The spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)

The spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7) February 9, 2017
The arrest of Ieshia Evans (Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)
The arrest of Ieshia Evans (Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)

On Tuesday, the daily office lectionary included this verse from 2 Timothy 1:7: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.” As I contemplated this verse, my mind immediately went to this photo of Ieshia Evans, a devout Christian nurse who was arrested at a protest in Baton Rouge this July after one of the recent police shootings of unarmed black men. I have rarely seen a picture that captured such a perfect contrast between the worldly power of Caesar and the cruciform power of Jesus. Ieshia Evans is the icon of Christian discipleship in the age of Donald Trump.

I really do believe this photo is a modern icon in the religious sense of the word. The Eastern Orthodox use icons of saints in their prayer practices because they believe that God’s glory is manifested in each of the images. They meditate by staring at the icons in order to receive a message from God. While it might be a little weird to do that with a photo of a living person rather than a painted image, Ieshia is the perfect embodiment of the power, love, and self-discipline Paul was telling Timothy about. When I look at this picture, God talks to me about what his kind of power looks like.

Colossians 2:15 says that through the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a spectacle of them.” This photo is a modern reenactment of that. The intimidating battle gear of the riot cops is rendered comical and clumsy by Ieshia’s serene power. That is exactly what happened with the cross. Until Jesus made it into the symbol of his triumph over humanity’s sin, it was the symbol of Roman terror. The reason to crucify people very publicly was to intimidate everyone who walked by. The militarization of local police has the same function as the Roman cross. The sin of white supremacy which motivates police brutality and abuse is put on display and repudiated decisively by Ieshia’s stance.

Ieshia stands before Baton Rouge’s imperial stormtroopers without any protection for her body. She doesn’t have a gas mask. She doesn’t have body armor. She’s wearing a nice dress. And she doesn’t flinch for a second. I would have taken off running as soon as the police started walking toward me. Ieshia’s power is her self-dignity, her refusal to be dehumanized by the stormtroopers. I want to know how she became the woman that she is. How many years of prayer did it take for her to be able to stand with that kind of serenity and utter fearlessness?

I want to learn how to be a Christian like Ieshia. But too often I live in a spirit of cowardice. It’s so easy to sit in front of a laptop and type these words. I want to learn how to be a Christian in the street. With power and love and self-discipline. Look at Ieshia’s composure. She neither reacts nor submits. I do both. I get reactionary and say stupid things online when I’m fired up and egotistical. And then I submit, kiss ass, and self-deprecate whenever I have a real-life conversation that involves any sort of conflict or contentiousness. I want to learn how to stand firm without anxiety or hate.

Today, I am traveling to a conference where I’m going to be taught by Christians who have the kind of power, love, and self-discipline Ieshia has. It’s the first conference I’ve attended in a while where I’ve had absolutely nothing to contribute. I’m going to listen and learn. My hope is that when I return, I will be a little bit closer to embracing the power of the cross and becoming a true disciple.

If you’d like to detoxify your Christianity this Lent, check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us and tune into our Detoxify Christianity video series every Tuesday night at 9:30 pm EST this Lent.

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