“Do you have any identification?

Her tone was intimidating. A couple of other ministers and I were on a new campus that morning wanting to get to know the area and maybe meet some people. But as soon as we stepped out of our car to walk towards the college, campus police had stopped us.

I found myself in front of a woman who seemed bent on letting me know she had a lot of power and that I looked like quite the problem. “You look suspicious to me,” she continued and told us all that she was chief of campus security and she had major issues with us. Me, suspicious? I thought. I felt more like a lost freshman than a danger to student life. But she persisted in her interrogation and insisted that we weren’t allowed to walk around on her campus.

In that moment it did feel like her campus, and I felt like I was watching her shut down our ability to set foot on it. We all gave her our identifications, told her who we were, why we were there, and if she could direct us towards the student life office. But none of this mattered, she continued to speak in demeaning ways and then finally asked us to leave before we even made it out of the parking lot. It wasn’t exactly how I had envisioned my first step onto this new campus where we were asking God to open doors.

As we got back into our car, I remember having to make a conscious choice to let myself feel frustration and disappointment at how we were just treated. When people with power come in heavy handed unnecessarily I often feel like just shutting down emotionally, assuming the worst about humanity but not letting myself get upset about it.

But that morning I decided again to push back on my instincts and open myself up to feeling sad about a woman who, from all appearances, seemed more interested in asserting the little power she had than really knowing who we were and whether we posed any genuine threat.

While it spares me some level of pain to ignore such moments and people, I think what scares me more than pain is the fear that one day I’ll end up acting just like them. I think I’m afraid that if at any point I stop feeling sad, stop experiencing hurt when people misuse power, I will become like those that hurt me.

Father Virgilio Elizondo, in his book Christianity and Culture, talks about how ethnic minorities who are marginalized and who persistently experience people with power as oppressive can sometimes actually start to act just like their oppressors over time. He calls such people “developed oppressors” because they’ve gone from being the oppressed to oppressors themselves.

At the deepest levels of me, I think I know I could become a developed oppressor in some subtle and not so subtle ways. I need to stay soft to such hurt if I want to guard against becoming like those that caused it in the first place.

Because of this, I sat with my co-laborers in God’s kingdom that morning and prayed for the campus from across the street. We prayed for God to move in the lives of students there. We prayed that a witnessing community would be present in their midst giving people an opportunity to know someone who truly follows Jesus. And we also prayed for our new friend, whose title was chief of campus security. We prayed that God would bless her and that she might keep students safe that day. We prayed for open doors. And, maybe most importantly for my soul, I let myself feel sadness over how we had been treated.

Grief is one of my most useful weapons against becoming someone I don’t want to become.

I hope I never stop being grieved by abuses of power both big and small. Grief is one of my most useful weapons against becoming someone I don’t want to become. So, I pray for myself and for all of us that have been mistreated by the powerful: May God keep us from reflecting back the same posture to others. May God have mercy on us when we do. May God keep us all soft.
photo courtesy: César Augusto Serna Sz