Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Power and Responsibility

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. ~ Jesus Christ (Luke 12:48, NRSV).

With great power comes great responsiblity. ~ Voltaire (Oeuvres de Voltaire, Volume 48).

I've spent much of my life feeling powerless. Now I know that I was wrong - I am not, nor have I ever been powerless; I just didn't own my personal power. I was busy giving it away, mostly because I didn't know what it was, or even that I had it. The culture I grew up in was not conducive to deep self-knowledge or belief in personal power, especially for women. I grew up believing that my most important role was one of support to any man who happened to be in my life, whether that man was my father, my brother, or - eventually - my husband. I was a secondary consideration, a second-class citizen, even to myself. I look back and see that some of the inability to access my own power came from the way I was brought up, but just as much came from the media, and from other cultural sources like teachers, preachers, and other adults in positions of responsibility. No one made it a point to teach me that I should matter to myself. Maybe no one knew I would need to be taught.

Now the point is moot; my journey has taught me that I have as much personal power as I care to claim. In learning this, I have also learned that with great power comes great responsibility. There was a time when I felt overly responsible for everything - that is a function of having codependency - but that isn't what I'm talking about today. I'm talking about real responsibility. Here are some examples.

I own guns. I like my guns. I enjoy target shooting. I like having my pistols around for self-defense and just for the fun of going out to the range and sharpening my aim. Firearms are powerful, and they impart power to their users. But with such power comes responsibility. I am not at all threatened by the idea of background checks and permits. I already have a carry permit, for that matter, and I'd be happy to fill out paperwork and be checked before making a new gun purchase. I wouldn't mind a waiting period - it's not that big a deal, and there's no firearm on the planet that I need in such a hurry that I can't bear to fill out paperwork and wait for a week to obtain. I abide within the law and I have nothing to fear from such requirements. It is a responsibility that I welcome and even invite.

I have daughters. I can't raise them the way I was raised. The world has changed and is changing more swiftly now than perhaps at any other time in the history of human life. We can't afford to raise our children in the vacuum of our own childhoods. I can't let my daughters grow up unaware of their own personal power. There are two lives in my hands, characters that I will shape. If that isn't power, I don't know what is. I have the responsibility to make sure they understand their own worth and never, ever question it.

I am a survivor of violence. I am no longer a victim; I have a voice and great strength of purpose when it comes to advocacy for those who suffer. With this power comes the responsibility for speaking out, for raising awareness, for working toward a better world. If I ignored or failed in this responsibility, I'd be telling myself that there is no purpose to be found in my past, and no reason to struggle and strive to heal.

We all have the power to change what is around us. It starts within us, not without. We have the power to look at who we are, what we believe, what we live for. We have the power to ask God what wonderful things are happening, and that we might somehow be made a part of them. We have the responsibility to work toward something better. Wherever we are, whatever lives we touch, we have the ability to affect change, to light candles and push back the darkness. With great power comes great responsibility. We can't afford not to act. Look at the world we live in and begin the work of discerning how it can be made better. Speak up. Vote. Call your state and federal representatives and let them know how you feel. Treat other people the way you hope to be treated. Perform random acts of loving kindness. 

Remember that you are powerful and honor the responsibility that comes with power. It won't be easy, but it will always be worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Mark of the Cross

Happy Ash Wednesday, everybody!

Oh, I know...Lent isn't supposed to be happy. Lent is a time for repentance, for abstinence, for fasting, for giving up. Most of us think of it as a difficult journey of sacrifice. But the truth is that I look forward to Lent the way some people look forward to Easter, or even Christmas. Do I give something up for Lent? Sure I do. Is it hard? Absolutely! But no other spiritual discipline has brought me as close to God. The sacrifices I've made for Lent have enriched my life so much that for me, Lent is something to be celebrated.

We talk about what we will give up. Some people give up meat, or dairy, or chocolate. Some give up smoking, or coffee, or sex. Some even give up Facebook. Whatever you give up, it must be meaningful. It must be something that comes between you and God. Last year, I gave up self-deception. My life was so profoundly changed that even today I am experiencing ripples from that decision. Some people take something on - a new spiritual discipline, perhaps, or a volunteer opportunity. Whether you decide to take up a new cross or lay down an old distraction, make sure that the objective is to clear the pathway between you and God. 

In 2011, I posted about the Lenten service I attended. The meat of that text is below - it is as relevant now as it was then. I hope your Lent is meaningful, and that it leads you closer to God.

Receiving the Mark
On Ash Wednesday the Christian world begins its wilderness journey with Christ in commemoration of his forty days in the desert. At my church, the Sanctuary is quiet as we come forward in long, solemn lines to receive the ashes. Before me, I hear the ministers whisper about how we are all made of dust and must therefore return to dust – exhorting us to repent and believe what the Gospels have taught us. I pray the prayer of contrition, confess my sins before God. I stand with the rest, my forehead bare, waiting. Knowing that the season of Lent begins in that moment, when the minister’s finger draws the midnight-black cross on my skin, marking me as a follower of Jesus, as one who stands in solidarity with the Son of Man in his long suffering, his work for human-kind, and his violent death on a rough piece of wood. In addition to the imposition of the ashes, we are to think and pray and choose something to give up, or some discipline to adopt to mark the forty-day journey through the wilderness.

If you make a sacrifice, it must be meaningful. It must be something that comes between you and Christ. Something that ties you to this world and keeps you from focusing on Kingdom-business. Some give up meat. Some give up liquor. Some give up sex. Some give up coffee, or cigarettes, or chocolate. Somehow, I cannot imagine coming to God’s altar and laying down coffee or cookies. It must be meaningful. It must be something that I can hardly bear to part with, something without which I cannot imagine my life.

But honestly, there is nothing I have or want that seems good enough. I wait with the others and I remember how I stood before the church and read the words of the Fifty-first Psalm earlier in the evening. There is no acceptable sacrifice except hearts that are broken, and spirits that are crushed. God wants to make all things new. He wants to enter empty vessels and fill them. I receive the Mark of Christ, the Body and the Blood of Christ, and then I go to the altar and I pray in the words of the Psalmist from so long ago –

Create in me a clean heart, O God; renew a steadfast spirit within me… Restore me to the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Hide your face from my sins and do not count them against me. Create in me a clean heart.

I came away feeling emptied, ready for whatever the journey brings. I am here, Lord; we can walk together.