Parenting involves a lot of negotiation.
Which is why, on Thursday of winter break, I cut a deal with my children: you go with me to a gathering in the morning, and then we’ll spend the afternoon at the Museum of Science. Yes, I’m get you Dippin’ dots. Yes, we can go to the Imax theater.
The morning gathering was a Youth Rally for jobs. This was important to me as a former civics teacher; I love seeing teens speaking their minds to their congress-people. But I really wanted my kids there, too, to see that Church isn’t just about Sundays.
We gathered at Old South Church with hundreds of other people – mostly teens from Boston, Worchester, Lynn, New Bedford. Mostly people of color. “This is where Samuel Adams went to church,” said the young woman at the podium. My kids knw about Samuel Adams, so that made them sit up! The event was totally teen led – and each teen speaker was impressive, articulate, positive, and grateful. One person led us in a game called “stand up, sit down.” Stand up if you live in government-owned housing. Stand up if you plan to lead. Stand up if you intend to go to college. Stand up if you have a parent or guardian who is unemployed. Stand up if you know what SNAP is. As my children and I joined in, they began to see that we were in the minority on lots of those questions, and they asked me questions: What is SNAP? What does “incarceration” mean?
As the morning continued, I realized my deeper motivation for being there with my children. I want them to be able to connect across difference. I want them to see that they can have common cause with peers whose lives are very different from their own. I want them to use the enormous blessings they’ve been given not to take more for themselves but to give more to others.
In a world where extremists wage violence, I want them to know that all the descendants of Abraham and Sarah are part of one spiritual lineage. In a world where prejudice and fear divide and injure, I want them to assess others by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
In a world where they can hold a device in their hands which, through texting, twitter and other social media, allows them to narrow the range of people they are influenced by, I want them to desire and ability to connect with a wide range of people.
These things I want for my kids are so hard and so against the grain, and I am so aware of how often I miss the mark in modeling them. At 49, I am still such a work in progress when it comes to opening my heart and mind to the wide range of God’s people.
I am still learning to “lose my life” as Jesus says in today’s gospel, in order to find it.
What is our “life”?
Our lives, we are taught, are ours. We construct them, and we protect them, and we compete with others to make them longer, healthier, and safer. Our lives, conventionally understood, are like a safety deposit box, guarded and fireproof and only we hold the key. If we are good, some day when we die, that box will end up in heaven. We will have “saved” our life – protected it against all toils and snares.
But Jesus’s message in today’s gospel is that that is not life. And living a life like that will not save you in any meaningful way.
Our lives are not ours. We come into this world as relational beings, and we are dependent. Real life is about connection. Real life involves risk and curiosity and a giving of oneself and willingness to be given to. We will begin to live when we let go of the illusion that we can or should be an island unto ourselves. We begin to live when we understand ourselves as part of a greater web of relationships. We begin to live when we know that our salvation begins here and now with a handshake, with a prayer for our enemies and those who wish us harm, with saying “I’m sorry,” or “Tell me how you see things so I can learn from you.”
This is so important that Mark put it right in the middle of his gospel. It is the hinge of the story, for Mark.
In today’s gospel. Jesus explains to Peter and others that life is not what they thought it was. Jesus explains that he will be arrested and tried and killed, and then rise again. That’s life.
“That’s not life!” Peter responds! Life is about sticking around on earth as long as possible, and getting as much power and glory and goods for yourself as you can. Life is about your prestige, your status, your tribe or people, your long and impressive resume. Life is about feeling as good about yourself as you can by feeling bad about other people. Life is a zero sum game.
No. Jesus invites us to a new life – One in which we make ourselves vulnerable to others, sacrifice for others, connect and connect and connect more, take the risk of having our opinions changed or our hearts strangely warmed or our sense of self dislodged. Life is about us. And not just us but the broadness of God’s people in all their glory – like countless stars in the sky.
Have you found yourself in tears reading a news report about someone on the other side of the world? That’s life. Have you spoken up for someone whose dignity was threatened? That’s life. Have you confessed that you have sinned against your neighbor through things left undone? That’s life. Have you found yourself breaking bread and sharing wine with people whose opinions and abilities and taste in music are very different from you. That’s life.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.