Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reflection: My experience of power, powerlessness and identity

The following is an excerpt from a sermon I preached recently (plus some additional reflection).

Here is an excerpt from Barack Obama's first book.

"Power had taken Lolo [Obama’s step-father] and yanked him back into line just when he thought he'd escaped, making him feel its weight, letting him know that his life wasn't his own. That's how things were; you couldn't change it, you could just live by the rules, so simple once you learned them. And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting;… She [Obama’s mother] remembered what Lolo had told her once when her constant questioning had finally touched a nerve. 'Guilt is a luxury only for­eigners can afford,' he had said. 'Like saying whatever pops into your head.' She didn't know what it was like to lose everything,… He was right, of course. She was a foreigner, middle-class and white and protected by her heredity whether she wanted protection or not. She could always leave if things got too messy…." Source: Barack Obama, Dreams form My Father (Three Rivers: New York, 2004) 45-46.

What I find here is the gap between Obama’s American mother and his Indonesian step-father. Here is a contrast between the privileges, freedom and security of being a citizen of the Western world, and the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness of living in another part of the world, where those privileges and security are a luxury if not an impossibility.

I said to my wife that this is the struggle I have in finding my identity as a bi-cultural person living in Australia (someone who has spent half of my life in Australia and half in Asia).

Perhaps the ultimate reason why I desperately long for embrace is that there is evil in this world, which manifests itself through power-relationships. What I experienced in the first part of my life in Asia is something that people around me cannot understand. It was the sense of oppression that we experienced as working-class people in a city going through a rapid urbanisation process.

We were part of a generation in which everyone tried to move from subsistence-level living to an affluent living standard – and to do so within a very short space of time. In this process we became victims of power: The power of money; the power of materialism; the power of capitalism and globalisation, where a person’s worth is measured by how much money they have as a consumer. Ironically, it is the search for power – by trying to move from a powerless position to a powerful one – that we fall prey to power itself.

In my own search for identity I find comfort in my faith in Jesus the Messiah. I find a sense of security in the faithfulness of the Creator God, and the Scripture he has given his people. I find a way to overcome the oppression of "power" through the shalom that God has given to us in Christ and by the Spirit - not by overcoming power with power, but by God's power in my weakness.

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