My friend and roommate, Kyle sent this to me yesterday evening and I was quite amused. It is rather fascinating to witness the phenomena known as selfies and how they have become a mark of our modern culture. I suppose I could write a whole blog about how selfies are symptoms of a deeply narcissistic culture and potentially how they have had a minuscule part in creating that type of culture, but I will save that for later. For now, just enjoy a good, hearty laugh 🙂
Are you befuddled by the title of this blog? That’s appropriate. I know that in the world we live in this sounds rather counterintuitive, but doesn’t the term weak aptly depict us humans? Aren’t we fragile people who are naturally dependent beings? We do not like to think that we are, but perhaps it is a more accurate description of our true state. I can presume that not all of you who read this will agree with that statement but hopefully by the end of reading this you will understand what I mean.
Vulnerability is not something we like all that much, even when the circumstance consists of vulnerability or honesty with ourselves. Weakness is a horror to some and not able to be tolerated. It is hard to tolerate the weakness and fragility in ourselves because people have told us that 1) we are not allowed to weak/we won’t make it in this world if we are found to be fragile or 2) that we must compensate for our weaknesses by becoming strong and powerful in order for society to accept and make use of us. Above all of this is the haunting reality that many of us have not been shown love when we have openly borne our weaknesses (instead we have been rejected when we have shown our true selves). When we realize that we cannot tolerate our own weakness we will also soon find that it is impossible to rekon with the weakness in others (be it our friends, family, spouse etc…). Sadly, we see this only when we first recognize that we judge others by the same hoops that we force ourselves to jump through. The aim of our culture is to ignore or relieve ourselves of all weaknesses we experience so that we are left with nothing but strengths. But again, fragility is not something that can be turned on or off but rather something that exemplifies our humanity.
I love this article by N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today. In it he states that the world we live in is “at odds with human self-importance”. Wilson takes a look at the intellectuals of today and uses them to show our delusional attempts to make the world about us. He uses intellectuals as an example to show that humans are desperately afraid to find out that they are far more weak and fragile than they ever dared to realize. Wilson proposes this because intellectuals often partake in the work of intellectualizing in order to tame, not the world (for it cannot be tamed), but rather “their perception of the world”. We philosophize and fixate over the smallest of matters to feel in control and escape to fantasy of reality. This is Wilson’s point. The fact that fantasy is reality scares us and contributes to our feelings of smallness and helplessness. Those feelings torment, but those feelings point the reality that we are often to afraid to face: we are far more weak than we ever dared imagined. In essence, Wilson states that our world is one where humans live out of control and it is our attempts to tame the world that point to our inability to stare into the face of our fragility.
We are afraid to find out how weak, fragile, and dependent we are but it is only logical when you begin to think about it. Maybe words from the Apostle Paul will help, “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” Paul is right, I think. We did not choose to be born, nor the parents or siblings who surrounded us. We didn’t get the choice to exist not will we get the choice of death. It is going to happen and we have no choice in the matter. We flaunt our accomplishments and accolades as if that makes us safe from the inevitable reality of our fragility, but it doesn’t. We will never escape the fact that everything we have has been given to us and thus by nature we are dependent/weak beings. We aren’t as autonomous as we’d like to hope we are.
It is strange, but Jesus and Paul (and other New Testament writers) both seem to explain that Life comes from the realization that we are indeed weak and fragile beings. It is a realization that the delusional regimes of being in control and being strong are not actually true even though they may be attractive. True life and true humanity come from surrender and a recognition that we need help. It is interesting when we truly begin to see Christianity in this light. It changes how we interact with our weakness and with the weaknesses of those around us.
If we begin to see that weakness is actually a way unto life then it is no longer a horror but something through which we can meet God. We no longer have to live under the presumption that we are our own creator nor that we are strong when we know that within the deeper recesses of our heart we actually aren’t. Human weakness and fragility is the way unto the cross of Christ and it is where we meet Jesus. Like Wilson says, our attempts to run from this reality are many. Why not sit and allow yourself to know that you are weak and simultaneously loved by God. That reality should trump all false illusions about who we in age that tempts us to act as our own god and flee from our own fragility.
For further thoughts on this, check out this video.
In my reading today, I came across a quote that clearly and concisely summarized one of the reasons why I appreciate history. I have tried to explain this idea verbally to others but for some reason it has never come out in these terms (nor as concisely as these writers put it). This quote is from a book entitled “Colossians Remixed” by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat (while they have differing surnames, they are actually married-pretty awesome!). In one chapter they write this:
This story has come from somewhere and is going somewhere [referencing the last paragraph], and we can truly know where we are going only if we know where we have come from. In order to have vision we must have memory. Indeed forgetfulness or amnesia is precisely what strips us of vision-without the past there can be no future. So our contemporary improvisation must be informed and directed by both profound indwelling of the biblical vision of life and a discerning attentiveness to the postbiblical scenes that have already been acted out in the history of the church.
Their argument about the necessity of remembrance (history) for any sort of vision is intriguing and I think extremely significant. I don’t think that this is an argument for a particular philosophy of history, whether cyclical or linear, but rather a proposal for the purpose and necessity of history in the present and future.
In an attempt to illustrate their point, let us imagine for a moment that you and your spouse (imagining you have one if you don’t) adopt a young boy. The child is rather old for adoption (maybe 13 or 14) and his parents left him at a young age and since then he has been in and out of a number of foster homes that were not always actually “fostering” him in a manner that was positive. You don’t really know the details of his story, but just have a general idea of what his life has been like. You and your spouse are ecstatic about this adoption and have always wanted a young boy of your own. Together, you have dreamed about what school he should go to and who he should marry and what his vocation will be, but you have done this without knowing much about the boy you are soon to adopt. You have very much enjoyed carefully crafting a vision for his future. As you drive this boy home from the courts, while hardly being able to keep your eyes on the road because you constantly want his eyes to meet yours from the backseat, you realize that he has a story of his own that is not quite what you expected. As you ask questions, he meets you with answers that you weren’t at all prepared for. He has more wounds than you could have imagined and peculiar passions that you never would have guessed. Thus, his story begins to change what you thought adoption would look like. It not only changes your view of adoption, but also your vision for what you thought his life would become. Slowly you realize that his story is going to affect all the dreams that you had for his life and they are going to have to change. You realize that you were ignorant to who he was and where had come from and as he spoke you came to see that his story was shaping the present circumstance and your vision for his future in your midst.
Simply put, when we are attentive to the past, we tend to see the future differently. How are we to know where we are going if we are ignorant of our own history or the history that shapes our context, community, and/or character? We can have no vision for where to go next if we don’t know where we’ve been and thus don’t know where we presently are. There can be no vision for reform if we have nothing to re-form.
The writers who provided that quote hone in on church history and I think that this is particularly important yet forgotten in the church. Church History is vital for the church, but alas we are fighting against a postmodern age that Hauerwas aptly describes with a saying that he has become known for:
America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.
In essence, Hauerwas is saying that our culture has forgotten and been severed from any semblance or remembrance of History. We are a culture of wanderers without any concept of how we fit into the history of the world. Without history (whether someone’s personal story or a global history) we lose deep appreciation for stories of the past (and how those affect the present), an understanding of where we fit in, and a vision for where we are going.
In our culture we tend to determine something or someone’s value by what they or it gives us. It sounds like a cynical statement, but if ever the statement has been true in the history of humanity, I suppose it is now. Let me explain. We live in a culture that disciples us to become more impatient, and increasingly desirous of immediate self-gratification and self-fulfillment. Our culture has commodified nearly everything and therefore things and people have become a product to be consumed to satisfy our longings while simultaneously furthering our self-absorbtion. It is because of this commodification of things and people that commonly held virtues (at least in America) have radically transformed. No longer are patience, self-control, or gentleness virtues that are commonly held and elevated among humanity. Mark Sayers (an author I am currently reading) writes that these virtues have undergone a dramatic shift from valuing “character” to valuing “cool”. Our culture is now far more captivated by what is sexy, cool, and glamerous rather than the virtues that seem rather “traditional” and “old-school” for our post-modern and “civilized” selves. We determine the value of things and people by what they give to us. All of this has been apparent to me for sometime, but I am realizing more lately how this cultural influence has affected me and discipled me in a way that is contrary to what it means to follow Christ.
Have you ever read the book of Habakkuk? It is a small book in the Bible of only 56 verses, and it is one of my favorites. God has taught me a lot through this book over the past year. It is a book that I truly cherish. Let me tell you, in brief, the story of Habakkuk:
Habakkuk was a prophet (one who “speaks out”) before the Babylonian Exile, which probably places him sometime in the 7th or 8th century BC. Anyway, one time, Habakkuk had a little tussle with God, and by tussle I mean that they argued for a little while about something Habakkuk was struggling with. You see, Habakkuk was concerned for his people, Israel, because they had committed some wrongs and God thought it just and good to correct them and to punish them for their wrongdoing. It seems that that made sense to Habakkuk, but he was not convinced about how God wanted to punish Israel. God told Habakkuk that he wanted to use an unrighteous nation known as the Chaldeans (or the Babylonians) to correct Israel. This is where the argument ensued. Habakkuk initiated a correspondence with God where he complains and tries to understand how God could do such a thing. Habakkuk complains twice about God using this unjust and immoral nation, but the essence of God’s response to Habakkuk can be found in chapter 2 verse 4. He says to Habakkuk, “…but the righteous shall live by his faith”. That is the turning point of the book and after this Habakkuk goes on to deliver woe’s to the Chaldeans (I can see him muttering heated sentence fragments in a temper tantrum) after he realized that he won’t win this debate nor change God’s mind. In my opinion, the best part of the book happens in chapter 3 where Habakkuk (after delivering the dreadful woe’s to the Chaldeans) prays a prayer that is beyond description. There is a beautiful tension in his prayer that captures his current dissatisfaction with God’s decision and his buoyant trust in God. Habakkuk is dying to his own desires and his own understanding in this prayer and it is almost palpable. God is calling Habakkuk to an uncomfortable trust and therefore patience with the unfulfilled ideas, dreams, and desires that he had for Israel.
God has been teaching me about this through the crucible of support raising lately. Even though I am experiencing fruitfulness, he is showing me that He is good even apart from the gifts and the fulfillment of desires, ideas, or dreams that I have. I think Habakkuk is a good illustration of something that our culture no longer teaches us. In fact, the story of Habakkuk is an abrasive one compared to the narrative that we find ourselves in today. His narrative is one of trust, truth, and patience. The narrative of our culture is quite opposed to that, but I will let you think about HOW it is contrary. It has been a challenge to sift out how culture has shaped me in these areas, but I trust that there is life as I think through these things. As Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping at Last states in his song Naive, “God knows that I’ve been naive, but thinking makes him proud of me”. What can we learn from Habakkuk’s story about trust in God, being uncomfortable, unfulfilled desires, and patience? This story has helped me a lot and hopefully the summary of his story will help you as you think through these things.
I appreciated this video from Mark Sayers. It is an encouragement to me as I continue to support raise and realize that it (support raising) is perhaps on the lower end of the scale in terms of “amazing”, “glamorous”, or “cool” things I could be doing with my life (whatever those things actually are). Maybe Mark is right in saying that the 20’s should be a time of character development instead of career development and the road to self-actualization by way of that career. I am not sure, but I know for me, the former is definitely the case! I am reading Mark’s book entitled, “The Vertical Self” right now and I highly recommend it! In the meantime, check out this video!
This video also reminds me of something Henri Nouwen has written. He speaks of God’s call and says,
As you come to realize that God is beckoning you to a greater hiddenness, do not be afraid of that invitation. Over the years you have allowed the voices that call you to action and great visibility to dominate your life. You still think, even against your own best intuitions, that you need to do things and be seen in order to follow your vocation. But you are now discovering that God’s voice is saying, “Stay home, and trust that your life will be fruitful even when hidden.” It is not going to be easy to listen to God’s call. Your insecurity, your self-doubt, and your great need for affirmation make you lose trust in your inner voice and run away from yourself. But you know that God speaks to you through your inner voice and that you will find joy and peace only if you follow it. Yes, your spirit is willing, but your flesh is weak.
Thankful to God for this time of greater hiddenness and season of forging character. Hope that this was helpful in some way!