When I speak, the words burst out.
“Violence and destruction!” I shout.
So these messages from the Lord
have made me a household joke.
But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord
or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
I can’t do it!
I have heard the many rumors about me.
They call me “The Man Who Lives in Terror.”
They threaten, “If you say anything, we will report it.”
Even my old friends are watching me,
waiting for a fatal slip.
“He will trap himself,” they say,
“and then we will get our revenge on him.”…
Sing to the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy,
he rescued me from my oppressors.
-Jeremiah 20 (NLT)
I’m a slave for Christ.
But that’s my choice. I choose to be that. And as a result, I have a calling on my life, a burning in my belly toward seeking and speaking truth.
And in doing so, I recognize that I’ll never really arrive at truth. I can’t – and not just because truth is less a destination than a journey. But because truth isn’t atomic; it may be personal in some ways, but it isn’t divorced from the other. And I’ll fail a lot and I may – in the process of speaking my own understanding of truth – hurt others. Sometimes, that hurt is a bit of discomfort – and that’s okay. We need that tension, because that’s how we grow.
But my calling isn’t to just speak some unmoored, ethereal “Truth.” It’s to occupy a space and speak with the Spirit of God as I recognize her voice on behalf of liberation. And I hear her voice not just in meditation, not just in prayer, not just in the holy script, but also in the voice of those oppressed, marginalized, left behind, shuttered, bullied, alienated.
So when the Spirit speaks to me through multiple voices, I do well to stop whatever it is I have been doing and reconsider my role, my actions, my words, my behavior. Although I may spend some time defending myself and my bruised ego, I am becoming to recognize that that in itself is an act of further entrapment.
See, the Holy Spirit is my friend and uses these voices, these people and their stories and perspectives, to help set me free from the bondage of patriarchy – and into, in my case, the work of Christ the Liberator, Christ the Redeemer. Of course, people want to be set free from their own traps – but we can’t sit here and lie to ourselves that agency and oppression only works on an atomized, individualized level, because that’s not how oppression or slavery works. As King said in A Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
It ultimately benefits a middle class suburbanite when an urban* single mother is free of the tyranny of food insecurity. It ultimately benefits a male pastor when he is freed from the constraints of parsing strict gender roles and the misogyny and misanthropy that is essential to that set of doctrines.
If the truth, as they say, shall set us free, then we need to embark on embracing and accepting the truth. Not defending our intentions from it. We do no justice when we protest, in light of criticism, “But I am/he is/she is a good person who meant no harm.” We demonstrate our intentions when we seek to undo the wrong.
And finally, when we try to redraw and redefine the terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t – what is offensive and what isn’t – based on something that benefits us and/or the oppressive system, then we are failing miserably at listening to the Holy Spirit.**
*Note: not code-speak, though it can be interpreted that way.
**Two tangentially-related multi-platform stories that have erupted in the post-evangelical Christian blogging world have inspired this post. The first is the series talked about in the frame of last week’s post, Racism Isn’t About You, about how white people should not get so offended at the suggestion that what they say may be racially exclusionary (a breakdown here). It got a ton more ridiculous when another white progressive Christian blogger tried to redefine the terms of the conversation, telling the oppressed that they should differentiate in their language between “active” racists and oppressors and “passive” racists and oppressors. No, seriously, that’s what he said. And other progressive White male Christians lined up to agree. Not all of them, of course. I guess just the passive ones.
The other thread is on a post on modesty culture (which is a take-down of Christian culture notions, teachings and a culture of modesty that put the onus on women to prevent the taking of their “sexual purity” and, just as importantly, to prevent their Christian brothers from thinking lustful thoughts. Yes, it’s a big thing). One such post had some pretty damaging language and quite a few bloggers, including Sarah Moon, called it out for that language and its assumption that certain clothes or accessories (in this case, “glitter. On her tits”) deprive the woman of the ability to call out gazes that make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The author and the host felt that their work was being misunderstood because it’s pretty obvious that they wouldn’t support modesty culture, and because their hearts were in the right place (I wouldn’t deny that). But, again, there was more covering and, rather than considering the offense of the original post, they doubled down.
Again, it’s human and I understand. But it’s hurtful and anti-prophetic, untruthful.