You can’t fight city hall
They are too big to fail
We are too small to make a difference
A mere drop in a vast sea
These lies can travel through vast deserts of grief and despair
Like a camel
Which has swallowed an ocean
Thinking it is a god
Only to apprehend itself
As a criminal
Who got the drop on itself
Buried in a straw world
The last from the first
Nor all in
The back-breaking work
Of fog lifting
Working for truth and justice requires a large, perhaps even transcendent, perspective. I see patience as the mother of all virtues. The good fight takes patience and persistence to hold us over during the sometimes barren spaces between positive visible outcomes commensurate with our efforts. Plus, much of our work must necessarily be carried on by others beyond our own lifetimes. First, the seeming invincibility of the powers that be can be daunting. Second, the seeming small power that any given individual has is humbling. Together, they seduce many into despair and even slip many into amorality or nihilism. Who is asking us to swallow oceans? What honest worldview would require that we get to walk around dropping “the last straw” on the proverbial camel’s back of injustice any more frequently than we find that proverbial needle in the haystack (of straws)? Perennial philosophies include some concept of illusion or deceptive aspect of reality that must be overcome in order to apprehend truth — the “fog”. I think that a common mistake is assuming that we must move mountains or build some Tower of Babel to heaven. I think this mistaken assumption is part of the “fog”. The final twist in this poem is juxtaposing “back-breaking work” with “fog lifting”. This is not a slam on hard work, but rather the notion that (ever-increasing) physical labors are our salvation — if only we worked just a little harder! The spiritual project of “lifting fog” better represents the ethereal project of living out our humanity to its fullest.
Further, a great example of completely misunderstanding a sacred text is in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” The standard, and completely wrong usage of this passage is that if you just believe enough that God will come and instantly move a mountain for you. In fact, it means the opposite. First, some context:
Herod the Great is best known for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Messiah, and while it was true he was brutal and paranoid, he was also a genius builder. He was responsible for an astounding man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima, the mind-boggling desert fortress of Masada, and the magnificent Temple mount. Around 37 BC, his sights turned to the desert for a building site once again. He wanted to build a fortress palace there that could be seen from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas so that the Jews never forgot he was always watching. He also wanted to be sure it was the absolutely tallest thing in the surrounding landscape. So, he narrowed his building site down to two hills (small mountains) which were near each other.
Then, he simply used forced labor to pare the top off one to add to the top of the other to make it bigger. One pail full of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.
And a little more context:
As clever as Herod was, he was perhaps known more for his wickedness. He maintained his authority by terrorizing his subjects. He grew increasingly paranoid and throughout his life he had thousands of people executed — including his wife, his son, and many family members. He killed everyone who might be a threat to his reign. This he tried to do as well to baby Jesus.
From the shepherds of Bethlehem to the priests in Jerusalem, all would have been reminded of the presence of Herod every time they saw the volcano-like hill in the distance, or any time they encountered one of his many buildings. But what would they have been thinking? Would they have admired his ingenuity and achievements or would they have despised him and feared for their lives?
It would not be far fetched to imagine that Jesus was looking toward the Herodium when he said:
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
In this inspiring statement, Jesus was pointing out that it doesn’t take the abuse of thousands of workers to do what man might think is impossible. If they couldn’t see the Herodium, his listeners would have known about Herod’s moving of the mountain. He had done the “impossible” through fear, cruelty, punishment, and death; but Jesus was saying, “If you will only follow the Father, if you have even the smallest grain of faith in me, nothing will be impossible.”
The lesson we should learn from all this is that the Lord is not impressed by what we might accomplish — he is only interested in our hearts. We can also be sure that Herod, and all those like him, will one day learn that the wise men had it right.
Of course, moving mountains, or any grand project, regardless of the purpose behind it, takes a lot of time, and thousands of people moving persistently “one bucket at a time.” Patience my friends…