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 Global Perspective

March 18, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 49

global perspective
Mary Jo Leddy is a member of the Romero House community in Toronto and the author of Radical Gratitude.



The old adage that "power corrupts" is doubtless true, especially with regard to power exercised in a dominating and controlling way. Yet it is also true that "powerlessness corrupts" in ways that are less obvious but equally disastrous, not only for oneself but for society as a whole. It destroys dreams, leaves people consumed by jealousy and resentment, makes violence more possible.

The Christ was not a powerless victim

A reflection for the fourth week of Lent

By Mary Jo Leddy

Because money talks
but rarely conceives
Because money talks
but does not walk
We call upon Your name
because there are things
       money can't buy
because what does it profit us
       if we consume the whole world
       and are consumed in the process
because we are tired
       of being paralyzed
       in pain and guilt and powerlessness.

We call upon Your name
when we have neither silver nor gold
or when we have it all
and it means nothing.
We call upon the Power
of Your name, Your Power
between us and among us.
Like Peter we say
to ourselves, sick and lame
by the gate --
Lent 2004

In my previous reflections, I have explored how gratitude is a liberating attitude in a culture held captive by the illusions of dissatisfaction, illusions generated by the imperatives of consumerism.

However, because gratitude is such a radical attitude (close to the roots of a culture), it also has social and economic implications.

To re-orient our lives in gratitude is to enter into a new imagination of the world in which the most important things cannot be taken for granted and yet are for free and for all. It is to understand the dynamics of the great economy of grace -- which is quite different from an economy of greed and dissatisfaction.

The mystery of the economy of grace is that the quality of God's love is enduring and free. It breaks through our attempts to quantify or contain it. That which is for free and for all is also forever. The economics of God's love are not based on the law of scarcity but rather rooted in the mystery of superabundance. The personal or political decision to declare that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH is the beginning of social cruelty, war and violence on a petty or a vast scale. On the other hand, the choice to affirm that THERE IS ENOUGH FOR ALL is the beginning of social community, peace and justice. The option to assume that THERE IS ENOUGH frees the imagination to think of new political and economic possibilities.

In the great economy of grace there is more than enough love, more than enough goods, for everyone. This includes the rich and the poor and the middle class, the ones who are near and the ones who are far off, the young and the old, the sick and the able. We all had our beginnings in God.

Earlier Reflections
  • Lent Week 3: The Ingratitude that Binds Us.
  • Lent Week 2: Liberating Gratitude.
  • Lent Week 1: Captivity and Liberation in North America.
  • This is not an economy in which only taxpayers and consumers matter; it is one in which every person counts.

    Nevertheless, in the taken-for-granted world of North American culture, economic and political strategies seem more driven by either greed or guilt. In the greedy hunt for more, there are many people who are simply thought of as being of no account. Those who react against such consuming greed with a kind of vague liberal guilt may mitigate the social effects of such greed for a while but not in any radical way. Vague guilt is ultimately powerless against the crass assertion that the culture of money is reality, the way things are and are meant to be.

    Is it possible to change the world, a world controlled by powerful economic and political interests over which we seem to have little or no power?

    Is it "realistic" to think of the possibility of living according to the great economy of grace?

    Such are the temptations to powerlessness in the North and the West and thus the tendency to think of gratitude as a lifestyle reserved for the few who have mountaintop hideaways while most must work, even slave, in the valley below.

    To make the world a place in which it would be a little easier to be grateful seems so impossible that it is understandable why some people would move toward trying to change the only world they think they can, the inner world of the self. The search for inner power then becomes a way of surviving the powers that be in the world. Survival is a long way from liberation; it is the choice not to die but not yet the choice to live.

    Liberation in this culture would mean going beyond the forced extremes of controlling power and powerlessness that hold us captive, beyond the opposition between power exercised without love and love that is powerless to change the world.

    In this season of Lent, when we are faced once again by the mystery of the cross, we may be tempted (like Mel Gibson) to visualize the Christ, yesterday and today, as the innocent One, the powerless One, the Victim.

    People of goodwill have always been tempted to prefer the innocence of the victim instead of the guilt that follows upon the exercise of power. There is reason enough to fear the consequences of having power, particularly given the history of power exercised in brutal and controlling ways.

    In his life and in his death, Jesus taught us the way beyond the deadly conflict between powerlessness and controlling power. He taught us the way to exercise another kind of power, a creative rather than a controlling form of power.

    We today need to count the cost of idealizing powerlessness. As I mentioned in my first reflection, a sense of powerlessness, a sense that I AM NOT ENOUGH follows surely in the wake of the dissatisfaction generated by consumerism. It may be evidenced in either a sense of paralysis or in the frantically busy life. We know how to tinker at life but hardly believe that we will ever be able to bring about any significant change.

    The old adage that "power corrupts" is doubtless true, especially with regard to power exercised in a dominating and controlling way. Yet it is also true that "powerlessness corrupts" in ways that are less obvious but equally disastrous, not only for oneself but for society as a whole. It destroys dreams, leaves people consumed by jealousy and resentment, makes violence more possible.

    Michael Lerner, who was active in the antiwar movement in the '60s, was struck by how many people in the protest movement, in spite of all their rhetoric about empowerment, had a deep-seated doubt about their own ability to make any significant change. Because they felt powerless, they often acted in ways that sabotaged their own stated ideals. They lost or got lost.

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    The problem with a sense of powerlessness is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And someone will be laughing all the way to the bank. And someone will be laughing all the way to the Vatican.

    If we recall the vague, free-floating guilt that is so prevalent in the culture of dissatisfaction, then it is not to difficult to see why the innocent status of the powerless victim is something we would all like to lay claim to. Indeed, it is a status that many, even the seemingly powerful, claim to hold. One hears politicians portraying themselves (and their supporters) as victims who have no choice but to cut taxes or increase taxes because "the economy" demands it and they have little power over this. In this headlong rush to avoid responsibility, a lot of people present themselves and others as being victimized by something or someone. As a result, the category of victim has become so broad as to be almost meaningless. It makes it much harder to see the real victims of persecution and violence.

    Dare we hope for liberation if we feel so powerless? Not until we discover a new sense of power, one more intimately linked to a sense of gratitude than to a feeling of dissatisfaction with oneself and the craving for control. We need some basis for believing that power may be as creative as it is destructive.

    Editor's Note: Come back to Global Perspective next week for more of Leddy's reflections for Lent. Some of the reflections are developed further in Leddy's book Radical Gratitude(Orbis, 2002).

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