The midwife was pushing on my abdomen, trying to get little baby T. to turn and face us on the screen. The baby had other ideas. It was turning flips, waving arms - doing anything possible to keep us from seeing who it was. What a sign of things to come!
And the midwife said, "Uncooperative and upside down!"
Of course, when we say that a baby is upside down in the womb, we mean that it is right side up according to the world - right side up according to the world is wrong side up according to infant biology . . . because babies are ideally born upside down - head first, feet pointing up.
Have you ever considered this? That our very first view of the world should be counter cultural to the core?
Yes - we come into the world already humbled. It's our natural state . . . and little by little we are taught to grow out of what was right to begin with. We grow out of it until we are old enough - wrinkled and bent enough - to grow back into it again.
Recently my father looked at me and said, "Parent care is much harder than child care."
Maybe it's because children have need of our care and they know that they do. Nobody has taught them to be anything less than trusting of it as a fact - I need my mother and so she will be there - but when we are grown we no longer believe that we are under anybody's care. Even when we need the care of somebody else it's hard to accept. It hurts our pride. Our pride is precious to us.
I have always loved the look of anything blooming - not things that have already bloomed . . . not flowers completely unfurled. I like the look of things that are in the process of blooming - the process of being born.
It's appropriate for a teacher to love something like that. Our whole job is to help young children grow into themselves, and they always leave our care before they're done changing.
Upside down. Backward. Strange. I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is backward, upside down, and counter to our culture.
"I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous? . . . so the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20: 14-16
Jesus talked there about something that almost hurts our sense of justice - What do you mean you'll give the last guy the same as I get??? I've been in Sunday school my whole life? What's the deal, man?
Becoming successful and earning respect are highly prized in our society. We believe that one's ability to own things is very important. It shows in every stage of our development -every aspect of what's considered to be a "normal" life.
Think about it.
We crawl to start with and are encouraged to walk. Once we can walk, someone encourages us to learn to walk faster and steadier. Then at some point it's not even a matter of being steady on our feet. Someone suggests that we should "walk tall" and "be proud." Yeah, it's typical human development . . . but it suggests a deep symbolism.
Having our first child.
Buying a car.
Buying a house.
Getting a promotion.
We believe that we earn all of these things by the work of our hands and by our own merit. And we believe that we have a right to them. We tend to believe that a good and "successful" experience of life is something that we deserve. And if we believe in God, we often will suggest to others (and ourselves) that God wants us to have these things - even that God will give them to us because we've been good.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
I love this list of opposites.
"They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." - it's everything a person could hope for. All of us ragamuffins . . . all of us who have lied, who have taken what was somebody else's . . . all of us who are recovering perfectionists . . . all of us who have gossiped in the coffee room. All of us who have been labeled. All of us who have labeled other people. Rich and poor. Successful and unsuccessful. We won't be harming or destroying each other anymore.
Back to the garden.
Back to the womb.
The undignified sign that all of this is possible came into the world upside down like the rest of us - Jesus.
Every time that we tell God, "It's ok. I'm ok with being last in line. I trust that it's ok to not be famous. I trust that it's ok to not be rich. I see the importance of these other people you've made. I love them. I'll serve them," we are making it happen. We are becoming characters in the story then.
My life will be found lacking when I'm gone. I know it. All of our lives will be. But we weren't put here to earn our way. If we all had to prove ourselves good and worthy in order to complete Creation, we'd be up a creek without a paddle. We could never do it.
Yes, it's true - our Goodness will never be enough. Our own merit isn't part of the equation that gives us the Grace answer. But let's not pretend that this is a good old evangelical excuse for trampling all over other people "because Jesus will make up for it" . . . in fact, it's the exact opposite of that.
No amount of polish before my peers will make me look any different to God. No amount of puffing up over others will make me stand better with Him. No amount of talking down to someone about their kids will make my kids any better. No amount of squelching someone else's talent will make my talent any more than it is. Jesus has been trying to set us free from this kind of behavior.
I can't be good enough by earning anything from other people.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:1-4
This isn't giving us permission to disregard the pursuit of loving others better or being kinder. It is giving us permission to leave behind this culture's systems of measure. We can't equate the esteem of other people with God's esteem. It's the secret, quiet giving - giving out of the desire to show love rather than the desire to receive love.
Friends, can we get back to our upside down beginnings?
I'll try if you will.
"For all our strides, for all our blessings, we've fallen far away from you . . . we want to be your hands and feet. Without words, we'll let our actions speak."
We can let something silent teach us how to be humble again.