Book Review: Strong and Weak

 

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“We will be called to seek out suffer, to go to its depths, if we truly want to bring flourishing to the world.  But when we journey to the heart of suffering, whether by circumstance or by choice, we are only going where Another has gone before us.  When we find our place in that story and in that journey, our vulnerability, too, becomes the path to flourishing.” p. 72

 

I first ran across Andy Crouch’s work around five years ago when a friend gave me a copy of Culture Making, which I reviewed here.  Crouch really challenges the reader to think beyond the text and to see what it looks to live “Christianly” and to really live out the gospel in all areas of your life.  Last year I read, The Tech-Wise Family, and then I finally picked up  Strong and Weak a few weeks ago.  I’m so grateful for his exploration of these two main questions…

What are we meant to be?

Why are we so far from what we’re meant to be?

Crouch does a fantastic job of diving into the dichotomy of strong and weak.  In a power hungry culture where we all just want to be in control, he reminds us that our true strength is realized when we recognize the freedom we have in being weak under the authority of God who created us to flourish for His glory.  Authority and vulnerability can partner well together.

I’m grateful for Crouch’s work and hope that you might also dive in and see what God has for you in his thoughtful study of Scripture.  I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • Two questions haunt every human life and every human community…
  • What are we meant to be? This question exposes the gap in our own self-understanding, our half-formed sense that we are meant to be more than we know.
  • We are meant to flourish—not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to exist, but to explore and expand.
  • “Gloria Dei vivendo homo” Iraneus loosely translated “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
  • Why are we so far from what we’re meant to be? This question exposes the gap between our aspirations and our accomplishments, between our hopes and our reality, between our reach and our grasp.  p. 9
  • Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak.  p. 11
  • Flourishing requires us to embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and fraility—even, at least in this broken world, both life and death.  p. 11
  • “The tyranny of the OR and the genius of the AND.”, Jim Collins and Scott Porass p. 13
  • Whether we identify with authority or aspire to it, Jesus is there. p. 23
  • Hidden vulnerability-the willingness to bear burdens and expose ourselves to risks that no one else can fully see or understand.
  • Descending to the dead-the choice to visit the most broken corners of the world and our own heart. p. 25
  • Flourishing captures Jesus’ statement of his own life’s purpose in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” p. 27
  • Define flourishing carelessly—definite it hastily, instinctively, from a position of temporary power or privilege—and you will end up missing the real thing, or the real One.  p. 30
  • Flourishing is not actually the property of an individual at all, no matter how able or disabled.  It describes a community.  p. 33
  • Think of authority this way: the capacity for meaningful action. p. 35
  • True authority is always given.  The capacity for meaningful action is not something we possess on our own.  It is something others confer on us.  p. 36
  • Authority, like flourishing, is a shared reality, not a private possession. p. 37
  • Authority is meant to characterize every image bearer. p. 39
  • The vulnerability that leads to flourishing requires risk. p. 41
  • Psalm 8:3–4 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV) p. 45
  • I have come to believe that the image of God is not just evident in our authority over creation—it is also evident in our vulnerability in the midst of creation.  The psalm speak of authority and vulnerability in the same breath—because this is what it means to bear the image of God. p. 45
  • When authority and vulnerability are combined, you find true flourishing.  Not just the flourishing of the gifted or affluent, but the needy and limited as well. p. 47
  • What we truly admire in human beings is not authority alone or vulnerability alone—we seek both together. p. 47
  • What we will have to unlearn, and be saved from, are our failures of authority, vulnerability, or both—and that is the territory we now must explore.  p. 48
  • We will end our days, one way or another, radically vulnerable to others, only able to hope that they will honor our diminishment and departure with care and dignity.  The authority we carefully store up for ourselves will evaporate slowly or quickly, over the span of decades—or over brunch. p. 55
  • The most painful path to the quadrant called Suffering is the human choice, at the very origins of the species, to pursue Exploiting—to seek authority without vulnerability, godlike power without God-like character.  We are vulnerable without authority because our first parents south authority without vulnerability—and because their fallen children seek it still. p. 60
  • The deepest and most intractable examples of suffering are communal and multigenerational. p. 61
  • We will be called to seek out suffer, to go to its depths, if we truly want to bring flourishing to the world.  But when we journey to the heart of suffering, whether by circumstance or by choice, we are only going where Another has gone before us.  When we find our place in that story and in that journey, our vulnerability, too, becomes the path to flourishing. p. 72
  • We are not meant to be eternal cruise-ship passengers.  We are meant for more than leisure. p. 81
  • Turn off your devices and go for 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 the 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. p. 90
  • Our affluences 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, pleasure 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.  p. 91
  • Control is the dream of the risk-and loss-averse, the promise of every idol and the quest of every person who has tasted vulnerability and vowed never to be exposed in that way again.  But control is an illusion. p. 99
  • The first thing any idol takes from its worshippers are their relationships. p. 106
  • Leadership does not being with a title or a position.  It beings the moment you are concerned more about others’ flourishing than you are about your own. It begins when you start to ask how you might help create and sustain the conditions for others to increase their authority and vulnerability together. p. 112
  • If we want to be agents of transformation in the world, we must be willing to bear the burden of visible authority with hidden vulnerability.  This will expose us to the temptation to become idols or tyrants ourselves—and yet without learning to bear hidden vulnerability, we will never truly be able to serve the flourishing of others. p. 114
  • As risky as it is, hidden vulnerability is often necessary for true transformation.  The most important thing we are called to do is help our communities meet their deepest vulnerability with appropriate authority—to help our communities live in full authority and full vulnerability of Flourishing.  And it turns out that in order to do that, we often must bear vulnerability that no one sees. p. 122
  • When I am speaking, my deepest calling is to help a community bear the community’s vulnerability.  Every person in the room has their own litany of difficulties, dangers, and doubts, and to serve them well is to directly or indirectly address those realities, not whatever may be preoccupying me on that particular day. p. 129
  • “Bad leaders inflict pain.  Good leaders bear it.” Max De Pree p. 130
  • No one can turn hidden vulnerability into flourishing without friends. p. 141
  • 2 Corinthians 12:5–10 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (ESV) p. 170
  • We do not lack for authority.  In Christ we have all the authority that we need and more—“all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21).  But what unlocks that authority is the willingness to expose ourselves to meaningful loss—to become vulnerable, woundable in the world.  For this, too, is what it means to bear the divine image—if the One through whom all things were made spoke into being a world where he himself could be betrayed, wounded and killed.  What we are missing, to become like him, is not ultimately more authority—it is more vulnerability. p. 171
  • Only those who have opened themselves to meaningful risk are likely to be entrusted with authority. p. 172
  • Our true story is not really about us—it is about our rescuer. He arrives in our story and acts with authority—he is the true hero.  And yet he also bears our vulnerability—he offers himself as the victim.  His arrival in the story sets us free to flourish.  And the mark of his arrival is not the hero’s grim shout of triumph or the victim’s grim cry of despair, but the distinctive sound of those surprised by joy: laughter. p. 183
  • Psalm 126:1–2 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” (ESV) p. 183

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