By Jeremy Suisted
To this day I am ashamed that I sucker-punched one of my best friends when I was age nine and made him cry.
Yet, for a fleeting moment, I enjoyed the power of the punch. I loved the shocked look in his eye, the recognition that I had won and defended my throne.
I've felt this same feeling when I blocked the shot of a basketball opponent. As their attempt was swatted away, I had a glorious feeling of power.
There is always a glance at the failed shooter, communicating that I have won: I am superior.
I have had a sweet addiction to all of these experiences of power.
In Philip Yancey's excellent exploration of Jesus he observes, 'Power, no matter how well intentioned, tends to cause suffering.'
In its very nature, power lets one individual decide for others.
The powerful get to say 'Yes' and 'No'. It assumes I know best. It assumes I have more agency, more autonomy, and more right than the powerless. Even when I choose to act benevolently, I carry these assumptions into each situation.
These memories bring to mind a story told by Ernest Gordon, former dean of Princeton chapel, of his first-hand experience with some captured Scottish soldiers in a Japanese camp, during World War 2.
Upon returning from a hard day's labour, the Japanese officer counted up the shovels the prisoners had to return at the end of the day. The final count was one short. One prisoner must have hid a shovel—planning an escape!
The officer was furious, and demanded that the group tell him where the missing shovel was. Silence. He pulled out his pistol, and threatened the entire group with execution, unless the offender stepped forward.
Suddenly, one of the soldiers stepped forward and confessed. The officer promptly holstered his pistol, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. Wiping the blood off the shovel, he recounted the tools—and discovered there'd been a mistake. There was never one shovel short, he had simply miscounted. And this soldier had stepped forward to take the blame for a crime that was never committed, simply to save his brothers.
Ernest, himself a Scottish soldier held prisoner in the camp, reflected that, the incident had a profound effect.
The men began to treat each other like brothers. When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors ... and instead of attacking their captors insisted: 'No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.'
This brave soldier's actions make no sense. To respond with love, instead of power, appears naive and pointless. Yet power simply reinforces the status quo. It continues the dominant story, reflecting the same-old-world back to our weary eyes.
Love opens up new possibilities. The possibility that captured strangers could become brothers. The possibility that violence could be met with forgiveness. The possibility that a poke in the back could be met with laughter and playfulness.
Philip Yancey's quote continues, 'Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other.'
As tempting as it is to embrace the story of power that the world propagates, if we want to see transformation in our lives, communities and world, a new story and a new response is needed. We need less impulsive punches and more second-nature hugs. Less mindless taking and more mindful, painful giving. Less lording over, and more serving with.
And then our eyes are opened to a new possibility, of a powerful love. A love that flips the world on its head, and truly recreates and calls out new life in all that it encounters.•