Wednesday, March 05, 2008

how we watch and struggle, and now we live in hope

The weather here has been, if not fickle, at least suspicious lately. Monday was a glorious balmy day, and by Tuesday morning the snow and freezing rain had returned. This is no unfamiliar experience to anyone living in a northern temperate region, but it led to an image this morning that prompted some thinking.

Yesterday evening it was just warm enough to rain, but the temperature dropped slightly overnight. You know what that means: ice accumulating thickly on the branches of trees. Outside our apartment is a large shrub, which normally stands some ten or twelve feet tall. This morning its branches were bowed so low that they covered the sidewalk on the way to the bus. As far as I know, the freezing rain was not such that trees were damaged (I experienced the gravest such damage in Memphis’s 1994 ice storm). This bush simply couldn’t hold up to the burden placed on it. It would be fine once the weight was lifted, but for the moment it was struggling and thereby inhibiting my own passage.

I thought about the shrub as I walked to the bus, and how it reminded me of a person leaning over in harsh labor. So many people feel and have felt a weight almost as physical as the ice on the bush pressing them down. They may break, or they may just need for the time of oppression to pass. And while their burden remains, the world is held back in its progress. It seems a silly thing to think on the oppressed in such a trite manner while looking at a bush, but the analogy sprung to mind. Perhaps the rest of these thoughts will justify what appeared to be idle musing.

Historically, religion (at least its political side) has been used as a tool for power and oppression. I can think of two ways in which this happens. First, as a “trump card”: this order is the way God established it, and by God we (the rulers) will uphold it, even if that means dehumanizing the rest of the populace. Second, as a sedative, Marx’s “opiate of the people”: there’s no need to worry about bettering your life here and now, because the afterlife has a much greater reward waiting for you. I am sorry for this. I am sorry that words of hope led to feelings of resignation. I am sorry that divine order has been co-opted and misconstrued to pervert divine justice. To my brothers and sisters throughout the world and throughout time who have suffered at the hands of my church or governors who claimed to speak on its behalf, I am sorry. Your burden should have been lifted by those who should have been serving you. And now, in our silence, we may be pressing down on that yoke when we should be aiding you.

I just spent some time searching for Christian human rights organizations. Not surprisingly, many of them are devoted to helping Christians around the world who are persecuted for their beliefs—and there are many places where this happens. I applaud their work, and I pray that God will protect his people. Finding general human rights organizations that are Christian-based took some more doing. But I did find the International Justice Mission, whose information page includes the following paragraph:
In the tradition of abolitionist William Wilberforce and transformational leaders like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., IJM’s work is founded on the Christian call to justice articulated in the Bible (Isaiah 1:17): Seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
To illustrate their work, here is their “Justice Agenda” for 2008:
  • Protecting vulnerable women and children from illegal property seizure
  • Protecting vulnerable women and children from sexual violence and rape as a risk factor to AIDS
  • Securing citizenship documentation for vulnerable populations
  • Building a justice system that protects children
  • Working to end slavery by increasing perpetrator accountability
  • Fighting trafficking of women and children through capacity building and training
These are goals I can support wholeheartedly. I had not heard of this group before tonight, but I want to find out more about what they do and how I can help. Does anyone want to join me?

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