“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, October 04, 2013

Open Range and the parts that "seem weaker"

1 Corinthians 12:22 "The parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable."

     There is a scene in the 2003 western, Open Range, where Denton Baxter (the evil land owner) gets shot up in a gun fight. He drags himself to Doc Barlow’s office and finds him working on Button, one of the good guys. Baxter pulls out his gun to shoot Button lying on the doctor’s table. But Doc Barlow tells him, “You pull that trigger, Baxter, you can forget about me patching you up!” Baxter is now faced with a dilemma. In order for Doc Barlow’s indispensable nature, to be evidenced, Baxter must relinquish his power over the doctor. When he does so, he himself benefits from the doctor’s “gifting.” However, if he as the seemingly powerful person in the room (he has a gun, etc.) does not set aside his power, the seemingly weaker doctor and the other wounded man will not benefit and the doctor’s indispensable nature would not be displayed. 
     The implication from the 1 Corinthians 12:22 passage is not that those in the Body of Christ who seem stronger are violent or evil as in the movie. However, there is a wrong being perpetuated. The wrong is seen in people with power prohibiting others who are gifted such that they are Biblically described as indispensable, from expressing that gifting by refusing to change.
     The parts "seem" weaker, implying that those with power have relegated others to the category of being weaker. As a result, the Body of Christ as a whole, truly does suffer in this way, when one part suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26). The strong are haughty and the seemingly weak are excluded.  Exclusion of people with disabilities leading to this type of attitude is much too common in the Christian church and we suffer as a result of it.
Interestingly, Paul’s correction ("On the contrary" and "seem weaker") once again implies that those who have made the determination of another’s weakness are actually wrong.  Although some are thought weak, their strength, their power will not be demonstrated unless those who wrongly determined they were weak, repent of their error, humble themselves, and provide the opportunity for them to evidence their power (one aspect being how they are a conduit of God’s power).  The seemingly stronger must relent from their haughty exercise of power in both relegating others to weakness and on some level enforcing that perception (through exclusion, segregation, paternalistic behaviors, etc.), ultimately preventing the perceived weak from displaying the strength that causes them to be labeled indispensable. This power of the seemingly weaker when “wielded” over those who are seemingly stronger, will demonstrate why they are indispensable. Perhaps at this point, the “stronger” will repent of the label they projected on another of being weaker (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).  But for the stronger to benefit from that realization, they must first relinquish their power over the situation, no longer relegating others to weakness and the social consequences that accompany that designation.  Power in weakness has the potential to be present, but it is not displayed, not expressed.  It is unused, frustrated from being employed because those having the power to open the door for the expression of another’s contribution, refuse to do so by refusing to relinquish their own power such that it might be seen.
Earlier in 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul addressed the haughtiness of his readers asking, “What do you have that you did not receive.  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”  They should not see themselves in a manner as “different from anyone else.”  Paul himself was someone who experienced a difference that would have caused him to be relegated to the seemingly weaker class (2 Corinthians 12:10). The end result is the production of entirely wrong, entirely negative perceptions of what is indispensable for body life.  At the most basic level, this is seen in a lack of love for others.  It is also evidence of pride in that I am unwilling to become a servant and in this case, allow others to express their gifting.  This unwillingness to serve, to facilitate expression of the gifting of others because of what might be demanded of me (power over my time, my activities, my traditions and the necessity for change in each of these areas) will prohibit the indispensable nature of those seemingly weaker from ever being expressed.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Paul describes his experience with a “thorn in the flesh”, how he prayed to have it removed, and God’s response, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  The implication is not that God’s power is imperfect, but that weakness allows God’s power to be evidenced the most perfectly.  Perhaps this perfect expression of the power of God contributes to why the parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable.  Paul says, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  If for no other reason, weakness may drive me to dependence on God.  Strength may cause me to see myself as sufficient within myself.  Weakness disarms me.  For example, in my own suffering or if I wade into the suffering of others, I find myself at a total loss.  My cry becomes like that of Jehosophat in 2 Chronicles 20:12.  When he is surrounded by the armies of “the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites” (verse 1), he goes before his people and prays, “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (emphasis added).  Desperate situations reinforce in us our need to depend upon God.  However, if I am seemingly stronger and I am disconnected from seemingly weaker parts of the body, I will perhaps not suffer with the parts that suffer (as described in 1 Corinthians 12:26) and be lead to dependence upon God.  I will not allow another part of the body to have power over me in making any sort of demands for humility on me, on them, on the entire body. But through my entrance into their weakness, I allow others to make demands on me; sometimes through unsolvable situations of life: demands that would cause me to depend upon God.  God’s power can be perfected in my participation in another’s weakness, if I allow their weakness to become my weakness.  But I don’t want to participate in their experience or at times the difficulties others face, so my response is that I will exclude them. There might be a degree of unconsciousness about these issues, however, one might ask “Why there is a collective unconsciousness within the church?”  This unconsciousness could be squarely placed at the feet of church leadership at a variety of levels. As a result, the statement, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” ends up becoming an aspiration, or a statement of how the body should be.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Jeff, this may be the most powerful piece you have ever written! Thank you so much!