The Antifragile Body of Christ

Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile speaks of the fragile, the flexible and the antifragile. These three concepts are names used to describe how something or someone might respond to a shock.

Photo by  Vittore Buzzi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Vittore Buzzi on Unsplash

The fragile breaks with a shock.

The flexible absorbs a shock.

The antifragile requires shock to develop.

When I was younger I would say my faith was fragile. I would pray for something and if that something did not happen, then I would fall to pieces. If there were one too many “bad things” happening I would begin to abandon notions of God and love.

Of course, most of us grow up and we discover that our fragile faith or fragile selves will not make it in the world because shocks come. We discover how to be flexible. We are encouraged to roll with the punches and remain nimble in our lives. We know that shocks come and we should do what we can in order to absorb the shocks the best we can.

The fragile and the flexible still remain suspicious of different shocks in our lives and we would rather be flexible than fragile. However, even the most flexible regresses to a more fragile state. Flexible gymnasts at sixteen become fragile at ninety. Plastic containers become brittle overtime. Fragility is the endgame of the flexible.

Taleb introduced me to the idea of “antifragile.” This is the way of being in the world that does not shy away from shocks but need shocks in order to develop and mature. The classic example would be the immune system. Unless the immune system is shocked with virus and sickness the immune system does not develop. It needs the shock of being sick to become healthy.

The shocks in the UMC these past several weeks are real. Some in our churches are broken in light of these shocks. Others are trying to absorb the shock and make statements that “push back” to the decisions of a General Conference. Everyone processes and moves through these shocks differently, however the people and churches that I am drawn to are the antifragile. Those that take the posture that the shocks are needed if the Body of Christ is going to be strong and healthy.

The Body of Christ may be sick, but it is not dead.

Deciding and Discerning Distinction

Photo by  Matt Seymour  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

In church world, we often do not make the distinction between deciding and discerning. For the most part we favor the word deciding over discernment - if we use that word at all.

To “decide” means to cut away. When we make a decision we cut away the options we do not want or like or deem less appealing. When we decide we tend to assign a judgement or an evaluation of that which we decided against. Once we decide, we consider our choice good and the thing we cut away as less than good or perhaps bad.

To “discern” means to to separate. Separating is value neutral. That is when we separate our laundry we are not saying that “darks” are good and “lights” are bad. We are just separating things into piles. Discerning is a value neutral process where we separate out that which is discovered.

Discernment is like panning in a river. We pull many things from the living waters and look and sort. We may think we are only looking for gold, but when we sort things out we may discover other beautiful things. These beautiful things may not be what was originally sought, however these beautiful things are retained. We do not call the other rocks “bad” or “unworthy.” We only sort in order to see clearly. If we assign some value to things as we sort, then we are not discerning we are deciding.

Discerning is non-threatening and requires patience. We tend to place a premium on having a decisive mind that we fail to appreciate the value, joy and faithfulness the discerning heart.

God Hardened Pharaoh's Heart

In the Exodus story there are a series of plagues and after the first five plagues scripture says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. However, the next several plagues scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh'‘s heart. It has always bothered me that God do such a thing. Part of the reason there are plagues to begin with is because of Pharaoh’s hard heart and here it seems God is participating in an act that not only leads to a harder heart but more plagues.

Origen of Alexandria wrote the following in the third book of De Principiis "...the sun, by one and the same power of its heat, melts wax indeed, but dries up and hardens mud not that its power operates one way upon mud, and in another way upon wax; but that the qualities of mud and wax are different, although according to nature they are one thing, both being from the earth" 

All hearts are made from the earth and through out actions that earthen heart is changed. It is changed to be more like mud or more like wax. Pharaoh acted in such a way that his earthen heart became more mud than wax.

Photo by  Samantha Lynch  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash

When the grace of God shines down on the earth, some hearts melt. Others harden. It is not because the grace of God is different for one heart to the next, but that each heart responds to this amazing grace differently. Some, like Moses, experience the Grace of God and their heart melts. These hearts can hear the people cry out for liberation and salvation. These hearts are moved to action to work on behalf of the oppressed and forgotten.

Some, like Pharaoh, experience the Grace of God and their heart hardens. These hearts can hear the cry of the people and then justify why the status quo should remain. These hearts are moved, more often than not, to inaction toward the oppressed and forgotten.

God does not harden or melt hearts. Hearts and both harden and melt when the God’s grace shines over them.

Praying Your Lenten Fast Fails

Giving up or fasting during the season of Lent is a tradition in the Christian church which many today still subscribe to. This is a noble discipline, one which I also participate in. However, I pray that we fail our fasts.

Photo by  Kamil Szumotalski  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Fasting seems to be understood by many people less as a spiritual discipline and more as a personal betterment practice. Many who fast from certain food types are doing so for weight loss. Many who fast from technology do so to avoid the toxicity of twitter. There is nothing wrong with these sorts of fasts at all! However, fasting in this way feeds the myth (myth is a unifying narrative not something that is always factually true) that through our thoughts, actions, and will power, we can become a better version of ourselves.

I pray that we all fail our Lenten fasts so that when we do we are faced with the reality that the myth of self betterment is a hallow myth. It is a myth that leads to guilt, shame and even fatalism.

The myth that I hope to live my life around is that of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Christ reminds us that no amount of will power or determination will bring you to a better self. In fact Christianity points out that there is not a better self to obtain. That in fact the real journey is to embrace who we are, warts and all, and be able to discover the joy in it. When we fail, we come face to face with the reality that we are not god or perfect. We face the truth that we are in need of a grace. We encounter the reality that we are unable to transform ourselves, that we are in need. We need that which is beyond us and that which is outside of us.

May you fail your Lenten fast and experience the grace of forgiveness and pick the fast up the next day.