By Jane Tawel
September 11, 2018
Who Are You?
Are You Nobody too?
Then there’s a pair of us – Don’t tell
They’ll banish you know.
How dreary to be Somebody
How public, like a frog
To Tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog.
**Written in 1891 by Emily Dickinson
I have recently observed people in power from my outsider’s view as a Dickinson -ian “Nobody”. I have of course, worked for people in power. Many of the people I have worked for or with are professing Christians, and many of them have achieved a power that has sadly become so masked by “feel good” philosophically excused uses of power that they have no remaining understanding of the dangers of human or national power. There have in my experience, been several of these powerful leaders who adhere to a particularly odd rule that they will not even read anonymous notes addressed to them, let alone take them seriously unless the anonymous person “reveals” herself or himself. They claim that there is something subversive, something unethical, about not being willing to put your name on a message. These powerful men, (and they are most often men but not exclusively so), can take that line in the sand stand because they have enough power in their particular sphere of influence to say and do what they want to and let the chips fall where they may –because of course they assume that like always the chips will never fall –because they have power. And so it goes round and round. But frankly from the peanut stands here, the anonymous collective opinion is that the very notes leaders should be reading are the anonymous ones. The notes we should be reading as Americans today are the anonymous ones – not just the current famous one, but all the anonymous “notes” of anonymous people without power trying to speak truth to power throughout our long and checkered history.
It is true that one reason people speak anonymously is because they are afraid; but they also speak anonymously because what they have to say is so true that it should brook no argument and yet, because we have gotten to a point in our history as humans where we seem unable to even admit we are wrong or mistaken, or uninformed, let alone, that we are sinful or evil; people will not admit they are ever wrong and will even argue outrageous lies and not be held accountable. If we cannot accept we are wrong then we definitely can not change course and stop being wrong. And because of this widespread disease of self-justification and self-righteousness and just plain pig-headedness –anonymous speakers know that the argument for and revelation of Truth will be used by the people in power to silence or muddy the truth. These necessary truths can include correctable truths like pointing out that what a leader said showed prejudicial views and should be corrected to revealing larger and larger truths like money is being spent in wrong ways by our leaders or our leaders are using their power to abuse children. If I received an anonymous note, would I be obsessed by wanting to know who it is from – yes, that is natural –but would I discount that there may be some truth in the message that I need to listen to – I pray not. I pray I would want to know the truth if it is meant to change something, to better something, to create something good, and not a truth meant just to punish or shame. I hope I want to learn and grow from truth, no matter how much it might hurt me.
Especially anyone who wants to claim a Judeo-Christian worldview should take these unsigned notes coming anonymously as spiritually serious. You see, if there is fear created in people who work for or with us, then that is quite plainly not “of God” as much of Holy Scripture advises us. (2 Timothy 1:7; Matthew 10:26-28; etc.). The second reason is that if someone writes to me anonymously then I must understand that my natural inclination is to protect self-interest, to defend myself, to not admit wrong or sin, so that I am actually, by the very anonymity of the writer, being lovingly – yes – lovingly! – honored by this person writing without name to me because they care enough – yes care! – about my changing for the better for my own soul’s sake. Do I put the anonymous writer on too high a pedestal? I hope so because of course the writer is in this situation, the “least of these” that the Bible tells me I will need to treat justly lest I be judged lacking someday by the God-man Messiah who came to be the least of these among us. Jesus didn’t even write to us anonymously – He didn’t write to us at all. He was so certain of His mission and His understanding of God’s True truth, as revealed in The Hebrew Scriptures and as revealed in His close relationship with His Father, that He didn’t write to us at all. He didn’t need to because it was already written in God’s Word, in God’s World, and in God’s Nature. Jesus simply lived powerlessly amongst us and because of His radical choice, He now lives in absolute power at the right hand of God –because of that choice of laying down all the power in the world to the glory of God and the salvation of His people. My dying to my own sense of power is the only way to ever live eternally in the power of the resurrection. I can’t be made whole, new, perfect, if I am clinging to the imperfect powers of self and of this place and time in which I temporarily live.
The reason people write anonymous notes is because they don’t have power and think that speaking their truth to a person in power is critical and important enough that they must do so . They of course also may not want to risk losing their jobs. They may not have a golden parachute or a non-disclosure clause or a helpfully rich relative. There are times of course when people must risk their jobs to do and say the right truth. There are times people risk not just their livelihoods, but even their lives to speak truth to Power. But as a little person who has many times felt compelled to speak truth and who has also supported anonymous note writers in their choice of anonymity, I will tell you that I think the real subversive actions are from those people who have power and will not use that power to look within themselves and figure out why someone is so afraid or so sure –that they must remain anonymous. The times I have felt compelled to speak truth to power, whether boss, relative or sojourner in Christ, still in remembrance, hurt my heart. The times however, that I did not listen to True Truth spoken to me, hurt my soul and that is more painful and harder to course correct by far.
Especially people who claim to follow Jesus as The Christ, should be humble enough to understand how their own power has perhaps blinded them to truth or to the different needs and inferior power structures of “The Other – the Biblical “lesser than’s”. Anonymity reveals needs just as much as signing one’s name to needs, and what anyone with the power to address someone else’s needs should do with that power is to follow Biblical injunctions to “die to self” and give to the least of these. We modern day Pharisees and Sadducees are the truly blind guides, the truly subversive abusers of the Good News, the truly unethical, and when we judge the anonymous writer we are leaving the planks in our eyes and judging the speck in theirs.
Jesus often told those He healed to stay anonymous and allow Him to remain anonymous from the powers of Rome and the powers of Religion – at least a little longer so that He might heal more, bring Good News to more of those with ears to hear and eyes to see. Several of the writers of the remembered actions and stories about The Christ were anonymous amalgamations of people who chose a name to put on the Gospel. – decades after The Christ died and rose again. These Gospel writers weren’t of course anonymous during all the years when the Gospel was orally spoken throughout the world, and so the religious and national powers of the time could kill them for speaking non-anonymously. Paul, who probably often wishes today from His heavenly view, that he had written his letters anonymously so people couldn’t abuse now what he said then, often used his eloquent words to speak to the idea of power. But those aren’t the popular bits that Christians in power today are fond of. We are too contently busy protecting our power and not busy enough taking a knee.
I started to write in my first paragraph that I have never wanted to be one of the powerful ones, but that would be a lie. As a parent, I can cringingly, with deep remorse, remember abuses of my power over my children. As a woman, I can remember abuses of my power. As a wife. As a teacher. As a friend. As a white person. As an American. As a brother or sister in Christ. Because you see, we are all sinners and all choose, sometimes daily, to eat from the apple of power to use good and evil for gain.
As a parent, it took me forever to realize that parents have necessary power for so long over our children that we have a hard time seeing when we are abusing it or when we are wrong. And we can see this played out on our national scene and in our churches today – this inability to give up one’s power and admit that you – or the horse you backed – or your pastor, pope, priest, or president is wrong; and then to realize that even powerful people should be informed, chastised, held accountable, and helped to do something differently than he / she has been. Frankly, sometimes for our good and their own eternal good, these people need to be removed from that position of power before the consequences multiply – for all involved souls, large and small. You see, we are all sinners, all wrong, all mistaken, and all eventually powerless and no matter our name, we end the game the same. Hence, we are in this together. We must all recognize that our nature is to abuse our power, no matter how rich, how poor, how weaponized or nuclearized; how democratic or “Christian” we are – Nations included; churches included; businesses included – I included.
Our human nature is to desire power in one realm or another and that is a gift, as long as that power recognizes first, that it can never remain if it keeps trying to usurp God’s inherent power and that secondly, it can never ultimately succeed if it keeps trying to usurp another human being’s inherent and spiritually equal power. We are created to use our personal or national or religious powers for Good. But of course the mythological telling of The Fall of Human kind is based on the True Truth that all human beings, men and women alike, long for the power that belongs to God and long for the power that belongs to some one next to them, and long to use that power for the knowing use of good AND evil. And in this we sin daily by abusing our natural powers to become un-natural, ie what we were not created to be. We also have tragically misused this power given to us as humans in our sins against the power of nature; this power that was given to us in order to serve the needs of our planet as overseers. We have destroyed not just other humans but the natural goodness of the earth. And we become more and more powerless in that realm because power abused is always power unloosed. Here in lies one revelation of the Christian worldview that “we fight not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers”.
It has been good for my soul to become a little gray -haired nobody. What has been hard for my ego and sometimes hurtful for my pocketbook has been glorious for helping me to walk “further in and further up” as C.S. Lewis might say. Walking in the shoes of people who experience prejudice their whole lives, not just when they are old women has brought me closer to the Messiah who turned our idea of power right side up from the upside down view we prefer as power-hungry sinners. Observing the hypocrisy rampant today has forced me to make different choices myself and to strive harder to act out, not just preach out Good News. I am reading Holy Words and those who illuminate True Truth, whether they write for Christianity Today, The Los Angeles Times, or WordPress with new intent on how to live rightly and fervor in how to look inwardly and outwardly at myself and others with those things that remain: faith, hope and the greatest of all, Love.
I am more cognizant and accepting of the reality, that the days of my life in which I have been the most of a “nobody” have been not only the best days of all, but also the days most like what we are told we will live in a new Heaven and new Earth. Being a nobody is truly the path to freedom, joy, and Jehovah’s Kingdom, where my name doesn’t matter; only the Way, Truth and Light matter – only He matters.
I am reminded of the verse I chose to be a life verse, (while the Angels watched and howled with laughter at the ironic Bible verse choice of this power-hungry but pathetically weak human). I chose this verse oh -so -naively when I was a high schooler and full of pride, ego, self-righteousness, and misguided power. It is from a letter signed by Saul, who changed his name in order to give up His power and lay down his life as His Savior did to the least of these. For Paul he gave up his power to serve not only those in his camp, the Jews, but also the Gentiles who desired to be part of God’s people, Jesus’ Jews. My verse, Galatians 2:20 reminds me that “I am crucified with Christ, yet nevertheless, I live. Yet not, I, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith, of the Son of God –Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
See, one of the things about being dead -dead is that you eventually, no matter who you were – President, Pharaoh or Pope – become unknown, anonymous, a nobody, dust. But we who believe in the Hebrew God of Revealed Power, and The Holy Scriptures that reveal True Truth, believe there is a way out of eternal death and into eternal life; a way out of the anonymity of human beings who are from dust and to dust will return; a way into being known forever with a new name that will be our identity known forever, seen forever, living in the light of truth forever in Yahweh. But unless I become that which is dead to self before I physically die, then no matter how big the lights of my name today, no matter how much power I yield, I am a nobody. The Way of The People who want to claim to be little Christs is only walked by dying to being a somebody in the service of King Jesus, who became a nobody to live with us –yesterday, today, and forever. We become a part of the Some-Body of Christ only by becoming a Nobody to ourselves. It is through giving up the power of our own flesh and desires to honor and serve in the life of faith in the Lord the giver of Life, Jehovah God.
Sometimes dying to self for the greater good, means leaving a job that is sucking the soul out of you. Sometimes it means going to a third-world country to bring some good news; and sometimes it means letting a third-world country experience living freely in the good news of your own country. Sometimes it means speaking out for black men in America by taking a knee with them. Sometimes it means giving a twenty to a homeless person and foregoing the McDonald’s drive through. Sometimes it means protesting our current Babylon / America’s injustices, one border atrocity at a time. Sometimes it means losing your job or getting suspended because you walk out against gun violence. Sometimes it means speaking truth to people in power, standing shoulder to shoulder with others or all alone, with your own name proclaimed loudly enough that you might even get killed.
But every once in awhile, dying to self, means that you remain anonymous because you know deep inside, that you don’t matter at all and that ultimately, True Truth has a way of fighting its own battles. And that Truth will set you free.
And for some of us in power dying to self means not discarding but in fact, reading the anonymous note written to and perhaps even about us, and then humbly, contritely, giving up the ultimate power of being right and joining the eternal cast of nobodies.
We may choose to be like the multitude of somebodies that this world assures us we all can be. We may choose to use our gifts not for making the world a better place but for making us more powerful, for getting us ever more stuff than we need. We may walk in that wide way of the world and think we are somehow being unique and special. Aren’t we encouraged that we can all be Greatness and Power just by our own desire to “Just Do It”, right?
But some of us in order that someday “we will be like Him”, may choose to be nobodies. Because He became a Nobody. We may choose to walk humbly before God, no matter our title or resources, and to give unto others as we would desire to have given unto us. We may choose to believe that it is true Truth that some day we will only have left what we gave to the least of these and that all our skills and talents and powers will be dross and dust. We may choose to believe that only our Love will remain. We may choose to lay down our lives as if we were nobody just like a Nobody from Nazareth did for us. And only with that choice, which might include choosing to be changed by and live by the words not just of famous but also of anonymous writers, are we assured that one day, we will be Somebody worth being. We will in fact be with Somebody, worth being.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (As recorded as the words of the Nobody from Nazareth in the Book of Matthew)