The Opposite Of Power
Seven years ago, I related the following story, and it bears repeating in full:
A minister I once knew well told me a story of her oral exams prior to graduating from Wesley Seminary. During the course of the exam, Prof. Roy Morrison, a wonderful, curmudgeonly old Unitarian Universalist skeptic on all matters theological (he taught philosophy of religion) asked her, after she mentioned grace, “So, is grace like electricity?” Her response was beautiful, and while it probably didn’t satisfy Roy all that much, it has captured my imagination ever since: “No, it’s more like vulnerability.”
That is precisely right. Grace isn’t so much “like” vulnerability. Grace is the Divine openness to the sinfulness, limited, and ultimately death-bound creation. Grace is an act of love, forbearance, and self-sacrifice, is it any wonder it’s difficult for people, especially we Americans, to grasp?
We American men are taught from an early age – don’t cry. Don’t show pain. Definitely don’t show weakness. These make us not just less than “male”, but somehow less than human. We have failed in some weird, ontological way if we admit to failure, allow that pain to burst through the years of social indoctrination and bring us to our knees, weeping. God forbid we do it in front of someone, especially a woman. Particularly a woman with whom we have an intimate relationship. Again, part of the compact of the American male-female intimate relationship is the man will be the strong one, the bearer of the burdens, including his own failures, in silence, carrying on, manning up, putting on his big-boy pants.
The Christian faith demands we give all that over. As those claimed by the God who raised Jesus from the dead, granting us the Spirit who had the power both to bring Jesus to that point of God-forsaken death as well as New Life, ours should be a life not of power, of bearing burdens, or fearing openness. On the contrary, we should be those who are willing to admit our failings – the confession of sin – admit our inability to make amends – conversion – and live in the light of that vulnerability as who and what we are.
Our churches are far too filled with people who mistake such vulnerability for weakness. The United Methodist Church, my denomination, is currently in the midst of a struggle over the full inclusion of sexual minorities within the life of the church, as well as how we should serve, pastorally, those in our congregations who might wish to be married to another of the same gender in those jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal. Neither side is willing to give. Both sides marshal various Bible verses, claims to tradition, reason, and even experience as we push against one another in an endless demand to be right. To win.
What if, however, we agreed on one, simple Christian truth – that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. What if, rather than playing a game of power, trying to win, we both admitted that whatever solution is reached will include a need for a call to unity, to confession to mutual antagonisms, and for the health of the Body of Christ as it moves forward? What if, once the dust settles, rather than continue with the rancor, the self-righteousness, and the anger, we sought forgiveness from one another?
What if we allowed ourselves, like God in Christ, to be vulnerable to our adversaries? What if, in that openness, we discovered our mutual need for reciprocal forgiveness, for acts of recompense, and for work together to heal the wounds this too-long fight has brought about?
What if we allowed ourselves a moment to cry with one another over the damage all of us have done to our beloved church in a quest for power and victory? Would any of us be willing to be the first to open up and ask to caught as we fall?