Saturday, March 1, 2008

Power Struggles

Sometimes the everyday tensions inherent in social service delivery build up to the point where people are tempted to resolve all problems by utilising their own personal power base. This could be the service user who is experiencing a range of stresses tied to being unable to meet their own basic needs. Frustrated by jaded staff and bureaucratic systems, they resort to verbal or physical outbursts in a final ditch attempt to receive some kind of service. Unfortunately, it is sometimes the program staff who pre-empt being drawn into a negative dynamic.

I understand how this happens because I've been in the same position many times. It is very easy to be worn down beyond the capacity of our own resilience and before we know it, we are responding inappropriately. The signs are clear - a movement from sharing resources to guarding resources, a disproportionate increase in concern about our own issues and losing sight of our clients' difficulties, the temptation to make more rules or enforce existing rules beyond their intended scope. All of these are symbolic of a struggle to regain power where one feels it has been lost.

Our striving for power and control sits uneasily beneath the critique of the gospel. Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God entailed a radically inclusive social structure where none were left in need. The only way for us to move towards this vision is through the sacrificial sharing of all resources, wealth and power on the basis of grace alone. The proof of Jesus' commitment to the Kingdom is found in the cross - the ultimate laying down of power.

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