“Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet.”
“There is a sickness afoot in our country, a disintegration of the soul, rottenness in the spirit. Consider our politics. Consider the way we talk about one another – and to one another. Consider those two dead black men. Consider those five massacred cops. Deny it if you can. I sure can’t. Something is wrong with us. And I don’t mind telling you that I fear for my country.”I can’t say I disagree.
Maybe what I’m feeling isn’t fear. Maybe it’s more like despair – the feeling that hope has been divided and scattered into a million fragments.
I’m a pastor. I tend to see people and situations through a pastoral lens. Pastors teach and counsel. We plant and nurture. We mend the rifts and wipe the tears. We are the kind of people who see good in others. We listen, and we desire to see the people in our care grow and flourish. We are people who keep hope alive. Sometimes, that outlook can be skewed. It’s not a bad way to see the world. But it’s also not complete. I’m learning to balance my pastoral perspective with another perspective.
Sometimes I put on my oppression glasses and imagine the stories of both victims and oppressors. I try to understand people who are locked in patterns of being silencers, or racists, or abusers -- and those who are silenced and abused. I try to think about those who have internalized a sense of inferiority and those who have internalized a sense of racial superiority. How did they get there? With whom do I resonate and by whom am I repelled? If it’s true that the Gospel of Christ brings liberation for all people, both the oppressed and the oppressor need consistent, strong and graceful work to find freedom. My faith surges, freeing me to see my connection to each and every story, each person, each quiet call for help or hope of healing.
So, I try to wear my pastoral lens and my anti-oppression lens together. When I do that, I can be even more effective in helping groups humanize, care for, and commit to learn from one another. These lenses help us to see Christ in each other and call us to be Christ for the other. I wonder what your lenses are? How do you see the world? What would happen if you pair your worldview with an anti-oppression outlook on life?
Of course, it’s not enough just to see the world anew. As part of my commitment to Christ, I commit to living anti-oppressive values in the communities I am a part of. It takes not just new lenses, but new patterns; a new set of ongoing, habitual reactions when I see oppression. You see, I know myself. I know when I’m faced with the news of the murder of Black men by police, and the murder of police by a sniper, I want to shut out the violence. When faced with the killing of 49 gay men in a bar in Orlando, or the gunman and hostage situation in Bangladesh, or the death of 200 innocent people in Iraq by a suicide bomber, or the bombs going off in the airport in Istanbul, I want to give in to the despair. That’s fear at work.
Fear does not get to define my values. If my behavior is not in line with my values, I need to do something different. I think giving in to fear can be a luxury – an indulgence – a privilege.
Living anti-oppression values means when we witness, experience, or commit an abuse of power or oppression, we address it as proactively, either one-on-one or with a few allies, keeping in mind that the goal is to encourage positive change.
Living anti-oppression values means challenge oppressive behaviors, not the people themselves.
Living anti-oppression values means when someone offers us criticism, we treat it as a gift rather than an attack. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Living anti-oppression values means understanding that we will feel discomfort as we face our part in oppression. Be brave. It is a necessary part of the process. Being part of the problem doesn’t mean you can’t be an active part of the solution.
Living anti-oppression values means contributing time and energy to building healthy relationships, both personal and political, both one-on-one and in the community.
Living anti-oppression values means challenging ourselves to be courageously honest and open, willing to take risks and make ourselves vulnerable in order to address racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other repressive dynamics head-on.
Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
Don’t take their power away.
And keep your own ego out of it.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12 NLT). All is not lost. All is not hopeless. With resilience, hard word, hand-in-hand, and heart-to-heart, the sickness around us can be made whole.