So, sitting on a 15 hour flight recently I watched some schmaltzy movie whose title I forget. But there was a line in there which said "The power in any relationship lies with the one who cares less. But power is not happiness which is not joy". This really caught my attention, and I spent much of the remaining flight mulling it over.
Our life's experience is about relationship. Some people have few relationships and live in loneliness. Others have many shallow relationships and live in fragility. Still others find deep committed relationship, and know strength. Then there are too many relationships that abuse ... physically and / or mentally. The obvious cases we know about, but there are also the all too common relationship where one person uses the other - in dating, steady relationships, the workplace, families ...
How does one person gain power over another?
And here the movie line becomes relevant: "The power in any relationship lies with the one who cares less". If I care about my relationship with someone, yet they have little care for me, then I give them power over me. For in my caring I would do nothing to hurt the relationship, because I care about the survival of the relationship. Instead I will do all I can to please them, and to have their attention on me. Conversely, the one who cares little for me has power, because I will not harm them, but they can treat me however they please, to their own ends and purposes (think of the movie "The Devil wears Prada").
So how about God? Does that mean I have power over God? Because certainly I care less for God than God cares for me (In the Christian religion, by definition I care less. In all other religions, it's the god that cares less ... another of those distinctive attributes of Christianity).
Well, one has to ask the question, power to what end? We're talking relationship ... so power over how the relationship is conducted, experienced, and grown. So yes, of course I have power over God. He will do just about anything to draw me into relationship with him, so I have all the power of "NO" at my disposal.
Of course, the flip side is that when I use this form of power, my humanity is lessened. My choice, your choice.
You're labeled. You exposed your skin and now that's what everyone knows. You're strong and beautiful, just like toast, or you're from that place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average"
I'm a climate scientist, Christian, evangelical, African, biker, parent, white, scuba diver, bass guitarist, fan of Dr. Who, love debate, etc.
My favorite authors are borderline catholic, yet I'm non-denominational and low-church, I believe in biological evolution, miracles, that I have a soul, and life after death. I learn a lot from atheists, I have a lot of questions.
Think you know me now?
How about you? What are you ... atheist, agnostic, fundamentalist, libertarian, democrat, recovering alcoholic, abused, extrovert, timid, blue collar worker, NSA agent, politician, housewife, terrorist, freedom fighter, tree hugger, eco-nut, intellectual, vegan, carnivore, middle aged, patriot, socialist .... do these work for you?
These are not me. These are not you.
Labels are a tool that you and I use to make other people safe for us to deal with. Labels contain, limit, and define. They place boundaries on what's included and what's excluded. Labels are expressions of power.
If I call you an aggressive overbearing misogynist, or a pathetic timid weakling, or a pretentious parochial pedantic twit -- these are all part of a power game to belittle you and exert my power. Or I might equally label you as awesome, beautiful, sexy, rich, intelligent. Then I'm just trying to exert influence over you by currying favor and get you to notice me.
Real people are messy, with unknown histories behind a facade that's tuned to society. Real relationships are messier ... like mixing one pot of goulash with another.
Exposing the real person is scary - to the person exposing themselves, and to the one seeing it for the first time. What a mess you and I really are - and if you think otherwise you're deluding yourself. I used to think that when I was grown up I would be mature, on top of things, in control. All that really happened was that I became more and more aware of my metaphysical intestinal rumination - a twisted, tortuous, tangled mess trying to extract nutrition from the experiences flowing through me. And emerging at the end ...?
Churches are one of the worst places for labels. Just look at the splintering of denominations, the frictions between catholic and protestant and methodist and baptist. Churches use labels in an embarrassing and judgmental way ("hey there, you sinner"), even when its true!
So labels are useful, inevitable, practical, dangerous and limiting.
Is there any label that does not constrain, does not box us, that frees us rather than controls us? Jesus looked behind the labels, except for one.
I submit: "Child of God"