Parker Palmer: The Rosa Parks Moment & The Necessity of Powerlessness

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Humans have an innate desire for their lives to count for something… something greater than just producing and consuming goods and services. People are looking for meaning and purpse, a cause to engage in, and a way to make a difference. Yet when humans begin to try to find something that matters, something that lines up with their passions, something that is important, it doesn’t always work out very well. Any good person who tries to engage in the fight for justice runs the risk of being used by cynical people and manipulated by powers we cannot understand or discern.

Parker Palmer talks about a “Rosa Parks Moment,” in this short clip. This is a moment, “Where an apparently powerless person… says, ‘I hold the truth on the inside that has power, and the truth is that I’m a full human being with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, and I am no longer going to collaborate with a system that treats me as less than a full human being.’”

The prerequisite for the Rosa parks moment is that every external form of power must be taken away from the person. They must become powerless. You cannot have one without the other.

If you are not powerless, you cannot speak with Rosa Park’s voice, you cannot have a Rosa Parks Moment. If you want to know what this looks like – the attempt to have a Rosa Parks moment without first embracing powerlessness and the suffering that comes with it, look at The Daily Show’s complete lampooning of the disingenuous protest Christians are putting forth, claiming that Christians are persecuted and bullied by gay activists. (watch the clip here)

We have real problems in our society. There are real causes of intense human suffering that deserve our full attention. We don’t have time for the cosmetic causes. We need to care about some of the really rough things (Palmer mentions a few really good ones). Our path to powerlessness (as an affluent white male I need a path), will come via solidarity with those who are truly oppressed, truly suffering.

I know so many passionate people – people with guts and smarts and courage – who can make a difference in this world. I want to see them captured by something that matters, to speak up on behalf of real injustice, not pseudo-injustice. I want to see real pain (not imagined pain), on the wane. This path only comes through powerlessness.

I love the contrast between these two videos.


About Tim Suttle

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Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.