today i am thinking about

power.

Thirst for power really is at the root of so much of what is profoundly wrong with us. We want to control everything, and history seems to suggest that we will do whatever it takes to wrestle power from others.

Every day in the prison I watch men destroy themselves and the lives of their peers and loved ones in the pursuit of power. Gaining a foothold becomes particularly important when you have been rendered powerless in the ordinary sense. Thus, the more insecure we are, the more we seek power. Men ritually cut off contact entirely with partners and children, to send the message that they are not willing to be manipulated by the dangling carrot of potential visitation rights, as long as the mother is steering the ship. Others will only attend group events if they can direct the proceedings. And nowhere else have I seen gossip and lies multiply at such rapid-fire speed (I was even at the centre of a pretty funny – and entirely fabricated – rumour myself), so that even reality itself becomes subject to the manipulation and control of certain inmates. Today I had a long conversation with a troubled chap who was attacked recently by another inmate, about his agony over how to respond. His impulse is revenge. His impulse is to save face, and more importantly, to find a response that will ward off future attacks. But in his core he is drawn to forgive, but is frightened of the consequences. Because forgiveness is to give up power and pay the cost yourself.

One the one hand, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to assert and protect our dignity – each other’s dignity. But how to do so without grasping at power and control – the desire to be top dog, the desire to be seen to be strong, unflappable, unperturbed? Even the desire to be cool (aren’t we sad?). What does this dignity look like?

Being a Christian, if I can be reductionist here, seems to me at this point to be largely about surrendering power. Laying aside reputation. Laying aside approval from others. Laying aside the (sometimes overwhelming) urge to put others ‘in their place’. Laying aside war and revenge and violence. Laying aside the need to be seen to be right, coherent, important, successful, attractive, credible. Laying aside the self.

This only becomes possible when we are no longer insecure, no longer self-loathing, no longer afraid. And thus there is this dichotomy at play, wherein we discover our deepest humanity at the points of deepest vulnerability and surrender. We find peace within ourselves when we give up these selfsame selves. I believe it was some sandle-wearing hippy who said that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life, will find it. And it seems he wasn’t above that himself, either.

Oh to communicate this to my own heart, and to all the hearts broken by the need for power! What if we just…let go?

 

 

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11 Responses to today i am thinking about

  1. I am in love with this post. If I could make real your last paragraph, I’d be a better man, a happier one, and a better husband, father, friend and servant. How the Hell do I do it?

  2. I dunno Andy. If I figure it out I will tell you. But it is linked somehow I think with being able to look our sin in the face and not despair, because we are simultaneously delighted by all the beauty reflected in our humanity and, the first bit (sin) being defeated…means the second bit (beauty) is on the move.

  3. The paradox is that when I look my sin in the face, I both despair, and don’t care enough. My sin doesn’t horrify me enough, but my sinful self disgusts me – not least because my sin doesn’t horrify me enough.

  4. CS Lewis says there comes a time in the cycle of pride where we just have to laugh. You catch yourself feeling prideful and put a stop to it, then immediately feel pride at having stopped yourself being prideful, ha! I dunno. We need grace to bust in and override! Be at peace, brother, you are loved, even in your apathy! :D

  5. C.S. Lewis was exactly who I was thinking about in this post. I’ve always been in agreement with his idea that pride is, effectively, the root of all evil. And when I say always, I mean since I first read Mere Christianity back in the early middle ages. Now I wonder – I think it is more power than pride in some ways. The one part where I felt pride didn’t cover what I felt was the root was how much of our hurt of others and ourselves comes not precisely from arrogance but from fear. I think the desire for power is double-edged – both pride as traditionally believed, I am more important than you, even if You is God; and the control freak that comes from our fear that we are unimportant to anyone, even to God. How could we be otherwise? We are weak, we are foul, we are pathetic, not only in comparison to God (which is plain fact) but in comparison to everyone else. So, if I compare badly to others, fuck’em, I’ll drag them into my pit and soil them too. Even while I do it, I know I’ll actually feel even lower, but hey, that’s what I’m like, isn’t it.

    But then, for some inexplicable reason, it breaks through once in a long while that the Creator of the Universe actually loves me. So, possibly for even more inexplicable reasons, does Rach – she doesn’t have to, it’s God’s job but Rach doesn’t have to. And, despite my best attempts at antisocial alienation, there are others who love me too – not for my sin, of course, or my feeble little grasps to control everything, but for some seed of some seed of some seed that’s in me.

    We do, we need grace, and I know that basically my part in that is to shut the fuck up and let Him love me. Give up the power, you might say :)

    Well, my much-thinking sister (with your head, not sure how you think anywhere else, but I didn’t weigh in then and should shut up now :-} ) – Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  6. Thank you. For the comment and the benediction. I’ll take your blessing with me into my week.

  7. canalways says:

    ah Chip,
    it’s true …but it makes me want to cry because it seems I’ll never get a job (for example) if I lay aside reputation, lay aside approval from others, lay aside the need to be seen to be right, coherent, important, successful, attractive, credible. Laying aside the self……if I apply for a job I’m making a statement that I want to be top dog, to be picked before others…..if I shun that I look like I don’t want it enough…….anyway…….

  8. Henri Nouwen said that we get rooted in Christ first (learn how to be) and we get our vocation second (learn what to do). I don’t know if that’s helpful! Maybe you are destined to the kind of work that is very much about ‘being’ – art, music, poetry, agriculture. I hope that my vocation is prison chaplaincy. In order to make that happen though, I have to work temp contracts in a dole office.

    I don’t think that having a goal and reaching for it means that you have to make yourself top dog, or believe that you are more important than others. It does mean however that you have enough self-respect that you ackowledge that you are just as worthy of receiving a job as anyone else. Having a job also enables all kinds of service to others, and all kinds of opportunities to put the self to one side, especially if we are of the persuasion that certain jobs are “beneath” us.

  9. canalways says:

    I guess I mean more that you don’t believe that you are more important than others, but more how you react when you know that you’re just as gifted and capable as others

    by the way, your blog is blocked by the internet filter in Lisburn library for having unsuitable content….not sure why.

  10. Prob cos it has posts that contain the filthy word vagina :)

    We need to be able to offer ourselves the same respect and care that we would hope to offer others.

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