I received a free copy of inSignificant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God Is Changing the World to review as part of the Patheos Book Club, but was not subject to any limitations on my post.
I tend to read and review apologetic works (or totally off-topic ones) that may be of interest to anyone in my weird audience. So, fair warning, inSignificant is written for Christians, and is probably not of interest to the non-Christian readers of the blog. It’s also much cheerier than I’m used to. (But this is why you wouldn’t have me speak at a wedding; most people would rather have the “this is a joyous occasion” kind of thing I’d imagine Travis would say than my “Marriage is like Odysseus binding himself to the mast — a deliberate constraint on your life.”). That means the book was a little hard for me to engage with, but may be better suited to people who are nicer than me. But to get down to brass tacks…
Travis’s book is intended to show his readers the unexpected ways their lives and their struggles can be in accord with God’s plan. Travis was a public school math teacher in New York City, and I thought the best parts of the book were about learning to manage his classroom. I think he’s best when he’s coming at the question of how to serve God a little obliquely. But there was one part where he’s discussing the character of God’s love more directly that I thought could make for interesting discussion. Travis writes:
What if God visited to you today and said, “Here. It’s all yours. Everything. I put it all under your feet. Anything you want done. The universe will be your servant. Just speak and it will respond.”
…I bet you wouldn’t do what Jesus did… “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.” So he cured all disease, ended all suffering, erased all evil, wiped away every tear. He answered all our prayers. He stopped the nonsense and rebellion and asserted his lordship.
No. Not this God.
“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power… so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Love is what God is after and power has no power to prompt love. So behold the Master of the Universe, the Ancient of Days, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: Jesus Christ the Foot Washer.
Instead of giving worldly gifts, Travis wants to draw our attention to Christ giving the gift of himself and his service. This gift has to happen at a human scale for humans to be able to respond with love. You might feel very lucky when the tree knocked over in the storm just misses your house, but it’s as hard to be grateful to a person. But when you’re in close contact, it’s impossible to ignore the relationship that service imposes. (This is why I find Maundy Thursday so discomfiting).
And the use of the word ‘discomfiting’ should be a clue that I’m about to bring this back to the discussion of Sondheim’s Company. For Bobby to progress, he needs to make himself vulnerable and unsafe. We think of him transitioning into the role of servant, as Christ does. A future Bobby, we hope, won’t still be able to be described as “Exclusive you! Elusive you! Will any person ever get the juice of you?” as he is in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”
But, on Monday, I want to take this further, since I’m planning to discuss Passion, the other show included in my Sondheim double-header. If Company ends with a choice to give oneself (albeit it to an as of yet unspecified beloved), Passion’s plot is driven by the difficulty of knowing of what to do when someone offers themself as a gift to you, unsolicited and possibly unwanted.
I’ll expand on this theme over the course of the week, but I wanted to preview it today, since I think it gets at the experience of the other side of the life of humble service that Travis is calling us to. In the Gospel story Travis references, Peter bucks at the idea of accepting service from the Messiah, even though it’s just a more tangible sign of the great, undeserved gift that Christ is offering him. Peter chafes under the weight of that gift.
So, hopefully, discussing Sondheim’s grotesque musical about love offered unsought can be an interesting lens through which to view any call to service and humility. See you tomorrow!