I’ve never really had any brushes with greatness. You know, the kind of thing where you bump into Jerry Seinfeld at a cash machine in New York. Once, however, I did sit next to a guy who was part of the sixties rock group, The Turtles. We were on a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit and struck up a conversation. The Turtle-man regaled me with stories of his days with Dick Clark’s Caravan of the Stars. He said it really messed with his head to be eighteen years old and touring the country with rock and roll superstars of the day. I guess being turned into a god overnight had some side-effects he hadn’t reckoned on. One of them was an inflated view of self, a problem that plagued him forty years later. In fact, as we got off the plane I realized we had spent hours talking almost exclusively about him.
Fame and power are the two most basic human instincts. They are, at their core, the desire to be known and the desire to be in control. There is a kind of adrenaline rush you get when someone you’ve never met knows you (unless it’s a stalking situation). Most of us like to see who’s checking us out on Facebook, right? We like to know who’s looking at our profile. I must have gotten dozens of the forward that says, “I could not believe it, when you press forward, you see the person who views your profile the most.” It makes us feel good to be sought out like that.
Power has a similar draw. I am sure Obama and McCain are great guys, but the motivation for political office can only be the desire to control the destinies of people and institutions – albeit with benevolent designs, but it will be their benevolent designs. The desire for advance into influential roles in a corporate empire, or any other institution, is the same. We want control.
Maybe it’s God’s design, the design to have dominion over the earth. But I discern in myself something else at work - original sin. That quest for ascendency is encoded in our DNA. “You will be like God – you’ll be on His level; all you have to do is eat this.” It was the lie that tripped up Adam and Eve. And if we are not careful, you and I will end up sacrificing everything in our quest for ascendancy.
We live in an environment where poisonous fumes of wealth and power are putting us to sleep and quietly killing us. These dangerous invisible gasses permeate our churches and homes and schools and work places. Its spiritual carbon monoxide and we don’t even notice it. That’s why I like spending time in the developing world. I am able to get a whiff of unpoisoned air and my spirit begins to detoxify. I am able to think clearly about life and God and others. I think 75% of American Evangelical youth leave the faith as soon as they leave home because they haven’t been given pure spiritual air to breathe, something that confronts the draw to bigger your bank account or bigger your house or bigger your job or your Facebook friend circle. The west has not been shown the beauty of downward mobility.
If ever there were a person who really could have rightfully exercised absolute power over planet earth it was Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus humbled himself and submitted to those whom he created is a confounding mystery. Jesus could have entered humanity as a competent, independent, skilled adult. Instead he chose to submit to the messiness of human birth, infancy and childhood. He could have planted himself in the household of Caesar. Instead he chose to submit to poverty and obscurity, born of an unwed teenage peasant in an oppressed and forgotten corner of the Roman Empire. With mastery over nature Jesus could have assumed any profession, position, or office the world had to give. Instead, he chose to submit to years of labor in a “blue-collar” trade, growing up with either dust from cut stones in his lungs or wood shavings in his eyes. He also could have taken the world with a couple thousand legions of angels. Instead, he chose to submit to a few soldiers who stripped him naked, beat him publicly and then executed.
Jesus possessed the ultimate form of power, and submitted to the ultimate form of obedience. He modeled downward mobility, setting an example that we should follow “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” He said. For me it comes in a dozen little ways a week: In saying “no” to opportunities to speak and travel that might feed my upward hungry ego; in saying yes to spending time with people who will not make me famous or earn me money, those who won’t be able to repay me. These are my attempts to follow Christ into obscurity, poverty and incarnation.