Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 5:27-39) transports me to the sanctuary of La Primera Iglesia Bautista in Matanzas, Cuba, where I have been several times over the past few years to facilitate leadership and team-building workshops for the staff of the church and the Kairos Center. Even though times are incredibly tough right now in Cuba (the phrase you hear a thousand times a day as you walk around the city is no es facil; it’s not easy); they are one of the liveliest, most energetic, joy-filled groups of people I’ve ever been around. And they engage in the team-building challenges full-throttle. One of my favorite activities is called the Levity Stick. Before the exercise, we talk some about the gravity of their work, as they are involved in a wide range of community ministries around issues of poverty, discrimination, addictions, family break-down, and other social justice concerns. It can get heavy. The exercise aims to help them recognize ways they can maintain some lightness of being in the midst of that gravity. They line up in two lines, facing one another, bending their elbows at their sides and pointing their index fingers at the people across from them. I place a long tent pole on the sides of their fingers, and give them the two rules of the game: one, they can only let the pole rest on the sides of the pointer fingers; they can’t grab it or try to manipulate it in any way. It simply rests there. Second rule: everyone must maintain contact at all times and never allow themselves to be disconnected from the group by losing touch with the pole. As I place the pole on their fingers, I maintain some pressure on it while giving these rules, and then give them the simple goal: with the floor representing the heavy space of life, the gravitas of hard situations they deal with, on the count of three, they are to let the force of gravity do its work, and lower the stick to the ground as a group. Sounds simple, but when I count to three and let go, the group starts raising the stick, instead of lowering it. I stop them and explain that my Spanish is terrible, and I might have said levántelo instead of bájalo. We try it again, with the same result. The stick, almost magically, starts going up instead of down. What was to be a 15 minute exercise turns into 45 minutes, as they are bound and determined to get it done, and by the end their communication and interactions have gotten so riotous and hilarious that the team members can hardly stop laughing. The levity stick has done its job. The de-briefing es facil; they have no trouble translating the activity into their daily work. The key is in the rules. If you try to manipulate or control a situation, it’s easy to get depressed, to get pulled down into the gravedad. Or, if you somehow lose contact with your community, it’s easy to gravitate toward despair. But, if you resist the temptation to control, and instead hold difficult situations lightly, and if you stay connected to one another in community, then the force of levity invariably becomes stronger than the force of gravity.
Jesus and his disciples were living in the center of kairos time, and were confronting all sorts of hard and heavy issues related to poverty, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. They were facing some grave situations. If the Roman boots on the people’s necks weren’t heavy enough, there were all manner of religious mores weighing them down. And yet, in the midst of it all, here was Jesus and his friends, wining and dining at the Do Drop Inn on the wrong side of the tracks. Enter the grave-digger types, or at least the gravitas-digging types, questioning the preacher’s ethics. Are you serious? - feasting on the food of sinners? Shouldn’t Jesus be fasting and praying like his cousin John was doing? Jesus responded with one of his patented story-images: You don’t take the bridegroom out on his bachelor party to fast and pray. There will be plenty of time for getting serious when the groom has up and gone. No, while he’s around, it’s time for some levity. It’s time to celebrate a new day, with some new wine.
It’s interesting that Jesus’ imagery of a raucous bachelor party at the pub with the pecadores comes in the midst of his relating to the Pharisees his sense of vocation: calling sinners to repentance. This repentance, it seems, is not a turnaround from festivity to tee-totalling somber seriousness, filled with fasting and prayer. No, this repentance is a counter-intuitive reversal of direction, from the depressing heaviness of a life that’s never easy, to a defiant and counter-intuitive lightness of being, inspiring in spite of the weights. Jesus’ celebration of the simple pleasures of life showed that he was in effect following the levity stick rules: He was holding the world lightly, not trying to manipulate it or control it, and he was staying connected to the community. It makes me think that maybe we should give up fasting and praying for Lent, and get back to Mardi Gras.
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.