It was the first day of my fifth grade year and I was already excited about becoming a member of the safety patrol squad. That’s the responsibility and honor that fifth graders received as the oldest students of elementary. There was power, there was authority, and there was protection in the name of justice in that orange belt that wrapped around fifth graders bodies. I couldn’t wait to wear my orange belt that year. It was like a rite of passage. During the fifth grade orientation, Mrs. Nielsen explained to my class that every month there would be a new captain of the safety patrol chosen. The pedagogy behind choosing a captain was to teach us about leadership. The qualities that made up a captain of the fifth grade safety patrol included fairness, respect, kindness, command, and plays well with others at recess. A week after our fifth grade orientation Mrs. Nielsen chose me to be the first captain of the safety patrol for the whole elementary. I remember using my more quickly developed body as a tool of protection for the rest of the elementary kids who were small and had not hit puberty yet. I stood in the middle of the intersection, stretched out my hand to the cars like I was Tina Turner commanding them to stop, and safely the grade school kids would pass by on their way home to eat their string cheese snacks and read the Box Car Children.
This is the first time I was given authority. This is my first taste of power. This is the first time I knew myself as a leader. I was ten years old and proudly ensuring the safety of my friends.
Many years later in seminary my classmates and I were discussing power. My professor said, “When you are ordained you will have power. The more comfortable you are with your power the less abuse you will cause.” I was so uncomfortable with how easy he talked about power. It almost felt like a dirty word. Weren’t we called to serve the church and selflessly give of our selves and minister the Word and Sacrament? What did power have to do with it? My professor went on to say “And this power is not equal though the ritual of the ordination is equal. If you are a man your power will be assumed even if you are not as good of a pastor. If you are a woman your power will not only not be assumed, but you will need to show your power.” This opened up 90 minutes of arguing and heated discussions. Some of my classmates said “I’m so uncomfortable with power because it’s a dirty word.” Other colleagues said, “I know I have power and that’s how we get things done for the Gospel.” Still others said “Can’t we come up with another word besides power? What if we said authority? How might that change our conversation?”
This was the first time I had to grapple theologically with power.
In the last year I’ve been thinking a lot about power. I received a prestigious fellowship called Women in Power and argued in my application that it is in the sharing of power that happens when women lead (and shatter the stained glass ceiling) that will help bring health and resurrection to religious life and institutions. My essay was liked enough and I have been so very blessed so far this year to receive executive coaching from some of New Yorks finest leaders. In this mix of powerful women I am the only ordained religious leader. My colleagues are brilliant and leading the way in their fields of economics, science, public relations, and a variety of careers. Then there is me, the minister. What does this fellowship mean to me, theologically?
Power. Who has it? How did they get it? What does God think of power? What do we mean when we say God is all-powerful? What does power do to our brains and our relationships? The #metoo movement is about the abuse of power. The devastating effects of the power in the White House have hurt thousands of people over the last year. World powers came side to side at the Olympics when Vice President Pence and Kim Yo Jong of North Korea caused quote a commotion. A powerful doctor was faced with the consequences of his power gone wrong when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to prison for the abuse of his power to many gymnasts. Power is in the news cycle everyday.
To talk about power will take more than one post. We need to take this post to open up the discussion. This is my first post on power in a three part series that culminates in my reflections on the resurrection as a movement of the redemption of power. On March 28th I will continue with the topic of power and look at it from Scripture and from Psychology. On April 11th I will conclude my series on a brief philosophy and theology of power for the church to work with. In this series I hope for us to get more comfortable talking about power so that we can stop the abuse of power.
So, dear 12 Readers, let’s talk together. What images, feelings, or responses come up for you when you hear the word power? Is it good? Is it bad? Indifferent? What are stories that you think of to share with us? I will guide us in this conversation, but I want it to be just that…a conversation. Please use the comments to talk with each other, as you will help guide the next two posts.
I conclude with a verse about power for us as we begin to reflect on what God might think about power.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)