I’m not much of one for the forced sentimentality of a Mothers Day or Fathers Day. They always feel a bit contrived to me, and if I were ever pope of a church I’m quite sure I would not mention these Hallmark Holidays on their given Sundays.
But my dad taught me something about the Kingdom of God that I’ve rarely seen so vividly depicted. And I want to share that to honor him, and his impact on me.
Dad was in the Navy.
He started in the enlisted ranks after dropping out of college to marry mom. Through a Navy program he shortly thereafter finished college and became an officer.
The military is an elaborate systems of awards and honor. On your uniform, every day, you put on display for all your colleagues how well honored and rewarded you have been.
You wear a rank on your collar or sleeve. And everyone below you must honor you for that rank, including the obligatory salute.
Often, you wear your ribbons–signifying achievements from sharp shooting, to deployment in a given war, to meritorious achievement, to honor in battle. These ribbons are worn in order of importance, so you can always size up someone very quickly by comparing the top two or three ribbons on the uniform. (I learned how my dad’s top ribbons compared with other peoples and was often proud of his having better ribbons than officers of higher rank. I learned. I bought in.)
But dad always knew that the greater honor was found in serving than being served.
When he was an officer, and daily in dress whites or blues or even khakis, he always kept his most important work uniform in his desk drawer.
Not overalls. Coveralls.
Slipping into these, dad would go where it’s dirty, crawl on his hands and knees–to set and empty mouse traps.
Slipping into these, dad would dig trenches to lay fiber optic cable.
Slipping into these, dad would no longer be seen by all as officer to be saluted, officer to give orders, officer removed from the dirty work of the unwashed masses.
Slipping into these, dad would serve. He would show that there is no job that needed to be done that was not worthy of his attention–and no job he would issue to a subordinate that he was unwilling to do himself.
Slipping into these, the markers of honor would be covered in favor of joining with those who had not been so honored, so promoted, so awarded.
What does it look like to imitate the Christ who laid aside his robes in order to gird himself like a slave in order to wash the disciples’ feet?
What does it look like to imitate the Christ who laid aside his form-of-Godness in order to take the form of a servant?
I don’t know that there’s one answer to that question.
But I do know that I’ve seen one answer. It is embodied in my dad, who did not regard the honors and glories of his rank something to be clung to at all costs, but was willing to set it all aside in service of those “below” him according to rank, but not according to their true worth.
Thanks, dad, for showing me the upside down nature of the True World, and picturing in your various worlds the economy of the Kingdom of God.