is his favourite. He made a song and posted it online. “It only has four views,” he says. He’s smiling while he says it, but I suspect that it kinda hurts.
I try to find words to provide a bit of perspective or comfort or humour or something. I tell him that I’ve been blogging for ten years and I don’t have nearly the following that all kinds of famous bloggers do. He smiles. “Yeah, but more than four, right?” I smile back, but there’s a bit of a lump in my throat…
I know how hard it is for kids to separate their self-worth from what the Internet reflects back to them. Adults, too, for that matter. I know how hard it is to spend time creating something; putting yourself out there, and having it barely create a ripple.
I said a silent prayer for him and for kids growing up in a world where they are being daily conditioned to view themselves as an online commodity to be poked and prodded, insulted and evaluated, shamed and praised for all the wrong reasons.
I told him that I really liked his song.
We went to A&W for hamburgers. Looked at their signs about antibiotic-free beef and packaging with green leaves on them. Talked about advertising and how big corporations seek to stake out moral territory in our brains. Talked about how perception is reality, about “alternative facts.” Talked about how public claims to virtue are becoming the most hotly contested arenas in our world.
Neither one of us looked at our phones. It was a good talk. We smiled and we laughed.
A woman in our community died recently. Her life was… small. Few possessions, small circle of friends, a history of struggles and sorrows, a quiet and unobtrusive life. By most outward appearances—most of the ways that we evaluate the significance of a human life—hers was one that created barely a ripple.
She requested that there be no funeral. I guess she wanted to just fade away. But tonight our community will gather for a simple time to remember. There will be prayer, scripture, maybe a few stories. It doesn’t seem right to let a life just fade away, with no opportunity to mark, to mourn, to give thanks for the ways in which this life touched ours, to lament the ways in which we may have failed this life, to say that this life, like all lives, was a gift of God and that it mattered.
A human life is a small thing. Even for those who manage to leave their mark in all the ways that we tend to admire and praise. We are a vapour, dust, a breath, here today, gone tomorrow, eminently forgettable. And yet these tiny little human lives are where the image of God is pleased to dwell. “The Word became flesh,” it says in John’s gospel. Maybe we could also say, the Word became small, ordinary, easy to ignore or ridicule or forget.
We are drawn, like moths to a flame, to the big, the important, the noisy, the influential, the powerful, the eloquent and the entertaining. We like big and important things and to be thought of as big and important people. But God invites us into smaller things, as this Sunday’s lectionary texts remind us.
Micah 6:8: And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 5: Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
1 Corinthians 1:20: Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
A bunch of holy fools committed to meekness, mourning, and righteousness won’t grab many headlines or get many “views.” Peacemaking and purity aren’t very attractive or lucrative in a world entertaining itself to death with sex and violence. Kindness and humility won’t get much of a hearing amidst the cacophony of crude shouting matches that so often pass for public discourse. These are not very marketable lives. They’re too small for the big and noisy world we have created.
But maybe smaller things are just what we could all use right now.
“Smaller things” are always how “bigger things” are born. Our diets, our actions, our internet posts … they all add up to a calculus that bears out in large print in the macro-world. What we do matters. All of us matter.
Thanks for your post.
Well said, Shawn.
Thank you. This is a beautiful, touching meditation. A human life, I am told, does not have infinite value, but it has irreducible value, value that cannot be taken away. I think of my mother who will be 92 soon. All her possessions now consist of a chair she sits in and sleeps in, a small TV, some old photographs, a few oil paintings, a cabinet her father made, and less and less of her mind and memory. She is waiting now to be reunited with my father, whom she lost 35 years ago. Each time I visit her, she reminds me of what is irreducibly valuable in her and in each life.
Thank you, Chris. I like the distinction you make between “infinite” and irreducible” value. Yes, value that cannot be taken away…
I wish you all the best as you care for your mother.