Saturday, November 8, 2014

Word for the Day: Empowerment

Contrasting St. Paul with Wikipedia may not be your idea of starting the day right, but it’s how I started mine.

In today’s reading from Philippians, Paul, in jail, awaiting execution, i.e. completely net-less, writes, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

When I read that verb empower, I came up short. It’s a buzz word that gives me the willies. It seems to mean more to most people than it does to me, and I don’t like reading words I don’t understand. So I turned to Wikipedia, natch. Which explained it all, the way Clarissa used to.*

Empowerment, I read, refers to “increasing the economic, political, social, educational, gender, or spiritual strength of an entity or entities.” And in that string of modifiers I recognized a hierarchy of values.

Today, we believe that the first solution to everything, the first source of power, is economic. Every other sort of power takes a back seat.

On the list of “economic, political, social, educational, gender, . . . spiritual,” the kind of power Paul was writing about comes last. On that list, spiritual looks tacked on, an afterthought, gratuitous.

It’s the power that kept Paul going, the power that launched two millennia of Christian culture. But on the list of powers we all hunger for today, it’s dead last.

I recognize that empowerment often refers today to gender equity (and so why is gender second to last on the list?). Gender equity matters to me as the father of two daughters and one granddaughter. I am not belittling the notion of female empowerment.

But even females, effectively placed fifth on a list of six, might wonder whether the power they really need is represented by one of the first four modifiers, or the last.

* The reference to Clarissa may send you to Wikipedia yourself unless you had daughters who watched Nickelodeon in the early 1990s.

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