Strong and Weak: Numb to the World

Strong and Weak: Numb to the World August 4, 2016
Photo courtesy of Harper One
Photo courtesy of Harper One

So this is a blog series trying to summarize Andy Crouch’s excellent little book on Jesus-shaped leadership called “Strong and Weak”

Crouch’s idea is that to be like Jesus we are called to bear both authority and vulnerability, but that because this is so hard to do, we often neglect one or both, without realizing how much it costs us, and those that we are trying to lead.

Crouch explains all this with a simple 2×2 grid, and today I want to talk about the lower left corner, a corner where I’ll bet most of us spend more of our lives than we know.

Down and to the Right

Crouch said that once he presented this material with a lot of college students, and afterward a hundred students came forward for prayer.

The next day he asked the chaplains what caused this kind of massive response from students, and they told him that almost every single student were struggling with this part of what he talked about.

In the lower left hand corner is Withdrawing from both authority and vulnerability.

So a couple of stories to help illustrate this.

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson wrote a book together on their 30 years of research into economies all over the world. The book is called “The Spirit Level” and in it they make the observation that in any society where there is a larger gap between the wealthy and the poor, the life expectancy goes dramatically down, but not for who you think. It goes down not for the poor, but for the rich people in that society.

In a society of vast inequality, it’s not just the poor people who are hurt.

Why is that?

And the answer leads us naturally to cruise ships.

I read an article in the New York Times a while back about the growing trend on Cruises.The article was called “In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat” and it basically highlighted a growing trend I’d never heard of before.

Did you know that these days on cruise ships there are parts of the ship, really, really nice parts of the ship, that you will never see? Behind locked doors is different kind of cruise for the uber wealthy. Sure you’ve got access to a swimming pool, but do you have access to your own pool? You’ve got great food and can eat as much as you want, but do you have your own chef?

Think about how bizarre this is. A cruise is basically one giant floating gated community, and yet within that community there is an entirely different strata of society with additional gates to keep the riffraff out who only paid regular price.

It’s like the Inception version of withdrawal. To escape reality isn’t enough, you have to go further in to avoid any semblance of the common-folk.

Hell As a Never Ending Cruise

I found this story ironic because the metaphor Crouch uses for the bottom left quadrant is a cruise ship. Cruises are fun and fine ways to spend a few days relaxing at sea, but if your life was spent living on a cruise ship it would be a living hell. (Think of the movie Wall-E for example).

You have no vulnerability and no authority, you have everything you could possibility want, but no real capacity for meaningful action. You’re not the captain, you’re not serving anyone or contributing to anything, you are just along for the ride.

I was recently at lunch with a black pastor friend of mine, and he was telling me about a friend he was working with who was incredibly intelligent, had a good grasp on social problems and a some great ideas for helping make the world a better place, but because of his skin color and past, he couldn’t find anyone to take him seriously, and could never find funding.

Sadly, because of years of trying with no success, he developed a pill addiction that was slowly destroying his life. He had all this potential to contribute in meaningful ways to the world but no opportunities to realize that potential.

And then my black pastor friend said, “This is the definition of Hell. To know the power you have and not have the ability to realize that potential.”

Hell is like a cruise that never ends.

But the real danger for us today is not that we book ourselves a lifetime filled with cruises. It’s that we do the same thing in different ways.

Here’s how Crouch says it:

The real temptation for most of us in not complete apathy but activities that simulate meaningful action and meaningful risk without actually asking much of us or transforming much in us. So if you really want to see what withdrawing looks like in affluent, technological America, you don’t have to visit a port of call. You just have to turn on the Playstation in your living room.

In the reward structure of video games you are given the ability to simulate meaningful activities without any of the actual risk (vulnerability) or adding meaning to the world (authority). You are given the ability to pretend you are doing something that matters, but at the end of the day doesn’t matter at all.

For the past few decades a charge has been leveled at Christianity in the West that may have been fair at some point, but is beginning to sound more hollow and hypocritical. Christianity has been accused of being used as escapism.

Just wait until you get to Heaven and everything will be okay, no need to rock the boat now, because meaningful action in the world is God’s job, so just sit back and wait.

This of course is just a cheap parody of the Christian faith, and the doctrine of Heaven, (although that Doctrine has been used by some in this way in the past) But it is not the way of Jesus.

The way of Jesus is up and to the right, authority and vulnerability in the world, bearing in the world;s suffering while being a part of the God’s redemption  process.

I don’t think Christians are the only ones tempted to escape, and in our secular age, it’s no longer Heaven that people are escaping to. It’s much easier to stare at your iPhone than to have a conversation, slowly spend your life watching t.v. every night instead of going that group or civic effort.

It’s easier to go on a cruise or turn on your Xbox than it is to roll up your sleeves.

There’s a reason so many hospitals are named after saints. And why most Universities across the world were started by Christians. It’s the same reason that after ever major catastrophe you see churches and Christian non-profits running to assist.

Not because Christians are perfect, or because we have some kind of monopoly on good deeds, but because this has always been in the DNA of Jesus’ people. Vulnerability and Authority, called to make a difference and remain open to the suffering of the world.

Because we follow a God who did anything but withdraw, we are called to do the same.

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