Holding the Tension

Over the last few weeks, the news headlines have provided a striking contrast.

On one hand, we have seen the terribly deep darkness of humanity on display — first, with the Colorado Theater Shooting and second, with the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting.

On the other hand, we have seen the absolute glory of human beings on display both in the olympics and also with the landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars.

There is within us both of these elements: darkness and glory.

  • We are nothing and yet, we are most definitely something.
  • We are Fallen and yet, still made in the image of God.
  • We are stuck (for now) in the flesh, and yet, alive in the Spirit.
  • We are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve and yet, we are heirs and co-heirs with Christ.

Psalm 8 speaks to this dichotomy, this dialectic, this duality:

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
2Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (and part of what it means to be human) is that we have to hold the tension between the two realities of who we are.  We often have difficulty holding that tension.  We reduce the tension in one direction or another.

  • some of us are terrified of being something and would much rather see ourselves as nothing … with God as everything.
  • Others of us forget that we are Fallen.  We are self-absorbed and puffed up, failing to see that we are cracked pots that hold treasure inside.

And at various times in life, we reduce the tension as we form opinions of those around us.  We see them either as perfect or as perfect … scumbags.   We either esteem people as more than they are or write them off completely because “they don’t have a compassionate bone in their body.”

But the reality is that every single one of us is both:

  • We are nothing compared to God and His Majesty, and yet, in the created order, we are a little lower than God.
  • We are imperfect and yet, somehow made in the image of God.
  • We are Fallen and fleshly, and yet, the light of the world, ambassadors for Christ, citizens of heaven, ministers of reconciliation.

Somehow, we have to hold the tension between the two.  Over and over again, we are tempted to reduce the tension.  We give in, on one side, to pride and, on the other side, to despair.  Our view, both of ourselves and of others, becomes askew.  And at that point, it’s quite difficult to live out the second Greatest Commandment.  We cannot love ourselves if we don’t hold the tension and we can’t

We need to hold the tension that we are both Great and Small.  And it is with that in mind that I want to share a song called “Great and Small” by Butterflyfish.  It’s a children’s song, but a brilliant song.  It’s based on this old Hasidic notion that each of us should carry around two pieces of paper, one in each pocket. One piece of paper says “I am but dust and ashes”: we read this when we’re feeling proud and self-important. But when we’re feeling worthless or ashamed, we reach in the other pocket and read the other piece of paper, which says: “For me the world was created.” The song reflects this humble-yet-proud duality of our being and our relationship to God.

Here’s the song: (but here’s a link to the music if the player doesn’t work for you)

[audio http://heartlandlafayette.org/media/drew/01_GreatandSmall.mp3]

and here’s the lyrics:

Deep down here inside my pocket there’s a little piece of paper
I take it out and read it when I’m feeling out of shape – or
To keep my fears at bay,
It says “you are great”

Deep down in my other pocket there’s another piece of paper
I take it out and read it when I’m getting into shape – or
When I’m walking tall,
It says “you are small”

Because you are great and small
You are tiny and tall
Remember, through it all
You are great and small.

Heard it said that we are made in the image of the Maker
So I wrote that down on a little piece of paper
Read it everyday
Remember, you are great

Then again, I know we built a lot of tall, tall steeples
Whole wide world is more than just us people
So through it all
Remember, we are small

Because we are great and small
We are tiny and tall
Remember through it all
We are great and small

Deep down here inside my pocket there’s a little piece of paper
I take it out and read it when I’m feeling out of shape – or
To keep my fears at bay,
It says “you are great”

Deep down in my other pocket there’s another piece of paper
I take it out and read it when I’m getting into shape – or
When I’m walking tall,
It says “you are small”

Dust to dust we shall return
Whole wide world was made for us to learn
That we are great and small
We are tiny and tall
Remember through it all
We are great and small

We are great and small
We are tiny and tall
Remember through it all
We are great and small
(repeated a couple times)

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