Activism, Advocate, Asylum, Black Lives Matter, Caged children, Child trafficking, Committment, Community activism, Compassion, Courage, Creativity, Discrimination, Human trafficking, Immigrant detention, Immigration, Injustice, Justice, Let the oppressed go free, Oppression, Racial injustice, Racism, Social justice

“Let The Oppressed Go Free”

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s work on a sculpture depicting modern-day trafficking in humans titled “Let the Oppressed Go Free” — a commentary on how slavery, via human trafficking, continues today. Schmalz laments that the modern-day travesty of forced labor, including for sex, is often ignored, not unlike slavery of the past.

Do you wonder sometimes where God is while people are being oppressed? I mean all kinds of oppression — racial injustice, human trafficking, violence and abuse, prison injustice, sexism, cissexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism. The list can go on and on, all the way down to specific stories about specific oppressed individuals. At that level, the down to earth level where we see a living person suffering, is the heartrending place. It’s the place where we find ourselves face to face and up-close with someone pouring out their story. It’s the place where we learn to talk less and listen more. It is for us an experience of holy listening with just one person.

Have you ever been in that kind of space listening to just one person? Have you ever been with a person suffering oppression who is freely sharing a heartbreaking story with you? I know that this kind of face to face encounter can be intimidating, even frightening. It can be beyond frustrating to listen to someone when you’re pretty sure you can’t do much to help.

There are at least two options for those of us who have a deep desire or calling to liberate those who are oppressed. We can offer what we have, even when we do not have a way to fix things. What do we have? Our presence, our emotional and spiritual support, our ability to advocate, housing assistance, financial assistance, employment assistance, safe shelter, understanding, constancy, presence, presence, presence . . .

The other option is to rail against a God who makes pronouncements about caring for oppressed people, yet seemingly does nothing to liberate them. This may not be our best option. Scripture reveals that God has a way of dealing with complaining people, and it is almost never a positive experience for the complainer. Moses comes to mind, and Miriam, and Job.

Poor, pitiful Job had a rough go of it and he wanted God to do some explaining and answer some questions. After all, he was a devout and faithful man, so why would God allow him to suffer so many losses? Right after Job is schooled by his three “friends” on several theological matters, including that he should never question God, God appears to Job out of a whirlwind. It was probably grand entrance, and then God basically says to him, ”I’ll ask the questions, buddy!”

Here’s a snippet of the long exchange between God and Job.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.

“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?

— Job 38:1; 4-7 (NIV)


Job was oppressed. God was aware of it. God seemed unconcerned for too long, but there actually is a redeeming conclusion for Job. As the story goes in the last chapter of Job, God restored Job’s fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All of Job’s brothers and sisters, and everyone else he knew, went to his house for Sunday dinner and they consoled him for all the trouble he had been through. Then each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. It worked out!

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture, ‘Monument of Oppression’ depicts hands emerging desperately from behind bars.

“I can’t think of one single nation of the world that did not practise slavery, including among Indigenous people,” the sculptor says.

(Photo by Handout)


What does Job’s story say to us? What does it teach us about oppression? In my mind, in order to confront oppression and free persons from every yoke on a societal scale, we must first be aware that systemic oppression exists. It is stark reality! It darkens our world! Right now, approximately 40 million people are trapped in slavery in the world. One in four of these is a child. This shame that pervades and plagues the planet does not seem to disturb people very much. Unfortunately, it is in some people’s best interest to maintain the oppressive systems that benefit them, that is fill their pockets with wealth (which is the primary reason for trafficking human beings, for instance).

Systems of oppression are very large, very complex and very powerful. Ending oppression is way too big for us to tackle alone. After sincerely asking the all-powerful God to help us bring down these all-powerful oppressive systems, we can add our hands and feet to the holy project. Contact senators, representatives, governors, mayors. Urge them, persist with them to use their position to help break down injustice. Know what you’re talking about when you contact them by reading about the work the many of anti-oppression organizations that exist. Join in their work. Look for those resources at this link.

“Angels Unawares” by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz portrays the saga of Migrants and Refugees. Among the 140 faces in the sculpture are Africans, Vietnamese, a Cherokee, Jews, Irish immigrants, and Syrians. The Holy Family is also included in the sculpture. St. Joseph can be identified by his toolbox.

Finally, we must open our eyes to the people in our own communities who need our compassion, our concern, our caring presence and our advocacy on their behalf. It takes some creativity, some committment and compassion, a lot of courage and a covenant with our God of justice to change an unjust world. The outcome might just look something like what the prophet Isaiah described:

Is this not the fast that I choose:
To release the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the ropes of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?

Is it not to break your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him . . .

Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will spring up quickly;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and He will say, ‘Here I am. . .’

10 And if you offer yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the need of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.

11 And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

12 Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairers of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.

— Isaiah 58 (NASB)


I don’t know about you, but I want to be among the ”repairers of the breach.” I don’t want to live in a situation where I “hope for light, but there is darkness.” (Isaiah 59:9) Instead, let me find myself looking far beyond the world’s darkness, looking to the Creator who demands justice, looking upward to claim the promise, ” . . . satisfy the need of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday . . . And your light will break forth like the dawn.”

May it be so for all of us.

A way in the wilderness, Art, Bewilderment, Rivers in the desert

Rivers in the Desert

“A Way in the Wilderness,” A watercolor by Kathy Manis Findley; https://kalliopeswatercolors.com/

What is it about this statement from God and recorded by the Prophet Isaiah?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

This statement, or this promise, recorded in Isaiah 43 touches me to the core. It reaches into my soul that is so often parched by the events of life. As for the watercolor painting above, A Way in the Wilderness, you may have seen it before. I published it in this blog already. But this time, I would like for you to engage with me in a few moments of art appreciation. Consider the following questions.

What do you see in the painting?

What strikes you about it?

If you could choose one word or phrase or sentence in it that most relates to your life, what would you choose?

What do you see in the images and colors?

What do you see as the overarching theme of it?

What does it say to you? Or ask of you?

Okay! So maybe the painting says nothing to you! You’re not into art appreciation and it has no deeper meaning than paint to paper! I totally get that, but still, I want to tell you what it meant for me as I was creating it.

So much more than paint on paper, painting it was an emotional and spiritual release from my own wilderness. It was my way of learning to find rivers in my desert. Understand, it did not mean I could leave the desert and put the wilderness in my rear view. Instead, it allowed me to express my reality: that I live in the wilderness, but streams of river water quench my soul’s thirst in the desert.

That’s real and honest. A gut-punch of reality for me. Wilderness and desert terrain are common life habitations, for me and probably for you as well. I don’t live near the breezes of an ocean or on a ridge in breathtaking, snow-capped mountains.

I just live on a regular street in a regular town, and sometimes that can feel like wilderness.


What does that have to do with anything? Just this: During the times I feel as if I’m living in a desert wilderness, I need to remember the river. Or putting it another way, what I feel emotionally may be MY reality, but it is not THE reality.

It is not the ultimate reality of a life that is so filled with deserts and streams, storms and sunshine, smooth ways and rocky pathways, despair and hope, doubt and faith, sorrow and joy, death and life . . .

May your life be filled to overflowing with all of those things.

anxiety, Friends, Friendship, Worry

Not to Worry!

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6 NIV

Don’t be anxious about anything? Not so easy.

Everyone struggles with anxiety at times — religious people and not-so-religious people, the wealthy people who have everything and the poor people who will always be with us. After all, Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). We don’t understand exactly what Jesus meant, but the disciples did. They would have been very familiar with the verse from Deuteronomy, and therefore would have had in mind the rest of the verse that Jesus was quoting.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:11

To be sure, people who are poor become anxious at times. So do those people who have everything. Any of us can be anxious. There is plenty of “stuff” inside of us to cause us to be anxious and, all around us, there is just as much to be anxious about. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty obedient to the words in Philippians. When I am anxious, I most definitely present my requests “by prayer and petition” to God.

Trouble is, sometimes I think that God doesn’t hear me. I feel worried beyond my normal worry level. My anxiety rages on uncontrollably, and there is no sign of relief, no glimpse of hope, no word from God. In those times, I ask myself, “What exactly do I expect God to do?” One of my dearest spiritual teachers, Bishop Steven Charleston, would answer my question by saying, “Open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you.”

I had to sit with that answer for quite a while, breathing into it, searching for the silence I needed to take it in. It was definitely not a clear answer for me at first. But the more I let my heart receive it, the more I began to know how to open my mind and heart to the living presence of love the Bishop described. And then I read all that he had written. These are his words about being anxious.

“Whatever comes into your life, do not be anxious. There will be someone standing beside you. You will not be alone or forgotten. A great and compassionate love will hold you up, even through the longest night. A wisdom, as ancient as the stones of the earth, will whisper in your ear to help you in your choices, to comfort you in your losses, to show you the path forward. You will not be left unknowing and uncertain, but filled with a deep sense of hope. Whatever comes into your life, whether sunlight or shadow, open your mind and heart to the living presence of love that surrounds you. Listen to the urgings of your own common sense and the call of what you know to be sacred. Your life will be secure, come what may, for faith will be your home and kinship, your blessed band of believers.”

As Bishop Charleston suggested, when I listen to my common sense and the voice of what I know to be sacred, the love of God and the love of my friends gently lift me from the depths Every time! I cannot give you any wiser words about being anxious than Bishop Charleston just did from the very depth of his spiritual wisdom. I will simply pray that you will know the grace of the “great and compassionate love” he speaks of — to hold you up, to give you hope, to fill you with peace.

By the way, “not to worry, there is a Love that will not let you go. Thanks be to God. Amen.





2021, Christ’s Resurrection, Easter, Loneliness, Praise, Resurrection, Resurrection People, sadness, Singing

A Quiet Alleluia

A Quiet Alleluia

I find the “Alleluia “ in me to be a quiet one today. So unlike other Easters in my memory. So different. So quiet. There are no loud and boisterous proclamations of  “He Is Risen!” I am singing no anthems that declare the Resurrection with great ardor and joy. There is no larger than life cross draped in white, no Easter lilies, no Easter Chrismon tree that often adorns my house on Easter.

On the secular side, there is not a bunny in sight at my house and no basket of brightly colored Easter Eggs. There is no Easter bread that is our tradition. No ham, no lamb, no standing rib roast with all the trimmings.

There is an Easter wreath on my door, adorned with a white cross and Easter lilies, a very understated design. The wreath is subdued, not colorful. Easter hymns are playing, though, courtesy of Pandora, but I chose a selection of quiet, reflective, traditional hymns. Somehow “Were You There?”, The Old, Rugged Cross” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” seem right this year.

My “Alleluia” today is quiet, almost a whisper. It arises from somewhere in me that cannot seem to  create a louder word of praise, cannot count on my diaphragm to produce a brighter “Alleluia” in joyous song. This kind of Easter feels sad to me, although somehow it seems okay, fitting even, on this Easter. Family is far away. Family that is near might as well be a million miles away, because Covid and my weak immune system still holds me captive in my house.

So like the soft “Alleluia” in the image, I am soft and quiet on this Day of Christ’s Resurrection. I have lost friends in the past year, friends who died too soon. I have witnessed loneliness, sorrow, grieving and morning. I have mourned myself. I have feared the rejection of my kidney. I have worried about my health. I have missed my church and my friends. I have longed desperately to see my son and my grandchildren. When all is said and done and when reality is all one has to hold on to, the Gospel Good News remains! We are Resurrection People! Because Jesus lives, I really can face tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and all the tomorrows that come after that.

Today, I am where I am, in this quiet place. But just to remind me of the Resurrection Good News, my Pandora selection of quiet hymns is now playing “The Hallelujah Chorus” — right now as I write. I was not ready for it. I have sung it hundreds of times, but I cannot sing it now. I cannot lift up my voice and project it into a place of worship. But here is the Gospel Easter truth they are singing: “He shall reign forever, forever and ever, King of kings and Lord of lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal  le  lu  jah!”

Today I can sing only a whisper of praise — a quiet “Alleluia” — only a weak breath. But the Resurrection Good News is that my whispered praise is heard throughout the vast expanse of heaven. Perhaps the heavenly host is singing “Alleluia” with me. I’m not too sure that is happening, but I do know this: God accepts my breathless whisper. It is heard clearly by God the Father, God the Mother, God the Son and by the Spirit that holds the breath of us all. Amen!

 

“A Quiet Alleluia” by B. J. Meyer

Although the song is performed on the piano,
it does have lyrics:

And I pray;
I knew then there were reasons
for everything I had to endure
‘Cause they opened the door
To my mind.

I used to think that I was weak,
Feelin’ the pressure of fighting the heartaches;
Was wounded but I could not speak.

When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah
When I exhale, it’s a quiet allelujah