power is not like pie.

blog power is not like piefriday night my amazing & wise & passionate friend pam hogeweide was at the refuge for a really fun event centered on her book unladylike: resisting the injustice of inequality in the church. a listening party, it was a chance for women & men to share stories and process some of these tough issues of the oppression of women in the church.  it was an amazing night & stirred up all kinds of loveliness.  over the next few weeks i’ll try to write a few things that jumped out at me from what pam & others shared throughout the evening.  pam didn’t specifically share this content, but a comment someone offered made me think of it, so i’ll start with this:

it’s all about power.

patriarchy in the church, in the world, isn’t just about male-centered leadership in our church system. it’s about who’s got the power because in our human-brains-who-are-bent-on-making-it-all-make-sense, it must be clear.

and making it clear means that we have to make it finite.

we think of it like a limited resource.

we think of it as being a certain size.

we think of it like a pie, with only so many pieces to slice up.

we think that when someone gets more power, that means someone else has to get less.

this is why when we think of men and women leading alongside each other, or any other underrepresented group stepping into greater leadership in some way, shape, or form, we default to needing to step aside to make room for others.  we default to leaving the table so that others can sit at it.  we default to silencing our voices so that others can use theirs.

some of that is true–when moving toward greater equality those with power will have to make some shifts to allow others to step into theirs.  but if we’re not careful, we will end up in the same place we were before, where power shifts to a new group of people and the others are silenced and feel resentment and hurt. 

in the kingdom of God, there’s another possibility.

power is not like pie at all. 

instead, it’s more like loaves & fishes.

there’s this wild and beautiful and miraculous thing that can happen when we share it together.  it multiplies.   and multiplies.

on our little wacky refuge team, i have seen this in action.  the more we are all more fully present, alive, engaged in who we are–male, female, in all our strengths in all our weaknesses–the more free we are, the more alive we are, the more the kingdom of God is reflected in community together. it’s been hard over the years because of a misperception of power as pie.  if we live with the idea that there are only so many slices, then someone’s going to go hungry.

it doesn’t have to be that way.    we need to re-think power.  and respect that power diffusion doesn’t limit power but increases it.

the ways of God are not the ways of this world.  that’s much of our problem.  we have limited God.  and we’ve shortchanged each other.  our default to only living under or over another instead of alongside  has jacked with our hope.  we have adopted models of leadership in our churches that don’t require faith or relationship.  we have adopted models of living together in community that are based on fear .  we have adopted a spirit of scarcity instead of abundance.

and our ways have caused us to become controlling.

underneath control is fear.

systems of patriarchy are built on deeply grooved systems of fear and a belief that power is like pie, with only so much to go around.

Jesus came to break down these systems of fear & control & self-protection and liberate us all.

i completely understand that the world needs organizations where power must be limited, defined, and protected. that’s how it goes when there is work to be done and money to be made.

but the church should be different. 

it should not reflect the power structures of the world.  it should not be built on a spirit of fear and control but on a spirit of love and relationship and equality. 

yes, we come with a bunch of different abilities and disabilities, and we are not all the same. it’s easy for us to say “it’s not possible”, that power issues are too complex and we’re in too deep to ever change it.  but i’m one of those nutty people who is crazy enough to believe it’s possible.

i am seeing what can happen when we stop seeing power as pie and start trusting God to multiply what we’ve got and feed us all. when we stop seeing only so many seats at the table and keep adding in leaves. when we create spaces for men & women, black & white, gay & straight, rich & poor, to live alongside each other with equal value. when we empower each other in any way we can, respecting that we can’t expect everyone to be “fully alive” at the same time but what we can do is fan whatever life we can into flame.

yeah, in the world, power is like pie.

but in the kingdom of God, it’s much more like loaves and fishes, where all may eat and no one has to go hungry.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

25 Comments

  • That’s a really great set of metaphors for power in the world vs the church: pie vs loaves and fishes. I like it! I can imagine alter-ego-Jesus being like, “Hey disciples, the crowd is hungry. Would you please slice up this pie and eat it in front of them? For the Kingdom of God is like a raspberry pie…”

    So much of my frustration with church is how it mimics the world so well. When I was a kid, when people talked about “conformity to the world” in regards to the church, they were talking about music, clothes, hair, jewelry, etc. But what I always saw was systemic conformity, and this bothered the heck (and by heck I mean church) out of me.

    I love the idea of church being a place where we are vigilant about allowing the breakdown of fear and control and self-protection, the place where we hold up the reality of abundance, (we could call it…I don’t know…grace?) while the world does everything it can to shout “scarcity!!” But our church systems, and the structure of power within, conform to the ideas of scarcity as if they’ve never experienced grace.

    Ahhhh, now you got me all fired up again. Where’s my soapbox?

    Reply
    • “(we could call it…I don’t know…grace?)” LOL!!! I almost sprayed coffee all over my computer screen!! What a concept, this “grace” thing! Preach it sista! 🙂

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    • i love soapboxes so get on yours anytime here 😉 that is so true, the systems & power structures within, “conform to the ideas of scarcity as if they’ve never experienced grace” such a good line. “bothered the church out of me…” i will be thinking about that one for a while. thanks amy.

      Reply
  • Motivational speaker “Chicken Soup for the Soul” Mark Victor Hansen has said and attributed it to others “It’s not how big your piece of the pie is but how big you make the pie.” I like loaves and fishes because it relates the miraculous power of God.

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      • Yes, we do. We talk about God in principal but we have a hard time working with him in practice. We can be such control freaks. And I say that kindly, with compassion as I do it, too.

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      • Yes, we do. We talk about God in principal but we have a hard time working with him in practice. We can be such control freaks. And I say that kindly, with compassion as I do it, too.

        Reply
  • Love it, Kathy!

    Of course, it takes me right back to my current pondering: I thought all the power was God’s — and that his strength shows up when I am weak. Only as we lean into God’s love do we tap into God’s power for God’s Kingdom. Jesus shows us this pattern — yes, with loaves and fisges — and I want to live deeper into this reality in order to become more fully human.

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    • that paradox is one that i continue to lean into. it’s so weird, the upside down-ness of it all, and how beautiful and freeing it is. thanks, peggy.

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    • thanks, dan, it definitely plays into all of these relationship issues, too. lots we can keep learning and why we really need God’s help to show us what it means to live these ways of love together…

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  • Hey Kathy, great post. At one time, I thought of power as neutral, depending on whether it was used for good or evil. Now I believe that the operating system of power is always competitive, limited, and self-protecting.

    The operating system of the kingdom of God is love. It is powerful, but it is not power. God revealed His might in the most radical act of sacrificial love. We misunderstand His nature if we do not recognize that the nature of God’s power IS His love. As you well know, love is upside down in its self-sacrificing method of influence.

    Power is the way of the world, and it is the underlying structure of most organizations. Often Christians and churches believe that power is “sanitized” when it is in the hands of good people. However, if something is based in power, it is operating in conflict with love.

    That’s my soapbox. 🙂 Thanks for the provocative post.

    Reply
    • same as amy, get on your soapbox here anytime. great to hear from you here. you understand these big issues of power and leadership in really important ways and i so don’t even like to use the word because of what it is associated with. i think for the sake of this conversation, to me it is leadership, value & voice that each person in the kingdom of God uniquely has. and how underrated and underutilized and under-a-whole-bunch-of-things they are. i love this: “if something is based in power, it is operating in conflict with love.” i like your description because it’s better than “good power” and “bad power”, like i sometimes use 🙂

      Reply
    • same as amy, get on your soapbox here anytime. great to hear from you here. you understand these big issues of power and leadership in really important ways and i so don’t even like to use the word because of what it is associated with. i think for the sake of this conversation, to me it is leadership, value & voice that each person in the kingdom of God uniquely has. and how underrated and underutilized and under-a-whole-bunch-of-things they are. i love this: “if something is based in power, it is operating in conflict with love.” i like your description because it’s better than “good power” and “bad power”, terms i sometimes use 🙂

      Reply
  • I just wanted to add that it is very helpful to start with a Christ-centric definition of power, namely, service (John 13:13-16). Perhaps you have defined this previously, but it seemed conspicuously absent from this piece, so I thought I would note it.

    Once this is out in the air and understood, there are far fewer people interested in power 😉

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    • thanks, jesse, yes, i didn’t really do much on defining power in here, did i? to me, everything in the kingdom of God points toward a life of sacrificial love so that’s the underpinning and of course what real power is. for the sake of this particular idea, i think i was using the definition i sometimes use related to value/voice/gifts in the kingdom of God. the problem that can happen when we only use the term “sacrifical love” in terms of gender and other kinds of inequality is that then it can be about “staying underneath other for the sake of humble sacrifice” and model keeping women and others underneath in an unhealthy, un-kingdom-like way. thanks so much for sharing!

      Reply
  • Maria Dixon Hall has a post on the meltdown which occurred during the 2012 quadrennial United Methodist General Conference: “…United Methodists standing on tables, shouting down the presiding officer, and engaging in personal attacks on and off the floor of the plenary session…”

    http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2012/05/10/umc-facing-slow-agonizing-organizational-death/

    Clearly, the Methodists (and it could have been Presbyterians or anyone else) might embrace, if they can, as might we all, a new vision of the kingdom, one where power expands and flows and enriches. That will not likely not happen.

    We live in a time of great change and as Phyllis Tickle has written, some groups and traditions will stubbornly choose to stay as they are (to the degree that is possible) and not come along to the party. Happily, says Tickle, God makes use as well of those who think its all about pie. With God, like with a good pie, in the end, nothing is wasted.

    Sometimes we just have to bless each other and move along (Paul vs Barnabas).

    Reply
    • trace, thanks so much for sharing this! so challenging. that last line reminds me of a post i wrote a few years ago called “recovery under the big tent”:http://kathyescobar.com/2010/08/10/recovery-under-the-big-tent/ “i, i’m the church, and i’m a controlaholic…hi church…”

      i think this line in your article nailed it on the head: “Real organizational change cannot happen until an organization reconnects with its foundation—its central mission.”

      yeah, i am at a place where calling the old thing to more is really a lot of energy that probably-doesn’t-do-much, but helping encourage new possibilities seems to bring the most hope.

      thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, so good.

      Reply
  • long before i even knew anything about egalitarianism and the traditional view was all i knew mutual submission was evident in every good marriage i saw. humility can cover a lot of theological errors

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    • “humility can cover a lot of theological errors” // great line. yep, it sure can. but humility is usually not the primary ingredient in the “power is like pie” model, is it?

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  • I hope I remember this analogy a long time. Power is not like pie, it’s like fish and loaves.

    Reply

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