May 8, 2016
I have a confession to make. I like to play computer games—not just any computer games, but games designed especially for my computer of preference: the MacIntosh. Many years ago I was given a game that just captivated me. Unlike many computer games, this one did not glorify violence or require the destruction of any enemies.
In fact, the whole point of this game was to rescue as many little cartoon characters as possible. Each of the Lemmings, as they were called, had the disturbing habit of following, mindlessly, the Lemming in front of him, no matter what dangers threatened them. If the lead Lemming walked off a cliff and splatted at the bottom of the screen, then all of the Lemmings followed suit. If the lead Lemming walked off a bridge and fell into the ocean, so did the others—and they all drowned.
The Lemmings appeared to be identical, and yet a certain number of them were blessed with unique and special gifts. Some of them could build bridges. Some of them were diggers. Some could push through rocks and mountains. Some could climb up sheer edges. Some could sacrifice themselves by blocking the advance of the others, or by exploding themselves in order to provide safe passage for those that followed.
None of them could think for themselves—and consequently, they could not learn. It was my task to decide which gifts would offer the best possible outcome for the most Lemmings, and to help them to cooperate with one another so that the maximum number of Lemmings could be rescued.
Sometimes it waseasy—and sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes I passed a level with ease. Other times, all my Lemmings went splat! Each level was timed, and if I ran out of time, the poor critters cried out “Oh, NO!” Then they grabbed their heads and exploded.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Lemmings, lately, because the game has something to say to me about the church and about the churrent political climate, and about the nature of unity and cooperation and collegiality and about the gift and the value of diversity.
It has always been my conviction that the Creator of the Universe is passionately in love with variety—that if it were not so, there would be only one shade of green. God’s passion for variety is revealed everywhere: consider the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and the vast array of sea life. And look at us—his most amazing creation.
We come in all shapes and sizes, in a multitude of colors and languages and personalities, with an amazing assortment of preferences and gifts and talents and interests. We were created to be so similar, and yet so very different—and when God did that, he declared it not just good—but very good.
So I ask you: when Jesus prayed, on the night before he died, that we all should be one, was He asking for a change to all that—for our differences to be blotted out, our preferences to be muted, our uniqueness obliterated? Was he praying for our conformity, or for our mutual cooperation? Was he asking for uniformity, or for unity?
A few years ago, concert pianist Paul Sullivan wrote about the day that he discovered the magic of music. He said this:
On a September morning when I was nine years old, I showed up for the first day of choir school in Boston. I was one of forty boys raging around the choir room, whooping and babbling and trying to find our assigned seats, when suddenly the choir master entered, and the room fell silent.
He smiled gently at us and told us to open our hymn books to a particular page, where we found a Bach chorale. He played our starting notes quietly on the piano, paused for a moment of silence, and gave us a downbeat. What happened next changed me forever.
Timidly, I floated my little note out into the room, where it merged and dissolved into a lustrous, shimmering world of sound. I could still hear my note, but it had been transformed. It hung there with the thirty-nine others in a huge golden cloud of harmony.
As the measures rolled by, I had to hold on hard to my own notes and not be seduced or distracted by the passing tensions and dissonances which the other parts created. Yet at the same time I was almost physically lifted off the floor by the beautiful river of music we were creating together. In a breath-taking magic trick, all of those shouting, fractious little boys, many of whom had never met, were now intimately, completely connected, utterly unified until the final note of the hymn.
Although my instrument eventually changed from voice to piano, that moment ignited something in me as a musician that stays with me still. In the nearly forty years since then, I have performed in venues humble and grand, and I am always struck by the power of music to draw people together….[to] connect us all with something larger than ourselves.”[i]
In Jesus’ passionate high priestly prayer, he pleads for us with God. He pleads that the extraordinary sense of love that binds the Father to the Son will bind us to one another. Like the many notes the “magic” of music unites into a single work of great beauty, Jesus wanted the same love that binds the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit together to bind us into a community of faith that can be salt and light to a hurting world.
Jesus’ longing was not that we all should sound the same note, but that we should be a symphony of compassion and reconciliation for all people—that we should become a dwelling place for the very Spirit of God—incarnate with the living Word.
That kind of love is total, selfless, unconditional, and complete. It is the kind of love that is centered and focused in such a way that our care and concern for others matters more than our preferences and comfort zones and even our particular belief systems. It is love that recognizes our utter dependence upon God, and our absolute connectedness one to another as brothers and sisters—children of the one God.
This love transcends credentials and labels and fears and biases. It seeks fulfillment in joy through acts of compassion, kindness, and justice. It denies itself, and seeks the face of Jesus in every human being. So Jesus begged God to unite us in this way—not so that we would all be the same, but so that we all might be one.
My Lemmings game is gone now, onsolete in the computer world of my newer Mac. But, thanks be to God, we are not Lemmings. God does not manipulate us with the click of a mouse. As individuals, we are faced moment by moment and day by day with choices that will lead to unity under the blessing of diversity, or that will lead to uniformity and destruction under the oppressive demand that we all be the same.
Thanks be to God, ours is a God of second chances—and third chances—and multitudes of chances—because ours is a God of unfailing forgiveness.
Thanks be to God, ours is a creator of infinite possibilities, so that there is room for everyone at his Table. Hear what the spirit of God is saying to His Church:
“The Spirit and the Bride say ‘come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift.” Let anyone come.
Thanks be to God, we don’t self-destruct when the time runs out, like those little Lemmings, do. The final word on that is what Jesus said: “Surely I am coming soon!”
Come, quickly, Lord Jesus, and find us One.
**Banishing the Darkness: A Pianist Discovers the Magical Bonds of Music” by Paul Sullivan, Hope Magazine, Fall 2001, quoted in Connections, MediaWorks, Londonderry, New Hampshire, May, 2007.