By Bill Malcomson
Have you noted that in our current political season there is so much emphasis on STRENGTH? On the Republican side, Donald Trump is trying to portray himself as a person of great strength who would defeat all of our enemies by sheer power. All of his foreign policy advisors are military people. Ted Cruz seems to want to bomb all enemies into submission. John Kasich seems far less willing to portray himself as a bully or as power hungry, though his policies still appear to be "hawkish." On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton at times seems eager to appear "strong on defense," yet also to put a lot of emphasis on diplomacy. Bernie Sanders seems uncomfortable when pushed by the media to be more "hawkish." But a major theme in the campaign appears to be the contrasting of strength with weakness.
Many of us remember when John F. Kennedy regretted being drawn into the Bay of Pigs fiasco by his generals, early on in his presidency, and then played it very careful and diplomatic when it came to the Cuban Missle Crisis. His strength in that instance came through his determination not to play the traditional strong man game. But we also remember Lyndon Johnson's testosterone fueled escalation of the war in Vietnam as he seemed determined to force North Vietnam to pay a horrible price for their actions. Was that strength? In a recent article in The Atlantic, in an interview with President Obama, we see a chief executive who is castigated for drawing back from a previously announced "drawing of a line in the sand" in Syria. Did he show weakness or strength in changing his mind?
I think of the history of non-violent action in the Freedom Movement of the 1960'a, the Gandhian movement in India in an earlier time, and in the work of the mature Nelson Mandela in South Africa. So much of those movements seemed like weakness in the beginning. Is non-violence strength or weakness?
When the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece, in the first century, he suggested that what God deems to be strength is usually perceived as weakness by humans, and what God deems to be weakness is perceived as strength. He seems to have in mind a couple of things: 1. The people who were preaching the gospel of the Way of Jesus were a motley group of essentially ordinary folks. In the Roman Empire, they were not powerful people. They had little or no status. But what they were preaching seemed to have the effect of changing the lives of many of their hearers. 2. They were talking about a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived a life which culminated in death by crucifixion, a death reserved, in the Roman Empire, for those who were accused of sedition. Dying on a cross was the ultimate sign of weakness, not of strength.
Here we are in the time of the American Empire. As Carl Sandberg wrote, many years ago, in his often sarcastic way, "We are the greatest country, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was." So shouldn't we defend ourselves to the hilt, stay as powerful as possible, keep Russia, China, Isis or any actual or perceived enemy at bay at any cost?
Do you hear, as do I, the howling of FEAR beneath this desire for strength? Fear of loss of power, loss of empire, loss of what we have been used to, loss of being "on top," loss of being "mono-cultural," loss of feeling secure and safe. Fear of change, fear of the "Other," fear of what we do not understand, fear of the foreign and the foreigner, fear of a strange future.
I believe in the Fellowship of the Weak. In the weakness of listening to people who threaten us and who find us threatening. In the weakness of listening to those who have been victimized by those in power, by we who did not know we were being oppressive. In the weakness of paying attention to those who have never been paid attention to. In the weakness of compassion. In the weakness of working to build institutions that may not last or solve all problems but will do some good for some people some of the time. In the weakness of working on causes that may never issue in the massive changes that we want, but are worth giving energy to anyway. In the weakness of forgoing ease, pleasure, physical comfort, for the sake of helping someone, of easing their pain, of making their day a bit better. In the weakness of speaking the truth, in the weakness of admitting the unpleasant, in the weakness of not knowing what to say or what to do and admitting it.
Maybe the apostle Paul knew what he was talking about. Maybe Jesus of Nazareth did not die in vain. Maybe the weak do inherit the earth. Don't be afraid.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist