Like many of us, on Tuesday evening I watched the President’s State of the Union address. President Obama offered an impassioned appeal for us as Americans to provide help and hope for everyone in the country. Everybody deserves a shot, he said; and he went on about our ability to overcome adversity through hard work and investing in hope; and providing opportunity through initiatives that will level the uneven playing field.
Yet beneath all the challenges issued and the vision expressed, there was a subtext; and the subtext was power. Who had it, who has it now – how can it be best deployed; who is going to win. As the camera panned the House chamber, you could tell – from the President on down, that the State of the Union evening was the opening act for upcoming displays of and battles for power.
Also like many of us, a week or so ago I went to see the movie “Selma.” It is a captivating movie, mainly because it dramatically and honestly depicts a battle for power: the desire for the power to vote against the power to prevent the right to vote. The film called to mind Martin Luther King’s reflection on power, which he offered two years after the Selma march: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
King’s power was rooted in love. God’s love. And was directed toward justice. God’s justice. King kept going back to God – in prayer and in scripture. Like the prophets before him, King joined power and love together. And it prevailed. It will continue to prevail. That is the promise.
The State of the Union address set up a power dynamic that will eventually produce winners and losers. It will be frustrating to watch. Many of us will get drawn in. At times it will be perversely entertaining – like it was when we watched a schoolyard fight.
Dr. King’s power is gospel-driven power. Christ-centered love. This power turns the current political calculus upside down by daring to make the claim that power only works if everyone is declared a winner.
That is the challenge. That is our work.