counter-culturally powerful

Yesterday I asked a section of my students to raise their hands if they thought power is something God gives us.  Only half of the students raised their hands.  When I asked the other half what they thought they spoke about how power is something people earn because of their success.  “If we are all children of God, aren’t we equal?” I asked.  Not really, I was told, status sets us apart.

I believe that the electric energy of equality has the power to unite all.

"Light's great uniting power" By Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

Within the core Christianity is a belief that all people are children of God. We are all made in God’s image and likeness, we are all people of dignity.  Everyone is holy and is worthy of honor.  God is alive within all of us.  Although our diversity helps us all to be more whole, no one is better than anyone else.  God sees as us equals and loves us all equally.

But then there’s the way society sees it.  Common culture tells us a totally different story.  Before we can read, we learn about winning and losing.  Competition is fun.  From a very young age we are taught that success and achievement are about accomplishing more, having more and earning more.  In the dynamics of capitalism, we base power upon wealth.  The rich and powerful seem to perpetually oppress the poor and powerless.  Perhaps it is because of this that we blame the poor for their problems and we are convinced that the rich are powerful because they deserve it.  Competition and consumerism connect with our experiences of power.   The fanfare of the Super Bowl is a manifestation of these attitudes.

The principles of non-violence imply that all people have the same power. No one is actually more powerful than anyone else,  just as in the eyes of God no one is better than anyone else.  The problem is that power is abused, misused, misunderstood and unknown.  Those who are more wealthy begin to believe they have the power to control, lead and guide. Those who are poor haven’t experienced the wealth and goodness of their own power.  We don’t really need to empower others, we need to encourage them as they desire to unleash the power they already have.

As we try to be faithful Christians, the tension between God’s ways and the world’s ways seems to keep us moving in circles.  When we want to experience what power really means we look to Jesus for grounding and growth.  The early Christians had some pretty good ideas about all this:

“Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. You know the word [that] he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all..”   -Acts 10: 34-36

We know Jesus loves all.  Jesus has been with us through our highs and lows.  Jesus’ humility is power’s true way.  Into the broken, hurting, bleeding cracks of creation Christ is crying.  He’s with us and showing us what is real.

Powerlessness and being powerful blend together in a place of true humility.  We know we are nothing without God and this knowledge sets us free.  As we bend to God’s power, we are enlivened for God’s good mission.  We’ll build unity so that status no longer sets us apart.  Energized to be together, we love like Christ loves: with great humility.  May it be so, amen, indeed.

This land is whose land?

It’s the 4th of July. Throughout the land folks will parade around with flags and explode fireworks, all because the USA gained some independence back in 1776.  I suspect that they’ll be some good old-fashioned patriotic pride and we wouldn’t have to listen to carefully to hear someone proclaim that the USA is the best country in the world.

But, is the USA really that great?

It is  ancient and modern wisdom that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.  Jesus taught us to put the littlest first, to make the vulnerable our priority. Yet, the USA has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized Western nation.  The rich keep getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and more people are becoming poor.  For a nation wanting to boogie down to patriotic party music, it’s not exactly good news.  We’re not really that great, after all.

As I’ve told you before, I am not a fan of patriotism. Even so, I’ll be singing a song about our country today.

This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie is one of my favorite songs.  I used to sing it as a traveling song. But the meaning and power of the song changed for me a few years ago, after I spent a year working with some of the most vulnerable in our nation: homeless and parenting youth.   At the end of my year as a Jesuit Volunteer in California I was introduced to the last verses of the song and the words sent chills down my spine.  I never learned these words when I studied the song in elementary school, probably because I would have asked the music teacher too many tough questions:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Which land? Whose land?  What’s going on? What are we doing?

Questions, questions. I have so many!

As we work for real greatness- as we work to build the Kingdom of God-  what are the questions we need to be asking?

How many people are lined up in invisible bread lines?  What is wrong with how we operate as a society that poverty is getting worse?  Why does this wealth gap grow?

What does our faith have to do with it?  What are our churches doing? Are we praying for the poor and working for justice?   Are the poor getting relief in our churches and from our faith communities?  What will it take for us all to work together so that our country is so great that we can teach other lands how to justly treat the poor?  How are we we to build the Kingdom of God?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Maybe the answers all have to do with Love.