What does God’s power look like? (Part One)

A friend and I have been discussing the promise of God’s power alongside threats to human flourishing and the struggle for justice. The discussion started right before COVID-19 hit California and a few weeks before the murder of George Floyd. As we continued talking and more events unfolded, our emails came into sharper focus. My plan is to post a series of our exchanges here. I’ll start Part One with one of my first emails.

March 9th, 2020


Like you wrote in your old discussion, I can also see how God is ordering all things “for the working out of his own good purposes,” especially when we see oppressors. God does some sort of jujitsu move with their intentions, taking the side of the weak and vulnerable person, bringing judgement and mercy into the situation. He upholds the lowly in their faith. Yet He leaves the strong to their own devices (and painful consequences), for perhaps they too can change their life. The biblical witness seems to confirm all that and it’s been my personal experience as well.

All this is encouraging to remember. I feel most empowered to depend on God in these ways when I recall how He has protected me, rescued me, healed me, and transformed my many addictions into new life and freedom. Of course, in the context of the whole world, I’ve had a relatively easy life. Many other people and situations come to mind. The hardest ones might be, for example, natural disasters (like the Tornado in Nashville), child suffering (like kids fleeing war in Syria), and more or less preventable situations (like extreme poverty, hunger or starvation). In these situations, many different people are responsible and it even seems creation itself has become complicit.

In our current book, A More Christlike God, it says that “those who love as Christ did” are filled with supernatural love and will bring light to the world. The author writes:

God consents to our reluctant consent, resulting in this painfully slow but inexorable transfiguration of our violent world.

Love will have its way, because while it may look like passive consent to extreme violence, it is nevertheless “stronger than death, more jealous than the grave, more vehement than a flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor floods drown it” (Song of Sol. 8:6-7). The death and resurrection of Christ are the firstfruits of the destiny God’s love has arranged for the whole universe.”

Those lines sound pretty good to me, even poetic and beautiful. But how does this happen? Can God ultimately save us if He has limited himself to what the author calls “nonviolent consent”? What does God’s power look like in the face of really terrible things that we see happen?

In Memory of George Floyd

To arrive like this every day for it to be like this to have so
many memories and no other memory than these for as
long as they can be remembered to remember this.

Though a share of all remembering, a measure of all
memory, is breath and to breathe you have to create a

a truce with the patience of a stethoscope.

I can hear the even breathing that creates passages to
dreams. And yes, I want to interrupt to tell him her us you
me I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.

from Citizen: An American Lyric
By Claudia Rankine

Choosing not to vote (part 3)

gr-not-votingChoosing not to vote connects me to the incorruptible power of God versus social movements and politicians who use the “power of the people” as a weapon to overcome their enemies. Voting takes my mind off God and puts it on human influence. Human decisions matter a great deal to God, but she isn’t caught off guard by them and can easily make a way–even if it seems hopeless–maybe especially at our weakest moments.

In complete freedom, God defends the weak and afflicted in our world; no political compromises or voting is necessary for her power to move forward. Truth and trust are the key components for us in humanity. Without these gifts of the Spirit, no one remains faithful to one another when it really matters. It’s so easy to scapegoat the vulnerable and anyone, in society’s view, deemed expendable. So I stand with Jesus who cried out as he was executed by the state, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I open myself to the consequences of telling the awful truth and putting my life into God’s hands.

Choosing not to vote (part 2)

gr-not-votingChoosing not to vote places me outside of the influence-making realm, which is good, if simply because I’ll be standing with the ones who are most vulnerable to the consequences of democracy’s terrible choices. I may not presently share in all the consequences *yet*, but that can’t be my excuse to seek out more powerful tools to get the job done. Just like I don’t want to gain monetary wealth in order to achieve a greater community good, I wouldn’t want political power to achieve the goals of human flourishing. Instead, I’m willing to remain politically poor in order to challenge artificial boundaries and witness to power from the margins. Obviously, no one does this perfectly but it still seems like a beautiful way to challenge the present status quo.

Choosing not to vote (Part 1)

gr-not-votingChoosing not to vote is an act of resistance. Since powerful people rule over the rest of society, very few really want to stand outside of the collective systems. It’s like a death sentence (at least that’s the fear) to be cut off from the group. So we participate in democracy and maintain the status quo, perhaps seeking out better leadership, all with the positive intention to affect real change. But our efforts are quickly and tragically absorbed by society for its own ends and its own profit.

Repost: Willie Jennings on “Whiteness”

“No one is born white. There is no white biology…White agency and subjectivity–whiteness–forms as people imagine themselves being transformed and moving toward maturity in three fundamental ways: 1) moving from being owned to being an owner, 2) from being a stranger to a citizen, and 3) from being identified with darkness to being seen as white.” (35:57-37:46)

–Willie Jennings

“liberating Christians”

I like so many quotes from this interview, but here’s one that stood out to me right now:

“It’s an absolutely urgent matter for us as a church to help liberate our people from all forms of oppression and I can hardly think of any form of oppression more devastating than white supremacy…It’s difficult to follow Jesus into a life of poverty, for instance, if all that you’ve been taught is that poverty is a curse and that poverty goes against your birthright as a white person. Or your birthright as an immigrant that’s trying to live the American Dream, which again is just a euphemism for white supremacy. So liberating Christians from that kind of imperial ideology–this false ideology–into the naturalness [of] what Jesus teaches about the fluidity of community and our connection to the natural world, I think has nothing short of a revolutionary effect on people who begin to understand this.”

Review of Flame in the Night by Heather Munn

thumbnail_4554 SHARABLE-2Flame in the Night is a YA novel based on a real-life French community in the throes of Nazi occupation. It fictionalizes the community members who helped organize an elaborate (and illegal) network to hide WWII refugees (mostly Jewish children). This is Heather Munn’s third installment in her series about the village and people of Chambon-sur-Lignon. I’ve read the first two novels as well and really liked all of them, but this third book is especially haunting.

If you’ve ever prayed for peace and at the same time wondered how you would respond if your loved one or your community was under threat, these stories will reveal something to you. Not just about violence and war, but also about internal conflicts that arise in humans who face their own fear and yet continue to feel vulnerable. You’ll find characters whose motives run the gamut. Some want revenge. Some want to stop the evil, even if they can’t heal it. Some simply want to care for the ones they love. All throughout, many more quietly help in whatever way they can. They risk arrest and deportation. Some face their own death. They know the threats are real.

Author, Heather Munn, treats these courageous and hard-won stories with a kindness that allows her character’s to speak for themselves. She opens up space for conversation beyond the simple scripts and, in that way, sets this book apart among young adult fiction. She is especially good when witnessing to how young people hold onto meaningful choices in the midst of their pain, something all of us desperately need to believe is possible. For instance, take one of the story’s heroines, a young Jewish woman by the name of Elisa Schulmann. Munn writes, “She drew the sharp knife down the stone, praying again for mercy, for justice, for no more death.” Even as Elisa contemplates their untenable life in hiding, her brief prayer is wholehearted and complex.

Without being preachy or trite, this story invites the reader to take action and to do so in a way that is uncompromising. These characters believe that ordinary people, in all of their complicated mess, can stand with and shelter the vulnerable. That when there’s sin and darkness–and even a president who is deporting citizens of the world into places of danger and violence–we can all do something about it. (By the way, the actual French town depicted in the book continues to take in displaced families today. The Smithsonian Magazine recently did a wonderful job reporting on it.) Flame in the Night is a bright witness to grace in these dark moments of our history.