“Dominion. The capacity and responsibility to act on behalf of the flourishing of the rest of creation.”
“Flourishing requires us to embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty – even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.”
Andy Crouch’s book Strong and Weak brought a tidal wave of emotions and tugged at several issues near and dear to my heart and recently on my mind: immigration, police/community relations, the unfortunate reality of manipulative leadership, and the constant fear of losing who I love most in this world.
Written in 2016, this was a timely and appropriate book to read in 2020, a year marked by events that have threatened our “capacity for meaningful action” (authority) more than almost any other event in my lifetime. Additionally, this book hit home for me personally by calling for hidden vulnerability in leaders, something I wish I had experienced more of from those in positions of authority.
However, the biggest gut punch was facing the fact that my sheltered life has been mostly marked by withdrawal (intentional or not) in an effort to remain blissfully ignorant to the unspeakable horrors that mark the lives of those who do not have the luxury of withdrawing from suffering.
I started traveling the world in my twenties and that did open my eyes to many things that I had been previously ignorant to, but this book reminded me that there are plenty more things that I am unknowingly guarded from by my affluence and privilege.
One passage in particular addressed an article published by Wired Magazine in 2014 regarding how social media companies handle content moderating. Because no one with a better option (and in their right mind) would ever want to sift through the stomach churning images that some people post, that vulnerability is outsourced to those who have no better option. It is something I have never given intentional thought to (because it’s awful) and It is something that has given me significant pause in moving forward with the use of social media and prayerfully considering if I should cease using it all together.
Most people who read this post (and who read Andy Crouch’s book), myself included, most likely have a tendency to withdraw from the world’s suffering, but as Andy points out, this is not true flourishing. It’s not living. The following excerpts provide the author’s thoughts on how to fight against those tendencies:
“Perhaps the two best beginning moves, for those of us swaddled in affluence and intoxicated by our technology, are into the natural world – the world of stars, snow and rain, trees and deserts – and into the relational world – the world of real bodies and heartbeats, hands and faces.
Turn off your devices and go on a walk or a run, not just on days when the weather is pleasant, but on days when the wind is fierce, the rain is falling or the humidity is high. Shiver or sweat, feel fatigue in your limbs, hear the sounds of the city or countryside unfiltered by headphones. Choose to go to places – the ocean, the mountains, or a broad, wide field – where you will feel small rather than grand.
Dare to walk across campus or across town without looking at a screen.
Decide to introduce yourself to one new person each day – just to learn their name and give them yours, with no further agenda.
Brew coffee or tea, sit with a friend and ask them questions – questions just one step riskier than the last time you talked. As you listen, observe the flickers of sadness or hope that cross their face. Try to imagine what it must be like to live their story, suffer their losses, dream their dreams. Pray with them and dare to put into words their heart’s desires, and dare to ask God to grant them.
The next time you travel, try not to be a tourist, who uses material wealth to purchase experiences of vicarious significance – being in places that make us feel grand and worth noticing. Instead, travel like a pilgrim, who travels to encounter people who have been sanctified by suffering. Seek out people who live in the cruel edges of the world. Accompany them in person, at least in short seasons, in their authority and vulnerability. Share what you have with them in sufficient measures that your generosity feels vulnerable, emptying your bank account to the point that you instinctively start to pray for daily bread.
Our affluence has left us unready for the tragedy and danger of the world. But what we cannot see when we are caught in Withdrawing is that there is something far better ahead, pleasures which we must be made strong enough to bear. We will only discover them if someone unwraps us and calls us forth. And the great glad news of the Gospel is that someone has.”