Friday, June 3, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Life Lessons About Power)

At the end of the day, this film taught me more about what people thought about Lee Atwater than what Mr. Atwater actually believed or experienced. I’m still not sure what his core values or beliefs (if any) were. But maybe that doesn’t matter. I still came away from the film with several lessons that may or may not have been particularly applicable to Mr. Atwater’s personal experience, but are nonetheless important truths for any of us.

First, I was struck by the futility of seeking power. Mr. Atwater lived his life in a profession focused on seeking to amass power. I’ve never found that appealing. As I’ve already mentioned in a prior blog post, I discerned early on that I’d not be a good fit for politics. I do not make a living by getting others elected and I have never run for any public office. Indeed most of us don’t do those things. But that doesn’t mean that we are immune from the thirst for power that allegedly consumed Mr. Atwater and tempted him to do unscrupulous things. We should not sit on our high horses and look down our nose at his choices.

Mr. Atwater’s quest for power was on a huge scale most of us cannot even fully image. But the rest of us face similar temptations on much more modest scales. Maybe it involves the possibility of stabbing a co-worker in the back to curry favor of a boss or management. Maybe it involves trying to get on a particular committee of a church or HOA to make important decisions for the community. Maybe it involves an intra-family power struggle to be the one to make decisions for the family or for a loved one. Just because we are not strolling the corridors of power in the capital of the free world does not mean that we are immune from the seductive attraction of power.

As humans, we want to be in control. It seems innate. We want to control our children’s decisions, our career trajectory, the remote control, and what we have for dinner. But the truth is, we have limited control over most things. We may work hard as parents and employees. But at the end of the day our kids will have opportunities to make decisions when we won’t be around to have any direct influence. And bosses and clients will have a lot of influence over our career and they are going to be guided by some factors beyond our control. We cannot control the weather, how long we’ll be in traffic on Monday or even the people with whom we will work. It is part of the human condition that we need to learn to accept that we have limited control in many important parts of our lives. Ultimately, God is in control and we have to learn to trust his plan.

And as Christians, we are called to love God and our brothers and sisters. As many theologians have noted, love and power are not equivalent. Indeed, one might assert they are mutually exclusive concepts. Choosing to love means a loss of control and a loss of power. Those who love are particularly vulnerable. That comes with the territory.

Watching this documentary about Lee Atwater was a good reminder to me about the futility of seeking power. That is a reminder we all need, even if we live far from the Beltway and are not involved in politics.

1 John 2:15

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.

1 John 4:16

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

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