Reflection: Power, My Hope and My Fear

My hope, with regards to power, is that I might use what power I have to transform our society into a place that is a greater reflection of what we are called to as followers of Christ. Proverbs 14:31 (ESV) reminds us of what that calls does, and doesn’t, look like: “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” There is verse after verse that calls us to stand against oppression and injustice if we are God’s people and so that is what I must use my power to do. The challenge in this hope is specificity: rather than speaking in generalities and taking no action I had to look for tangible ways by which I might become part of God’s redemptive nature, to effectively help bring about change for generations of people. Some of our most vulnerable people are actually our children. In Cincinnati, we are second in the nation for the highest child poverty rate of 53.1%, just behind Detroit’s staggering 59%. (2012 American Community Survey) I couldn’t help but ask myself what hope one could have in the future if, as a small child, you must fight pangs of hunger while facing insecurity in house and struggle to be clothed properly. In order to transform my city, we were going to have to transform the experience of our city’s youth. And so that became my hope, that I would be able to use my talents and power alongside others who hoped to transform the path of Cincinnati’s children and thus, transform their lives.

There is a certain amount of fear that comes up around this. How do I help in ways that don’t further victimize those we are coming alongside? How do I make sure we are working with people to help break us all free from an oppressive system that disables their self-sufficiency and sense of purpose rather than reaffirming that their salvation lies in the good will of affluent, mostly white people? Psalm 3:2-6 (NIV) is a reminder of where my hope lies even when I feel like we are coming against unchangeable things: “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’ But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down to sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.’” And so I equip myself as much as possible with the knowledge available from those who have come before us as well as studies from the sciences. I also rely on the Spirit to lead us in way that is fruitful and abundant.

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Bravery or Courage?

Bravery is defined as feeling or showing no feeling; being fearless. But courage? Courage is defined as having the strength to act in the face of pain or grief, to do something even when you are fearful. So while they sound similar, courage certainly seems like the more preferable attribute.

If I had to choose, I’d pick courage over bravery every time, although there is certainly a time and place for bravery.  However, at some point or another we will all reach a place where we are overwhelmed by what appears to be insurmountable grief, or one of the myriads of pains that mankind is plagued with. It is in those moments where “fearlessness” stops being applicable. We can be debilitated or conquered by our emotions, our minds, our bodies, or we can be courageous, moving beyond ourselves.

It makes me think of the Romans verses in which the Greek equivalent of “hyper-conqueror” is used, but it’s usually translated as “overwhelmingly conquer.” This verse makes me think not of how FEARLESS they must have been, but how courageous. Even in the face of pain and grief their faith gave them courage; they would not be separated from their love of God which was anchored in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:36-39 “Just as it is written, “For Your sake we were being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.

 

Seeds of Change

     The fifth chapter of Brian Seaward’s book Stand Like Mountain, Flow like Water, is looking at seeds of change, was very insightful. First examined was the seed of faith, the mustard seed. Faith is something that must be cared for and cultivated. Like the tiny mustard seed, if cared for, it will become durable and rooted but it requires nurturing. “Nelson Mandela… said, ‘Faith is not belief without proof, it’s trust without reservation.’ Many people claim to have faith, but their faith can best be described as hope; wishing rather than knowing.” (pg. 177) I have found that as my faith deepens, it is not that God answers my prayers more or that I have a better idea of what the future holds; it is that more and more I trust where I am being lead and whatever situations I face, I know God is with me and so I am filled with courage.

     For the daffodil (personally my favorite flower), the seed of mirth, I took great comfort in this. I find I often balance serious conversation with laughter and it is how I attempt to bring comfort to people at opportune times. I particularly agree with where the cancer victor pointed out that it diffuses anger, dissolves fear, and lightens the heart. (pg. 186) The thing to be sensitive of here is that the humor is not at a cost to someone else; this is completely unnecessary and doesn’t bring healing to people as we see within the story of the people who are fighting for survival. It is best to not joke about people’s health, physical or mental, because you really have no idea what battles they are fighting. Let your words always lift people up. As someone who comes from a household where sarcasm was standard and wit was biting, I have found this habit to be a challenging habit to break at times but I never want make people laugh at another’s expense.

     The seed of compassion (the columbine seed) hit close to home as I was a freshman in high school during the shooting at Columbine; the ripple effect it sent through my high school was less compassion and an increase in threats for shootings and bombs. Fear of death, as this book covers, was not uncommon in school. The perspective of the state’s approach reflected on the license plates, “Respect Life, not only in remembrance, but as an expression of compassion,” (pg. 188) is very reassuring. Compassion isn’t about being thanked, or pity or shame, it is about unconditionally loving others.

     Lastly, the acorn, the seed of willpower, a seed that is soft and only half an inch in diameter and yet if planted produces oak, an tall and exemplary hardwood. Willpower is a muscle that requires consistent exercise. For each of these seeds, they start out tiny and, if properly planted and nurtured, produce something far beyond what one might expect when looking at a tiny seed. As we tie these seeds back to the traits we associate them with, we need to consider the conditions we “plant” these traits within ourselves. Do we feed them with positive or negative thoughts? Are they suffocated by ego or fear-based weeds? Based on our care, how can we expect these traits to grow?