A View from the Mountain
So, did you enjoy the Grammy Awards last weekend? Oh, the pageantry as star after star paraded onto the stage in their spectacular outfits, dazzling us with mega performances. Thrilling! As Ed Sullivan would say, for those who remember him, “It was a really big show.”
Now, some of you are staring at me with blank faces thinking “What Grammys?” Some of you enjoyed the show, and the younger folks are thinking, “That was last Sunday That was so like, yesterday.”
Nancy and I watched some it. Nancy watches because many of these artists are the people her students are into and it helps to have some idea what your students are talking about. Kim (Jolliffe) gets that. One of the requirements of teaching kindergarten is to know all about Paw Patrol! I watched the Grammy’s because it was on and lasted about 20 minutes.
The problem I had was all this ‘look at me,’ aren’t I special, aren’t your impressed languishing in the fame and self-aggrandizement that goes on. Okay, in this age of trying to be politically/culturally sensitive, I am adding a sensitivity clause here. I get that music is a multi-billion dollar industry that employs a lot of people. I am also the first person to support the need for the arts within our humanity. I believe it is the arts that gives a soul to our culture. Yes, we should respect and admire the works of the talented painters, poets, singers, song writers, dancers, choreographers and authors of our age. They provide the windows into our humanity.
But I’m just not sure we need to aggrandize them or their work into a spectacle that, quite honestly at times, is suggestive of soft porn just to shock us into getting attention paid to the performers. I honestly thought to myself as I was leaving the Grammys to find a good book, that just one of those performers’ dresses could feed a family in Ethiopia for a year. But, it’s what our society promotes. We are always being encouraged to look up. raise your eyes to bigger and better things. The sky’s the limit.
It is the hallmark of a competitive society. Bigger and better. We believe some jobs are more important than others. We look up to that mountain to people who have PH.D’s, and are MD’s and Rhode scholars.
We look up that mountain and see success and are inspired, indeed encouraged to push ourselves to obtain. I shall insert another sensitive clause here. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition. It helps us to realize our full potential and understand what we’re made of. God knows, there is nothing wrong with facing a few challenges in our lives.
Success is based on 10% inspiration and 90 % perspiration. God designed us to dream, to soar, to grow into holy and beautiful people. But there are inherent dangers in all this we need to be aware of.
The first being the inherent segregation it can promote. Winner, loser. Good, better, best and the attitudes that develop toward those at the base of the mountain. The second being a sense of entitlement, that the climbers, the winners, take it all. This sense of superiority became the foundation for the elitism of colonization, the foundation for slavery, the foundation for wall building and the ownership of resources.
The problem with mountain climbing is that it allows us to look down the mountain at those below, down on the people beneath us.
Along comes Jesus, as Jesus has a habit of doing, and the first words that come out of his mouth are, “Blessed are the poor.” What in the heck is he talking about because on this mountain there is nothing blessed about being poor? The blessed ones are on the top of the mountain with the fresh air and sunshine and the beautiful vistas of life. But Jesus says, “Woe to them.”
It is a good thing we committed ourselves to follow this guy because, at times like these, it would be so easy for us just to ignore him. He just doesn’t fit into our understanding of life.
So what do we do with Jesus’ words? We domesticate them. We make them more palatable. Even the gospel writer Matthew had trouble with Luke’s version of Jesus’ words. So he spiritualized them. “Blessed are the poor in heart.. “ Matthew writes. But that is not what Luke is saying. Notice in Luke’s gospel that instead of Jesus climbing up the mountain to give his sermon on the Beatitudes suggestive of a connection with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai,Luke has Jesus coming down the mountain to a level place. In Luke’s world, a level place meant a place of corpses, a place of disgrace, idolatry, of suffering and misery and hunger and annihilation and mourning.
That is the world Jesus walks into. Then surrounded by the sick, the lame, the orphans and widows, by those being oppressed by the Romans, he says, “Blessed are you poor for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Not, “… for yours will be the kingdom of God.” But, “… yours is the kingdom of God, now.” Sure doesn’t look like any God kingdom to me with all this suffering and pain. But what Luke is trying to say as clearly as he can here is that being blessed has nothing to do with living a comfortable , secure life. Being blessed means participating in the kingdom of God.
So first and foremost, Luke is saying to those whom the world has disregarded that no….you too are the children of God. You are not cursed. You are not expendable and you are not to be dismissed for I have come to lay down my life for you as well. I call you my friends.
Secondly, Luke is telling us that maybe, just maybe poverty may well be able to teach us some kingdom values, like its yielding of a temperance because it seeks not vain delights. Maybe poverty teaches humility. Maybe poverty teaches us that it is by the grace of God alone we all go forward in this life. But beyond all this, I think that Luke is trying to tell us that there are times in our lives when we need a new perspective in life. That maybe instead of looking up all the time we should take some time to look sideways, to look around us, beside us, in front of us.
This perspective never seems as clear as the view from the mountain because other things around us tend to blur our vision. You have to stand on your tippy-toes to see. Things and people are in our way.
Science finally has reaffirmed what archeologists have suspected for some time. That we all come from the same 98% . All humans across the face of this earth share 98% of the same genes, which means that every single culture shares the same genetic disposition towards intelligence, towards cultural development, towards community, towards family, towards everything. And, just because we develop differently, doesn’t mean that one is inferior to another. It means that how we live together is a matter of choice. And that’s a perspective from the mountain that we just don’t get.
We can’t understand why anyone would not want this spectacular view from the mountain! But when we walk down the mountain, we meet Mary Aqilriaq, an Intuit elder, who chooses to live in a tent on the only settlement on King William island; who chooses to live a nomadic life, and speak in a language which has no words for land ownership. No border walls protecting the possessions of some from the need of others.
It’s not that Mary is not wise, or doesn’t know. She chooses to live in respect and balance with the land, to believe that her quests upon Mother Earth are entitled to no more than it gives her. Elder Mary would wonder, as she looked upon the mountain we live upon, that we don’t see that this mountain is built upon resources that can not sustain itself. She would wonder why we make Mother Earth bleed, cutting off the hand that feeds us. And why we would build a culture upon a mountain that some just can not climb.
Level ground. It offers us a whole new opportunity to see things differently.