The Fourth of July reminds me of our collective obsession with right-handed power. We celebrate the freedom this country wrought from the British through battles and Declaration.
Right handed power is the accumulation of a good through force: either strategic or brute.
Right handed power has one central tenet:
It’s never finished – it is always open to attack. Many times right-handed power is only as good as the last score. The inability to be finished is because of the characteristic of its reliance on accumulation. In a practical sense, someone or something can always accumulate more.
Five years ago I was on Cape Cod for the Fourth of July. We were with my family in a little village called Woods Hole. A few weeks prior to te holiday I was in South Carolina for business, and I made a pilgrimage to a fireworks store. I accumulated a southern treasure trove of fireworks to blast off our wall in front of our cottage. I even went so far as to “purchase” the ones in the back room. I was proud of what I bought and so excited to show our houseguests a grand performance.
As I prepared my line-up, my mom kept telling me to watch out for the neighbors show, dismissive, I knew that my show was going to take the night. My grand finale was a huge mortar…one that you have to drop some fireworks into that have a ten-foot fuse. I positioned the mortar and walked back to the porch. I lit the fuse and waited for the ignition. During the next few seconds I watched the mortar began to shake and slide a little bit…It slowly slid away from the sky and towards the water. By the time the fuse ignited the fireworks, the canon had pointed straight into the water!
To make matters worse, little did I know that my neighbor was a pyrotechnic expert and his fireworks, should I say dusted mine. He wheeled a firework wagon onto his beach! I was essentially a sparkler to his moving show.
This humorous example shows how quickly our accomplishments and accumulations can be squashed. Right handed power is never finished.
Because of this frailty we are always judging and analyzing the next set of problems…calculating what will keep us on top – right handed power is a constant chess match.
For many years, I sold wine and to be in the alcohol industry in America is to be in the lobbying industry – alcohol is more heavily regulated in many states than health care. So, I joined the fray, and I’ll admit it, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because it was strategy, scheming and pulling levers of power to keep your industry niche under control. Every year we would gather to assess our market position and to analyze and make decisions in how we would exert our right handed power to maintain control of our niche.
Right handed power is the way that the world functions. It powers the world’s mill: free and closed markets, sports games, and most of our human interaction – our relationships – become grist for this mill. To be sure, many wonderful things have resulted from right-handed power: the pursuit of science resulting in eradicating polio; military excellence defeating evil forces, like Hitler, and so on.
However, there is always a catch, a but, there is always another disease, someone eviler, someone who can out lobby you, outsmart you, or outmaneuver you, and sometimes this person is your inner critic. Telling you to do more, to run faster, make more, and accumulate at a quicker rate.
The Gospel gives us a glimpse into the human proclivity for Right Handed Power, as well.
Jesus, by any account, is on a Roll. In the last few days, he has healed the hemorrhaging woman, resurrected the young girl, calmed storms – all in the last few days. He is full of right handed accomplishments.
So, isn’t it odd that he comes home, not as a the hometown hero, but as a joke or an impossibility? His own townspeople, while listening to him teach, smirk and demean him by calling him a carpenter…calling him a service employee and associating him with his mother – another socially lowering comment in 1st century Palestine.
They took offense to him. It was scandalous to them that he was claiming to be a prophet/teacher — he did not fit what they judged a savior/teacher should be — an administrator of right-handed power.
What does the son of man do in the face of this humiliation? What would you do? I know what I would do. I lay in bed all night thinking about the fireworks and trying to research how I could get a pyrotechnic expert to our house for the next 4th. That’s what I did.
What Jesus did was name what was happening. That a prophet, that He, cannot believe that they did not believe. He put himself out of the circle of power by acknowledging that he does not have honor and placed himself squarely with the least, the lost, the lame – not a home or origin for right handed power.
Right handed power requires the trappings of power. It requires a combination of money, authority, credentials and lineage. Jesus does not have any of this. He is simply Offensive.
What happens next offers us a glimpse of right handed power’s opposite.
Jesus sends his disciples into the world. Out to the villages. With what? Books, briefs, phones, papers, tools for right handed domination.
No, He sends them out two by two with nothing on their backs, no place for money, nor food, and with a simple message – proclaim the Gospel. Leave tools of accumulation behind. Implying that they have already accomplished whatever their task might be. There is no quota system.
Jesus is the Embodiment of left-handed power. The power that does not look like power. Left-handed power is paradoxical power. The power that looks like weakness. That takes the form of a carpenter, of a social outcast. A teenage mother who gives birth out of wedlock. This is good news for you and me because unlike Right Handed Power; Left Handed Power is always finished since it is not a power based upon accumulation or force, rather one based on humility and sacrifice. It is based on giving up and letting go.
Left-handed power: It is finished.
Two events 50 years ago give us a glimpse into left-handed power.
Fifty years ago groups of boys began to play music together on the West Coast. The Grateful Dead celebrates its fiftieth year this weekend with a series of concerts and one of the most amazing things arose out of this culture. Dead fans turned “miracle” from a noun to a verb. To be “miracled” meant that you arrived at a show without anything to accumulate entrance into the event. No money, probably no food, and many times no place to stay. You would wait outside the show and hold one finger up in the air to show your need. Someone would then slide a ticket under your arm, or in your back pocket, or hand it to you directly. This ticket costs you nothing, but costs the giver everything. It allowed full entrance to the concert.
“In August 1965 Seminarian Jonathon Daniels and 22 others were arrested for participating in a voter rights demonstration in Fort Deposit, Alabama, Shortly after being released on August 20, Daniels accompanied two black teenagers, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, to a Hayneville store to buy a soda. They were met on the steps by Tom Coleman, a construction worker, and part-time deputy sheriff, who was carrying a shotgun. Coleman aimed his gun at sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales; Daniels pushed her to the ground to protect her, saving her life. The shotgun blast killed Daniels instantly; Morrisroe was seriously wounded.”
Left-handed power breaks the cycle of right-handed power. It is the last word in a world in need of a last work.
The Left-handed, the power of Jesus, hangs on the cross for you and me, and it gives us a ticket – that reads, “it is finished.”
The Good News for you and me is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for you and me. Handing us a ticket that reads: It is finished.
- Mark 6:1 - 13