I Am That Man: Priviledge, Power, and Acountability
I am preaching prophets this Advent and last week I preached the story of Nathan’s parable to King David after David used his role as king to have a man killed so that David could take his wife for himself. (2 Samuel 12)
Nathan presents a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s only lamb to serve as dinner to a guest. David becomes incensed at this horrible violation and wants the man dead. Nathan turns to David and pronounces: “you are that man.”
The story gets David to see in a mirror his own power abuse, his own privileged way of life, his own shedding of accountability that caused this responsible shepherd boy to become a tyrant king. And we – in that moment – acknowledge what a horrible person David is.
…whereby we demonstrate the problem… because you see, we are that that man. Instead of learning about abuse of power, tendency towards privilege, and struggles being held accountable to ideas like equality and justice what we learned to do was heap on the blame for those who have been outed as guilty.
We blame David as easily as he blamed the rich man in Nathan’s story… but unless we turn that back on ourselves to examine our culpability than we are no better hearers, or receivers of wisdom, than David was. The story was a mirror. Nathan’s story AND David’s story.
So here we are. Stories of injustice continue. Have we gotten better at listening, learning, and self-examining? I am grieved to my heart at what is happening in Ferguson, on all “sides” (and saddened that there are even sides). I have no idea what to believe about it all. I believe the whole matter is filled with injustice, anger, fear, otherness, racial tension, class tensions, power abuse, and entitlement. I feel that from authority but I feel it as well from those resisting the authority. I have been overly quiet on this topic… because I do not think what has happened is clear, and because I’m very far from it all. But that isn’t really true. I am responsible, and I am a part of it. All of our lives are interrelated… and I am that man.
I have friends in law enforcement. Their job is incredibly hard, and I understand why they are defensive in all this fire storm. That doesn’t mean they should not be held accountable. Power always needs to be constantly examined. I think the same of the power I hold as a pastor, and I become very upset when other pastors violate that trust. And I can see the temptation in my life as well. We have to call for greater accountability to those who have greater power. I need that. I need to be held accountable.
My heart grieves similarly for the case in Staten Island. My heart grieves when life becomes cheap – any life, from any source, for any reason. We must examine closely the use of power – ALWAYS and in ALL areas. The power of establishment, and the powers of the prophet, and the powers of disestablishment. Power must be assumed with vigilant accountability. Yes for these situations… but also for me.
I have heard heard it said that “always making everything about me” is a type of narcissism. If so, I think its the kind of narcissism we need more of. Because the question I always want to ask is: how am I responsible? How am I part of unjust systems, racial tensions, class hierarchy, etc, etc… the list goes on. And seeing how I am a part – how can I transform them for the better? How can I be made empowered without abusing power, how can I work to empower others to shed my privilege and prevent entitlement, and how can I always make sure I’m held accountable to larger and larger circles of accountability?
I am aware of how just how privileged I am. I’m a white, male, heterosexual. I am married with four blond haired, blue eyed, healthy, creative young children. I was raised in an upper middle class family with every opportunity before me, and I’m highly educated, and have a job with a great deal of power. I do not apologize for any of that… but I do apologize for what it has meant when it grants me privilege I should not have, or takes privileges away from others who should have them. I apologize for what it has meant to be a white male. I apologize that we live in a world that fears those that differ from us, from the norm, from the established categories. I apologize for gay friends who fear for losing jobs because of their sexuality that has nothing to do with their job. I apologize for friends of color that they constantly have to wonder if they are safe; if they are welcome. I apologize not because I’m white. I apologize that I haven’t helped enough to make the fact that I am white not matter. I apologize not for being heterosexual, because I really love my wife! I apologize that I haven’t helped convinced other’s like me that you aren’t a threat to them.
I am that man – I am responsible to checking the impulse towards tyranny in those of power. I am responsible to eliminate privilege as much I can, and to use what I have in the pursuit of that goal. I am responsible to invite the world beyond its prejudice and fear, to invite beyond enclaves of sameness to a diverse community that bridges people across divides and brings down walls of hostility. I’m responsible. Not alone, not ultimately… but I am responsible.
A friend of mine recently asked online if other females who were presumably in a public building alone check to make sure all the bathroom stalls are empty before using it. That had never occurred to me. And that is privilege. I live in a world where I can presume a certain level of safety that many, many, many others cannot. It have never checked to see that a bathroom is truly empty. I’m thankful for that. But I’m grieved to live in a world where my case is more rare than true. I’m grieved to live in a world where being white, or male, or educated, or in a position of power, or being heterosexual… where these things make life safer for me. Because life is sacred. All life. And all life should be protected, nurtured, and empowered to flourish. I should not be any more safe or more empowered because of these attributes of my life… but I am.
As I watch the stories in the news, whether its immigrants at the borders, Gaza and Israel, ISIL and the Middle East, Ferguson and Staten Island… or even the homeless under the bridge in Boise, Idaho – my town of residence… as I watch these I hope for resolutions that will further peace and unity for everyone involved. But my hope doesn’t end there – cannot end there. I hope that I will use these stories as mirrors into my own life. How do these stories invite me to concrete actions of solidarity, good will, and good news towards ALL involved both there, but also in my own community. Let us not be David, or gang up on David to the exclusion of recognizing our own guilt. Let us learn from him, let us learn with him, and let us learn so that we can help him – to help us all be shepherds of a better future for all.
I am that man. I am that person. And so are you.