This is the third in a series of three blogs by Dr. William Malcomson, our theologian-in-residence. They are based on an Adult Learning class that Bill taught this spring.
1. A traditional view of Power, found in many spiritual traditions as well, is that of power over. Power as force. Sometimes a view of God as omnipotent, all-powerful, in the sense of being able to force something to happen--defeat enemies, overcome evil. This is the kind of power that is affirmed in wars--killing power, massive destruction, the wiping out of those who threaten us. It is the kind of power we employ in competition, when the desire is solely to win, rather than to realize one's potential.
2. But there is another way of looking at Power. This is power with, power seen as empowerment. We might think of it as "shared power."
A. When Knowledge is shared, knowledge is powerful. To know the truth is to become powerful, full of power. This was the kind of power that was so central to the Buddha. He shared the knowledge of how to deal with suffering, anxiety, selfishness, egocentrism. This knowledge, he said, could lead to enlightenment, or what we might term the transformation of the self. To know the truth led to becoming the truth. This was the kind of power proclaimed by the sages of India for many millenia.
B. To speak the truth learned from the spiritual wisdom of humanity, to speak the truth to those who believe in the power of dominance, power over, that is a very powerful use of knowledge. But it is not a power over, it is an empowering power, if taken seriously, rather than as a threat. Speaking truth to power can be very liberating, for those who speak the truth, and for those to whom the truth is spoken.
C. We may speak of Servant Power. This is the power experienced in serving, not dominating other persons. It involves identifying with persons other than myself. Jesus is an example of this kind of power. He dealt with the domination of Rome and of its domination of the priestly establishment with this kind of power. He identified with the oppressed, he spoke the truth of Hebrew scripture to the oppressor, he exhibited servant power. In doing so, he empowered the oppressed. This is what Gandhi called Satyagraha or "soul power," which he used to liberate the people of India. This is the power that Nelson Mandela learned to use after his use of dominating power failed. When he became president of South Africa, he was a proponent of empowerment. This soul power, servant power, empowerment was the power evidenced in the work of Dr. King as he pursued the non-violent way.
3. I believe that Spirit Power is the most powerful power there is. This is empowering, liberating, transforming power. We draw in this power when we are loved by others. We share in this power when we identify with others. Spirit Power is always present. We do not create it. We participate in it. We draw from it. We are empowered by it when we share deeply, when we rejoice in the healing of others, and when we share each other's grief.
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~ Mother Teresa
This is the second in a series of three blogs by Dr. William Malcomson, our theologian-in-residence. They are based on an Adult Learning class that Bill taught this spring.
1. What we generally mean by evil appears to be both individual and systemic or structural. Individual persons can think evil thoughts and do evil deeds. All structures or systems in cultures, whether economic, political, cultural, religious, military or otherwise, seem to have some form of evil built into them (racism, classism, agism, sexism, etc.).
2. Spiritual traditions vary as to how they handle the causes of evil. However, in the myths and stories and scriptures of many of them there is often an emphasis on Chaos vs. Order. Often some kind of mythical battle between Chaos and Order. Chaos and Evil are often linked. Chaos can lead to destruction, death, despair, meaninglessness. Order can lead to construction, life, hope, meaning. But Chaos can also lead to creativity, and Chaos becomes an energizing force. Order can also lead to a kind of status quo, maintaining of what is, a deterrent to progress and its own kind of evil. So in many spiritual traditions the goal is a balance between Chaos and Order, in which each energizes the other. Sometimes a Satan figure or a Dark God is pictured in opposition to a good God who maintains order, but this opposition is often pictured as both a balancing and an opposition.
3. If we are looking at evil in individuals we could say that we have a Shadow side to our self (from Carl Jung). All of us have a dark side, recognized by our egotism, selfishness, anti-social desires, antipathy to certain persons, desires for revenge or harm, etc. Though some act on these desires, most of us do not. A sign of healing is to admit the Shadow within us, call it what it is, think of it as an integral part of who we really are, balance our chaos and order, recognize the good and evil within us, and experience how this recognition can lead to wholeness, empathy, inclusivity, compassion, and balance. A sign of illness is to deny the Shadow, deny the evil in us, act as if all of the dark side is or can be overcome by salvation or ethical behavior or submission to a god or a cause.
4. The primary evil in systemic or structural evil appears to be Oppression. Oppression of ethnic minorities, women, the poor, the disabled, the powerless, and so on. Individuals in power positions in society oppress and persons within the structures - all of us, in fact - participate in the oppression, whether willingly or not. Oppressive structures are a given in society, much as we abhor them.
5. How does Spirit deal with Evil? I believe that Spirit is compassionate, life-affirming and energizing. Spirit energizes us to recognize evil, in us, in systems, to call oppression by its name, and to work to mitigate its power. I believe that Spirit energizes us to balance Chaos and Order in our lives in order to release our creative powers. I do not believe that Spirit or any God or gods will "intervene" or "fix it," will right wrongs, overcome evil with good, get rid of the "bad guys." Spirit works in, among, with all of us for compassion, creativity, and liberation. Liberation from oppression is a life-long, never-ending process. But we rejoice in the realization that we are co-workers with Spirit.
This is the first in a series of three blogs by Dr. William Malcomson, our theologian-in-residence. They are based on an Adult Learning class that Bill taught this spring.
An age old question for Christian theology is called Theodicy. It can take various forms. How can an all-powerful God allow so much evil in the world? Or: Why doesn't God intervene to stop evil? I approach this question in three topics:
1. An evolving view of God.
2. An evolving view of Evil.
3. An evolving view of Power.
An evolving view of God:
1. I would hold that the basic religious experience is not an experience of God or a god. It is the experience of the Presence of something not totally knowable by the five senses. It is an awareness of an "energy," a "force," within us, among us, surrounding us, which we cannot fully understand, but which inspires awe, fascination, and fear. It is the experience of a Presence in all that is living: humans, animals, the earth--all that is.
2. In some, but not in all of the spiritual wisdom teachings of humanity, human-like characteristics have been attached to the Presence: Great Mother, Father God, Loving Spirit, etc. Perhaps we attach human characteristics in order to communicate with the Presence. We know how to talk with humans, so we wish to talk, to communicate in a normal way with that which seems to be more than human, but, perhaps, human-like. Or, particularly, if we fear the Presence, we would like to have some control over it. Or, at least, some way of persuading it to see our point of view, to be aware of our desires.
3. It is also believed in some spiritual traditions that the Presence reveals itself to humans in particular ways: visions, dreams, words, spiritual practices, human mediators. So that it is not only a matter of our wanting to communicate with the Presence, but of its desire to communicate with us. Perhaps to affect our lives, to intervene, to make things happen.
4. The question of theodicy assumes that there is some kind of Being or that the Presence is a Being who is human-like who can make things happen or not happen.
5. In the spiritual experience of the Abrahamic peoples (Jews, Christians, Muslims) the tendency has been to focus on particular words (scripture), mediators (Muhammad, Jesus, Moses), practices (prayer, worship), as the only valid revelations of the Presence. Though it is important to state that there have always been more orthodox or exclusivist traditions in each of these three and many less orthodox and more inclusivist traditions. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all "families of faiths" containing many varieties of spiritual experiences.
6. I believe that it is very limiting to think of the experience of the Presence as exclusively the experience of a human-like God. Thus, I believe that the question of theodicy is a false question. I believe that the experience of the Presence is almost infinitely varied and takes a multitude of forms throughout the history of humankind. And I do not believe that there is one revelation that is a final or definitive revelation, either in a scripture or through a mediator which defines the true nature of the Presence.
7. Instead of using the word God, I prefer Spirit. To me, this word suggest an all-pervading Presence within, among, and surrounding all that is. Spirit says to me an inclusive Presence with which we can connect in meditation, focused awareness, wordless wonder. Spirit unites us with all of life: Animals, earth, cosmos.
8. Such a view as I am suggesting does not, by any means, answer all questions. For example, does Spirit guide us, in any sense? Is Spirit compassionate? Can Spirit abandon us? I would say that it is within my experience that all of these can happen. But I need to be humble in describing these experiences and certainly in no way prescriptive.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist