on glorious things

What is the most glorious thing you have seen?

I, raised on a diet of war stories and mighty deeds of the Greeks and Romans, had nothing to say. The pastor gave a few sample answers he’d heard: the Milky Way on a night sky, dawn rays over a canyon, the megalithic might of a world-class airport after a long-haul flight, the taste of the perfect wagyu stew. Glory, he explained, in the Judeo-Christian tradition is related to weight. Something that matters so much, that demands such attention, respect, and awe, stuns us as glorious.

And paradoxically, the glory of God is weirdly weightless. The world’s glory lies in heights and lengths, weighty deeds, and lofty ideas. And so when the glory of God, the glory of the one and only, as declaimed by the Apostle John, came to the earth, no one bought it. Few would accept that the glory of God did not reach to grasp the heights but to plumb the depths, to crawl alongside the inglorious, breathe in our dust, and to die in agony to our jeers. And that was his most glorious moment, the glory of the glory of God, to hang like a bleeding piece of meat, that anyone who looked at him would be saved. That is true glory.

PFFFFFFFFFFT, I thought.

I’d been struggling for a while at that point. I’d left a job that I’d poured my entire being into, stumbled my way through a degree after that, tried to find that old high, but failed. Then I took up a new job I had come to loathe. Everyday seemed to constitute a litany of abuse and incompetence from management, ever more ridiculous requests piled on the working joes by a cabal of number-crunching, ivory-tower marketers which seemed to take a perverse delight in screwing over low-level employees, to — borrowing a phrase from an old buddy of mine — piss on our shoes and tell us it’s raining. Our clients and customers cared little for what we bent over backward to achieve. I missed my old students so dearly.

But if all those people out there were to blame for my misery, so was I. I had embraced being a bitter man even while supposedly being careful not to. It felt so good to feel aggrieved all day and night, never really bothering to find a solution, work out a compromise, or hell, even look for a new job. It mattered more that I feel validated in my aggrievedness than to do something to fix it. After all, I’m the victim here.

Thus with practiced resentfulness I dismissed this vision of glory. What did the paradoxically weightless (at least in earthly terms) glory of God mean when I was so miserable, when I was the neverending victim of such neverending malice from above?

What is the most glorious thing you have seen?

Alright, alright, I’m game. I remember… I remember scrubbing crap off a seared pot alongside a buddy of mine, late one Friday night after church cafe. After the final rinse we heaved the damn thing onto a shelf and grinned at each other. He’s a beanpole Nigerian, and I remember how brilliantly his teeth shone as we trudged through the cold London night to the back exit of church. I remember, years later, slaving away with two other colleagues (we became fast friends after this) over the kitchen counter at school, we were on sandwich duty, cake decoration, and pastry baking. All told we toiled some 10 hours that day, speech day, but I remember the way we looked at each other when the last guest had left. We grinned and we giggled, too tired to say anything, but we knew, we did it. I remember some years later walking down the stairs after the final lesson of the day, it had been a long one, and two wide-eyed kids ran straight at me with news that their friend had fainted and was now in sick bay and what are we going to do? I remember rushing there to find her lolling in a chair, I remember getting on my knees to dab her brow with a damp cloth, I remember borrowing a wheelchair from sick bay and escorting her and her wide-eyed mother to a nearby clinic. I remember walking back from the clinic to school with the folded-up wheelchair and legs weak from adrenaline crash thinking: Wow. Some day.

A little self-serving there, my conscience now chided me, but the point was made: the most glorious things in my life rested on helping the people I love, alongside people I love. The dicier the situation, the heavier the task, the greater the glory we felt in the end; regardless of who got the credit for what, you would walk away knowing something very good has just been doneand I got to be part of it. You would know what it meant to be great-hearted, if only in that moment (because the pettiness and the sin would find you soon afterward, no doubt).

I had allowed my heart to shrink, I now told myself. Glory had now meant nothing because I had willingly put down what it meant to be great-hearted, what it meant to fall in love with and chase after God’s glory, the man named Jesus, who gave himself to the death for the people he loves. I had once loved serving people I love. If I had once had the privilege to instinctively pursue something that at least vaguely resembled that glory, it has been to my shame that I threw it away in favour of self-aggrandising, self-pitying, small-hearted resentfulness. 

It’s time to be great-hearted again, to commit to loving through service, to chase after that old glory. From there God can sort things out.

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