Everyday People



Public domain image courtesy of State Department/Doug Thompson

While the lead pastor's away, with guest ministers we pray. And that is what we did today (July 4, 2021, the 245th year of our independence).

Such was the case at both of the churches my husband and I attend. And, don't ya know, sisters were doin' it for themselves. Capably teaching. Leading, reading, singing, preaching.

The first of the two dove into the concept of power. She pointed out that power, by definition, is the "ability to do something or act," and the, "capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events." An urban definition might be something more like: the mojo or moxy to help get $h!t done.

Did you catch any of the recent readings of Frederick Douglass' Independence Day speech of July 5, 1852? Now there was a man who had influence over the course of events. His definition of freedom lined up with the gist of the constitution, but not the gist of the government.

There's an especially good 2021 reading by Douglass' actual descendants, but I listened when my husband tuned into yesterday's Douglass reading (which you can find on our Plymouth Fury Facebook page) by the Red Letter Christians, more than 20 ministers, black and white, male and female, from around the U.S. One hundred sixty nine years and still, unfortunately, timely.

This actually brings me back to the word 'power.' I think we'd nod yes in agreement on its definition. However, it might differ from the images that first come to our minds where we hear the word.

Superhero. A Ford Mustang. A Harley or a crotch rocket. Barkeeper's Friend? A billionaire. The head of a large bank or a mulit-million dollar company. A world leader. An abusive or corrupt national leader. A first world country. Though, with the definition, we are reminded more basically, that regular people can have power over events and over other people.

Well...duh. Of course.

So why is it we often think reflexively of a man -- or a woman -- in tights and a cape, or a maniacal leader first, upon hearing the word, 'power?'

I think the definition really moves most of us to ask ourselves the question, " Well, what power, what effect, what impact, can I possibly have?" And -- as we go off next on a silent rant betwen our own ears -- to lament that we have no status, we have no clout, we have no visibiity, no influence, and no money. Or don't we? As a whole, Americans are among the most materially plied and supplied the world. Many of us have some familiarity with folks who clutch money, power, and prestige like coveted pearls.

You and I may not be wealthy per se, but if we're reading this, we can read. Which means we can arm ourselves with knowledge, which makes a big difference in conversations and choices. And hopefully we can shake out the truth of what's presented to us, and let the rest of the mumbo jumbo fall through our sieve of discernment.

I know. Part of the problem is that not all sieves are created equal.

And, if we're reading this, we have a cell phone and/or a tablet and/or a laptop and/or a personal computer, and maybe even a smart watch (thank you, Maxwell...and Apple), which means we have access to noteworthy historical, recorded, and live content. Again, filtering out the garbage. We can share what we learn too.

When was the last time you tried a food, a service, a vacation spot, or a product so fab that you just had to tell someone about it, or everyone you knew who you could get a hold of? And how critical of a product or service was it? We sure move off the dime when we're excited, impressed by, or fired up about something. Even when it's trivial. We know how to share.

Educate yourself. Share. Respond. Vote. Support.

Money helps -- don't get me wrong - and so do the privileges it enables. When we have these things, we can use them to help others. But money and privilege have also been shown to engender comfortable complacence, indifference, perversion, and worse. They're not evil. But they're often at the root of what is.

There are those with monetary power and those without it. But there are so many other types and sources of power.

You ever notice how well the laws of physics apply to the nature of human relations? Like, that for every action, somewhere, there is an equal and opposite reaction? Newton's third law. If you have a brother, a sister, son or daughter, husband, wife...you know what I mean. You live it.

You have to reckon that for every slave owner and slavery advocate insistent on not allowing slaves to be taught to read, there was, somewhere, a slave risking pain or death to learn. That the suppression holding a young Harriet Tubman down from getting a basic education would be the same suppression that would extrude the passion for literacyfrom a young Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was a man of good conscience, and LBJ aimed to do the right thing. But they didn't come by their will to emancipate slaves and dismantle segregation in a vacuum all on their own. MLK was to LBJ as Frederick was to Honest Abe. Did you know that? And if Frederick had never learned to read? Or followed the lead of his passionate conscience to challenge Americans on the existing double standards of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not to mention personal and national righteousness?

In the Old Testament (1 Kings 19: 10-13), we're told that when the prophet Elijah did not find the voice of God in a violent wind, a powerful earthquake, and a fire, he discovered it in a quiet whisper. Sometimes -- no oft times -- the most pivotal and critical shows of power don't come from coin or privilege, but from words and vocal action. Nonviolent action. Even quiet and silent action. Thank you, Elijah, for the reminder.

There have always been prophets. Moses, Elijah, Micah, Malcolm, James. Not that James. The other James. But there has always been us. Everyday people. Ann Atwater. Elizabeth, Irene, Sarah, Mary Louise, Aurelia, Susie, and Claudette who dissented beforeRosa. The roughly 400 Freedom Riders who came after Rosa whom I dearly admire. Trust me. Without them, it might be that you and I would never have become acquainted. And trust me, the regular cum corner-turning resolve they had lives inside of us too.

Unfortunately, the dangerous spirit of Jim Crow lives, fortified by sidecars of political nonsense. Did we step off of a precipice in January of 2021, or November of 2020? It may be that we've just stepped back from it. For a time. But it's still right there. Close. Probably too close.

We have power. Truth be told, we have powers, plural.

We are free. We are free to listen. Truly listen. Free to read, arm ourselves with knowledge, facts, truth. Whether we read an online article or newsletter, pick up a book, watch a musical, or take a deep dive with reliable journalism, we can learn the constitution and history to know what's up, know what's true, and defend it. We are free to counter lies as we shake and agree, or nod, decline, and dissent. Free to forward and share, gather, march, and wear, make a call or write a letter, sit in, get on a bus and dissent, or get off a bus and boycott. And we can donate, or lend a hand, water, a meal, or other support to folks doing any of the above. All these acts are powers within our grasp.

Less showy than wearing a cape, I know. But they help get the job done.

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