Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 10:38-11:13) transports me to the summer of 1948, a busy time in U.S. history, with the Cold War heating up, the Red Scare and HUAC hearings in full force, the military suddenly desegregated, the nation of Israel recognized, and the first monkey launched into space. Just over the mountain from where I live, another kind of history was being made at Black Mountain College. The avant garde collection of artists and architects and musicians and dancers included Buckminster Fuller, who along with his students would take strips of Venetian blinds and fabricate the first of his famous geodesic domes there on the shores of Lake Eden (Fuller didn’t invent the structures; he worked out and patented the mathematical formulas and triangular geometry behind them, making possible their popular use). A bona fide genius and futurist, Buckminster Fuller had visions of creating technologies for an Eden-like paradise on spaceship earth (a term he coined). While the future that did evolve was hardly a paradise, I think he would appreciate the technological advances that define our age. One scene in a documentary about Black Mountain College communicates just how different the future youth culture would be from that of his students. Young people, including a dozen he brought with him from Chicago (known as his twelve disciples) would sit in rapt attention at his feet, listening to him lecture for hours on end about philosophy and architecture and the environment. Our culture’s attention deficit stands in sharp contrast.
The passage today reveals a sharp contrast between rapt attention and attention deficit within the culture of an earlier genius and futurist. Jesus, who was more interested in ethics than technology, was nonetheless traveling around occupied Israel talking at length about building a new world, an avant garde kingdom occupied by the forces of love rather than military forces. As he began teaching in the home of friends in Bethany, a conflict emerged between two sisters. Martha was occupied with all the tasks of hospitality, while her sister Mary was sitting at the feet of the futurist, listening to his stories about what the new world could and would be like. Martha complained to the teacher, and asked him to reprimand Mary and instruct her to pitch in and help with the chores. Martha wound up receiving the reprimand for her preoccupation, for her attention to detail, while Mary received praise for her preoccupation with the essential thing – getting the larger story straight. It’s interesting to me that this vignette about the primacy of devotion and the ensuing teaching on prayer occurs right after Jesus’ story about the primacy of compassionate action – the Good Samaritan. Two leaders, single-minded in their pursuit of spiritual matters, provide the contrast to the Samaritan, whose attention to detail in caring for the wounded traveler is the epitome of the neighbor love that leads to eternal life. But as soon as that story ends, we have this case study that seems to say just the opposite; the neighbor love actions of Martha take second place to Mary’s sitting at the feet of Jesus to worship and soak in his every word.
I suspect the side-by-side contrast of these two encounters has something to teach us. Maybe it’s not an either-or proposition; maybe we’re called to be both Mary and Martha: sitting at Jesus’ feet and occupying ourselves with works of compassion and justice. It makes me think of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, the geometry of triangles held in tension. In the geometry of grace, the three sides of the triangle are our personal life, the stories of Jesus, and the needs of the vulnerable and wounded around us. The key, to use another term coined by Fuller, is tensegrity – tensional integrity. Finding the proper tension between the three sides – one’s personal life, the sacred stories, and the needs of neighbor – gives life integrity. And when each of us connects our individual triangle to the many other triangles around us in community, we are constructing our own sacred spaceship earth. This new world is an answer to Christ’s model prayer – thy kingdom come, with debts forgiven, daily bread distributed, and enough strength to withstand the evils and temptations that threaten us. It’s the power and glory of love, forever and ever, amen.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.