As soon as I laid eyes on Niagara Falls, I knew I had to message my brother Mike.
Mike loves power. All farmers are amateur engineers, and Mike is no exception. Virtually every piece of machinery he owns has been adapted, rebuilt, or somehow modified toward more effective and efficient use of power. His tractors and workshop and even his mailbox all attest to his philosophy, learned from our father: anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
So Mike was first on my mind earlier this summer when our family vacation took us to Niagara Falls. This time of year, a staggering amount of water goes over the falls—176,000 gallons every second, descending 188 feet to the river below. On the Canadian side, you can look right over the edge of Horseshoe Falls, the most famous view, and watch the water dive over the edge.
It is terrifying.
This is why I wished Mike were with me at Niagara Falls. Although he loves power, he is also a control enthusiast—a family trait we both share. The thought of careening down the Niagara River, through the rapids and eventually over the falls, relinquishing all control to the forces of nature, makes us cringe. I would have loved to see that inner turmoil on Mike’s face as he wrestled with his passion for power on one hand and his need to maintain control on the other.
I feel a similar tension in myself quite often these days—particularly when I read the news*. Every cycle seems to bring word of scandal, blame, lies, hubris, and violence. As I write this, children are being separated from their families at our southern border, detained like criminals even though some are not old enough to tie their shoes. I want to stop this and a hundred other things I read about every day, national sins perpetuated by greedy and thoughtless people who love power more than they love other humans.
But I can’t stop anything. Sure, I can call my congressional representatives and vote in elections, but that has about as much impact in my neck of the woods as spitting in Niagara Falls. I can name the atrocities and speak against them, but the current isn’t going my way. For all my outrage, I have no real power.
That’s how it feels some days.
I have to remind myself that it’s also a lie.
One of my favorite things about the stories of Jesus is the radical empowerment of the left-out and looked-over. Jesus spoke about against the atrocities of his time, but he never tried to grab for the power to fix them. Instead he talked to people on fishing boats and hillsides and olive groves, caring for individuals in his path, trusting that they would do the same for others. This was how the fabric of society would change—by making people more aware of and compassionate toward their neighbors.
My friend Omar al Rikabi made this point in a sermon to his church in Heath, TX, on Sunday. He doesn’t suggest that we give up on collective action, even political action. Neither do I. Rather, he suggests that the starting point for change is much nearer.
Regardless of how powerless we may feel—how strong the current or how threatening the falls—we can still love our neighbors. And that matters, maybe most of all.
* I mean read the news, not watch it. Giving up cable news channels was maybe the best mental health decision I’ve made in the last year. I’d highly recommend it.