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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
In my power
July 2002

As a child at home, the relationship between my father, my brothers and myself could take many forms – the cut and thrust of lively debate over the dinner table, for example, or the cut and thrust of my father's hairdressing scissors which, month by month, placed our boyish scalps in peril. Most significantly, though, it was tested, Jacob-style, in play fighting. At least I think it was play fighting.

This usually involved games which saw the survival of the fattest – whether this was the pinning of another down on the carpet and proceeding to pummel their chest, or the rather less refined ability simply to lean or sit on another, smaller member of the family thus rendering them inactive. In Rumsey family parlance this induced the state known as "in my power".

"You're in my power", my father would announce. "I know" would come the muffled reply. When you had someone "in your power", you won – as simple as that. And then you all went off to church...

Being the youngest and smallest member of the family meant that, in my view, I was rather too often "in the power" of my siblings and father. With hindsight this was not time wasted, however. Apart from giving me ample opportunity to reflect upon the vagaries of evolution (why, having spent millennia refining the gripping hands of the Action Man or the subtle intrigue of Cluedo, we need revert to the nursery games of the Brontosaurus), it afforded me an early sense of the fear of almighty God and what his might might mean.

Such reflection – ideally conducted in a more comfortable setting – must be at a premium in the present time. After all, religious convictions about the omnipotence of God – and therefore, surely, his ultimate victory over anything which stands against him – are today fuelling the most fearful acts of violence and conflict. If Christ once wept at the bleak irony of Jerusalem being "the city of peace", heaven only knows how his tears flow now.

The whole point about power is how you use it. Some in powerful positions like to pretend they haven't got it, like those right-on teachers who would insist that their pupils "just call me Dave". This sort are not to be trusted, in my view. Others – and I rather admire their honesty – wield their power with the wild abandon of a Schnauzer in a field of sheep. Still others find that, curiously enough, power brings impotence, and they can usually be found in their back garden scything through the nettle patch to cries of 'Aha! Cross me, would you? Take that!' The Archbishop of Canterbury may be among their number.

The question of God, therefore, is not whether he is omnipotent – that goes without saying, surely – but in what way he employs his power and how he calls us to be powerful in him.

This is where Christianity really pulls away from the pack, to my mind. One does not have to delve too far into Christian theology to see that its most concentrated expression of God's power in his world is the figure of Christ on the cross – a dying man, utterly stricken and helpless before his captors. Words hardly do justice to the strange force of this image – it is, at the very least, profoundly and provocatively challenging to our understanding of the Almighty.

So it was for St Paul, a man whose exercise of power had clearly once been of the Schnauzer variety. His writings reveal a man bowled over and out by this crucified God. To a people fascinated by images of the divine, he wrote that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God".

Infuriating though it might be for evangelists the world over, this is, as Paul attests, a power that you only see the sense of when you find yourself on the receiving end. Otherwise it just looks bonkers.

One of course has to be careful here, for at key points in their history, those who take the name of Christ have displayed their perverse tendency to practice the opposite of what their Lord preached. The abuse of power in the church is a sin bordering on blasphemy and one made more offensive by the turning of a blind eye.

But, incredibly, the way in which God appears to have responded to such offence is with the disarming power of self-giving love. He shows his might, not by pinning us down and pummelling us, but by letting himself be pinned down and pummelled – for us. Goodness knows how we follow in his footsteps, but sometimes it is enough to know that such a one has walked in ours.
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
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Also by Stephen Tomkins... a regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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