IVP - Strangely Dim - Saying No to Boundaries

January 30, 2004

Saying No to Boundaries

By David A. Zimmerman

I am sorely lacking in the art of self-assertion. Oh, I assert myself a lot, really, but I'm usually by myself when I do it. When I get in the company of others, I choke up. Call me weak-willed if you want, but I like to think rather that I've developed a theology of meekness.

It's a noble word, meekness--one of those things that Jesus draws attention to as particularly blessed. And there's a big payoff to it: the meek inherit the earth. But along the way to collecting our inheritance, we meek find ourselves saying yes to things we'd rather say no to, capitulating to decisions that offend our sensibilities, faking assent to our more assertive neighbors.

I resent my meekness at times, but I wear it proudly nonetheless, consoling myself with a sense of superiority to those less meek among us. For now, I live in an assertive culture that prizes go-getters, people who by sheer force of will yield agreement from people who might otherwise disagree.

The field that the assertive play on is often called "boundaries." For them, thinking too much of the needs of others and too little of our own needs is a sign of weakness or even moral failure--a rejection of God-given boundaries to our relationships. We're called to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and if we're not loving ourselves, how will we know how to love our neighbors? Greed is good, self matters--to quote George Harrison, "All through the day, I-me-mine."

Is my bias showing? Once it's all typed out, it's not as noble-looking as I originally thought. It's not so simple, after all, as saying that the meek are the heroes and the assertive are the villains. Clark Kent is meek, but Superman is assertive--and they're the same person. Assertive Superman fulfills all the secret desires of mild-mannered Clark Kent. Clark gets to be noble; Superman gets to punch people through walls. I identify with Clark Kent, but I dream of being Superman.

Like Superman/Clark Kent, Jesus was one person. And he was as assertive as he was meek--at times silent in the face of persecution that makes my own suffering seem profoundly trite, and at other times taunting the authorities, confronting the immoral and challenging his followers. He was assertive at his own peril, and meek when it cost him the most.

That's part of being fully human, I suppose. Jesus in his person proves that meekness and assertiveness are aspects of the human condition, and how we practice our meekness and assertiveness is more important than claiming them as proof of our inheritance, for example, or lording ourselves over our loved ones. Jesus, in his meekness and his assertiveness, judged the world and found it lacking. And in his meekness and his assertiveness, Jesus saved the world and presented it to his Father--whole and without blemish.

Check out my secret identity at www.ivpress.com.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at January 30, 2004 10:54 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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