Back in 2016, I wrote a Banner editorial on “Power-With“. This is a concept I acquired from reading Jim Olthuis’ The Beautiful Risk. Olthuis didn’t really elaborate on the concept but used it evocatively in his descriptions about two different spiritual ways – the spirituality of control and the spirituality of compassion (p. 42). In his description, the spirituality of control manifests itself in one-directional power-over, while the spirituality of compassion manifests itself in multi-directional power-with.
I really liked this concept as I think it helps add a layer to our understanding and engagement of power in our lives and in our institutions. The old adage that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is tired but also an overstatement. Power, in that popular idiom, is inherently corrupting, inherently negative. From a biblical worldview perspective, I will say that is only looking at power from the lens of sin and the fall. But God, of course, is powerful and used power to create the world and all of life. Power, originally, was good. God even built power into the fabric of creation. Here are excerpts from my editorial as I start teasing out this concept of power-with:
(On October 24, 2015, I delivered this keynote address at the Christian Courier Story-maker’s Symposium, celebrating that Christian newspaper’s 70th anniversary. Give and take some spur of the moment revisions and minus introductory remarks and the power point slides, this is the presentation I gave.)
I am going to show a music video as part of my talk today. But before I do that, I am going to read three passages from the Bible. There are well known Bible passages. And then, I will give some background info so that you can appreciate the video better, then show the video. And after that, I will try and tie them all together in my talk, somehow.
I am going to show you a music video by Sinead O’Connor. Sinead O’Connor, if you don’t know, is an Irish singer, raised Roman Catholic.
There are a couple of things you need to know about her in order to fully appreciate the music video I am about to show you. First is that Sinead became an international music star in 1990 when her hit song Nothing Compares to You hit No. 1 in several countries including the UK and the USA. Nothing Compares to You, which I think is still the song that most people remember Sinead for, is basically a song about a woman lamenting the departure of her lover, as nothing is the same without him in her life because, well, nothing compares to him. Its accompanying music video also became iconic, where the video comprised almost entirely of a close up of Sinead’s face as she sings the song. Remember this iconic close up shot (for the video).
A note about Sinead’s shaven head – she originally shaved it as a protest against traditional views of women, it became her trademark but also became part of her identity. She once said, “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.” [Barkham, Patrick (20 February 2007). “The Bald Truth”.The Guardian (London).]
One other thing that Sinead O’Connor is (in)famous for is her appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, where during her performance, she presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera and ripped the photo to pieces and said, “Fight the real enemy.” Sinead, throughout her career, has, shall we say, a testy relationship with the church? She has often criticized organised religion although she has said before in interviews that she still considers herself a Christian. She is an outspoken feminist and had spoken against child abuse in the church.