Saying No to Boundaries

I wrote this in 2004--four years before Deliver Us from Me-Ville came out. Five years later I'm more assertive but not much more mature about it. Sigh.


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 prefer to tell myself that I've actualized 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 occasionally, 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": 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 parameters for 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 the noble underdog; 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 hypocrites 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 reveals 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.


jadunham said…
This is such a good post.. something I struggle with in my own identity formation.

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