Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Against the Powers

I have particular affinity for the Baptismal Covenant as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer because of the emphasis that the presence of vows places on the newly baptized to live the Christ-life, not only at the moment the sacrament is received but every day of the convert’s life.

For my part, the most difficult vow is that to “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” This seems to be in a different league from the “sinful desires that draw [me] from the love of God,” because of the internal and personal nature of the latter. The evil powers of this world are indeed everywhere, but they must be sought out to be recognized and resisted: they take the forms of governmental systems, economic policies, social injustices, and particularly the apathy with which human beings view the plight of others.

I find the greatest difficulty when I am called upon to suffer minor, meaningless indignities at the hands of others: being ignored, written off, disrespected, and otherwise devalued by folks whose only motivation is to make themselves feel better by lambasting someone they don’t suppose will answer them back. I have not often chosen to let such attacks die quietly, but have taken great joy in calling these folks to the carpet, especially while working service jobs. I discover upon further reflection, however, that such exchanges do have significance, in that they are opportunities for me to renounce evil powers or not. It would be Christ-like in such situations to grant grace to those with downcast hearts and darkened minds, and to stand up to those who would abuse others while respecting the human dignity of everyone involved.

The way to effectively rob the evil powers and “spiritual forces of wickedness” of their might to is to learn and live the truth that the only real power in a fallen creation is the force of suffering love. Our sufferings acquire meaning and become Christ-like only when we chose to make them for others. Bearing the insults and indignities visited upon us by other men and women can be a redemptive exercise when in them we choose to absorb the sinfulness of the people around us, and love them anyway. When we make this choice we make a stand over against the “evil powers” (and even against their own desires) to believe in the image of God that remains in fallen humans even behind all the sin and bloodguilt we bring upon ourselves.

Has anybody else had one of those "service" jobs where y'all were trying to learn how to cope with other people's garbage? It's easy for me to say these things now that I'm gainfully unemployed, but if I were to go back to the gas station, or the deli, or the fast food restaurant, I would have more trouble...