responding out of powerlessness

Posted on

2016debateWhew! The final debate in the presidential election is over. It was heated. It was challenging (to watch and listen). The mud being slung all over the place in both the gubernatorial race and all the races down ticket is astonishing. It feels like it’s more than in the past. Yet, looking back at history it’s mild compared to Thomas Jefferson declaring John Adams to be a “hideous hermaphroditical character” in the 1800 presidential race. This is all such a far cry from the scriptural call to “love your neighbor,” or even more challenging: “love your enemy.”

Throughout scripture we witness God working in the world through humility and powerlessness. God doesn’t call the strong to speak words of truth. Rather, God chooses the prostitute Rahab to offer hospitality, the unknown sheep herder and a trimmer of sycamore trees to preach a challenging word to an arrogant society, the dirty, smelly fisherman and a Jewish tax collector (otherwise a traitor to Jewish people for colluding with the oppressive occupying force of the Roman empire) to preach good news to the oppressed,  and who can forget the young girl who would become the bearer of the ultimate good news in the form of an infant.

As a person of privilege with white skin from a family that could afford to pay for my college education, I witness the Black Lives Matter movement and I see people who are carrying the burden of over 200 years of oppression speaking truth to power. I witness the fight for immigration reform and I see people who are being demonized and painted with a broad brush as “criminals and rapists” because of their ethnicity. I witness the ongoing struggle for gender equality and see women who often work twice as hard as men for less pay and less recognition, and who are often excluded from positions of power because of their gender. I hear cries for justice from the concrete wildernesses of our cities as well as our small towns. I hear cries for salvation from an exiled people crossing dangerous desert borders, risking their lives to survive. I hear the cries of seemingly powerless people finding strength, courage, and gaining power through their seeming powerlessness. Like Jesus instructing his disciples to reverse the power structures of an oppressive empire by “turning the other cheek” in order to be treated as an equal, to walk the extra mile when a Roman soldier tells them to carry their armor (Roman soldiers could legally force a Roman citizen to carry their armor one Roman mile, to walk an extra mile puts the soldier in a precarious position because he could be reprimanded for “making” a citizen do that), and by loving—not demonizing—their enemy (challenging power with love).

We in positions of unearned privilege (and no, if you are white, and especially if you are white and male, you did not earn that privilege no matter how hard you think you have worked) need to tune our ears to the voices of the seemingly powerless because they are speaking the words of God, calling us out on our un-love, our un-grace, our un-compassion. It is not those of us with advanced degrees who wear cool robes and albs and speak from powerful pulpits. It is not those of us who drive fancy cars and live in big houses and are given long titles. It is not those of us who enter the halls of justice in power suits wearing pins on our lapels that tell the world of our privilege. It is those who walk the streets, live in ghettoes, and work their bodies to the bone to make less than a living wage who are given the keys to the kingdom and the prophetic words of power. We need to step out of the way, listen, and get in line behind these prophets of truth.

The final debate is over. In a few weeks we will vote as a nation. But our work does not end there. We need to keep listening, keep watching, keep paying attention, because God is still speaking (thank you United Church of Christ for this reminder). Can you hear it? Are you listening?

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

~ Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

Leave a Reply