Good morning Christians, Seekers, and Friends!
The year I heard A LOT about lemmings, was also the year that I heard A LOT of Fleetwood Mac. I was still in my first years of elementary school but I was pretty musically “savvy” thanks to my sister who is six years older than I am, and my aunt Maria who was six years older than she. Aunt Maria was in college then which seemed so mysterious and unreal. And she lived in Great Falls, Montana –a place we only went to a few times a year on shopping trips. And that summer, when she came home, I remember her cut-off shorts and turtlenecks and the Fleetwood Mac album, Rumors, given her by her college boyfriend…someone I would only ever know in my dreams. As Maria would put on the turntable and play the song Dreams, even though my childhood experiences certainly didn’t allow me to understand Stevie Nicks’ lyrics, her raspy voice wove a vision of dandelion down and dreams that made me long for something about which I knew nothing. Through her words I believed that one day I would also have visions like hers when I was in college and living somewhere exciting like Great Falls, Montana.
Now lemmings and Fleetwood Mac probably have nothing to do with each other except they overlapped at an important time in my childhood development. They both were a memorable part of that time most of us recollect when the worlds of home and self and the larger world collide, shaking up our worlds like tectonic plates shifting rather than those neatly drawn circles in Venn Diagrams. My classmates and the outside world became an ever-increasing part of my days and their beliefs and hopes and dreams sometimes seemed to crash into mine. And while as an adult, I know that this is not only healthy and part of what makes life so wonderful and interesting, then these collisions sometimes shook me to the core. Why did this happen? Why don’t they get in trouble when they do that? And, of course, why didn’t we have this, and why didn’t I get to do that. Why, why, why? My mother’s response to my incessant litany of whys would sometimes take the form of this question: “If someone else jumps off a cliff would you do it as well?” And then she would tell me the story of the lemmings who, when their population grew too large, would willingly jump off cliffs en masse to their death. Although what wanting to have an EZ bake oven had in common with the lemmings’ collective death wish I still couldn’t tell you.
But of course, this myth of the lemmings does seem to fit the undue influence other folk’s actions, decisions, and possessions can have on us. “It provides an irresistible metaphor for human behavior. Someone who blindly follows a crowd—maybe even toward catastrophe—is called a lemming. Over the past century, the myth has been invoked to express [our] modern anxieties about how individuality could be submerged and destroyed by mass phenomena, such as political movements or consumer culture.” And right now, we seem to be awash in anxiety—worrying that masses of misguided folks—however we might define the “them”—will catch us up in their crowded rush toward the proverbial sea cliff, and we’ll all be lost. And yet while we find ourselves fearing “them” and what they might do, at the same time we seem to discount the importance of making our own decisions, taking our own actions, and using our own gifts as moral, spiritual, and ethical human beings. But what we choose to do does enact change – even if we can’t necessarily see it from where we stand. We have come farther up that arc of progress thanks to many who have come before. So the view from here is only possible because we are standing on the shoulders of giants – both human thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie —and spiritual giants like Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Oscar Romero. We are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, too, on the shoulders of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on Moses and all the prophets and the women, men, and people who believed and followed and witnessed and told their stories generation after generation both before and after the coming of Christ. We are standing on the shoulders of our mothers and fathers and so many more who nurtured us, taught us, and raised us up and who also didn’t necessarily live to see the full effect of their life’s work.
You see, it was the faith of these giants in their vision of what was possible which compelled them forward. Moses led the children of Israel to the land promised to his ancestors but, as we read in today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures, while he made it to the top of “…Mount Nebo and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar” he knew he would never live there himself. The Lord reminded the greatest of the prophets: “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” And on the stormy night of April 3 1968, Dr. King, returned to Memphis to encourage the beleaguered sanitation workers in their strike and urge their return to non-violent resistance and told the folks gathered, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
And now it is our turn to give someone a leg up. We may feel overwhelmed by this time of unrest and uncertainty, but we are not asked to do everything – we are just asked to do our thing– our special piece of God’s work. For example, today as we celebrate the gathering of our monetary pledges to this community of Epiphany, we are allowing our church to serve her neighborhood, her city of Seattle, and the larger world. We are also modelling what is possible when people to come together in faith in Jesus Christ. Political parties and the trappings of our culture’s view on success are left to one side as we engage in ministries of love to one another through prayers, flowers, prayer shawls, conversations, and bible study—even the gift of delicious homemade meals. We are a place where we are valued for the content of our characters and our souls and pledging comes as a response to our gratitude to God for all we have been given here at Epiphany and in the Kingdom of God. And this is what we want to share with our community now and in the future – we want to celebrate the promise of Jesus that wherever two or three are gathered, he will be in their midst. We want to celebrate being Christ’s body in the world working towards upholding justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being. AND, and this is an important and—we want to be bringers of the good news to our world in need.
Yes, it is true that always going along with the crowd can be a bad thing… But what about the surprising joy we can bring ourselves and other if we are willing take part? Have you ever seen the flash mobs where folks, who don’t even know each other, will all come together to do an impromptu dance or sing a Broadway song and then just go on their way? It is hard not to smile or become part of it.
Just a little over a month ago, Nathan Apodaca, a resident of Idaho Falls and a potato plant worker, posted a short 20 second Tik Tok video of himself skateboarding while drinking Ocean Spray cranberry raspberry juice and lip syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s song “Dreams.” And this video, made after his old car broke down on the way to work again, went viral and pushed the song Dreams onto music charts all over the world AGAIN 43 years after its first release…. The story gets better still in that this ‘frontline’ worker living in an RV without water, the kind of person we don’t take too much notice of … well his video not only inspired Mick Fleetwood himself to join Tik Tok and do his own version, but after re-tweeting Apodaca’s video, Stevie Nicks put on her roller skates once again and made her own video singing along with her iconic song.
The song Dreams is climbing the charts again, just as Stevie was ready to drop a new video about a dream she had in 2008. One she said she could no longer keep to herself. On October 9, Nicks put out her first song in six years called “Show them the Way” about a dream in which she was asked to sing a song to a room of folks including John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis. She wrote the lyrics upon awaking and the music the following day. At the time, she wasn’t really sure what it meant, but she felt compelled to sing it now. In the dream, in a room full of hope, she was asked to sing a song to set them free. The song she sang was “Please God show him the way. Please God show her the way. Please God show them the way.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica writes that we can trace the myth of lemmings purposefully killing themselves to a 1958 Disney nature film White Wilderness. The filmmakers eager for dramatic footage staged a lemming death plunge, pushing dozens of little lemmings off a cliff while cameras were rolling. The images—shocking at the time for what they seemed to show about the cruelty of nature– shock us now because they show the cruelty of which humans are capable.
Nick’s lyrics continue:
They…left us in a single shot but they didn’t take the dream…..Back in the room where it all began, my heart began to heal, I believe it….A voice said, “The dream is not over, no the dream has just begun. I spun around to see another shadow slipping through the door. And my eyes opened wide, “What is it all for?” And the shadow said, “Don’t forget it, ….don’t forget what we were fighting for…”
And I said,
Please God show ‘em the way.
Please God on this day
Spirits given the strength
Peace can come if you really want it.
Think we’re just in time to say
Please God show them the way.
And all these years later, I find myself longing for the realization of her dreams once again. Her voice grown deeper through the years sings a song I think most of us can hope even those of us who’ve never lived in the great metropolis of Great Falls, Montana.