...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lord, have mercy

One thing that people who wield great power often fail to viscerally understand is what it feels like to have power wielded against you. This imbalance is the source of many of the most monstrous decisions that get made by powerful people and institutions. The people who start the wars do not have bombs dropped on their houses. The people who pass the laws that incarcerate others never have to face the full force of the prison system themselves. The people who design the economic system that inflicts poverty on millions are themselves rich. This sort of insulation from the real world consequences of political and economic decisions makes it very easy for powerful people to approve of things happening to the rest of us that they would never, ever tolerate themselves. No health insurance CEO would watch his child die due to their inability to afford quality health care. No chickenhawk Congressman will be commanding a tank battle in Iran. No opportunistic race-baiting politician will be shunned because of their skin color.

In a study of the gospel of John, which just ended at my church, a group of us talked about how, in the 20th chapter, when Mary sees the angels and Jesus that the two disciples--Peter and John--accompanying her don't see, or can't see, that perhaps that ability to see comes from a faith forged out of Mary's intense love for Jesus, that the eyes of faith are the product of desperate love. (Think of the father of the epileptic boy. Think of the woman bleeding for twelve years. Think of the blind man healed by Jesus.) At this point, one of the group members said any act of love is a miracle, as miraculous as the resurrection, and testifies to great power submitting to human (and creational, or ecological) consequences. I would agree. To love someone is to give up earthly power, or to give away power, even if you are unaware that's what's happening, for the sake of love. The power described in the paragraph above, which I'm grateful for, is rightly criticized. I would make explicit what it leaves implicit: The health insurance CEO loves his child; he doesn't love those he doesn't know*. He is Harry Lime in The Third Man, recognizing that the beauty of earthly power, measured in wealth, allows us to stay at a distance from those who suffer. To not see people as dots on the ground, and to see them in their full humanity, is to get off the Ferris Wheel (a ride which you paid for fair-and-square) and live among them. 

This is why those people laboring in obscurity, or with low pay, on behalf of the marginalized will always have my admiration, as they serve people bearing God's image, and thus serve God (even if, to them, it's a god unknown), recognizing that laws are meant to serve people, and not the other way around. 

[*This isn't to pick on insurance executives, in particular. I know and dearly love an insurance executive, as it happens.]

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