October 20, 2017

Mayor of My Own City

AerialviewChrist_on_Corcovado_mountain“Conversatio’s objective was that each person become the self-constituting, good, holy, responsible person God intended him or her to be —to make their “city,” wherever it might be, work.” Paul Wilkes

I took my time to read Augustine’s City of God. For part of my reading, I was surrounded by monks and priests on the grounds of an archabbey. I hoped the atmosphere might inspire my understanding. It was a lot to digest … too much, frankly. I even read an abridged version and still struggled to retain and comprehend all that Augustine offered. Apparently, he wrote the book, stopping and starting over such a long period, that he tended to repeat himself … thus the reason for abridgment. Nevertheless, one thought inspired from that voluminous work has taken root in me. Having also read much of Watchman Nee’s writings, I remember that Nee recommends the hard work of attempting to articulate any tiny flashes of light, first so that we will not forget them and second so that some ministry goes forth.

Since I definitely need help in the area of remembering these days, I will try it for no other reason than that. The idea of ministry going forth on this seems presumptuous as we are talking about the disorganized thoughts springing from a distracted, middle-aged, increasingly ADD-afflicted brain unable to wrap itself in any way around the saintly, substantially brilliant, exhaustively articulated thoughts of the man from Hippo. But here we go …

My idea is that I am to be mayor of my own city, as you are of yours. Put together, our cities help form the kingdom of God. I say this with no penchant for power mongering or self-service, but with humility and fear and exhaustion. I really don’t want to be mayor of anything. That’s actually kind of the problem as I see it. Most of us are happier being citizens in other cities. Although citizenship in multiple interconnecting cities seems part of the plan, it doesn’t seem to be all of it. Yes, we need to be good citizens too, but what happens if everyone’s a citizen and no one’s a mayor? What happens if we abdicate the ruling authority dealt to us?

According to Augustine, God’s City on Earth started perhaps with a metaphorical Adam and Eve and in a metaphorical Eden. Real or symbolic, what matters is that Earth felt the touch of Heaven in the beginning in a way that it has not since sin came into it. We see the spiritual separation of man from God at the advent of humankind’s exertion of self-will and all its continuing consequences and brokenness.

The line of Cain, after he murdered Abel, represents the City of Man. The line of Seth, whose name means “resurrection,” represents the City of God. Both lines have continued, but the latter line is the focus, meandering a few millennia through the Old Testament, establishing the throne of David, whose kingdom will not end and is manifested in the coming of Christ and his establishment of the Church. God’s kingdom comes and his will is done on Earth by means of the living Christ at work through his Church today. Yes, The Church is rightfully called the City of God on earth, but it is comprised of smaller entities … individuals, families, local churches and various religious communities.

Lately, I have been more conscious of the call on all who follow Christ to be mayors in each unique circle of influence and simultaneously conscious of the drag of apathy and my own temptation to abdicate. I see it in others as well. In the bloom of youth and renewed energy that used to come with the sunrise everyday, it never dawned on me that I was a mayor. Despite family hardships in my childhood home, I woke up and brought what order I could. At first, it was only in the practical arena … cooking, cleaning and self-governance. Eventually, an inner spiritual void produced recognition that without a King over all, everything else was an exercise in futility. I started to chase my King and found that it was really I who was being chased. When I got married and had my children, he enlarged my territory and I especially could not be what I needed to be as wife and mom without abundant time in his throne room. In business with my husband, I was required to command my little domain and also to exercise bits of authority given to me at church. I prayed. I planned. I acted purposefully. I did all this without being conscious that there was any other way. In spite of many failures, I have persevered. Now older, I am suddenly more struck by what is as stake. And I am tired.

Tired, yes … and at the apex of mayoral requirements. It comes partly because I am at a point on my path with aging parents to help, one child at home in the throes of her pre-college year of form-filing, application-sending, campus-visiting craziness, grown-up children (with grown-up problems) and a passel of young grandchildren with their soccer games and ballet recitals to attend nearby. Add family health issues, a business to help run, college years and weddings yet to fund, and all the overwhelming emotional, relational and spiritual needs of those I love … and some days I don’t want to be the mayor anymore. Some days I’m really bad at it. Some days I think everyone would be better off if I just became my own village-of-one up on a mountain surrounded by a pile of books.

One morning I was fretting over one of my people and another crisis in a long list of this person’s chronic crises. I had offered practical help. I had counseled and I had prayed. I was praying again and at the end of energy, wisdom and resources for the problem. What am I to do, Lord? I didn’t hear anything, but I looked over and saw my tattered copy of Augustine’s City of God lying on the table. It came to me … a little flash. How I wished that person and a few others I knew would be mayors of their own cities. I was in the wrong circle to be mayor there. Maybe my mayoralty extended to that person to a degree, but the circles beyond were his realm, not mine.

Okay, by now, all you really good mayors are saying, “Thank you, Mr. Obvious,” but for people who are micromanagers like me this is revelation. Maybe for someone who’s ever the citizen and never the mayor this is revelation. We can only be mayors of our own cities and we must be mayors of our own cities. It’s a bit like being a brother’s keeper, but somewhat different. Being a brother’s keeper comes of necessity when a brother cannot keep himself. We’ve all either had a brother or been a brother who could not keep himself for a time … whether materially, emotionally or spiritually. A person could be a brother’s keeper or a kept brother and still be mayor. I have known and know people who suffer greatly and who even need some keeping, but still act as mayors.

A mayor does not forsake his first-hand abiding with the king. A mayor, like one of David’s mighty men, seeks to understand the times and to know what must be done. A mayor is a prophet for his people. A mayor leads even in times of personal hardship and need. A mayor might ask citizens and other mayors to pray for him, but he doesn’t give up praying and making decisions and acting upon them. A mayor sees himself as a servant, not the center, of his city. A mayor doesn’t leave his city to become a village-of-one even when really tempted.

Years ago after I had taken time away from our business to have babies, our very able and organized office manager announced she was leaving to start her own family. It was time for me to come back and I didn’t relish the thought. Even though I had done it before, our business had grown in the interim. I felt left behind and afraid. I didn’t think I could do it. When I confessed all this to a good friend, she wisely advised me to “go in and possess the land.” Those words have come back to me in many situations. Sometimes it has simply meant getting the dirty dishes in the sink clean and put away. Sometimes it has meant coming to grips with personal sins and flaws and navigating whatever painful way through them is necessary. Sometimes it is keeping my mouth shut with others and quietly praying for them. And sometimes … dang it … it is overcoming my preference for passivity and actually getting confrontational, maybe exhorting a perpetual citizen to buck up and start being a mayor.

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians points out that their church has had many teachers, but not many fathers (I Corinthians 4:15). He claims them as his own spiritual children, but the feeling here is that Paul is expressing the desire and need for more fathers. The implication is that he can father somewhat from afar, but the better way is to have boots on the ground. Thus, he is sending his letter and Timothy for reinforcement.

Paul’s epistles read very much like fatherly letters to an unruly, but loved household needing to be brought to order. He tackles all sorts of problems, from dealing with quarrels, to practical administrative issues concerning money distribution and division of labor, to offering prayer for increases in faith and maturity, to calling his people out of sinful behaviors and to higher levels of spirituality. He goes on to say that “the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power” (I Corinthians 4:20). So far, this church had only been able to muster wordy and arrogant teachers. It was time for them to start moving toward the formation of fathers/mayors.

The kingdom of God consists (is formed, characterized by and held together) “in power.” It is the power of Christ manifested in his people. So while we, as his people must submit first to his spiritual authority, then to the fathers/mayors over us in our churches, communities and families, we must also exercise it where we are planted or impoverish our people.

Lately, I feel apathetic, but a dear friend is providing some inspiration. I have loved her for many years because she is my friend, but I admire her increasingly because of the example she is to me as one of the very best mayors I know. I first got to know her when we worshipped together in a small, newly planted church. She was on the board, along with my husband and a few others where she helped write the founding documents and oversee all the legal issues for the church. She is a small woman, even tiny by most standards. Yet, she is a force to be reckoned with … a combination of pleasant, intelligent womanliness and an absolute refusal to fear people or circumstances. Someone aptly described her as a pit bull. She’s never been a “yes” man … er woman … and I have never seen her back away from a fight. At the same time, she has not hardened herself from hurt. She is vulnerable because she loves God and she loves her people.

My friend has suffered a number of losses, the most devastating of which was her husband. He died a decade ago from cancer and left her with their three children. Her grief was hard and painful to watch, but amazing as well. Even before she pulled out of the emotional nosedive she was in and regained some altitude, she made difficult decisions she believed right for her family. She sold her home and bought another. She quit a good job that would have kept her comfortable, but because of its demands and distance from home would hinder her as a mom. She started a new business three blocks from school and ran the business and ordered life for her kids.

A while back, she blended a rather large pack of new people with her own. Mergers are always interesting and difficult, and because of the numbers involved, this merger is especially so. But she is raising mayors.

Every time I talk with my friend, she’s been banging on the doors of heaven for her city and whacking away at flawed characters and teaching about life and suffering and leadership. She is kind and loving, but minces no words. One son declared he was skipping college to be a missionary in a particular country. My friend replied something along these lines, “My, what a big help you will be … the uneducated helping the uneducated, the poverty-stricken helping the poverty-stricken. No, you have to go to college first and take them a good offering that has actually cost you something.” Like I said, she’s raising mayors.

When I get tired in my life and feel like sleeping for the next several years, I think of my friend and I can put on my mayor hat for one more day and try to make my city work.

 

Comments

  1. Rats, I hate it when there is a really good post like this one, and I have to go running off to work @ work….. Your word picture is multi-layered in its wisdom: one thing that stands out is the inclusion of BOTH believers and those who are not-yet-believers within the city. At least that’s how it rings to me. The mayor leads those who voted for her, and those who decidedly did NOT. Love the “others focus” of your analogy.

    Well, off to work we go, great stuff, Lisa.

  2. Radagast says:

    I haven’t finished digesting this either… but the part about reading Augustine while on retreat…..

    … I once took Saint John of the Cross’s Ascent to Mount Carmel on retreat… and I found I was working too hard to wrap my mind around what was suppose to be a time a prayer and rejuvination. I put it down and picked up instead The Cloud of Unknowing, mostly because I could read a page or two before sitting in the chapel and it was enough. But enough about my retreat perspective… I will read the real jist of the post and comment later.

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Radagast, you make a wise point. I tend to select more challenging reading material when I am going to have some down time because I won’t have the distractions of family, work, etc. It didn’t occur to me that what I am reading, even if it is theological or spiritual, could distract me from what I might hear in prayer. Thank you.

  3. Robert F says:

    Here’s my flash of light: we are all members of neighborhoods in the City of God; we exercise responsibility in our neighborhoods by being part of the neighborhood council. As part of the council, we clean the streets, work together to help those in need, keep our own house in order, stay or get involved with our neighbors, support the City Mayor in his work. It’s not totally up to us how things go in our neighborhood, or even our household, but we can have input and be effectual, we can choose to work with others toward building up our house, neighborhood and City, instead of being passive or contributing to the problems and alienation.

  4. Very good post.

    As a reader and devotee of Charles Williams, Augustine, and Wordsworth, there is more here than I can adequately deal with in a single post reply. Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s mastication on Williamsensian and urban themes.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    This is a lot to absorb and excellent writing, as usual. You speak to my experience, and the experience of my family in many ways. I’ve semi-retired, or so I think, from being an active mayor for many years. Being a mayor in the context of the City of God is a completely new idea to me. My daughter, who is a teacher, finds herself constantly in some of the same experiences you describe.

    You talk about memory in the beginning of your piece. How to remember, the practcal part of it becomes more of a challenge the older one becomes. I’ve actively tried to deal with this using some practical techniques and some new technology to assist me. Of course the results are mixed, but not hopeless.

    Now, “The City of God” and my role in it will be with me the remainder of the day and hopefully beyond. Thanks.

  6. Radagast says:

    My wife is one of the best mayors I know… taking care of our large family. The description of your friend reminds me of her. She can see more deeply and far reaching than many I know, looking farther than the short term solution or the quick answer. She is concerned more for the growth within. Sometimes it takes some time to reveal that the actions she is taking is actually more beneficial than what is obvious to us. Kind of like working that big pimple, painful but in the end relief. She is someone that will definitely give you an honest opinion and tends to be well read (Augstine, Avilla, Liseux – much more than I). In these situations I tend to be the wall of the kingdom so that she does not bleed over into other kingdoms that have their own mayors.

    Enjoyed the imagery!

  7. Your post really resonates with me, Lisa. Thank you so much. You are a blessing!

  8. Ali Griffiths says:

    Thanks for this Lisa. This is really good. I am going to print it off and keep it to hand for the days I feel like becoming a ‘village of one’.

  9. Devin Rose says:

    Lisa, I’ve found myself to be a reluctant mayor. Capitulating to my inner self and thinking (or hoping) I could but only live small… only to be (unfairly in my estimation) thrust into leadership roles and responsibilities. The very best mayors are ones who do not seek position but wish only to do what needs done… and the very worst want only the position and to do whatever must be done to keep it for themselves.

  10. Lisa, I really enjoyed your thoughtful post. We need more examples of mayors and women who strive to make their city work in peace. Often this work is not outwardly visible (e.g., frenetic church activities, preaching, etc.), as it requires contemplation, prayer and an inner fortitude, so it may not be appreciated as much, but it is vitally important and reminds me of the attributes of elders and deacons described in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.