Come Dance with Me?
A few years ago I was walking through St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin’s city centre and heard music coming from the usually abandoned band stand. That day there were twelve couples salsa dancing in that tiny space!
Each couple wore their own clothes and had their own steps and style. There was no sign of formal co-ordination yet they moved seamlessly around each other, even with no elbow room.
One couple in particular caught my eye. He was tall and held her close, so close that all she could see was his chest. They danced as one. There was nothing awkward or forced about their movements yet I wondered how she didn’t knock into anyone when she couldn’t see around her!
It dawned on me that he must be leading her with cues that my novice eyes couldn’t pick out: perhaps a squeeze of the hand or a drop of the shoulder ushering her into a turn, a twirl, or a change of direction. I was mesmerised and enjoyed watching them for a good while.
His role was to direct and to protect, hers to trust and to follow. If either refused their role, the result would have been chaos and harm rather than beauty and wonder.
So it is supposed to be with God and His people.
But how do you submit to God’s leading when your only experience of earthly authority has been either oppressive or passive?
Looking at Authority through Irish Lenses
Here in Ireland, we are about to celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising. It was the most notable rebellion in a series of Irish rebellions aimed at gaining independence from eight centuries (give or take) of British rule, a regime marked by a combination of brutal oppression and harrowing neglect.
The harsh response to the rising (executions and internments) only served to antagonise the Irish further and resulted in speeding up the journey to independence. Today there is still a faint aftertaste of resentment towards England in some people’s hearts, especially in the border counties.
More recently, own government introduced water charges (which we were already being charged for under income tax) which resulted in rebellion that either manifested actively in street protests, passively in refusing to pay, or creatively using other means.
Add to that the fact that it has taken years for a handful of the bankers responsible for the recession in 2008 to be brought to any kind of justice (and it’s a pitiful justice at that).
And last year, the referendum to change the constitution’s definition of marriage to include same-sex couples was not only an embrace of homosexuality but also an opportunity to give the Catholic church “two fingers” as a farewell salute after decades of abuses that were covered up and denied. As horrific as the abuses themselves were, it was the passivity of church and community leaders that did the most harm.
No wonder the Irish instinctive response to authority is to rebel against it!
It is into this setting that the Gospel enters Ireland. All this talk of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus being Lord… titles and language that equal oppression that needs to be overthrown or moral/executive weakness that needs to be exposed and punished. With that in mind, why on earth would anyone want to trust or follow the authority of a King or a Lord? Or of any person or organisation claiming affiliation with one?
There is a Better Way…
But there is a third model of authority, one that only the Gospel can fully reveal. What if the original design for authority was never supposed to be destructive or devious? What if submission’s dance partner was never supposed to be “oppression” or “apathy”? What if submission’s dance partner was love? A love that is fiercely protective?
In Ephesians 5, Paul uses the example of a thriving marriage relationship to tell us something about the heart of God for submission and authority. After his exhortation for everyone to “submit to one another”, he urges wives specifically to submit to their husbands.
Taken by itself that doesn’t sound particularly desirable, especially when you look at how patriarchal societies have historically kept women in a place of subservience.
But then look at how Paul commands husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… love [your] wives as [your] own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself… After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church”.
Jesus embodies the authority of God and acts as a role model for healthy leadership:
Instead of demanding obedience and submission, Jesus set His own rights and privileges aside for the good of others.
And He was incredibly harsh with those whose authority did not line up with this model.
Not only that, when He saw that His people owed a debt they could not pay, He ransomed them with His own life, even though He knew that many of them wouldn’t appreciate it.
God intended authority to guide and protect those relying on it. He intended authority to be a reflection of His Fatherly love towards us. He is not forceful towards us but gentle, yet He is fierce in His protection of us and His devotion to us.
It’s difficult not to respect someone who consistently goes out of his way to love you at his own expense.
Called to Follow the One Who Loves Us
As we get ready to mark one hundred years since the Easter Rising, I pray that our hearts will be open to receive the fiercely devoted, sacrificial love that God demonstrated in the original Easter Rising over two thousand years ago, a love He still demonstrates today to anyone who is willing to trust Him and follow Him.