Powerful As the Stream

Observation leads me to conclude that I am not alone in wanting to be in charge. Others seem to share my control issues as well. Yes, I like to feel important. Much to my chagrin, family and friends have plenty of evidence to counter my feelings of superiority and perfectionism.

A conversation after posting Perfection Unbound [link] last Sunday showed there was need for clarification.  You may recall that I wrote: “Despite my delusions of grandeur and flights into self-sufficiency, I’m not as special as I think nor as singular as I want to imagine. My friends and family simply know how to slip beneath my well-defended public persona.”

I then went on to suggest that too many of us easily and willingly “fall into one of religion’s most subtle and seductive pitfalls — using spirituality to comfort our egos or to validate our pre-conceived view of the world. We pervert Christianity to serve our needs rather than affirm its core assertion that salvation comes through dying to our over-sized egos.”

That generated some blow-back as well it should. Too many people walk around having been shamed into thinking too little of themselves. Abuse of power by folks who like to be in control or have an exalted sense of their own rectitude and virtue — typically an over-compensation for their own poor self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness — can really victimize other people.

I’m grateful for the blow-back because it allows for an essential clarification — between a healthy self-worth and appreciation for one’s inalienable dignity on one hand, and an unbridled individualism, trust in self-interest as a reliable moral guide and pursuit of only slightly veiled ego-gratification on the other. Here is the essential distinction: there is a huge difference between un-redeemed egos and healthy self-worth.

Here’s the rub as I see it. As I wrote on Sunday, there’s too much contemporary preoccupation with shallow, feel-good, power-of-positive-thinking “spirituality” being marketed to ego-driven consumers. Sadly, this also comes from “Christian” sources as well as pop-culture.

Virtually all world religions are unanimous in teaching that we must put our ego-selves to death! Trust me, this is very hard to do when you’re already “perfect”! None of us — again, not one of us — want to hear that.  Too often our churches don’t want to hear or teach that message either.  Rather, they maneuver to be in charge as arbitrators of “truth” and assert control by enforcing their preferred definition.

Some of the responses to Sunday’s post expanded upon and expressed better what I was struggling to say. For example, I had cited Buddhist master, Chogyam Trungpa’s invitation to consider pouring tea into a cup. The cup must be lower than the teapot. If the cup is not lower than the pot, the tea will not end up in the cup.

A friend generously shared another citation that offers more than enough food for thought for those of us who wrestle with our need to be in control or want to be in charge:

All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

To this, let the Church say… AMEN!


My friend who shared the final quote indicated it was from “Tao Te Ching: A New English Version” translated by Stephen Mitchell.

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