As part of the opening ceremony for the Paralympics, Beverley Knight sang the song from the musical ‘La Cage aux Folles’ – ‘I am what I am; I don’t want praise; I don’t want pity. I bang my own drum, some think it’s noise – I think it’s pretty. And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle? Why not try to see things from a different angle? Your life is a sham – do you, can you shout out I am what I am? I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses. I deal my own deck, sometimes the aces, sometimes the deuces. It’s one life and there is no return and no deposit, one life so it’s time to open up your closet. Life’s not worth a dam till you can shout out I am what I am, I am what I am. I am I am good. I am I am strong. I am I am somebody. I am I do belong. I am I do belong. I am I am useful. I am I am true. I am I am worthy. I am as good as you. I am as good as you. I am I am good. I am I am strong. I am I am somebody. I am I do belong.’
One of our problems, I think, is that, too often, we aspire to be someone else. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to greater things – if that is what we are called to do, if that is where we are called to aim. But God never calls us to be someone else. God calls us to be ourselves. Way back on my 21st birthday my four siblings, all younger than me, gave me a birthday card which I still have in my study at home. It depicts Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame. There is a speech bubble, and Charlie says, ‘There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.’ I am not convinced that they recognised my great potential at that point, but there’s a truth, as well as a challenge, in the statement. I am what I am. There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.
I see Daniel as someone who recognised the truth of both those statements, and so I see Daniel as a messenger of hope. The book of Daniel opens with the people not in a good place. And so there might well be some connections to be made. There are many ways in which we might see ourselves as not in a good place. We look at an international society that remains beset by war. We look at a nation facing challenging economic problems. We look at a church which many argue to be in terminal decline – though I am not convinced of that.
Daniel and his mates had been carted off into exile. There was every reason why they might abandon hope. Not only were they in a strange place, but they have been chosen to serve the conquering king who has taken them away. But there are compensations, or so it seems. They are given the opportunities of enjoying the cuisine provided by the king. They are to be regularly wined and dined, the aim being that this will put them in good condition to serve the king well. But Daniel and his friends don’t want to be contaminated by the royal largesse. They ask to be excused, but the person charged with overseeing this programme is a bit reluctant to risk ending up with four of his protegies at less than their best. Daniel assures him that won’t happen and asks for what one commentator describes as “trial by vegetables”. And it all works out – at the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who had lived on to food from the king.
The story is about where you put your confidence. They had the chance of food fit for a king, but they didn’t need it. Daniel kept his eye on God. It was from God that he drew his hope. There is a big lesson there.
But where are we in this story? What are the luxury items – the good food and fine wines – that we need to turn away from? What are the vegetables, the ordinary things, that will not only sustain us, but sustain us well? Where do we put our hope?