Uncle Ben, Spiderman, and Puritans

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

One of my favorite lines in any comic book or movie is the one from Uncle Ben, Peter Parker's uncle in Spiderman. He said to his nephew, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

That line is memorable because I think we know that it is inherently true. We live in a world where so often we see the opposite. People with great power in our culture tend to abuse it. The powerful, with many exceptions, often use their power to amass more power. The wealthy, with many exceptions, use their wealth to amass more wealth.

This morning I was meditating on a prayer that has the line, “If blessed with prosperity may we be from its snares, and use, not abuse, its advantages.” (Valley of Vision, 387)

I have not been able to escape it all morning. I keep asking myself, “What does it mean to use and not abuse? How will I know if I'm ensnared by prosperity?” These questions are hanging over me at the moment.

As I continue to process them I find myself also wondering, how might this prayer change if it was written today? I wonder if the writer would replace “prosperity” with “privilege”? I think they would or could. At the time of its writing to be born into “privilege” was to be born wealthy. This idea hasn't changed. To have prosperity in almost every culture is to also inherently have power.

Which, brings me back to Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

In comparison to most people in the world, I am wealthy. As a middle class American, white male, I have been blessed with great prosperity.

This prayer from the Valley of Vision confronts me with the question, “What am I doing with the prosperity that I have?”

Am I using it to the fullest extent that I could? Am I abusing my privileged position in our society? Can I use it more? How can I more fully leverage the blessing of my prosperity for the well-being of others? How can I lift up the disenfranchised?

These are not questions borne from guilt. These are questions borne from a recognition of great grace. My life has been marked by grace, over and over again. In response to that amazing grace, I want to be an agent of that grace in the world.

So, I ask the questions. I wrestle with them. I am finding in the wrestling that I become more aware of the pain and the needs around me.

Simply asking the questions opens my eyes and heart to those around me.

What questions do you need to ask?