We humans like to leave a mark behind which says :”I was here.” We wonder what will be left behind when we die? Was it good people raised, big churches built, good sermons written, good art in homes or galleries or good memories of people who loved us and occasionally tell stories including or even about us.
Early Christians left marks on walls of caves. Early travelers left cuts in stones. Early Celts left huge stone crosses. Early Egyptians left wall paintings.
Yesterday I heard someone refer to the season of working life in which they found themselves as “The Legacy Phase of my career.” She was in her late fifties and had accomplished enough good work to be able to replicate it one last time while writing a book and manual in order to pass it on.
The other day, I was wandering along the coastline where I live – an island in Puget Sound – and came across these totem poles. Tall and graceful with images I could not interpret, I stood in awe of them. I wondered about the people whose lives they represented. The word totem comes from “Odoodem,” an ancient American Indian word for “his kinship group.”
We, inside the church and outside it, love our mission statements. Then when that task is utterly exhausted, we love our vision statements. Then our values statements. Then our “elevator speeches.” We work so hard crafting just the right series of words that we often never really get around to doing the task about which they speak and towards which they point. Indeed, it is my firm opinion that if Satan has ever done anything strategic to get in the way of our mission, it was to inspire us to write a mission statement. A mission statement so gets in the way that nothing much gets done even though we feel very productive. And there is no paper-trail back to the evil one. Really quite strategic. Efficient. Clean.
What would your totem pole look like? How would you say to the world’s passers-by “Look! Here! These are my people.” Or “Look! Here! These are the events of my life I want you to see.” Is a grave stone really doing much more than taking up land on which people experiencing homelessness could so happily live?
Of course we have our totem poles. We call it Facebook. Our “friends.”
Our nation and our church are both struggling to decide who our Odoodem. Who are “our” people? Our Washington Monument – does that explain “our people?” It’s very white. Statue of Liberty? It’s green and a woman. The cross of Jesus? It’s brown and male.
I wonder if, instead of a wall or more laws, or more lawyers, or more mission statements – I wonder what our totem poles would look like. I wish, rather than oceans of graveyards, we might instead carve totem poles and then (and here is the hard part) let them rot and become soil again in a few decades.
Mission statements are simply group-ego-extensions. I am in my “Legacy Phase” of my work-life. I am content not to have left much and not to be remembered for anything. But some of my pots will be cups for others on a hot day. Pottery lasts a while. That’s enough. And if the pots break, then it will contribute to the soil. Also enough.
We are all, no matter what we do, doing our very best. Our legacy is our kindness.