In Crete where I live, parking is... unique. Oh, cars are parked in (what I'd call) normal ways and spaces - in garages, paid parking lots, parallel parked along curbs. But they're also parked more creatively. On sidewalks. Double-parked with hazards on. Set haphazardly in dirt parking lots, where drivers snake in slowly so as not to hit others and walk away praying there'll still be an exit route open when they return. Kind of a free-for-all.
So it's always an adventure when you drive downtown. A friend of mine runs a ministry in town with her husband, a combination coffee shop/laundromat/clothing outlet located on a bustling corner. And let me tell you, this girl - a dynamo if you ever met one -knows how to optimise city parking. One time a fellow volunteer was circling the block in search of a spot, and my friend showed me a trick: create a space by rolling the large mobile dumpsters set along roadsides to another spot along the road. They're set between parked cars and take up half a potential parking spot; two together can take up a whole one. Yeah, you have to leave your car awkwardly idling in the road with - you guessed it - hazards on while you finagle large rolling carts full of trash around a bit, and your fellow motorists might not be thrilled. But it gets the job done.
I watched her do it - it was brilliant and worked perfectly.
A week later my daughter and I were unsuccessfully trying to park downtown. We spotted an optimal dumpster-filled-would-be space; then I got out of the car, moved the dumpsters, and parked. Wahoo! Triumph. Later I told my friend I'd used the trick and found that she was... surprised. She grew up in Moldova and Romania, studied in Bulgaria, and eventually landed in Greece. She said folks from her hardscrabble background generally have a determined, get-it-done mindset; "where I come from, you growing up working for everything you get." But she didn't see that mindset in westerners very often, she said. They were often more timid, needing assistance. Not generally the Move Dumpsters Around Along Curbs to Park Your Car sort.
And I've thought about her words so many times since.
I'm doing a Youversion Bible reading plan this year, and the best part of it is the accompanying devotional by Nicky Gumbel - pioneer of the Alpha Program and vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton in London (where my parents came to faith in the early 80's). He ties relevant themes to the day's Old and New Testament readings in fascinating and insightful ways. Here Gumbel is on Matthew 11:12, where Jesus says, the "kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it."
"If we want to see acceleration in the advancement of the kingdom of God, Jesus says it will need forceful people... These are people who are not put off by opposition or the need for sacrifice... Throughout history, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing as forceful, Spirit-filled people lay hold of it." (Day 13)
Forceful, huh? And it's not just there. In Luke Jesus says, "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John (the Baptist). Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it." Folks are forcing themselves into the life and ways of Jesus; they want in and they won't take no for an answer. They're using fierce initiative, and they're both getting what they're after (Him) and getting commended by Him for it.
I can't be certain, but this might be the first time I've studied forcefulness as a a character attribute in the Bible. As a good thing. Boldness or perseverance or steadfastness, sure, but forcefulness? And the word's often interpreted as "violence," even, in the Matthew verse. So we're talking about real fierceness in the soul. Forceful: powerful, aggressive, strong. Jesus is all about this.
For a girl like me this is great news. Because here are three adjectives that describe me: loud, intense, assertive. Sometimes I feel like altogether too much- overbearing, heavy-handed. I'm aware of the forcefulness of my nature, and it feels like a weight.
But God needs forcefulness, and he's after forceful people - people willing to use forceful characteristics for his purposes. Not any purpose, for course... because like every character trait, forcefulness can be used for good or ill (one of Gumbel's points in his commentary.) The ill gets almost all the press. But when it's employed in the service of truth and goodness and beauty - another way of saying when it's on God's side, and at the Holy Spirit's leading - forcefulness can only be good.
So back to dumpsters and parking in the wild west of Crete. How is that relevant? Moving roadside dumpsters to create a park spot is hardly a form of ministry; it seems to miss the mark discussion entirely (except that we happened to be going to church). It's relevant for this reason: forcefulness takes practice. And in the day to day, will we be fiercely assertive in the efforts we undertake? Will we press in till the job's done, regardless how mundane? Will we be aggressive and powerful in what we do and how we do it?
My friend's sense that we westerners are at a disadvantage in this arena is, I think, right. Because sure, I moved the dumpster that day, but my toughness muscles are still pretty darn weak in lots of places. Weak from lack of use. I'm a product of my culture - used to comfort, to being able to finagle or Amazon prime things into arriving pronto, to having a cushion in my checking account when I need it. Sometimes I feel like too much, sure, but other times I feel like not enough- lacking initiative, ill-equipped, bumbling. Easier then, surely, just to stay home and leave my forcefulness in the locker for another time.
But no. Jesus is committed to his kingdom forcefully advancing, and he's looking for forceful people to help get the job done. Any forceful people with fierceness in their soul for him, his ways, his love. Any background, no matter how cush, will do. What do you say?