A few weeks ago I attended a minister’s forum at which Andy Crouch was speaking about churches having a bigger picture of what God might do in their cities and how churches can participate in the overarching good of their communities. While this sounds like a generic, even bland summary statement, the content was anything but generic or bland. One of the highlights was sitting at a table with ten other pastors from Worcester and looking at the city through some of the lenses that arose from the materials.
Another spark came when Andy described injustice as originating in our attempts to play god. He unfolded this more, describing our attempts to increase our own power and security while diminishing any weakness or vulnerability. In the book of Genesis when Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent he promises our first parents that they will be like God and not die.
This is the continued promise that whispers in our ears and leads us to exploit others. It says, “you can have power and knowledge without cost.” Andy spoke of a visit to India where a Christian organization was working to free children from forced labor. In this setting, the perpetrators use misinformation, empty promises, and threats to keep families in debt and their children in endless labor. Rather than engage poverty, ethical business practices, or even grapple with the compassion that comes from seeing these children as humans – equals in some manner – they are pushed down. In the context of this exploitation the lives of these children and to some degree their families are ruled in a manner that stretches beyond the bounds of human authority.
The danger he said is of a relief organization entering the situation with the “wisdom” and “power” to throw out the oppressors yet they end up playing god as well. Dispensing aid, education, and relief can create its own dependency and cycle of control. Yes, a kinder “god” has come to rule over the people, but if the power is all on one side and the vulnerability on the other the same dynamics persist.
We just studied the letter to Philemon from the apostle Paul last night with our group in Worcester. I learned so much in the course of preparation and was struck how everyone involved in the events surrounding the letter must let go of power, love the other, and entrust themselves to God. Without going into the details, the three main characters each risk uncertainty and experience vulnerability putting their reputation, safety, and financial well being a in someone else’s hands.
In contrast, I think about the continued media attention on the fate of Richie Incognito of the dolphins and an excerpt from a USA Today article:
In previous interviews with reporters, Incognito and his father indicated other students ridiculed him for being overweight as a child, especially during sixth grade in Glendale, Ariz. His father, Richie Sr., a Vietnam veteran, told NFL.com that he gave his son advice: “If you let anyone give you (expletive) now, you’re going to take (expletive) your entire life.”
Anytime something goes wrong in the life of a public figure there is the pop psychologist in each of us that wants to speculate on his childhood or some other underlying motives that lead to the downfall. (Is this another manifestation of playing god? I am wise, understanding this person who publicly blundered but am not like them in their downfall).
In this scenario though, the dynamics of power and vulnerability are right there in his own words. However, I wonder if the NFL’s treatment of Incognito will perpetuate the situation. Will they step in as with the wisdom and power of a beneficent god and “justly” force Incognito out? Will there be any vulnerability from an institution that turns a blind to aggression until it crosses a certain line (read the rest of the USA today article and you’ll see that this is not an isolated incident.) In some ways each of us wants to play god – to have the power and never the pain. Yet, when we do so we exploit or harm each other and ultimately fight an impossible battle against the true and living God.
I am amazed as through the bible and through the cracked lens of humanity I Jesus continues to show his uniqueness He is the one who forgoes power and takes on weakness to give power and life to his enemies. Everyone else plays god and though Jesus is God he lets himself be treated like “expletive.” This is an incredibly unexpected and subversive means of salvation. I need to see it filter more into my life.