I have a problem with the concept of power. When I think of power, I think first of power exercised over vulnerable individuals and populations. It seems that “power” too often means power over, the power to intimidate, to bully, to take advantage, in short, to hurt and to harm. What immediately comes to my mind is the power of child abusers over their victims, legislatures denying basic human rights to LGBTQ persons, of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un using the threat of nuclear missiles to bully South Korea and attempt to bully the rest of the world, of government officials wielding hateful power over immigrants and native peoples and promising to cut services that have enhanced the quality of life for many people. And the list goes on.
I know there are other metaphors of power out there. So, in a sense, this column is an attempt to call to my own mind some of those more life-giving, more spiritually healthy metaphors. I invite you to come along with me, to read these slowly and thoughtfully, and to reflect on how they might inform your own relationship to power. Does any of them hold the potential to help heal whatever wounds you may carry from having been the victim of abusive power? And if you are not wounded individually, consider that you may be an ally or member of a group that is being singled out.
The metaphors that are most meaningful to me often come from the natural world:
I’d met a friend on campus for lunch. I’d parked in the Emens Auditorium parking structure because it was close to where we were meeting. My emeriti faculty hangtag doesn’t allow me to park there unless I park as a visitor. On this crowded day, that meant parking on the very top deck. When I was ready to leave, that, in turn, meant walking up four flights of stairs. I later learned that there is an elevator, but I didn’t know that at the time.
I’ve been moving quite slowly and with great difficulty of late due to a worse than usual time with chronic hip and leg problems. As I began to make my way up the stairs one slow step at a time, I became aware of a young woman behind me. I turned and smiled at her, and invited her to go around me. What happened next surprised me. She declined, willingly keeping pace with my slowness. We had an absolutely delightful conversation all the way up the stairs, and parted with warm wishes and smiling hearts when we reached the top. We both belonged in that brief encounter.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what being able-bodied, or not, means in our culture. Rich Harris, who worked with what I believe was then called “disabled student development” before his retirement from Ball State, often said that we are all “TABS,” his acronym for “temporarily able-bodied.” I’ve clearly lost my TAB status, and that’s had me reflecting on the
I was born in 1945. My daughter was born in 1968. My two older grandchildren were born in 1995 and 1999. The younger three came along in 2012, 2014 and 2016. This means that neither me, nor my daughter, nor my grandchildren have ever known a time when the United States was not at war.
Some were major wars that involved coalitions of many nations—World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and the current war on ISIL. Others involved only the US and one other country. Some, we said we “won.” Others, well…
Most were military engagements that involved US troops and firepower with or against other nations. There was also the Cold War – that persistent state of tension between the Western Bloc, the US and its allies, and the Eastern Bloc, composed of the USSR and its allies – that followed WWII. While military historians disagree on its exact dates, 1947-1991 is typically accepted. What I personally remember most about the Cold War Era is huddling in a terrified ball underneath my classroom desk in grade school when the sirens howled and we had air raid drills. I was certain that the images I had seen on jerky black and white newsreels of Nagasaki and Hiroshima would soon be images of the small town where I lived. Not necessarily logical, but kids’ fears often aren’t logical.
A recent report indicated that tensions between the United States and Russia are now at a level not seen since the Cold
One of the privileges of ministry is that I get to officiate for weddings. Recently I had the honor and pleasure of officiating for the wedding of a couple, both of whom are in their 70s. Both had previous spouses who had died from cancer. My husband Tom and I are in the same situation, both of us having lost spouses to death. One man who attended the wedding mentioned to me that he and his wife had also married late in life following the deaths of earlier spouses. As the chalice lighting I used for the wedding says, the light of the chalice reminds us that “love is a living thing, dancing like a flame, waiting within each of us for an awakening touch.”
Marriage is always a daring step, a committing of ourselves to the mystery of life itself, a leap into an unknown in which there are, and can be, no guarantees. It calls on us to risk what is for the sake of what can yet be. Late in life marriages are even more so. Those of us who marry, or marry again in the autumn or winter of our lives do so knowing perhaps more clearly than do the young that it won’t always be smooth sailing. We are keenly aware that there will be both unbounded joy, and sorrow that will threaten to shrivel our souls. And we choose to embrace the joy, to forge ahead into that mysterious unknown, to entrust ourselves to each
Our relationship was always a rocky one, marked by misunderstanding, mistrust, ambiguity, and quarrelsomeness. Other people said we were perfect for each other, a match not only made in, but blessed by heaven itself. But somehow or other, I could never quite relate. Something always seemed “off.” That was pointed out to me as evidence that I reallyneeded this relationship. I went along with it for many years, and then somehow found the courage to simply end the relationship. It was over between Humility and me. Over. Done.
I really don’t recall when Humility reappeared in my life. There were occasional contacts, intermittent flirtations, very sporadic at first. Part of it had been that I didn’t like the crowd Humility hung out with—humiliate and humiliation, for example. There were others, too—shame, abase, debase, demean, degrade, belittle, cause to feel small, and some other unsavory characters. When Humility reappeared, though, the cohort had broken up.
The Humility I had known was in fact a mean-spirited masquerade, slightly if at all related to true humility. Curious, I ran a background check. I’d had a philosophy professor in grad school who sent us off to the library with a weekly assignment. He gave us each a word, and we were charged with looking up its origins and history in the massive Oxford Dictionary of the English Language. I always enjoyed that assignment, and I’m still fascinated by word origins and how their meanings and usage evolve over time.
Humility, as it turns out, has an intriguing
I admit it: I’m more likely to be bothered by change, or the prospect of change, than to be enthusiastic about it. It’s instructive that the first version of the preceding sentence read “the threat of change” rather than “the prospect of change.” ‘Nuf said. Change makes me uneasy; it tends to ratchet up my anxiety. Major changes that affect me directly call out the four horsemen of my own little apocalypse: clammy, queasy, sleepless and shaky. Even if it’s “good” change, it’s far easier for me to see the possible risks inherent in it than to whole-heartedly celebrate its promises. Not always, to be sure, but typically.
Sometimes, for some of us, change can’t come fast enough. I recall how much my daughter, when she was a middle-schooler and even into high school, disliked her unusual first name (“Hinda,” named after her four-greats grandmother). She let it be known repeatedly that as soon as she was old enough, she was going to court to have it changed. Then she graduated college and got her first job in the public relations field, which would become her lifelong profession. She soon discovered that having a somewhat unusual name, one that people remembered easily, was quite an asset.
Those who are dissatisfied with the current administration are eager for the November elections with the possibility of inaugurating a new era in American government. Others, however, are concerned about what such a change might bring.
The secular humanists in our own congregation want change, while others