Something Rene August often says is “You can’t confront the powers that you cannot see, and you cannot see the powers that you are benefiting from.” In a society that is still a long way from equal, those powers take on many different shapes and forms. However, one thing is constant; when unacknowledged, power most often has the effect of marginalising those without it.
But that never has to be the end of the story. This is one of the reasons that I am so drawn to the person of Jesus. In many ways Jesus was a marginalised person in his time. He was a Jew in the reign of the Roman empire. He was a Nazarene when ‘nothing good comes from Nazareth’. He was the son of a poor carpenter. Yet simultaneously Jesus was male in a highly patriarchal society. He was a compelling speaker and teacher. And we cannot forget that he was also the Son of God.
Yet in every encounter that Jesus finds himself in, it seems that he intentionally makes an assessment of the power dynamics present, and then takes steps to balance out the power in order for an authentic interaction to take place. At times, this looks like humbling the powerful, and at others, like creating platforms for those on the margins.
My Dad recently invited me to relook at the story of the woman at the well, highlighting some of the movements of power within this fascinating interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. As a male Jew, Jesus comes into this interaction with the balance of power weighing heavily in his favour, but throughout the story we see the many steps that he takes to even this out. Firstly, Jesus makes himself vulnerable to the woman by expressing his need for water. In this particular instance, Jesus becomes the powerless one as he has a need for water but no means of accessing it, while the woman becomes powerful because she has the means to access water and now finds herself in the position where she gets to decide whether Jesus can have some or not.
Following this, Jesus then draws the woman in to deeper conversation through a mysterious comment about living water, showing that he is actually interested in authentic interaction, and this is not simply about him getting what he needs from her. A third way that Jesus seeks to disrupt the uneven power dynamics is through his recognition and subsequent shattering of the woman’s shame regarding her relationship status. Recognising that shame carries huge power to keep people feeling small and silenced, Jesus simply comes out with his knowledge of her situation, in so doing showing her that it does not make him see her as any less worthy of being invited into an intimate encounter with him that would go on to change her life and that of her community. There is so much more to that story, and I encourage you to explore it further with some people who perhaps don’t share your position in society, whatever that may be.
Jesus shows us time and time again that the position in which we find ourselves in society does not need to be the end of our story. When we become aware of power, we open up the possibility of challenging it. As power is very difficult to see when you are benefiting from it, most often the way that we become aware of it is by listening to those without it. Men, you may not realise some of the ways that women feel marginalised in the church and in society if you do not listen to their experiences. White people, you may not realise the ways in which racism remains present in society if you do not listen to people of colour. People with financial security, you will never understand the realities faced by those without if you do not listen to their stories. This is part of the work that we are called into as Jesus followers.
The powers that deify some and dehumanize others, remove us all from what we were created to be; beloved children of God, made in the image of the Great Creator, and placed into family. My prayer is that we would begin to become aware of the powers at play in every encounter we see or participate in, and like Jesus, have the wisdom and the bravery to challenge them where necessary.
By Thandi Gamedze
Check out some thoughts about confronting power in society today…
The Warehouse Podcast: Deconstructing Our Spirituality.
In this episode, Nkosi and Thandi chat about some of the ways in which theology has become tainted by societal narratives, and the impact that this has on the ways in which we engage our society.
Youtube Video: Dear White People
Australian activist and radical peacemaker Jarrod Mckenna speaks about White Supremacy and Jesus’ call to recognise and lay down power, and allow the way that we see the world to be made whole.
The Warehouse Blog: The Stories We Tell
Thandi Gamedze writes about uncovering the often invisible narratives within the church and society, that hugely impact the ways in which we see ourselves, the world and God
Be inspired by the prophetic creativity of artist Zach Stewart…
Some of what The Warehouse team has been up to in April….
The Warehouse serves the Church in its response to poverty, injustice and division. We do this through walking alongside leaders, creating and adapting resources, hosting events, facilitating transformational encounters, and more. These are just a few snippets of things we have done during this past month…
Disrupting the Powers
In partnership with The Justice Conference, More Than Peace, and A Life Together, we hosted a contextual bible study facilitated by Jarrod Mckenna and Rene August, and had a raw and powerful conversation around disrupting power, and what this power and its effects look like within our present context.
Learning a Contextual Theology
In our reading and interpretation of the scriptures, we are often unaware of their historical, cultural and political context, and the ways in which this influences meaning. One of the things we do as the Warehouse is run workshops with various groups to make sense of how we should understand scripture in the light of both its context and our own.
St Johns Parish Leadership Academy
On an ongoing basis, the Warehouse partners with St John’s Parish Leadership Academy, an initiative of St John’s Parish, Wynberg, that seeks to train pioneering missional leaders, both lay and ordained. The initiative consists of a three year formation process which includes theological training and contextual reflection, with the goal of rooting the participants’ studies within their local contexts.
Xhosa Lessons as Loving your Neighbour
Many things should have been done immediately after 1994 that were missed in our process as a nation. One thing we are learning is that it is not too late to do what should have been done before. When is the best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago. When is the second best time? Today. That said, The Warehouse staff members who do not know how to speak Xhosa are embarking on learning the language together, through the organisation Imbeko.
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Common Good have recently done some important research on the church’s role in the pivotal period of a child’s life from conception to 2 years of age (the first thousand days). These events will explore some of their findings (click picture for event details).
Two upcoming events exploring the topical question of land and the church’s response
If you are in Durban, don’t miss the the Ibandla Malivuke Conference, focused on practically empowering local churches to become effective agents of social and spiritual change in their communities.
To find out more about the Micah Global Consultation, click here.
My School Card
Did you know that The Warehouse can get a cash donation every time you shop if we are your beneficiary? Geta My School card at your nearest Woolworths store, put ‘The Warehouse Trust’ as your beneficiary, and a percentage of all your purchases from Woolworths, Engen and a couple of other shops, will support our work. Visit the My School sitehere.
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