An opening at the very bottom of an ancient stone column in England baffled archeologists, that is until they discovered that it marked the sun’s nadir, the darkest day of the year. Even if only a sliver, the ancient calendar makers got excited for they knew that the very next day, after the darkest day, light would start inching its way up the column. And in my bare garden, even now in January, an errant tomato seed might hint at motion, perhaps a tiny genetic twitch.
The prophet Isaiah’s stirring words to the Israelites in captivity “Arise, shine for your light has come…” resonated with me this year as never before. Might our political darkness recede—from pushing down to lifting up, from denigration to celebration, hurting to healing, division to unification, deflation to inspiration? A new, young and buoyant Congress has arrived in town, a Congress seemingly unafraid to challenge, unafraid to craft legislation to reduce gun violence, legislation for the poor, the sick, the refugee and the prisoner. They are in town and unafraid to speak. Here in our long night do we glimpse dawn?
And what might be the basis of that dawn? Having spent a lifetime working with children, youth and families and the health (or lack thereof) of communities in which they live, I think our galvanizing authority just might be kids—the next generation.
Think about children through the eyes of a parent or grandparent: When you see a child or hold a child, what does it do to you? Your voice goes up. You start playing finger games you’ve never thought about in your life; you make faces. You are changed. Love, nurturing, protection are engendered. No, better: You are commissioned. You act.
This is not power, for power does necessarily mean authority. In the Trump era power conveys force, coercion, a power that preys on the weak, stokes fear. We have witnessed this daily since 2016: power based on its accrual only for self, not the “other,” power as domination, power with no claim to the best in us, power that yields only to a power perceived as greater (read Putin). Let’s not confuse power with authority.
Contravening all conventional wisdom, our authority as Christians comes from a child—a child who didn’t enter the world with pageantry, trumpets blaring, an army marching or a credo pompously read. This child arrived during the fifteenth year of the reign of the elegantly titled Tiberius Caesar (who remembers that guy?) in accommodations worse than Motel 6. As the Rev. William Coffin points out, “We come to the child to become adults.” Babies elicit compassion, spur our need to protect them, and they knock us loopy because we’ve fallen in love.
What if our authority did stem from our concern for children—what we would leave them not us? Children, although weak and helpless, hold a commanding, irresistible authority like none other: they fill us with love and they move our feet. Should this not be the base of our authority: to protect, nurture, provide children a world whose air they can breathe, water they can drink, safe, supportive communities where they don’t have to worry about being shot, vibrant, caring schools, medicine when sick?
Thirteen years ago my first granddaughter was born in San Antonio, Texas. I was there for the joyous birth, and then flew to Mexico for a speaking engagement. Then I got a panicked call. My granddaughter had been rushed to the ICU. Could I return, now?
I did. But I got only as far as Dallas. There, the agent curtly informed me that there were no seats available on the next flight to San Antonio. None. “Sir, I told you there are no seats.” I pleaded—my first grandchild; trouble; distraught parents, my son. After my protestations and pleadings and the agent’s firm, cold denials, it suddenly became quiet. The agent without saying a word, spread out in front of me—as smoothly as a casino dealer in Vegas—six small photographs. “What’s this?” No answer; she busily doing something on the other side of the counter. “What’s this?” She stood up. “These are my grandchildren.” Pointing, she proudly introduced each one to me by name. “I understand. I have six, but this is your first. You have a seat. First class. Move! You have five minutes.” My powers of persuasion didn’t get me the seat—a grandmother summoning her six grandkids did.
Light slowly crawls up the ancient columns. The new congress has started to use its “power.” If this power is rooted in our kids, the next generation, the world they are to inhabit, the world for which they will be stewards, this will be a power grounded in legitimate authority, authority that sustains, authority that guides, authority that inspires…authority rooted in them, not us.