I’ve been thinking about power recently. Let me tell you this story. I was talking to my wife about our veranda. We need to get something done to it, because it needs painting, but there are a lot of railings and vertical batons, and the painting s going to be very expensive. So I thought about putting stainless steel wire around the whole veranda. As it turns out, once we started getting quotes, we were going to be paying a lot for this wire: more than the painting would cost.
My wife said “Well, lets just go ahead and get the thing painted’. But I said “Well, we would still have the maintenance costs of the painting the next time” and on and on the conversation went, back and forth. Then I gave in. I felt ‘dis-empowered’ because I had, in my view ‘capitulated’: yet again. It was as if the only two options I knew about were to get my own way, or to capitulate and be powerless.
This is not a good thing.
Later, it came to me. I said to my wife ‘But the thing is, I would like to do the job with the wire. It is big, but it will save us money in the long run, but more than anything I would really like to do it.”
Now why could I not have known that, and said that before?
I could not say it before because that statement belonged to a tender part of my truth that was not accessible until a few days after the ‘capitulation’ conversation. It comes to me that power derives from being able to tell some kind of truth, that often times is hidden: both from myself and others.
Then I could see this kind of thing happening all over the place.
In the movie ‘The Revenge of the Nerds’ the ‘Nerds’ at the College spend their time with one another, but feel terrible every time one of the more ‘popular’ students belittles them, or calls them a ‘Nerd.’ Then comes the moment in the movie when the ‘chief nerd’ makes speech after their fraternity house was trashed. He says “I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it…no one is ever going to be free until nerd persecution ends’
John and Charles Wesley developed a method of confessing their sins to one another, and of hearing truly how they come across o one another. It was such a brave thing to do. But other, smarter people at Oxford ridiculed their desire to live a holy life, and so called them ‘Methodists’.
And very early on, at Antioch, the ‘Followers of the Way’ began to be ridiculed, and made fun of. People called them ‘Christians’
In each of these cases, the people who are being made fun of can see the truth of the ridicule. If there were no truth in how they were being made fun of, then they could not be dis-empowered by the ridicule. But there is. The Nerds are nerds. The Methodists did have a method, and the Christians, did follow Christ.
But for each of them, the way to empowerment happened, in the same way as my small story, involved admitting some truth about themselves and bringing that truth to light.
Some hidden thing gave them strength to admit the truth which meant that their vulnerable spot, which was the source of the jibes and ridicule, became the thing that was integrated into their sense of self, and so became a place of power, not a place of shame.
I started to think about how this works for me because I read this account of how a gay person who was suffering terrible bullying at school did the same, when he saw Lady Gaga. Here is his story
Consequently, Lady Gaga turned my world upside down. I suffered from chronic anxiety, linked to years of bullying. I was offensively effeminate and school was an ordeal spent avoiding older boys who spat “faggot” at me in the corridors. After Gaga exploded, I fashioned my own diamond-encrusted glasses and dyed my hair green – the slurs in the corridors lost their power when, like Gaga, I was deliberately provoking the attention. “What a freak,” my peers would scream at pictures of Gaga’s meat dress. I burned with defiance to hear them deride her – if she was a freak, this person I loved, then I didn’t want to be normal any more. The word “faggot” resounding in the corridor no longer marked me out as lesser, but placed me on a pedestal alongside my heroine, another freak – who happened to be No 1 in 20 countries. Her otherness made my own otherness feel more aspirational than painful. In a world of utter darkness, her presence was my only light, a wordless pathway to myself before I even knew what the word queer meant.
In the Eucharist we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. He too was a ‘freak’ excluded by everyone to the point of sending him to a shameful death on the cross: naked and in absolute agony, mocked by his enemies and deserted by his friends.
The resurrection is the metaphor we use for the same kind of power that the Nerds, Methodists and Christians found in following a crucified Lord, who set them free by his truth. My own little story is one way that the same thing happens in daily life, over and over as I am faithful to Jesus’ truth too.