A Case for Powerlessness

The Community Building in Walthill on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska was quickly filling with youngsters coming for something fun to do during the hot summer days between the last and first day of school. Close to a dozen white Americans and Canadians were happily-and a bit haphazardly-preparing for the two hour Bible Club/VBS. The scene was pretty typical: a bunch of crazy energetic kids, a small group of adult leaders trying to lovingly connect with them, and a program of sorts for entertaining the kids while also sharing the love of Jesus with them. First there would be singing, then a Bible story and memory verse, a snack, some games, a craft and a little trinket to take home with the day's theme on it.

So, why did I feel uncomfortable?

After the singing, it was time for the Bible story--Jesus heals the 10 lepers. Since most modern kids don't know anything about leprosy, the VBS curriculum writers had come up with a clever way to help kids understand what it was like to be a leper. The woman leading the Bible story handed out a bunch of round stickers and instructed the kids to place them all over their body as she described the disease. Then, because in the ancient world lepers were considered unclean and not allowed in regular society, she instructed them to all go stand in a corner while one of the leaders quarantined them using police caution tape.

And there we stood. 40 native kids with leprosy stickers all over them, forced and detained in a corner by police tape while a small group of white adults observed them from the outside. They even had to shout "Unclean" to tell the "non-lepers" to stay away. Any message of Jesus' love and healing was drowned out by the weight of centuries of oppression by white people.

My heart sank. And I believe Jesus was weeping.

Friends, we MUST change the way we participate in the Mission of God from Power to Powerlessness!

The mission of God is marked by Powerlessness. The creator of the universe became a human. Not just any human, but a despised and ridiculed one that died in the way of a criminal. God inhabited this world as a poor, marginalized and oppressed Jewish peasant. But that day on the reservation the people who say they walk in the ways of Jesus did not take the time to lay aside our power. Instead the dignity of these kids was trampled by a misguided mission to evangelize the "poor people who need Jesus". And our good intentions were not enough.

Powerlessness starts by examining our own culture and history to understand the power we carry. Powerlessness seeks out reconciliation and forgiveness. Powerlessness laments our past mistakes. Powerlessness does not settle for good intentions. Powerlessness honors the strength and assets of those being served. Powerlessness does not seek to manipulate. Powerlessness does not impose cookie cutter methods or technique driven strategies. Powerlessness does not come in with a predetermined outcome. Powerlessness submits to the leadership of the community. Powerlessness listens longer than feels comfortable. Powerlessness lays down our agenda, plans and very life for the love of a people made in the image of God--a people filled with beauty, strength, dignity, creativity, determination, resourcefulness, tenderness, insight, intelligence and love.

I long for the day when Christ's bride is known and marked by her humble powerlessness as she follows God into the redemption of all things.

May it be so.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

--Philippians 2:5-8

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