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Letting Go Of Power

This post is part of the Emergent Village Synchroblog on “Creating Liberated Spaces in a Post-Colonial World.”

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As a white, Anglo-Saxon, American male, I am a man of significant power.  And I didn’t do anything to achieve it.  I am given a ridiculous amount of power simply for the fact that I was born that way.

Almost four years ago I was deep into my Masters in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga, taking a class on race, gender and social class.  As you can imagine it was not a fun class for me.  Much of what we had to read for the class explored the historical elements of the conflicts in gender, class and race within the American history, and how powerful white men subjugated just about everybody. Each paper I wrote essentially required me to confront a legacy of what it means to be similar to those who have been in power in history.

Without exception, white men would come into an indigenous culture and colonize it. They would enforce a way of life onto the people already living with the land. This practice was especially horrific for the native American’s who eventually lost their ability to even speak their own native language.    But we can’t ignore that the process stripped people of their original identity, one that had hundreds of years of meaning and tradition behind it.  The end result came at the expense of the person.

Wikipedia defines colonialism as:

“Colonialism is the building and maintaining of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism is a process whereby sovereignty over the colony is claimed by the metropole and social structure, government and economics within the territory of the colony are changed by the colonists. Colonialism is a certain set of unequal relationships, between metropole and colony and between colonists and the indigenous population.”

Colonialism argues for the moral superiority of specific way of thought, especially defined by a culture and morality, and then inflicts that thought onto the indigenous culture.  Much of this historical process was in the name of the Gospel.  But in most cases, the process didn’t begin with the Gospel.  It began with an entire way of life that robbed individuals of how they already lived.  In other words, people didn’t just get the Gospel.  They were forced to take on an Anglo-Saxon way of living.  And if we’re really honest, in the end it’s not really about the Gospel. It’s about control.  It’s about constructing a world that is safe and secure at the expense of people’s humanity.  It’s about making it look like me.  We invade for the sake of removing the “other”.  And then we craft a world that looks like us.  I don’t doubt that some had good intentions, but the ends rarely justify the means.

A new response is emerging, one called Post-colonialism.

“The ultimate goal of post-colonialism is combating the residual effects of colonialism on cultures. It is not simply concerned with salvaging past worlds, but learning how the world can move beyond this period together, towards a place of mutual respect. This section surveys the thoughts of a number of post-colonialism’s most prominent thinkers as to how to go about this.”

With the advent of media, we can no longer ignore the history of colonialism.  Post-colonialism requires us to confront our legacies.

The class had a profound affect on me.  It required me to confront the destructive notion of power and compelled me deeper into what it means to let go of that power.  As a white man, I can enjoy it, most likely at the expense of someone different than me.  Or I can use it to confront injustice.  As much as I enjoy the fact that I live in one of the most powerful nations in the history of the world, I can no longer ignore the cost it took to achieve that power.

The irony is that the Gospel suggests a kingdom that doesn’t invade a person’s life and then expects them to immediately reject everything they used to know.  It suggests a kingdom that begins with where the person is at and then transforms their way of seeing reality from within.  What this means is that transformation is intrinsic, not extrinsic. Each person determines the change.  It begins with participation, not the subjugation, of the individual.  And the best part is that change is determined by the act of love, one that consistently produces life, not death. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Jesus letting the rich man walk away.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God does not invade someone and then inflict a way of living onto them.  It is offered and then received.

The temptation of colonialism is to make things happen, usually NOW.  We assume that God wants things done yesterday.  It’s the idea that we’re actually furthering the kingdom of God by forcing it upon someone.  Yet Jesus did very little to make things happen.  He didn’t force it.  Instead, he participated in its happening.  He simply made himself available to what God was already doing.  And when the opposing kingdom made it very clear it didn’t want the Kingdom of God, Jesus REFUSED to just make it happen.  And when it got really bad, Jesus revealed the reality of the kingdom of God by giving his own life.

Jesus let go of power.

So how do we create liberated spaces in a post-colonial world?  Renowned author Paulo Freire argued extensively in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed that the problem almost never goes away unless those in control choose to give up power.  In order for positive change to happen, they must give it up willingly.  They don’t because once they do the people who were subjugated rise up and kill them.  In other words, the oppressed do the only thing they’ve ever been taught, which is to oppress.

I would suggest it begins by giving up power and refusing to invade the other.  It begins by finding the beauty that is already present in indigenous cultures.  It begins by looking past our own prejudices to discover the image of God staring back at us.  It begins with love.  It begins with seeing what God sees, which is the dignity of the other and the self.

So I choose to love.

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Other participants:

– Annie Bullock at Marginal Theology marginaltheology.wordpress.com

– Julie Clawson at onehandclapping julieclawson.com

– Nelson Costa (in Portuguese) at www.nelsoncostajr.com

– Natanael Disla (in Spanish) at karmatarsis.wordpress.com

– Carol Howard Merritt at TribalChurch.org tribalchurch.org

– Dave Ingland at www.daveingland.com

– Mihee Kim-Kort at first day walking miheekimkort.com

– Crystal Lewis at Jesus Was A Heretic, Too. jesuswasaheretictoo.blogspot.com

– Katie Mulligan at The Adventures of Tiny Church tinychurchnj.blogspot.com

– Ann Pittman at anncpittman.blogspot.com

– Danielle Shroyer at danielleshroyer.com

About the Author

Jonathan BrinkI am an business development and communications consultant. I am also the senior editor and publisher for Civitas Press. I recently published, Discovering The God Imagination: Reconstructing A Whole, New Christianity. (Civitas, 2011)View all posts by Jonathan Brink →

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  • burkman

    Would you say that Jesus was a passivist? nYou wrote, “The temptation of colonialism is to make things happen, usually NOW.” nDoesn’t Jesus emphasize the now with his directives “The Kingdom of God is at hand”? nWhat do you do with the scriptures where Jesus commands people to sin no more, or even him driving people out of the temple?

  • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

    Burkman, I wouldn’t call what Jesus is doing passivism, according to this definition: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/passivism Love recognizes the presence of the movement of God apart from our own action. It’s creating awareness of God’s movement even when we aren’t moving. A good example is Mary’s request for wine at the wedding. Jesus recognized there is a time for action, and so he speaks that. But he also recognizes the reality that we want action now, so he accommodates her.nnThe kingdom of God to me has more to do with a judgment of good (Gen 1), which creates a way of seeing the world. When we see God’s perspective we can see reality already exists, and so we can embrace that in the moment. Grace allows us to sit in the midst of suffering without invading people.nnHope that answers your question.

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  • jlvhale

    I feel you are speaking of the injustices commited by our forefathers who came to this country and colonized it. In doing so they destroyed the native Americans’ way of life. Now the same people are in the Middle East where the indigenous people have lived many years longer than this country has been in existence and we are trying to change it. I have always hated what this country did to the Native Americans here but had never equated that to the Middle East because we were attacked here by people from there. We can’t just keep feeling quilty for past mistakes of our fathers and become passive and give up our way of life seeking foregiveness for their sins.

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