Tag Archives: powerlessness

Teasing you to re-think your stereotypes

recitatif

Who is Twyla and who is Roberta? Your guess is still only an assumption, that Morrison has pulled you into to making to expose your stereotypes.

Toni Morrison’s only short story, Recitatif, invites you to guess the race of the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta, because Morrison carefully avoids stating it.

I always ask my U.S. Lit students at my Christian school in Santa Monica who is black and who is white. Results are always divided. Then my students begin to argue and pick out pieces of evidence from the story. This is a useful learning dynamic because it forces students to think, to use evidence to support their conjecture, but ultimately it is futile. Morrison’s genius is such that, being a African American writer, she writes about race with grace and gentleness.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

The story is completely void of bitterness. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even accept the conventional wisdom about racism. Both girls (all we ever learn conclusively is that one is white and the other is black, and your best guess is only conjecture) attack a mute, bow-legged “tan”-colored cook at St. Bonaventure’s, where they are housed as quasi-orphans. The picture of racism is simple: there is an almost irresistible urge in all mankind to hurt the powerless.

It is a haunting picture. It is a picture of sin. Left unchecked, sin will drive us to evil. Nobody escapes its clutches alone.

Morrison invites us to reflect about racism. It is nothing innate to whites or to blacks. In fact, it has very little to do with skin color. It has to do with the wicked, very human, innate heart condition to flaunt power over another. And in exercising that power, we humans harm.

Wow, this story explains much more than just racism! It explains why there is war.

But it comes up short in terms of finding a solution. In fact, the ending can seem anti-climatic. Roberta agonizes over the memory. She cannot fix for certain whether she and Twyla actually kicked the cook or did they just want to do it in their hearts.

Photo source: I don’t own the rights to the picture, and I’m not making any money on it.

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A stage call: powerlessness II

 

Hannah bore the misery of powerlessness. Childless, she cringed under the withering scorn of those around her and even doubted the love of her husband. There was nothing she could do about it — no fertility doctors back then. In prayer, her lips quivered so bad that the chief priest mistook for a drunk woman.

Powerlessness is the story of salvation. We are absolutely powerlessness to fulfill the law and earn our way to Heaven. So Christ came down from Heaven to do it for us as a man. Powerlessness, then, is the essence of Christianity.

So don’t be overly distressed in a moment of utter powerlessness. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong — 2 Cor. 12:10 NIV. Powerlessness is the stage call the Powerful One. He will appear on scene and vanquish all things that have cornered us and deprived us of our dignity.

Hannah’s prayer got answered. Silencing her rival, she gave birth to Samuel the prophet — and a few more kids afterward. Her rancor turned to rapture.

 

Powerlessness

I used to dismiss the notion of powerlessness. I had heard it in terms of sociologists who described people trapped by poverty. They’re just making excuses, I snorted.

Then, I grappled with powerlessness myself. When I was a missionary, an extortionist falsely accused me of a crime. I was the victim, but I feared the corrupt justice system coupled with anti-gringo sentiment would conspire to send me to the hellhole of jail in Guatemala. I fasted five days a week. I went to bed thinking about jail and woke up thinking about jail. I was gripped by the claws of  powerlessness.

At the end, God vindicated the innocent. I learned to trust Him even in the ugliest of scenarios. And I no longer scoffed at powerlessness. It is a huge and terrifying force.

When you’re facing cancer, you can feel powerless. When the recession closes all doors to you. With your prodigal child. With your unfaithful spouse. Addiction can render you powerless to stop abusing drugs. A hurricane is coming, and you can’t stop it or escape. You cannot take control of your future. There is nothing you can do. It is out of your hands. Anyone can belittle your struggle, but only you face these demons alone.

Being powerless is good. It throws you on God entirely. It arouses faith like nothing else. Your moment of powerlessness will be hellish anguish. But it will also be sweetest fellowship with the Lord. (Praise and worship was my only relief from my living nightmare!)

When you are powerless, He remains powerful.