Why Not Goldfish?


I continue to be intrigued by people with great vision. When speaking of people with vision, Gandhi talked about resilience – the ability, commitment, and flexibility to continue the course while making needed changes to unexpected situations that happen along the way. According to Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

It seems to me our world, both secular and religious, needs great visionary leaders who have as a basic part of their spirit, resilience. A resilience that allows them to stay committed to the larger picture while working through the daily tasks and details that build toward a world in which they want to live, and, perhaps more importantly, leave for those who follow. I think there is an expansive generosity that burns in the hearts of those with great vision and resilient spirits that, by definition, causes them to see themselves and beyond themselves toward a greater work for the common good.

We had a couple of baptisms along with honoring our graduates last Sunday morning. I love the sacred rhythm of life – the reminder that what we do as communities is about us and beyond us at the same time. Both children baptized had older sisters, each somewhere in the 2-3 years old range, each of whom had also been baptized at Grace. We showed the water being poured in the bowl to both older sisters, and I told them they had water put on their heads when they were babies too and that it was the greatest thing ever. The first older sister looked at the water in the bowl, looked me in the eyes quite sincerely and asked, “Where are the goldfish?” I. Love. That! What a great question! It’s a bowl of water, it’s clear, why not goldfish?! It’s a sacrament, a commitment to life, a power of God’s universal desire of good things for beloved children and the world – why not goldfish? Her eyes have not already decided what fits where, who and what belongs in what place, how things have to be because they’ve always been. A future visionary leader who, I’m guessing, may always ask the question no one else will think of, but which hits everyone square in the head when it’s spoken. Why not goldfish? A great sermon title, don’t you think?

At the second baptism, as customary, I invited the older sister to walk down the aisle with her baby brother and me as I introduced and symbolically reminded our community that we all have received the child into our spiritual home and hearts. She decided she did want to come, got to the chancel steps leading down to the center aisle, and because there is no handrail, proceeded to turn around backwards, kneel down, and make her way carefully and meticulously down each step, hanging on to the step in front of her until she came to the floor, exactly as her parents and grandparents have taught her. It took all the time it needed to take and the practicality and patience of it allowed all of us to pause, to be reminded that life needs not always be rushed, and perhaps that living in the present moment is not a bad thing. She then turned around to walk down what must look like the longest aisle in the world when you’re 3 ft. tall, with the weird lady wearing an over-sized black tent, holding her baby brother after having just doused his head with water. There was no hesitation, no question, simply confidently walking down and back as I shared with the community what we had promised her baby brother that day. No fear. No embarrassment. No wondering what people thought. Simply walking beside, trusting – maybe more the Spirit than we might know – that all was good in the world. Because, you see, in her vision the world is as safe as it is big, as slow and solve-able as a set of three large steps, and as trustworthy as a massive group of strangers gathered in one place smiling and winking and even waving at her and her baby brother the whole way.

I thought of the two babies and their two older sisters most particularly last night as the news began to break about the terror attack at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. There were so many teens, and pre-teens, and young adults there to hear the perhaps Donna Summer or Linda Ronstadt of my day. 22 killed, over 59 injured, and a world once again focused on the stark reality of violence, destruction, and terror in every place, including “soft targets” – places we might think least likely to be at risk because they are filled with the most vulnerable and innocent. Our baptized babies and their older siblings 10-15 years down the road from today. The graduating high school seniors ready to walk down the aisle into the current context of a world where terror is too much a commonly held and known global reality.

Our world needs great visionary leaders whose spirits are defined by a deep generosity and an unwillingness to give up on the understanding that God wants good things for all God’s children and that we must persist, we must be resilient, and we must be committed to confront the demands of the day without losing hope or energy and the greater vision of peace for every tomorrow. I leave us with Gandhi’s quote:

“First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.”

So may it be for Hannah and Kate, and Kerrick and Mikaeyla, and goldfish and chancel steps, and grandparents and graduates, and maybe even you and me.