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Striving for second place

We are good at preparing people to lead, but how good are we at preparing people to follow?

On the day after Easter, this seems a reasonable question. Because, let’s face it, if Jesus is for real, none of is gonna be the leader when this is all over with.

2nd place loserBut it sets me thinking about me, my community, my nation, my world. We place a huge burden on our leaders, but refuse to follow – unless they are doing what we want, in the way we want, by the means we have approved. Frankly, we like to lead ourselves. We do not like to follow. How does one even be a good follower? No one has ever taught me this. In fact, I have been warned against it. Be a winner; don’t settle for second best! That’s the first loser.

And so I wonder if we have gotten it all wrong. As we send our children onto the field of play, shouting as they score, celebrating when they win, rewarding them for defeating the other team, are we failing to fully prepare them?

If they do lose we encourage them to try harder. If they win or if they show promise – which of course we all see in our children – we want them to try out for the ‘select’ squad, to distinguish themselves in some manner so they will be first on the list. First to be chosen. First in line. But how many can be first? Would we do better to prepare them to take their place in line? Any place. Behind the person in front of them. Perhaps the most important thing of all is the line itself. 2nd place ribbon

Instead, we have kids shoving their way. Hey, I was there. I want to stand next to him or her. Get out of my way. And our punishment when they act this way? We send them to the back of the line, because that is the worst place to be. The place of dishonor and shame.

Yet, that is the place of those who aren’t so physically capable, aren’t so quick with their minds, aren’t so socially adept. We have a place for those people, back there, where we don’t have to see you or hear from you or make way for you. You hold the rest of us back. Get out of the way. We’re coming through; we’re leaders. You follow us.

Jesus said this to Peter when he refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “Get behind me Satan!” When all Peter was doing was trying to be first in line. To follow most closely. Jesus was teaching Peter how to follow. To leave some room for other people. A bit of space for latecomers – the deaf, the blind, the sick and the lame. All those who didn’t have the privilege Peter did to hear Jesus first hand, or were out of earshot because they had been shoved aside.

Were Jesus to stand physically before me today, I fear He would say the same to me. “Get behind me Satan!” And elaborate with a loud voice, “Leave some room for others. Learn how to follow me. Start with that problem you have about being first. I am first.” And then to the crowd gathered, “The rest of you are second, every last one of you. Stop fighting for your place in line!”

Falling in line, wherever there was space or wherever someone was kind enough to let me in, would be fine. No jostling. No shoving. No hard feelings. And if all the spaces were taken it would be fine to take my place at the end of the line. Oh, what a trip that is, walking past all those people, curved in and around, wound through, up and over. All of humanity would be there, waiting patiently to be next.

But what to do about that guy who wants to cut? No sense pushing and shoving him because you’ll both end up at the back of the line. Why not let ’em in. Might be fun to see the look on his face when he makes his way to the front and sees who the Leader really is. And THAT thought just sent me to the back of the line.



Oh, how much heaviness there is in that word: come. Grudgingly, we drag ourselves over into the compliant pile. Hauling our stuff with us. We wipe our brow, let out a sigh and, just as we are poised to rest on our laurels God says,

“Follow me”

What an invitation: follow me. But I just sat down. What about my bags! My pillow. My clothes, my toothbrush, my computer, my iPhone, my…

“Leave that”

Here, we travel light.

Giving and taking, it’s all part of the Dance

Some say there are two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. Givers give because:

  1. they’re generous/have the gift of generosity or
  2. they want people to like them or
  3. they want to be sure they are good enough
  4. some want to be sure they are good enough for God

Takers take because:

  1. they are grateful to receive or
  2. they are afraid of losing what they have and/or not having enough or
  3. they think they deserve more than they have or
  4. they grew up believing finders/keepers loser’s/weepers or its modern version, “you snooze you lose”

I’d like to think there is a third kind of person in the world: the give and taker.

  1. Sometimes they give; sometimes they take.
  2. It doesn’t matter where you start because it’s a cycle.
  3. The giving is in response to the taking and
  4. The taking is in response to the giving.

On my best days, and I pray this becomes more the everyday case, I am a give-and-taker.

  1. I have a plan, intentions, objectives, but none of it carved in stone. (taking)
  2. I go about my day attending to what needs doing but with my senses tuned to what else needs doing so I can revise my course without disruption. (giving)
  3. Once adjusted, I adopt to my new plan and assess my options trusting my new course will become clear. (taking)
  4. As I engage the new plan, I watch and listen for something that’s said or done that guides my next steps. (giving)

I find when I am in give and take mode, I arrive at a destination and accomplish a task or tasks that dovetail perfectly with whatever else I was doing. It may seem like it was all my idea, but if it were, it wouldn’t feel like this. It would have been an uphill struggle, a long hard climb, and I would be exhausted when I reached the peak. Instead, I feel rejuvenated – perhaps not physically so – but alive with a new idea or a next step or a modification. I have taken, and now I am on to the give.

Give and taker, it doesn’t flow so well, does it? Perhaps re-modeler. But without a particular endpoint in mind. I don’t have the “perfect living room design” in my game plan. More of a…Okay, this needs adjusting, and now that must be moved to accommodate the shift. It’s a whole remodeling dance.

You lead. I’ll follow. Then, let’s switch. Sort of a whirl. A flowing dance between partners. What a beautiful thing that must be, looking from above and beyond and before and after. An infinite ballroom of glittering gowns and flowing tales, in perfect procession, perfect rhythm, perfect balance. Divinely choreographed and moving freely. Unfettered. Unhindered.

From within my own dance, there may be a lot of awkwardness.  But, that’s probably just me trying not to step on my own toes. God is Lord of that dance and every other one on the floor. 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

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