We are told that we live in one of the most polarizing cultures of all time. One versus the other. We think very linearly. Take Authority or Vulnerability. You either have some degree of power and strength or you are powerless and weak. You either control the situation or you are being manipulated. However, is this always the case?
Fortunately, life has taught us it is far too exciting and complicated to be linear.
So how do we make sense of a paradox, where we have both one AND another that appear opposites? How do we hold them together?
Let’s add another dimension. Instead of moving away from one another, these concepts are now two axes on a plane. Here we find that instead of being opposed, these ideas can complement one another.
This rather simple concept with plenty of implications is taken from Andy Crouch’s book, Strong and Weak. He states our goal in life is to flourish, or live fully, where we take hold of both authority and vulnerability, just as Christ did.
These complement one another when we define them as they are intended, where authority is “the capacity to take meaningful action” and vulnerability is “the exposure to meaningful risk.”
Christ is able to fully embody both in not only his life but his death and resurrection.
Think for a moment. Do you identify Christ more in his vulnerability or his authority?
How does Christ display vulnerability?
Your attitude must be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Christ, though in the image of God,
didn’t deem equality with God
something to be clung to—
but instead became completely empty
and took on the image of oppressed human kind:
born into the human condition,
found in the likeness of a human being.
Jesus was thus humbled—
obediently accepting death, even death on a cross!
Luke 2:5-8 (TIB)
He always sought to identify and bless those that are marginalized, persecuted or vulnerable.
He commands us to humble ourselves and turn the other cheek.
He became the servant king, washing feet, and ultimately washing us all.
In such an upside-down kingdom, how do we see Christ’s authority?
The previous verses that describes his vulnerability continue to reveal his full authority:
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name”
Luke 2:9 (NIV)
He began his ministry by reading Isaiah’s prophecy and claiming,
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”,
Luke 4:21 (NIV)
All the while, he defied the Jewish leaders and Pharisees.
Moreover, he commissioned his same spirit and authority onto his disciples (claim it!)
Therefore, we see Christ fully take on both Vulnerability and Authority.
Think about someone in your own life who has dramatically influenced you in a positive way. What elements of authority and vulnerability did they convey that allowed you to better flourish?
Exploitation, Suffering, and Withdrawal
We have plenty of authority that we use on a regular basis. Your résumé may be one of the most outward examples. What other ways do we see authority? Simply being able to get into a car and drive where we want. The implicit privilege we may hold in a society. What happens if we have authority without any vulnerability? What happens to that society? What examples come to mind? Perhaps you thought of some form of tyranny. It could be a current dictator or even a CEO that abuses their power. It could even be as simple as video-games or reading fiction. Reading? If you are seeking something to give you authority without any opportunity to be vulnerable, the relationships around you can begin to decay. Ironically, do you have any real authority when you over-indulge and escape into fantasy? Actually, the opposite of flourishing occurs. You move away from both authority and vulnerability and withdraw into isolation.
What about the reverse, Vulnerability without Authority? These may include prisoners of all forms, anyone who has allowed a drug to control them, or populations unable to face natural disasters. Interestingly, where we see suffering, there is exploitation.
When we break the axes into four different quadrants, we see four different extremes.
- Exploitation: Authority without Vulnerability
- Suffering: Vulnerability without Authority
- Withdrawal: Neither Authority or Vulnerability
- Flourishing: Full Vulnerability with full Authority
A caveat to flourishing: we should not be seeking full authority and vulnerability with everyone. In specific situations or seasons, God may call us toward another path to allow those around us to flourish.
Where do you find yourself in your daily rhythms of life?
As a teacher, I initially found myself wavering between the false choice of vulnerability or authority. Often moved out of compassion for my students, I chose to be more vulnerable. However, if I stayed there, I quickly learned how difficult children find it when their teacher has no authority.
As we head to Nepal, we will be exposing ourselves to meaningful risk as we also hope to take meaningful action. Even in this season of raising support we have had to examine the risk and ask, is it worth it? Will there be enough meaningful action we can have in Nepal? Is it worth being vulnerable in communicating our financial needs to others, despite not hearing back from so many?
Although I have sought authority in the master’s program I pursued, I need to remember that western authority should not be assumed to translate into a local culture. As I become a teacher trainer, I cannot rest on higher education providing all the authority I require.
Take language, for example. This takes vulnerability (many of us have heard or can tell funny stories of someone saying the wrong word and meaning something completely different). Learning a language is embarrassing and shows your extreme weakness, but leads to greater respect, a form of authority. More importantly, I’m excited to be learning from Nepalis. The director of EQUIP is Nepali along with most of the teacher trainers I will be working with. Really, the point of our program, having Christian Nepalis and expats train teachers is to bring further authority that is just as much coupled in vulnerability as Christ demonstrated. When educators are often upper caste and talk down to students, those students will seek the same authority over others for themselves or reject it completely. However, when students are provided the room to fail and encouraged to problem solve in creative ways, they are entering into flourishing together.
So how can you lead others toward flourishing in your communities and reach those suffering, exploiting, or withdrawing? Interestingly, it often involves us moving ourselves toward a different quadrant. Is there someone who you need to be more vulnerable with or take authority in a relationship? Let’s keep thinking through this.