Submission. It is a contentious notion. The very word frequently invokes a reaction. It is often promulgated by those in positions of authority to bolster their power. When submission is demanded, we tend to resist. Yet, in our lives in this world, submission is a given for everyone. We are situated within a certain order, within particular structures of power. None of us chose to be conceived, to be born or to be part of the family in which we were placed. No one chose their time to be alive. Our location of birth, our culture, language, education, government, religion are largely givens and assumed. We may not choose to submit to these hierarchies and circumstances, but submit we do. As we grow into adulthood we may be provided with more choice, but even as adults we are situated within orders that are not of our own choosing. Although our American libertarian predilections may cause us to react against any form of hierarchy, imposed or chosen, it exists nonetheless. How we think, talk, value and live are largely dictated by the overarching dominant worldview, culture and paradigms of our time. To live and to engage in our society, we must submit to this order – though our submission may be largely unconscious – and by submitting we perpetuate the existing order… or disorder. How do we become aware of our submission? How do we become critically conscious of the order or disorder in which we submit?
“Disorder” is an apt description for most places in the world. Florina* is a beautiful, loving, generous and gifted 11-year-old girl who has been coming to our Community Center in Romania for the past 4 years. Florina was born into a poor family with three siblings and parents who struggle with alcoholism. Caught up in the thrall of addiction, the family is unkempt, the two-room home is always extremely messy, and the children are usually neglected. Florina tries to maintain her few belongings, although dirty and worn-out, so that she can go each day to school. When she is not at school or at the Center, she will often go to the park by herself to play – something particularly dangerous for children in our urban context. While we see joy and resilience in Florina, the marks of dysfunction and abuse are also evident. In a very real sense, Florina’s life tells the tale of submission gone awry. A disordered life in a disordered family in a disordered society. The hierarchy that was supposed to care for and protect Florina has largely failed. Submission for Florina means subjugation. Florina is subjugated to marginalization, exploitation and increased vulnerability. What may be worse is that her personality and gifts are limited in their development and capacity to gift back to the world. How do we act so that this disorder is limited and a better order imagined and cultivated?
In Christian perspective, our submission to the disorder in the world is part of the Fall – when relationships with God, humanity and all of creation were thrown out of whack. Sin, evil, Satan, suffering and death are all powers, signs, and consequences of the disorder. Through the coming of God into the world in the Son, the Messiah, the Re-Ordering has begun. The eternal Son becomes human, experiencing subjugation and the inflictions of evil and death in order to break their power; and the Father raises him up to the highest place in order to heal the disorder of sin and to swallow up death (Phil. 2:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:54-57). The Re-Ordering is the reconciling of all things to Godself in Christ (2 Cor. 17-21). In Christ, we are being re-ordered (Eph. 4). The Spirit of the Re-Ordering is poured out on the world so that we can experience the re-ordering and begin to submit our lives and being in this world to the Re-ordering (Rom. 8). The Spirit is awakening our conscious to all to which we submit and inviting us to into an entirely new worldview, culture and paradigm. The promise is that this work is being done and will move forward until the Father is all in all (1 Cor 15:20-28; Eph. 1). That is the Re-ordering. In Christian terms, submission is participation in the Re-Ordering.
Of course, our visions of a re-ordering may be criticized for being idealistic. The critics ask: How, in the face of the Fall and the brute realities of our world, can we practice submission? Who gets to say what is healthy re-ordering and what is disorder? Won’t our practice of submission create new hierarchies of disorder? These questions do not have easy answers. Here I will simply conclude with four suggestions of principles that can guide us and our communities as we take steps toward submission to God’s re-ordering.
1. Our submission is firstly to God. Living under the shadow of the Fall, we all participate in hierarchies of exploitation, exploiting some and being exploited by others. The only fully safe person and place to which we submit is God. In doing so, our inner lives are re-ordered. It is in and through our submission to God that we learn and create space for healthy submission to one another. This is what John intimates when he says that our fellowship with one another comes through our fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3).
2. The result of our submission is the fruit of the Spirit. Submission in the re-ordering looks like love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). If this is not what our submission looks like, then it must be critiqued and transformed.
3. Submission should always be subject to negotiation. Those benefiting from the power-structures of the status quo may re-act rather than comply to a new ordering. But subjugation of one is ultimately the dehumanization of all. The invitation to the Re-Ordering is, in the final instance, the restoration of everyone. As we grow in our walk with God and our understanding of loving one another, we need to continually debate our practice of submission. Our present submission should be evaluated in light of the future promise of the New Creation. The relinquishing and retaining of our will, desires and power should result in health, flourishing and peace.
4. Our reflections on and practice of submission should start in relationship with those who are subjugated. As we submit to God, our lives are less ordered around serving ourselves. That is, rather than submission looking like the loss of will, it should be the use of our will for justice, peace and love. Rather than simply renouncing power, submission may be the use of power for inclusion, empowerment, nurture and growth.
And this is where re-ordering may touch the life of Florina and her family, who, in the first place, are a gift from God to us, offering us a possibility to move from self-centeredness. And we can be a gift for Florina. Helping her to be known. Caring for her. Showing a non-rejecting love to Florina’s parents. Affirming all the good that they are doing amid their challenges. Finding creative ways to support the family and bring healthy social accountability. Creating a space of safety and love. Securing resources for Florina so that she and her family are more empowered to discover the better future that God has for them. Inviting Florina and her family to move from disorder to submission to the lifegiving order offered by God. This is what our submission can look like. In Christ, the Re-Ordering has begun. In small ways and through much struggle, it is becoming our experience.
After serving in WMF Romania for 20 years, David Chronic recently moved back to the US to serve as the Director of Operations for WMF. Alongside his wife Lenuta, David worked among vulnerable youth and poor families, providing education, counseling and mentoring through Day Centers, Community Centers and community development.
He studied international relations at the University of Nebraska at Omaha through which he received a scholarship to study in Romania and Moldova. While living in those two countries, David developed relationships with children living on the streets and children abandoned in the state institutions, which would pave the way for his long-time work in Eastern Europe. Recently, David has contributed articles and chapters on cross-cultural mission among the poor to qideas.org, Living Mission: the vision and voices of New Friars, and Child, Theology and Mission.
Connect with David: firstname.lastname@example.org