Saturday 2nd November The State We’re in…Despise not the Small
He said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’ Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ – a question generally aimed at eliciting a child’s vocational aspirations and ambitions – sometimes gets the answer ‘Big’, which was indeed the response of Tom Hanks in the comedy film of that name. Whether we are talking about nations or persons, the attractions of largeness are apparent – status, agency, resources, rewards, power. Bigness can be imagined as beautiful (as President Trump is reported as saying of the Oval Office and his presidential responsibilities), inverting the thinking of a significant 1970s book, Small is Beautiful. Is smallness now to be viewed with disdain?
My kindly PhD examiner, the late Canon Donald Allchin, suggested that ‘a small nation is not the same as a large nation’, not least in terms of power (over). Of course, small nations can be petty and mediocre and delusional and sometimes even rogue. Smallness does not inevitably save any from perpetrating wrong (and my nation of Scotland historically has embraced enthusiastically the imperial aspirations of larger neighbours). Yet, in their relative weakness and vulnerability, small nations may (at their best) have an orientation towards creative dynamics, awareness of interdependence, avoidance of a desire for dominance, a sense of community inside and outwith, an alignment with others’ vulnerability, and the seeking a world role rooted in other than economic, political or indeed military power.
To suggest this is neither to be blind where history tells another story, nor to claim some moral high ground. The best instincts of small nations come in part from the realisation that they are denied the possibilities of a large nation. For many in the smaller nations, however, there is perhaps a sense that some talk of recovering greatness feels alien, not least because we are trying to explore what smallness, weakness and vulnerability mean for us in the world today.
God, your power is exercised in enabling humanity to reflect your love and peace and justice for the world you have made.
Saviour, your power is expressed most fully in the vulnerability of the Cross for the sake of the world to whom you came.
Holy Spirit, your power is at work when we humbly embrace the potential of the weak in power to challenge and to change how we live together. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce is a retired URC minister, a former Principal of the Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College, and now its Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology.
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