Monday, November 25, 2013

Blessed are the Consumers

I was hungry and you went shopping on "Black Friday" for plasma tvs and video games.

I was thirsty and you bought yourself another holiday latte from Starbucks.

I was naked and you found a nice holiday outfit on sale to wear to the Christmas Party.

I was in prison and you voted to execute me.

My neurons shoot fire through my brain as I read a mesh of thoughts from Paulo Freire, Rob Bell, John Perkins, Jean Vanier, and a translated version of Jesus’ own words.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed challenges me in more ways than one. With my handy dictionary nearby, I walk through each sentence gradually, intentionally, pulling out each word, turning it over slowly in my mind, and linking it to the next, trying to find meaning.  At the end of the paragraph, I sit back, processing.  What did he just tell me? Freire explains that the oppressors do not realize they are oppressors; they are simply people benefiting from an unjust system of advantage, maintaining the status quo. The oppressed are the only ones capable of liberating themselves from this system, because obviously the oppressors aren’t going to do that (they’re the ones benefiting from this whole oppressive deal), and even if some sympathizer from the powerful party came along to join them in their efforts, the once-oppressor would be so influenced by her history as an oppressor that her immediate reaction would be, “These people are incapable of helping themselves. I must help them.” Thus perpetuating the mindset of oppressor-oppressed and never being able to liberate the oppressed because she is not able to liberate herself from oppressive thinking.

This thought from Freire was complemented by an excerpt from Love Wins by Rob Bell in which Bell discusses the biblical story of Lazarus and the rich man, a story told by Jesus in Luke 16. Bell points out that the rich man, when he is in Hades, asks for Lazarus, a poor beggar who is with Abraham in heaven, to bring him some water to quench his thirst:

“…note what it is the man wants in hell: he wants Lazarus to get him water. When you get someone water, you’re serving them.

The rich man wants Lazarus to serve him.

In their previous life, the rich man saw himself as better than Lazarus, and now, in hell, the rich man still sees himself as above Lazarus. It’s no wonder Abraham says there’s a chasm that can’t be crossed. The chasm is the rich man’s heart! It hasn’t changed, even in death and torment and agony. He’s still clinging to the old hierarchy. He still thinks he’s better.”

Jean Vanier in Community and Growth explains that when people get in groups oriented toward issues or causes there is a tendency to divide the world into the oppressors and the oppressed, the good and bad. He says, “There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.” 

Seeing the enemy as outside myself is easy. Focusing on some obscure idea of who the oppressor is and what the oppressor does is easy.

Seeing myself as the oppressor is much more difficult. Acknowledging the darkness, fear, hatred, bigotry, vanity, and envy within myself is much more difficult. Nearly impossible. Who wants to be aware of their own capacity to inflict pain, the benefits they’ve received from racial and gender inequality, the systems of injustice they perpetuate by buying luxury items made in sweatshops? Yeah, being aware of those things isn’t high on my bucket list. But it’s the only way to become aware of the Kingdom.

Vanier goes on to say, “The members of a community know that the struggle is inside of each person and inside the community; it is against all the powers of pride, elitism, hate and depression that are there and which hurt and crush others, and which cause division and war of all sorts. The enemy is inside, not outside.

Here is how we fight darkness: Be honest with ourselves. Become aware of ourselves as we are, what we have done, what we are capable of doing. Get really pissed at the system, at ourselves, and at the mess we’ve made. Mourn. Start being mindful of our thoughts--where they come from, what they are, and what they lead to. Then gather strength to fight, on a daily basis, in word and deed through big and small acts of real, vulnerable love. 

“To grow in love is to try each day to welcome, and be attentive and caring for those with whom we have the greatest difficulty; with our ‘enemies’; those who are the poorest, the oldest, the weakest, the most demanding, the most ailing; those who are the most marginal in the community, who have the most difficulty conforming to the rules; and finally those who are the youngest. If people are faithful to these four priorities of love then the community as a whole will be an oasis of love.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.”

- Jesus 

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