Archive for February 20th, 2018

Lent: Privilege

amywink February 20th, 2018

Recently, I have engaged in a few conversations about what the privileged need to do (whether that privilege is embedded in class, or race, or sex, or what ever kind of access to power, even the smallest amount of power you may hold to act on behalf of someone with less power). Sometimes, we do not recognize the power we have or we feel tremendous guilt about the power that has come to us as a result of inequality. We may waiver between “no, I don’t have any power!” Or “ oh, I don’t want this power!” Or “But I made all the right decisions! I did it right.” Whether we earned power honestly (the earned rank in a profession or career or trade) or whether privilege has come to us because without trying (race/sex) or whether the choices we may have had to make allowed us to move ourselves into a position of power (class/sex/race), our relationship to power affects our relationship to those with less power (or those without). Some of us are troubled because we often don’t know what to do with that privilege, especially if we feel guilty about having it. Our tendency might be to offer it up or ask those without power what we need to do to fix our power imbalance. We seem to expect that those without power can fix our privilege (“Black Women will save us.”) But it is not the responsibility of those without power to make those of us with power feel better about having it.

I began thinking of this after reading The Gospel of Luke, and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What privilege the Rich man had while Lazarus had none and yet, after death, the Rich Man still expects Lazarus to wet his lips in hell and make him feel better.


And then he also expects Abraham to go make sure his brothers are saved.


Abraham suggests they read Moses and the prophets: “they should listen to them.” The Rich Man STILL wants Abraham to fix it. no, they won’t read, but they’d believe a dead man and repent. Abraham, so witty, says “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead!”

I laughed out loud at this, of course (and the teacher in me recognized the “if only you’d read the assignment, you wouldn’t be flailing about so much.”)

Though this privileged man seems to know his privilege (as a rich man he has always ordered people around, likely gotten what he asked for) he doesn’t seem to understand that is current predicament is because he doesn’t understand how to use privilege for others, that his brothers HAVE a means to understand how to be saved, how to use privilege to change their fate and simply won’t— unless by some miracle of the raised dead.

Toni Morrison wrote that the purpose of freedom is to free someone else. Our privilege is our freedom. We must use our privilege to free others. Whatever that privilege is, however small we think it is.

If our privilege is economic, how do we use that to help those without economic privilege?

If our privilege is embedded in our sex, how do we use that privilege to aid others who do not have the privilege of our sex?

If our privilege is based in race, how do we use that privilege to aid those without that privilege?

If our privilege is embedded in our insight, how do we use our insight to aid those who are not yet awake?

Whatever privilege, whatever combination of reasons for our privilege, whatever freedom we have, our work is to free others, without expecting those who do not have the freedom to tell us how to do it.