Towards Inter-dependence
July 8, 2024

Towards Inter-dependence


Luke 1:39-56

It was Independence Day this week. And this country more than many is built on the myth of independence.  It's right there in the name of the national holiday.   Canada also celebrated its national holiday this week. And even though we Canadians like to set ourselves apart from our American neighbor, there is still something of that same we-did-it-ourselves attitude. In both countries where I hold citizenship there’s a disregard for the millenia indigenous care for and inhabitation of the lands on which Canada and the United States are built.

But there is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man - or woman or any other human or nation.  We are products of our families and communities and we need those communities.  Even billionaires and millionaires who ostensibly built themselves up from ‘nothing’ have workers - maybe immigrants - whom they depend on for cheap labor, or outsourced factories they depend on to manufacture the goods they’ve designed or commissioned, or consumers to buy what they’re selling.  

They may also have a supportive spouse or paid nanny taking care of home and children.  They may have come into their wealth or property because of family-supported education or inherited wealth. All these and more make the “self-made” man and woman who’s leaning in the successes that they are.

When my brother and I were kids and would get into it about something, my mom would call me out, as the elder. I would retort, “He started it!” I believe anyone who has a sibling has likely said this!  And my mom would reply, “It takes two to tango.”  I thought for a long time that she was saying ‘tangle’ because we were getting all tangled up in whatever yelling match we were having, each trying to win.  

It’s too bad that such a passionate and beautiful dance has been appropriated by the negative phrase, but it’s true - it does take two. And rather than using this phrase to blame a pair for something messy done together, maybe it would be better for situations when I’m trying to be too independent - and messing up. If I’m failing because connecting and combining ideas and energy would result in something so much more beautiful and creative and expressive than I could do independently: It takes two - or more - to tango!

In our scripture, one of the very rare stories in the Bible in which two women are central, Mary is no dummy.  She knows - and has grown from a culture that teaches her - that she is not independent.  As soon as she makes up her mind to do as the angel has instructed her, she hightails it to the person that she knows can be community and mentor to her.  These women need each other.  Mary knows also from her position as a young person, a woman, an occupied Jew that she is not independent.  She needs her community for support, help, advice sustenance.

Unlike Mary, I am no longer young. I am a woman, but I am not oppressed.  I have means.  It is relatively easy for me to tell myself the myth of independence because of my privilege.  I like to think I can do things myself and it's hard for me to ask for help! In my personal goals and achievements and in the social realm. But Mary needs Elizabeth to help her know how to navigate the next steps that she was about to face.  She will need Joseph’s support in bringing an illegitimate child into the world.  She needs the companionship of a God who sees and lifts up the lowly ones such as herself.  She goes on from the scripture we heard to sing the praises of this God.  She sees her place in the web, in the tangle.

I think Mary would identify with the folks who clean offices or who are the intellectual labor for millionaires, with the low-wage earners doing the piece work in their factories or fulfilment centers, the nanny who’s taking care of their kids. With those who feel their dependence every day.  Dependence on their work.  On each other.  Those (like myself) who have privilege are the ones who need a jolt, a reminder that forces us (maybe none too gently) into realizing how interdependent we all actually are.

Martin Luther King’s wrote from Birmingham County Jail: 

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  

Dr King was in the position of having to wake up the communities of privilege - in this case even the sympathetic liberal white clergy - that he and his community are not animals.  But they are an interconnected and valuable part of the nation and of humanity.

I am grateful, here in Kirkland, to have the community of churches who together march for liberation and against oppression. (Like the picture above) Where we can witness to God's vision not only for peace, but for community with each other. I am grateful for the Mennonite Church too, which has always been a witness for the power of community and for serving each other and the world - in our churches and in organizations like Mennonite Disaster Service and Mennonite Central Committee. I pray that we continue to look away from our nation's insistence on independence and instead continue to march with each other toward inter-dependence. May it be so!


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