J. Randall Ory
40 - Justice in Contemplation - Part 6: Resistance
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
We’ve been trudging along through a lot of different ideas and aspects of a Contemplative approach to justice. But as with all ideas, there comes a time to put them into practice. I certainly don’t want you to think that there is no outward result to all this inner transformation. Any true, inner transformation always has an outward effect. While I believe true change comes from within, I also believe true inner change always changes the external as well. The natural overflow of inner change changes the lives of others. As we are transformed into agents of peace and love, we become instigators of peace and love in others. Love and peace are infectious. The giving flow of love pours into people, and changes them. Just as one dysfunctional part in any system can break the whole, so too can one healthy part begin to heal a broken system. We are not in the fight for ourselves alone, working for our own healing. We are working towards our own healing precisely to be a healing for others. Just as hurting people hurt people, the opposite is also true; healing people heal people. When we begin to turn the process back towards ourselves, the end result is that it turns us back towards others. It’s a great irony of the universe that, as we focus on our own health and healing, we become a source of health and healing for others. As long as we’re focus on “fixing” everyone else, we won’t be that effective. But as we begin to get things right inside ourselves, that inward movement naturally has an outward, positive effect. There is great suffering in the world. There is great oppression, and injustice. Everywhere we look there is war, poverty, genocide, depression, anxiety, abuse, racism, sexism, inequality, human trafficking and human rights abuses. I don’t think anyone is immune to the effects of this broken world, nor anyone unconcerned. In his “Song to Woody”, Bob Dylan sums this idea up rather poetically. “Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song. ‘Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along. Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn. It looks like it’s a-dyin’ and it’s hardly been born.” The world in which we live often looks tired and torn, like it’s dying before our very eyes, and we’re dying with it. Can we not see the vital importance of positive change on a global scale, for the sake of every human alive, and for future generations? But what are we to do? How can we do anything to change the current tide of hate and negativity in the world? We are just one, so small, seemingly insignificant. Is there anything we can do? Is there any hope for change, and any change we can make as a small part of so large a system that will really help to change that broken system? I believe so. I believe even one positive, healthy, and healing person can make a difference. But what does that change look like, and how do we step into it individually and communally. What can we do?
The Contemplative stance in the world is never founded in what we know, or can do, but in who we are, in being. Being and becoming have everything to do with how we can be agents of transformation in the world around us. We often imagine that true change only comes through information. There is truth, and there is misinformation, and if we could but get everyone to understand and agree upon the “right” truths, then the world would be right. We see change and dysfunction as an issue of knowing. The truth, we imagine, will set us free. What we don’t realize is that truth is about who we are, not what we know and profess to be true. How we live is what matters, and we live not out of what we know, but who we are. Knowing is a part of that, but not the whole, and so not the whole of what’s wrong. Don’t we find that so often how we live, act, and interact comes from a deeper place of reaction within ourselves, a place that can at times even contradict what we claim to believe and know. This is easily illustrated within my own religious tradition. I am a Christian, and am acutely aware of the dissidence between the Christian message and the current culture of many Christians and churches. If you just read the marquees out in front of most churches you might think that God loves everyone, and everyone is welcome. But in experiencing how most Christians live, you would clearly see a God who is about punishing sin in a Church where hardly anyone is good enough to “get in”. There is a clear difference between the Christian message and the lives of many Christians. I’m not trying to beat up on Christians, I’m just using my own group as an illustration of what’s true for most of us. Most of us think our message matters most. But what really matters, and what speaks the loudest is how we live, how we treat others, especially how we act and react in the heat of the moment. Who we are at our worst, in the worst moments, or in the face of another’s worst, reveals who we truly are at our best. All the truths we hold fly out the window in the face of how we choose to treat others in our daily interactions at work, home, on the highway, in the grocery story. In those moments we don’t have the luxury of proposing a written statement on the high morals we espouse to be true, all we really have is how we are choosing to treat another person. Actions speak louder than words. And our actions come from being, not knowing. So much of our interaction on social media is simply our ability to articulate ideas, but if you look between the lines, how we interact with others in the mode of that expression says far more about who we are than our words. How we act towards others is the essence of our “truth,” because truth is not a way of thinking, but a way of living and being. We suffer greatly in the West from a schizophrenic disconnection between our ideas and our lives, our minds and our hearts. We are much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, espousing the most angelic ideas about how others should be treated, all the while treating others horribly when they don’t agree with our high ideals. What is the disconnect? What is the problem? How can we have such genuinely good ideals and values, and yet such a bad application of them? The problem stems from not connecting the dots between ideas and behaviors, between knowing and being. We think being comes from knowing, but it’s the other way around. We naturally fit what we believe with who we are. Belief does not influence behavior, behavior influences belief. The point is to work, not on what we believe and espouse as truth, but on who we are, and how we act towards others. That kind of “believing” comes from a place deeper than our minds. It comes from the place of being. It comes from the congruence of our mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit. It is an embodied truth, not a mental truth. Embodied truth comes out through our bodies. Mental truth merely comes out of our mouths. We can say all kinds of good truth, but how we live out that truth is what really matters. When we begin to work on the truth of how we live, then even the truth we speak has more merit and weight. Truth is the place we hold in the world, not the ideas we hold in our minds. Therefore, the combating of bad ideas and wrong truth has more to do with how we act towards others, and not what we say to others.
The positive energy of love in the world is not a pushing force. It is a passive force. Therefore, it does not push against the negative energy of hate and indifference. It merely holds the space of love as a potential within us. As the energy of love in the world, we must learn how to hold the space of love for ourselves and others. Space itself can feel like nothing. The space of freedom in the world can be very subtle, almost missed. But we must understand that it takes a great amount of effort and energy to hold that passive space against the pushing energy of hate and discrimination. When the whole world is pushing against the space of freedom and love, love must be an energy that knows how to resist that force by simply standing still. Standing still doesn’t always feel like a big deal. The energy of love is often overlooked, undervalued, and underplayed. We can even distort love into a pushing energy. We think of love in terms of passion and desire, where we are pursuing and pushing for the things we think we love. But that is not love. That is a self-centered taking, which can be mistranslated as love. Love never pushes for its way. But neither does love get pushed around, or pushed back. Love can be a strong energy, without being a pushing energy. Love knows how to hold the space of freedom, equality, and fairness without forcing its way. That is a delicate balance, and the difference between justice and injustice. We cannot produce justice through the very things that have broken it, or freedom through oppressive means. If our pursuit of justice and equality is merely about pushing those around who have pushed us, then our idea of justice is violence and war, and that will only produce more oppression and injustice. That is a small idea of justice, where an oppressed group may come out on top, but at the top of just another system of oppression. Changing the oppressor does not get rid of oppression. The history of human revolution has been wrought with this kind of change, of merely trading oppressors, and changing who gets to control the oppressive system. True justice is about getting rid of the oppressive system all together. To do that, we must take a different tact. We must bring a kind of change that liberates everyone, that gets out of that power-over system of the few controlling the many, and into a system where power is balanced by the giving flow of love. To truly destroy oppressive systems, we must step out of them. Broken systems will fall apart when we stop operating within them, and giving them power. But, when our current world is dominated by those system, stepping out of them requires great restraint, strength, and resistance. When oppressive systems are the norm, and the majority are fighting to get their piece of that power-pie, stepping out can look like surrendering to powerlessness, and it is within those systems. It takes a greater strength to give up whatever power you have within those systems than to continue benefiting from them. Of course, the more power you have in that wrong system, the harder it will be to give up. The more the system is benefiting you, the harder it will be to give up those benefits and step into a different way of being, and living. But we must understand the goal. The goal isn’t simply to flip the power flow of oppressive systems, but to flip the off switch to those power systems all together. We each must do this individually by simply choosing to step out of those systems, and resist the daily urge to participate with them. That kind of resistance looks very different than simply pushing against the oppressive systems which are pushing against us. The impulse to fight back, to respond in kind is usually our first response. But we must push past that response to something better, and higher. We must resist the urge to simply wrestle the club out of our enemy’s hands in order to beat back the ones currently beating us down. We must learn how to stop fighting all together. The power of love is not only seeing how we are oppressed by these systems, but how it has equally oppressed everyone, from the top to the bottom.
In a system where everyone is fighting for their own piece of the power-pie, no matter how much you get, you still end up living in a war-zone. There is no neutral ground in this kind of power system. The only true neural zone is with those who aren’t playing the power game at all. We can only find rest from that restless world with those we know who aren’t fighting against our power for their own. That’s usually how we define friends and family. Those are the ones with whom we’ve entered this giving flow of love, to one degree or another. The sad reality is that even in those relationships we can still often be playing that same game, out to get what we can for ourselves. But we know, truly, that it is those with whom we can stop playing the game, who aren’t trying to take something from us, that we can be free to just relax and enjoy this giving flow. But it takes both sides to step into the flow, in order for it to work. That doesn’t mean the giving is equal. It usually isn’t. But it does mean we understand that true and healthy relationships require the freedom of giving in order to work. That requires trust and open heartedness. It also requires someone big enough to begin to process. We usually first experience this with our parents. In a family setting, the parents hold all the power, but they hold that power in the stance of a giving flow. We can rightly say that good, healthy parenting is not about two adults ruling their kids for their own personal benefit, but doing what benefits the family as a whole. That means that the ones with the most power must be the most giving, in order for the balance of love to be maintained. But what we may clearly see as necessary in parenting, we must translate to the world at large. In our communities, cities, country, and world, we must understand that the more power we have, the greater our responsibility to be that giving flow. When we only understand power as something which I am seeking to flow to me, we break the balance and create oppressive systems. And, when we find ourselves in those oppressive systems, we must also understand that the only way out is to reverse the flow of power. We can all do this individually. You choose what you do with whatever power you have. You choose whether to be a giving flow, or a taking flow, whether you will attempt to gain more power for yourself, or give more power to others. When we don’t understand this dynamic, we lose. We lose as individuals and as a culture. I believe we are currently at the far end of this negative flow. We have traveled far down the path of seeking our own power at the cost of everyone else, and we are seeing clearly what that stance has produced in our current world. But, if we don’t understand what has gotten us here, we won’t be able to change it. If we don’t understand how to get out of this current power structure by reversing the flow of power, we will only end up producing a surface change that does nothing to change that current system. It will only end up changing who has more power in the wrong power-structure. And that will ultimately change nothing for most. Only as we learn to step out of that system all together, by stepping into a different stance, will we truly be able to change things. That difference is achieved when we become powerless in the current system, by becoming powerful in the stance of love. Do you understand what it takes to embrace powerlessness within the wrong power structure? Do you understand the cost, and the strength required? It takes a very strong person to stand up under this weight, to love and give when everyone else is engaged in self-centered taking. How else can we render that wrong power-system powerless but by pulling out of it. The greatest struggle is doing it when no one else is. When everyone else around you is still operating in that oppressive power system, to step out of it takes great strength and resistance. Don’t be fooled. It takes great humility and love to become a giving flow in the midst of a taking culture. But it is the only way we begin to create this neutral space within ourselves that says, “At least I can be one who will not oppress others.”
When we step out of the negative flow, we become a space where others can experience true freedom. We carry inside ourselves a space where others can relax, and know they are loved and embraced for who they are. We become a person with whom others know they need not fight for their own place and power, with us at least they can be free. Freedom is created when I allow for the freedom of others, when I decide to no longer participate in a power-system where I must take power from others, which then creates the space where they can be free from that negative dynamic. To simply stop participating in that power structure may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Deep down, I think we feel the difference between a taking person and a giving person. We feel the difference between the freedom and the oppression. A big-hearted person who truly loves freely, and gives freely, is one with whom we feel like we can relax, be ourselves, and not keep up the fight for our own space and freedom. In this way we actually create the space of freedom for others. It is the freedom we are meant for, and that which we know we naturally have. But it is stifled by the stance of others who don’t understand how to guard and honor it. Freedom is something inherent in our souls. We know it is what we were made for, and meant to have. This is how we were meant to live. The very reality of its opposite proves this. We know we are not meant to live under any kind of oppression, and we feel its wrongness when we do. But we must realize what allows for it, and what takes it away. We do not create freedom for others, we simply allow for that freedom when we decide to stop infringing upon it. We do this by being that giving flow, balancing power by giving it away. The power we give up is anything rooted in the idea of any advantage we could gain over others, and the power we gain is the ability to guard and maintain the giving flow of love. Love is always about the other. Love guards the space of freedom for everyone, by resisting the urge to only do what is good for ourselves. Thus, selfishness is the most oppressive force in the world, and selflessness the most freeing. We must understand that our current culture is founded in the opposite of selfless freedom. We must also understand that much of our protest of that oppression is still in the same vein. The question is, are we creating the space of freedom for others, even in our protest of oppression, or are we simply operating within the same oppressive system even as we decry it. The answer is, we must look within ourselves to find out. What is the energy behind what you are doing? It’s not about the action, or the words, but the energy behind it. Where does the energy of anything come from? If it is a pushing, taking energy, then it is still participating in the pursuit of my power over yours, and will still result in oppression, no matter how much perceived “good” it does. The only way we get to freedom is to step out of this taking power into the giving power of love. That power entails our ability to resist the current power structure and it’s pull to gain power over others. It also means resisting the energy of those who think they have power over us. When we push against those pushing us, we affirm that power. When we choose to not react, we choose to disengage from that power structure, and then it has no power over us. But what does that look like practically. How do we resist this negative power structure without pushing against it, and how does that truly defeat it?
In his song titled “The Resistance”, R&B folk artist Josh Garrels puts it this way; “My rest is a weapon against the oppression of man’s obsession to control things.” He completes this thought with the line, “How do good men become a part of the regime? They don’t believe in resistance.” Resistance is not the same as reciprocity. Reciprocity always answers energy with the same or greater energy. It intensifies the current mode by trying to fight fire with fire. If someone is pushing me around, then I will push back harder in order to reverse that action. If someone is oppressing me, I am going to do everything I can to oppress them in order to get them to stop. But this mode of action doesn’t reduce oppression, it increases it. Reciprocity is not justice, it’s revenge, and only creates a continuum of revenge. When we are constantly responding with equal or greater energy, we are only feeding the energy of oppression. Equal and opposite oppression as a response to oppression doesn’t reverse oppression, it ramps it up. The opposite of oppression isn’t reciprocity, it’s resistance. That’s why Garrels can say that “rest” is our weapon against oppression, because we are stepping back from the urge to try and control those who are trying to control us. The energy of trying to control others for our own benefit is the essence of oppression. Learning to recognize and quiet that energy within ourselves is the only solution, because we can only truly control ourselves. The opposite of struggling to control others is learning to control ourselves. Our natural state is being in control of ourselves. It is unnatural to participate in a system where others are controlling us. It takes a great deal of energy to produce and sustain this kind of system. We feel the unnatural energy of this system at our core, and yet we will often participate in it, against that inner resistance to it, because we feel it is the only way to gain power for ourselves. Yet, as soon as we surrender to the idea that we can control others for our own benefit, we submit to the idea that others can also control us. We actually give up our power for the illusion of gaining it. We are really trying to gain a power we cannot have, by giving up the only power we do have. The only way we will feed a system created to control us, is for the perceived benefit of getting to have control over others within that same system. We give up power to get it. That is an absurd exchange, though we often cannot perceive that we are really only losing power in this system of power-over. When we all trade the power we do have, for a power we cannot truly control, we all become controlled by this taking power, which only takes our true power away. Even the one at the top can only stay in power, in this system, as those under continue to choose to give up their power to the one. So, it is a power system in constant flux, always on the verge of collapsing, because it is a power created by the opposite flow of our true power. The power of taking is always in tension against our naturally tendency towards the power of giving love. We all truly desire to be in this giving flow of love. We engage in the opposite to the detriment of our very soul. We feel the wrongness, and the breaking effect of this negative power flow. We are constantly chaffing against it. And so that negative power flow is always seeking to control what is constantly leaning away from its control. To resist that negative power is to actually just give in to what comes naturally to us, which is the freedom of giving space to the freedom of others. When we step back from that negative system, and begin to hold the space of others to exist apart from our attempt to control them, we all fall naturally into an effortless rhythm of love and grace. It is very restful to participate in our true power. It is not a taking power, and does not require much exertion from us at all. It comes naturally to us. But it can be hard to come back to that balanced flow when we are simply reacting to the negative energy all around us.
We often think we are exerting the energy of justice by reacting to this controlling energy with an equal or greater energy of control. It can feel natural to oppose that energy in kind. The very essence of that energy can naturally pull us into its orbit. We feel as though we must push back, or we will simply get pushed around, and lose any control over our lives or our world that we could have. The nature of controlling energy pushes us towards that same control. Thus, it requires a greater strength of resistance to fight that impulse and pull back to a place where we are choosing to not react in reciprocity, where we are choosing to be still in the face of that energy, and maintain a different kind of response to oppression and control. It may be hard to see, but when we react by jumping into that same space of fighting with others for control, we are giving into that system of control instead of resisting it. What giving in to that system looks like is putting forth our will and wants in a world already so full of everyone else’s. That kind of world is one of dynamic competition. We can hardly conceive of a world where we are not fighting with everyone else for the space of our ideas, wants, and will. Is it hard for you to think of a just society as one where your will is not in competition with others? How can we even conceive of a world where we are able to find space for our own individual path apart from pushing against the force of others pushing their path in opposition to ours? But can we also not at least agree that the very action of pushing others around to get our way creates the lack of space for everyone, including ourselves. How can we all get what we want, without infringing on the freedom of others to do the same? We can only do that when we understand that what we should want is a world where everything is shared, not one where everything is taken. Do I really need to take from you to get what I want? Well, what is it I’m wanting? What is it you are wanting? When what we want is to control the world for our own benefit, then what we will get is a world in competition for control. But can we imagine a world where we are not in control, or trying to control as much as we can for our own benefit? To step out of the very systems which are oppressing us, we must. That is a world where what we are pursuing is something other than individual success and advancement. That is a world where what matters most is community and relationships. Most first world, industrial nations are founded in a system of pursuing the wrong goals, of pursuing a separate goodness that does not include the good of all. We must recognize that at the heart of these oppressive systems is the desire for the good of the one over the many. Justice in that system can look like simply a reversal of fortunes, where the bad guy gets what’s coming and the good guy finally gets the last laugh. This wrong justice does not solve or resolve the power-over system by diffusing it, but by simply changing who gets to be in power. Any system about the material advancement of the one is a system that will naturally create great material inequality, where a few have the most and most have hardly anything. But we must see how we all play into that system, by pursuing our own material good, when we are meant to all be pursuing the relational good of all. The right system is one that puts community and relationship above material acquirement, but that means we must also resist the urge to put our own material comfort above our communal need for relationship and love. Our financial success cannot be seen as ultimate success, but only as a means for survival. Yes, we need to eat, and we want to have enough margin to enjoy the life we’re living, but if we have a community of love around us, we will really have all we need, even in a material sense. This is what we could call the family dynamic, where we understand the need to sacrifice our personal goals of material success for the sake of giving to relationships, and where we also understand that the importance of meeting physical needs is for the benefit of so many others beside ourselves. Most people practice this relational dynamic, to one degree or another; the breakdown comes when we do it too small. When we cannot see beyond our small, more immediate family, to the larger global family we are a part of, then we can work for a very small communal goal while working against our local, national, and global community as a whole. Resistance to the taking energy of oppression also has to do with understanding what we are here for, here to do, and what makes life good. It’s not material acquirement, but relational community. I think much of the breakdown of society comes because we cannot imagine a connection to others big enough to include all things in our sense of family. That also means we expand our sense of “home.”
Home is not just the house I live in with the one’s I call family. Home in the largest sense is the whole earth as my backyard, which includes everything and everyone in it. We must learn that it is not good to create our own little thriving community – whether limited to our family, social group, city, state, region, or nation – and not care about the good of the living global community. It’s all connected. When we cannot think big enough to see that larger connection, we will end up working for a smaller good but larger inequality. Who is your neighbor? It’s a question the religions leaders of his day asked Jesus, and Jesus’ response was everyone, with special importance placed on those considered the most outside our perceived group of inclusion. Jesus was always about the stranger, the outsider, the outcast and the foreigner because he understood that, to push our frame of community out to the biggest space, those were the ones we most needed to include. Where we need to do the work of equality the most is where we find the least desire to. The one’s we find the easiest to overlook, and exclude, are the ones we need to pay special attention to, and include the most. This is how we come to balance the imbalance of power in the world. There are two groups in this approach towards balance, which require two different kinds of responses from us. There are those below us and those above us. These distinctions of “below” and “above” only relate to the wrong system of power-over. None-the-less, since most operate within that system, we must approach others from within that system in order to equal it out, and thus negate it. We are, in essence, bringing a different system of power into that current system of power, not by ignoring or attacking it, but by operating within it in a different way. The essence of resisting that power-over structure is by operating within it from the stance of power-with; which means that those this system has placed “below” us must be pulled up, and those the system has place “above” us must brought down. Remember, though, that none of this is done by force, but by resistance. What that means, practically, is that we treat those below or above us as if they are not. That also means that the power we could have over others is the power we choose to give back to them instead. And the power others could have over us we choose not to feed. The relationship we have with those “over” us can be more tricky when it comes to resisting without force. It doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the power another has over us within that wrong system. What it means is that we don’t value, approve, or seek to give it power in ourselves. Practically speaking, those above us do have more power in that wrong system, and we cannot ignore that. We also can do little to forcibly change the reality of that. But we can make it meaningless within our own reality, by not giving it the same power in our lives they are giving it in theirs. Your boss at work is your boss, but you don’t have to honor that power, crave it, or empower it. You can work with it in a way that doesn’t challenge it, while still not approving of it. That is the power of resistance, the power you have within yourself. To honor that power is to confirm that it is right, and something to be sought after. We seek after it not only by desiring such power for ourselves, but by fighting against it. Yes, to fight against the perceived power others think they have over us actually acknowledges and feeds that power. To resist without forcibly or violently acting against it works better, because it renders that power ineffective for us by not giving it any attention. Negative attention works effectively the same as positive. Both are acknowledging and feeding the power others have over us. But to treat all others as our equals, to love all others equally, is truly how we liberate and equilibrate the world around us. It’s an approach as radical as it is simple. We simply begin to love all others for who they are, not in terms of the power they have, or don’t have. If you start to pay attention, you will find that the dynamic in so many of your relationships has to do with the power you perceive others to have. Only you can see this, but do you not see that you treat a rich person differently than the bum on the street? Don’t you treat your boss different than your co-worker? We all tend to act differently to the presence of different power because we are acting within and in relationship to this oppressive power-over structure. This is also true for those you perceive as mistreating or oppressing you.
How we act towards oppressive powers, even when we think we are fighting against them, can still feed and empower them. There are two basic responses we can have when dealing with oppressive power. We can run from it (fear), or we can run at it (anger), but both actually still empower it, because they acknowledge it as true. When we feel the pushing energy of those who think they have power over us, we can give in and be pushed around, or we can respond with equal intensity and push back. But the best response, the response that can dissolve that power, is to simply not be moved at all. In this response we can actually still be kind. This is the response of love. Love will neither run from or run at this abusive power. Love will actually run to this power, and choose to still love those under it without feeding their power. Love stays in the room with this power, without giving in to it. Love brings a different energy into the power-over structure that actually begins to erode its foundations, because love chooses to act towards that power in a completely different way, in a way completely outside and foreign to that power. This is the brilliance of how Jesus and MLK acted towards those most in power over them. They both were always speaking truth to power, but at the same time having compassion and love even for those in power over them, even those choosing or attempting to oppress them with that power. They simply did not operate in that power system at all. They chose to step out of it, act outside of it, and react in a different way. Jesus was constantly confronting the abusive power of the religious leaders of his day. But he was also just as kind and respectful to those same leaders on a personal level as he was to anyone else. He didn’t acknowledge their power. He treated them like everyone else. He loved them, even as he was continually pointing out the abusive and divisive nature of their power structure. Jesus and MLK knew that when we confront people in love, that is the most likely chance we have of really changing their hearts. Jesus last and final statement on the cross speaks this clearly. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” Jesus last words to the very ones who killed him for challenging their whole power system was, “but I still love you.” He understood that only love could change an evil heart twisted by its own power. We must understand that at the root of oppressive power is selfishness, the desire to do only what is good for me. What else but selflessness, what else but love for the other can combat an extreme and unhealthy love of self? The power-over system is all about a selfish, self-centered focus. It is about me getting mine at the cost of you getting yours. It is always about putting others down in order to lift me up. What else could speak against that whole system but someone doing the opposite, someone putting themselves aside in order to lift others up. Do you see how love is the opposite and balancing energy to this oppressive system? It makes perfect sense. In a world where everyone only knows how to be about themselves, the one who knows how to be about others makes the difference. It’s as brilliant as it is simple, but not simple to do. It takes great strength to love those who hate us, to love our enemies. But the only way we will turn our enemies into friends is by loving them. To hate them only affirms their hate. To love them is the only way to diffuse that hate. MLK understood this so well. He knew that the strongest response to the oppressive powers of his day was passive resistance, not aggressive violence. I was listening to a recent story describing how MLK wrestled through his stance towards a particular statement in the Christian Bible that seemed to affirm slavery. Here is the verse; “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5). The story revealed how King became so disgusted and frustrated with this one scripture the he was on the verge of giving up on his faith altogether. He read and re-read that verse over and over trying to rectify the loving God he knew with this apparently abusive and oppressive instruction from the Bible. Finally, as the story revealed, he understood that the Bible verse was not validating slavery, but a loving response towards even our worst oppressors. It was not Jesus teaching us to love slavery, but Jesus teaching us to love our enemies. Upon this revelation King made a decisive conclusion about an upcoming protest. He decided to include children in that march, and it was a decision that had great effect in producing even greater empathy for his cause, because it touched the hearts of those watching. Yes, it put children in harm’s way, but it also put love at the front of the march, instead of hate. It reminded those watching that what mattered most was not the power we have over others, but the love we have for others. Love changed the tide of racism in MLK’s day, and love can do the same for us. To fight and rail against our enemies only makes them our enemies even more. To love our enemies is to show a different way, to open the door and start down the path of turning them into our friends. Love, I believe, is the only power strong enough to break the cycle of abuse and oppression, because love demands a radical action in our hearts. That action is compassion and empathy, the embracing of all things in the space acceptance. When we love all things equally, equality will be achieved.
The only question that remains is; now, what will you do? Contemplation answers that question clearly. Contemplation points us to the work we need to do in our hearts, to reveal the relationship we have with the power structures of our day. Are we feeding into those power structures, even in our attempt to oppose them, or are we truly pulling our power out of them by operating in a completely different way? Only you can evaluate your own relationship to those power structures, and begin to do the work to make it right. Only you can peer inside yourself, see how you are reacting to that wrong power structure, and make the necessary changes within yourself to help change the world without. Each one of us has the power to change the world. I believe that. Each one of us is feeding the power of the world in which we live. The question is, how are we empowering the world? How we empower the world creates the power of the world we live in. We cannot think the world is anything but what we have made it. No matter how detached we may think we are from the power structures acting upon us, we always have a choice, and a role to play. So, what role are you playing? Are you playing into those abusive and oppressive power structures, or are you resisting them by living out of a different power structure altogether? It comes down to how we interact and treat others in the world around us. Are we giving up the power we could have over others, and not giving in to the power others could have over us? That is the power of love. To treat others as equals is a loving stance. To treat the powerless as our equals gives them power in our lives. To treat the powerful as our equals gives us power in their lives. Love is not a taking power. We can never determine how others treat us. We can only determine how we will treat others. We cannot control the world around us. We can only control how we act and interact with that world, but how we do that does shape our world. Everyone just continuing to operate in an unhealthy power structure, even if they see it for what it is, even if they protest it, will not change it. This is not a matter of words and speeches, of memes and Facebook posts. This is a matter of how we choose to carry ourselves every day, in the world in which we live. The greatest protest to oppressive power we could ever make is to simply love others well. Love equals the playing field by loving all others equally. I was recently completing a carpentry job in a home remodel for another company. I built out three fireplaces, did some basic framing, built a few access doors, and installed some wainscoting on the second story staircase. On the last day there, I was working late to finish up when the homeowner stopped by. He was doing some work outside, while I was working inside. We both worked for about an hour with hardly a word between us, but as I was cleaning up, he stopped to say hi and we struck up a conversation. Keep in mind, this guy was like the boss of my boss, the guy who was paying the people who were paying me. He was also a big mover and shaker in the construction world of my city. He was getting ready to build a large apartment complex. He liked my work and expressed an interest in using me in that project. I had every incentive to cow to his power and influence, especially in my field of work. But I choose a different stance. I choose to simply treat him as a person. As we conversed, I talked about my approach as a small business owner. “I don’t want to create a monster with my business that gets so big it ends up controlling me,” I said. I talked about how my business was not my life, or identity. I enjoy the freedom my work gives me to earn a decent living while still doing what I really love. I love spending time with family and friends, and making time to invest in and mentor others. After I shared my approach, he shared his story. In a different town, in another state, he’d created a huge construction company that did become a monster, that consumed his time and energy and took him away from his family. He sold it right before the 2008 housing market crash. Now, he was building it back, but what I said spoke to him. He agreed with my approach. He didn’t want to create another monster that took him away from his family, and the things he really loved. I could tell by the end of the conversation how much he appreciated my perspective towards business, because it affirmed what he’d been wrestling with, and wanting to do. In a way, I spoke truth to power for this one individual wresting with that power himself. I affirmed that the power of love is worth more than the power of money, influence, or personal prestige through outward success. And I did that by simply being myself with this guy. I chose to speak openly with this stranger as I would have with any friend. I did not speak against his power, or cater to it. I simply spoke from the place of my power, to the power of loving others well. An honest, loving heart towards others empowers them to love in the same way. That is the power I displaying towards this guy that evening, and the power you can put forth too.
It may sound too simple, even naïve. Can loving others well really change the world? Well, take a look at the world. Look at how the lives of others loving well has changed the world. Also, look at how the lives of others only loving themselves is affecting the world. Can we not see examples of how others have truly changed the course of history by being a force of great love in the world? For all the examples of how abusive power has taken the world by force and forcibly changed it, can we not also see that much of that change has not been good. War, genocide, racism, sexism, human trafficking, hate, and oppression all stem from those in power wielding their power for the good of a few at the cost of the many. So much of what we do, which we may consider good, may not be when we expand our view to the largest circle of how it’s affecting the entire planet. Love knows no bounds. Love holds no barriers between itself and the one’s it loves. Love does not divide the field between who is worthy and who is not. Love embraces everyone, and everything. And a love like that can truly change the world. I believe that. I am practicing that for myself, and promoting that in the world at large. And I believe that love speaks the right truth to power, and brings the right approach to oppression and injustice in the world. Love enables us to truly overcome those abusive power structures bound up in taking power by reversing the direction of power to a giving flow. When we are all vested in a power structure of empowering others, everyone will be empowered to thrive in the freedom we all naturally crave and deserve. But it takes a great strength to step out of the current power system and into that different stance of power. It takes great resistance to simply choose not to participate in that power-over system. But I believe the stance of resistance holds the proper balance of power, by moving within those wrong power systems in the right way, a way that can truly change them for the better. You have the power to do that. Will you do the work to turn that power on? We all need to do the work in order to have that power. We all need to spend time in reflection, observing how we are interacting with these oppressive power systems in order to pull our power out of them. As we do that work, I believe we all can become instigators of peace, love, justice, and equality. It all comes down to how we live our lives, how we treat those around us, how we love. Love is the energy of true resistance, because love always resists that which is evil. As the spiritual teacher and New Testament author Paul once wrote, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”