I watched this week as “The Great Leveler” came and inundated the news in Texas, but I had seen it before. I saw it September 11, 2001. I saw it in the wildfires of 2016 in California. I saw it in the face of a friend diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
I have seen it many times.
Sometimes it displays itself for all to see. Other times it comes and no one except the one it happens to knows or sees. Its presence always reveals and exposes. When it does its work, we are leveled for a moment.
I’m sure you have seen “The Great Leveler” too. It goes by many names, but one word may capture them all.
A crisis humbles us. It reminds us we are not in control. It reminds us we are vulnerable. It reminds us nothing is certain. It reminds us that we are mortal human kind.
And when “The Great Leveler” comes, it doesn’t care if we are young or old, rich or poor, educated or ignorant. It doesn’t care what neighborhood we live in and it doesn’t care what our creed or culture. It doesn’t care how we are dressed or what our history was before that moment. Still it comes.
So when the floodwaters rose in Texas this week, it didn’t matter what color the hand was of the person who reached out to help you. It didn’t matter what language he or she spoke. It didn’t matter if he or she was a stranger. It didn’t matter if they worshipped in the same way you did.
That’s what “The Great Leveler” does best. It reduces us momentarily at least to one human helping another. In that instant we lay aside our biases, our prejudices, our political position, and more.
When 9/11 happened in New York City, I saw the same thing. It didn’t matter who the fireman was who risked everything to find you and help you to safety. It didn’t matter who offered you resuscitation or offered you a blanket. It was a crisis and “The Great Leveler” was at work.
It happened when the wildfires in California hit in 2016. You accepted the fireman who helped you flee to safety, saved your dog, and perhaps saved your home without researching his identity. He offered you help and you were grateful. You were desperate.
It happened when you were in pain after surgery and a nurse or aide came to offer you ice, a pillow, or medication. It happened when the hospice worker fluffed your pillow and set up the photo of someone you love so you could see it better.
It happens with every crisis. When it does, for a moment we feel for others. We feel grateful for life itself. We go to our house of worship and we pray for others and ourselves. We repent sometimes of all those “not so nice” parts of us. Then within a short time we go back to relying on our ideas, our philosophies, our biases, and ourselves until the next crisis.
Perhaps the problem hangs on in part because we now first identify ourselves as … or … or even …? We also take a great deal of pride in that identification and we compare ourselves to others using it. It becomes more important than who we really are and who we were created to be. We become either better than or a greater victim than someone or some group. We hold to those ideas tenaciously. All those identities we cling to may be slices of us, glimpses of us, but they skip the most basic elemental reality. Each of us is human, a human being made in the image of God. We have been placed here on this small orb to steward its many resources and to help each other.
Instead, we listen to one another and in a short span of time decide what we know about each other and then make a judgment. So very soon we have you typed in some way. Then we ascribe a host of other things to you on top of our slim observation. We may justify ourselves for a hundred different reasons and tell others we know their story, your culture, your creed OR you don’t know or understand my story.
This week I read the following insightful sentences by Wendell Berry in his novel Jayber Crow that spoke to the problem.
“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”
Too often we make a judgment based on one or two handfuls. There is so much more we don’t know. We must also be clear. We will NEVER know about ALL the wheat in the granary that makes up any one person. That is true even of a life-long friend or a spouse.
“The Great Leveler” forces us to give up, give in, surrender, and trust.
A crisis pushes aside our self-centered self-righteousness and our pride, but sadly it doesn’t last for a great length of time. I see that every time. Old pieces of DNA along with old habits show up.
I see it already in Texas. Some see this as an opportunity and they and start looting. Some start focusing on what shoes someone wore that came to offer comfort. Some look at who wasn’t helping without looking at whether or not they were.
This pride, self-centered, self-righteousness has plagued us since Eden. We see it depicted many times when we read the Bible. It shouts at us loudly in the story of “The Good Samaritan” and it whispers to us when the Israeli spies allow themselves to be spared by a prostitute.
We have forgotten the truth (if we ever knew it) that we are dust and to dust we will return when death, the greatest leveler, comes to us.
Every day we have the opportunity to practice the truth, to surrender, to remember. Then every night we practice humbly submitting to sleep.
Hannah Anderson describes it this way in Humble Roots:
“Every night, we must practice. So that through practicing He will make us perfect. Through practicing this trust every night, He is teaching us to trust Him when He finally calls us to Himself. Through our practicing this rest every night, He is teaching us how to rest in Him for all eternity.”
This week “The Great Leveler” is once again at work in capital letters we cannot miss.
Will we yield to what it can teach us?
Will we learn from it this time?