Several years ago, I had a good friendship built on common interests, regular communication, and mutual trust. At the same time, I was in a situation in which I felt I needed to establish credibility and authority in order to advance what I wanted to do in the organization. In the process, I stated something in a group setting that my friend had told me in private. She hadn’t expressly asked me to keep it confidential, but by its nature I should have known. Instead, I used it to raise my own prominence.
When my friend found out, she was deeply hurt. We talked it out amid tears. I realized I was wrong, apologized, and asked for her forgiveness. She forgave me, but from then on our relationship was never the same again. Knowing what I had done, she could not trust me to the same degree again. I grieve for that relationship to this day. I know of many relationships where a serious violation of trust was forgiven and worked through, and they built an even better relationship because of it. But I also realize that sometimes when you discover something about another person, things can never “go back to normal.” In this case, I kicked myself out of a friendship I valued by my desire to gain more authority and status.
In Genesis, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, realized they were naked, and hid themselves from the loving Creator who had blessed them with all they needed and loved them with an everlasting love. They betrayed the central relationship of their lives because of a desire to be like God, to be superior, and to gain an inflated sense of pride and self-importance.
Their primary sin was not disobedience, but grasping for power. They craved something that was not rightfully theirs, without so much as requesting the reason for the rule or whether a change was possible. Adam and Eve simply knew that this fruit was forbidden to them, it held tantalizing possibilities for raising their status to divine levels, and although they had everything they needed, they were not satisfied until they had it for themselves. They wanted more.
The story says that as a result of their choice, they were “kicked out” of Paradise. Perhaps, though, they “kicked themselves out.” Once they made the decision to eat the fruit, things could never be the same and Paradise could no longer exist for them. Perhaps it was not so much a physical removal from a “garden” that now had the gate locked, as it was a situation where their choice meant they could never go back to the way they were. They violated a fundamental principle of the relationship, and although God forgave them, there were other consequences to their action that removed their paradise and sent them out into another kind of life than they had known before.
I worry that this is happening in our country. It seems there is a tremendous desire to grasp for power and status, to be the one-and-only, to be superior at the expense of everyone else. Much of what I hear is the antithesis of community, inclusion, and respect for all people. The individual person or country is the only thing that’s important, rejecting our responsibility to reach out to the margins and lift up those living with disabilities, those locked into poverty, those fleeing for their lives from violence or political oppression, and those striving to make a better life for themselves. There is little to no sense of caring for the created world, and instead a desire to exploit and use it only for our own purposes.
There is even a concerted effort to silence all dissent and protests. There are gag orders on government agencies, a ban on calls to the White House to complain, and a determination to belittle and bypass the free press that can check facts in favor of tweets and “alternative facts” that reflect a particular view, whether it is actually true or not. Freedom, love, understanding another’s viewpoint, honesty, integrity, and justice all take a back seat in such a milieu. Yet our leaders in Congress remain largely silent, afraid of losing their own power if they object to these overt authoritarian tactics.
Grasping for power is a human instinct that has existed since the beginning of time, but it is a dangerous one. I fear that if we continue down this road, we will kick ourselves out of the American garden of democracy that we have enjoyed for so long. I hope and pray that we do not reach the point where things can never be the same again.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.