Does Listening to an Audiobook Count as Reading?
2020 was the year of audiobooks for me. I found myself having a hard time having enough focus to read long print books. With all the time I was putting in on the trails with my new hobby of running, audiobooks seemed to be the perfect fit. I could keep taking in information and learning while also distracting myself from the pain and discomfort I was purposely inflicting on myself.
A few print books were engaging enough, though, that they disciplined my wandering and unruly mind and kept calling me back every time I set them down, books like Margaret Renkl’s Late Migrations (a heartbreakingly beautiful exploration of love and loss) and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity (an engaging, even funny, introduction to the theology of the trinity).
But, for whatever reason, it’s been the books of history that have challenged my heart the most. Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (did that one on audiobook) still has me reeling a bit. Holland (a scholar in history who was raised in a Christian home but later rejected the faith) traces the revolutionary impact of the message of the gospel on the developing western world, showing that it is the foundation of both modern American democracy and the social and economic theories of marxism (yes, even atheist thinkers have had their view of the world impacted by the revolutionary message of the gospel).
What struck me the most in this sweeping survey is that at the heart of the history of western civilization is an ongoing, restless struggle between the power of love and the love of power. When we look at the history of the church, we are confronted with a patchwork quilt made up of this struggle. We see people bold in love, those who laid down their rights (and even their lives) to share the love of God in word and deed with people created in the image of God but who did not know God. We also see those who sought to consolidate their power through violence, fear, and death. We see missions and we see crusades. We see martyrs and those who kill them.
And in the end, what becomes clear is that it was never those with the power of this world that changed the world. The world has indeed been changed by the gospel, but that change came through people who believed in the power of laying down their lives instead of those who believed in the power of taking lives. The change came through those who loved their enemies, not those who tried to intimidate, defeat, and even kill their enemies.
Now, that never stopped Christian leaders from trying to harness the power of this world to bring in the kingdom of God. There is a painful irony of reading about leaders claiming to follow the Murdered One who then take up the power of death in his name (even more ironic that they carry names like “Pope Innocent III” while ravaging innocence for power).
Great, Steve. Sounds interesting (um, maybe). But why are you talking about all this stuff?
For this reason: while man keeps trying to wrest God’s power away from him and use it to dethrone him (and destroy those created in his image), God’s power always wins. Man keeps taking up the leveraged power of death (whether economically, politically, or religiously) and God keeps upending their power through love.
I love that real power doesn’t look like power at all. Real victory often looks like defeat. True strength is often reviled as weakness. And real, transformative change doesn’t come through the defeat of our enemies; it comes through loving our enemies.
I’ve been reading another book that I got for Christmas – a biography of John Lewis and a history of the civil rights movement of the late 50’s and early 60/s (Jon Meacham’s His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope) and I am seeing the same themes powerfully displayed. Lewis and the other student protestors conducted their sit-ins, their freedom rides, and their peaceful marches with an absolute commitment to non-violence, a philosophy of life that demanded that they not only endure abuse, but love their abusers.
They willingly put themselves into the crucible of the hatred of white supremacy to expose the hypocrisy of white gentility. They had legal rights to do the things they did, but they had almost no practical ability to protect their rights or their bodies as they exercised their rights.
But that doesn’t mean that they had no power. Oh man, they had power. They had the power of a courageous love, an unshakable vision of the “Beloved Community” in which everyone, both those who were oppressed and those who did the oppressing, could freely and joyfully thrive together. They had the power of believing that in the end truth would overcome the lie and life would conquer death.
And that power, the power of love, frustrated and confounded those who had the political, economic, and social power of fear and death.
Bull Connor was arguably the most powerful man in Birmingham, Alabama in the early ‘60s. He made sure his people were well cared for and anyone who would trouble their peace would be punished. Ironically, he wore the title of the Commissioner of Public Safety even as he made life very unsafe for those members of the public he saw as not his people. He intimidated and promised threats to “outside troublemakers” who might show up to “disturb the peace” by demanding justice. He passively ignored the violent rage of white mobs who insulted and physically abused the peaceful, law-abiding black student protestors. As things escalated and he felt the dawning reality that his “power” was being exposed as weakness, he increased his aggression and actively deployed high pressure water hoses and attack dogs on peaceful black men, women, and children who ignored his threats and walked down streets he had declared off limits.
John Lewis, a powerless nobody, continued to have hope in a hopeless situation. He was convinced that love could give birth to their cherished vision of a Beloved Community. So, as a student, he continued to train students how to absorb hate (verbally and physically) without returning (or even harboring) hate for those who abused them. And in the end, their weakness proved to be strength. Their foolishness proved to be wisdom. Their humble courage of love exposed the cowardice of rage.
The world only has one power – the power of death. It uses it like a club to control others through fear, and if they refuse to be intimidated, through death. But death has no power over Life and what is there to fear when we are the people of the resurrection?
Reminds me of Paul’s description of the foolishness of worldly power when it destroyed itself by trying to destroy the Lord of glory:
None of the rulers of this age understood [the hidden wisdom of the Kingdom of God], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8)
The power of the kingdom of man is death (and the fear of death). It seeks to control through threat and violence. But the power of the kingdom of heaven is resurrection. Hate can swallow love in death, but in so doing, hate dies. Death gives way to the power of resurrection. Hate gives way to the power of love.
Ok, I’ll stop there… but I have found all of this so encouraging. What we see happening around us is nothing new. Human history is, as C.S. Lewis has said, the long terrible story of humans trying to find something other than God that will make them happy (or, I would add, secure or significant or worthy of love).
The world only has one power – death. So it seeks to manipulate and control others through fear and violence. The worldly impulse is driven to keep and get, and to demonize anyone who might threaten that greedy process.
So, let’s be those who commit ourselves to the power of love. Let’s not be taken in by the fear-mongers and the manipulators. Instead, let’s expose the worldly works of darkness and call each other to the better path of love.
People who hate you aren’t your greatest threat. The people who would call you to fear are. They want to seduce you and control you and use you. And love will always conquer fear. Generosity will always conquer greed. Resurrection will always conquer death.
This is true biblically. This is true historically. And ultimately it will come to be seen as true universally.