Posts Tagged ‘ Oppression ’

Lenses

Recently my motivations were called into question. Specifically my motivations involving my stand on gender roles. Not just called into question, but evil intentions were assigned. This is something I have faced from Christians most of my life. But, I do not want to cast dispersions upon those that are doing this this time, for I think that these people have developed lenses through which they see the world based on past trauma. You see I have a past. A pretty terrible past. The specific incident which is fueling this demonization is child pornography. Yes, 27 years ago I took a single photo that was deemed pornographic by a jury of my peers. I served 6 years in prison. I have been regretful and remorseful. I am sorry if I just don’t sound remorseful today, 27 years later, but I cannot live in the past. It isn’t healthy for any of us. The past is gone, there is nothing any one of us can do to change it, not yours not mine, not anyone’s. If I could turn back the clock and stop the then me from doing this horrible thing I would. But, I can’t. This was a sole incident, this is not to minimize the seriousness of what I did, just a statement of fact.

This isn’t what this post is about, that was just background as to inspiration. No, I want to talk about lenses through which we see the world and those in it and at the same time give you some indication of why I support gender role equality, LGBTQ rights, am against these boarding schools that are abusive, why I oppose oppressive systems, and maybe even learn about my lenses at the same time.

I suffered childhood trauma. I will relate some of that here and why I believe that there is more than I recall. If you think that my trauma is not so bad, well that’s cool, but please don’t compare it to another’s in so doing. My trauma may not seem as bad as someone else’s to some and that may be from an objective point of view (something I kind of reject) but it is painful. My pain resulting from my trauma in no way diminishes your pain from your trauma and vice versa. Our traumas shape the lenses through which we see everything, including the Bible. It determines how we respond to the world, to others, to ourselves.

When I was 3 or 4 I was with a neighbor boy in his dad’s garage when he began playing with matches. You guessed it he set the garage on fire. Worse he trapped me in there with him as the garage burned around us. We did get out, the fire department put it out.I never told anyone. After the new garage was built I was with this kid again (I know stupid, huh?) when he finished off the old structure trying to trap me inside again.

Somewhere around 8-10 I was molested by the adolescent neighbor boy while my mom was upstairs having coffee with his mom. My parents liked this kid and spoke of his respectfully, if only they knew. Another time I was at a kid from school’s house and he forced sex upon me. Then it happened again by another adolescent boy. In each case I felt trapped, powerless.

When I was 12 or 13 I was abandoned by my parents. Not like some. I still had a place to live, money was provided, but I was alone. My dad moved into the bar and my mom ran off with her boyfriend. And this abruptly, from my perspective, after being the idyllic church going family. I developed friends much older, quit school, hung-out, drank and did dope.

When I was 14 I committed a few burglaries with a friend. We stole things like records and stereo equipment, we liked our music. We got caught. I was deemed some sort of “ringleader”, an incorrigible corrupter of youth, at 14. I was sent to a psychiatric hospital by the juvenile court on the recommendation of the county child psychiatrist. It was here that I experienced beatings and torture, both physical and psychological. Nothing in my experience had prepared the young 14 year old me for what I was to experience. On the adolescent wards most of the kids had been sent there by juvenile courts. Although some “patients” had very real, very severe psychiatric disorders most of us were there as punishment. We were locked away from our families in a “hospital” with no doctors, at least I never saw one in my time there.

My first night I was severely beaten by two older boys. My face swollen for days. I witnessed the punitive administration of psychotropic drugs. I saw kids beaten by staff. We were not provided clean clothes. Food was meager. I had determined to escape after that beating. When a new inmate to this asylum, and that is all it could be called, arrived from my area, we made out plans. We were able to pick the locks that held the bars on the windows. Once the bars were opened we broke the window and jumped the two stories to the ground below. We were gone a day. My parents passed by me on their way to the beach for the day so I went to my brother’s house. He returned me. I’ve never been one to complain too much about my sufferings, so I didn’t tell him the extent of what was going on. Upon return I was locked into an isolation room with no toilet facilities and no furniture, only a thin mat on the floor. I remained in this room for several days, never to be taken out to use the bathroom. The guy that escaped with me was brought in several hours after I was. One morning we woke up to find the ward abandoned, they had moved it to another location. Another day in this cell before we were finally moved to the new ward, allowed showers, and placed into a cell with facilities. We were showered on the abandoned ward so that no one could see us with shit an piss all over us, stinking to high heaven.

After my escape what little contact I was allowed with my family before was completely cut off. My parents worked tirelessly to get the judge to remove me. that finally happened after a couple of us broke into an office and found documents showing that the psychiatrist, who was the judge’s neighbor, was on the board of directors and recommended all his patients with court cases pending to go to this “hospital’.

I said that I would explain why I think that these remembered traumas are not the only ones I suffered. When I was 7 or 8, Simon and Garfunkel’s I am a Rock came out. Immediately upon hearing it I identified with the idea of being a rock, an island. About this same time Star Trek first hit the airwaves. I identified with Spock and his insistence that emotions are illogical. Yep, I strove for apathy, I did not want to feel. I wanted to be logical. So, I began the long slow process of locking my emotions away and taking refuge in my intellect. Yes, emotion escaped every now and again in the form of anger and rage. But for the most part I just didn’t have them, I became cold and indifferent. Everything I learned as a developmental psychology major tells me that this is not the natural thing for a child who hasn’t suffered some sort of trauma, but there might be exceptions?

These are the things I remember. The thread that seems to me to to run through them is the power to decide was taken from me, I was rendered powerless. I denied my pain through my substance abuse. I rationalized as I created my own morality to try to make sense of the things that happened to me. Remember I did this on my own and as many other kids who have raised themselves my moral compass was off, way off. I do not tell you this to in anyway excuse any of my past behaviors. I am sole responsible for the things I have done, just as you are for those things you have done.

When I was in prison  in 1985 I was again in isolation, the hole for about a year. I had to spend a lot of time alone with me and what I’d become. I could no longer live with the abusive, extremely egocentric piece-o-shit that I had become. Someone had to go. I had to restructure my moral compass and make-up. Causing people pain was no longer an option. I had to rethink who I was, what I thought. Malcolm X said :

“I don’t think anybody ever got more out of going to prison than I did. … Where else but in a prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensively sometimes as much as fifteen hours a day?”

I have found this to be true. And I shifted, I grew.

Ten years ago I quit using drugs. In the years that followed I have begun suffering the symptoms of PTSD, something that has been with me all along, just hidden by the drug use. I accepted Christ and He has been transforming me. You don’t have to believe it, He does and that’s all that matters.

Yet, after the egocentricity, after the violence, after the criminal thinking, after the drugs have been removed, remaining is the sense of oneness with the powerless. I will never forget the damage done by the powerful, the pain of being stripped of any power and rendered powerless. It hurts emotionally and psychologically. It marginalizes and disenfranchises, it is oppression. I abhor oppression and oppressive structures and systems. Oppression oppresses everyone, no one is free as long as one lives under some form of tyranny! God knows this hence Isaiah 58 and myriad other passages in the Bible. Jesus subverts the oppressive structures with radical love, radical acceptance, and the most radical of all Love your enemy. For those that are my enemies, that’s okay do what you feel you must even if that is to wrongly ascribe evil intentions to me. I want you to know this, I cannot and will not be your enemy. Beat me if you want, I will not fight back, I will not condemn. No, I will just understand that you are seeing me through the lenses that have arisen out of the traumas you have suffered, out of your hurts and pains. We all see through our lenses we have gained through our lives and experiences. I see us as all hurting and oppressed and desire us all to be free.

“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace”
Malcolm X

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Malcolm X

Oppression, Subversion, and Christian Perspective

Oppression exists. Oppression is all around us, we do not have to look very far or hard to find it. When we marginalize, disenfranchise, demonize we oppress. Oppression is an evil. It is the worst kind of evil. It is insidious and deceptive. Many who are oppressed do not even know that they are oppressed. Oppressors are every bit as oppressed as those they oppress. And here’s the real kicker I cannot be free while there are those living in oppression. This doesn’t just go for me, it applies to us all.

Our current world structure is inherently oppressive in that it is hierarchical. Hierarchies place one above another, one below another. We oppress others when we feel superior to them. The current oppressive structure differs from the ancient only on the surface. God recognized that this is the way it would be when He told Samuel what the king (secular government) would be like and damn if He wasn’t right. Saul did exactly as God predicted  as have most all of the Kings described in the Bible. All of our governments have done exactly as God said that they would. (being an open theist I do not hold to omniscience in its common sense, I think that God can know all that is  knowable, but the details of the future don’t exist and are, therefore, unknowable, but this is fodder for a different post.) Some governments have been better than others, but all have been oppressive.

I oft hear from more conservative Christians a defense for the current, American system as being somehow Christian. Yet, when we look at it our structure is not significantly different than any other except in cosmetics, the surface. I guess I am not just speaking of the political structures but those of all of society. Can we really say that our social structures are significantly different from those of first century Judea? Do we not have those with power and those who are powerless? Do we not have, and as Christians, support a hierarchical notion of gender roles? Does not our consumerism enable the exploitation of workers, many of whom are children being robbed of their childhood as virtual slaves? Does not our consumerism and fleshly appetites enable sexual slavery? Don’t we have religious oppression, when we demonize those of other faiths? Do we not hold prejudices and bigotry against the other? Did not all of these exist in some form or another in the ancient world?

As I read through the Bible I see that God does not support our hierarchical systems that oppress. In one of my favorite passages God tells people that He doesn’t want burnt offerings and the sacrifice of animals. Neither does He want a fast that is simply not eating. What God wants, what He always wanted was for people to love. Love your workers, pay them a decent wage. Love the foreigner, the outcast, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the hated and despised — the other and treat them like they are bearers of the Imago Dei. (Isaiah 58)

In the Gospels Jesus subverts the societal structures. The Sermon on the Mount is totally subversive to the structures of the day. The narrative of Jesus with the Samaritan woman subverts religious and social structures of the day. His whole life and teaching subverts the oppressive, hierarchical structures.

In Luke 10 we find Jesus at Marhta’s home for a gathering and dinner. Martha’s sister Mary is there. The place for a disciple was at the feet of his rabbi. the traditional place for a woman was in the kitchen serving the men. Martha is being obedient to the gender role hierarchy, she is serving in the kitchen. Mary, on the other hand, is in the position of a disciple, at the feet of her rabbi, Jesus. Martha goes in to Jesus and tells Him that Mary’s traditional place, the place dictated by the societal/traditional structures is to be helping her prepare and serve the meal, not being a disciple, women aren’t disciples. What does Jesus tell Martha? That Mary and even Martha have a choice in the roles they are in and that Mary makes the better choice. This teaching subverts the major societal structures, the religious/political and the social/biological.

When Jesus travels to Samaria and meets the woman at the well He is subverting the political/religious structures by simply being there. He subverts the social by actually speaking to this woman, for she is a woman and men don’t talk to strange women in public. And He takes a cup of water from her. Here again He stomps all over the oppressive, marginalizing, hierarchical systems.

These are but two examples, but the Gospels are replete with instances where Jesus subverts, trashes the customs and structures. He does this because these systems are anti-love and God is love, therefore…..They stand in the way of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Acts we see the early church creating its own economy, one that equalizes and empowers all. This stands in juxtaposition to the economy of the world which is hierarchical.

The Apostle Paul does the same thing as he pens his theology based on the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 we are told that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free, no male or female. These three pairs represent the three major structures of society the religious, the political, and the social. Paul tears them down by removing the divisions, by collapsing the hierarchy and making all one in Christ.

Paul further subverts the worldly structures when he tells us to obey the secular authority. Our worldly structures need an underclass, a criminal class, they need to marginalize and disenfranchise in order to exist. Before I came to Christ I used to tell people in prison that thought that they were rebelling against the system by committing crimes and doing drugs that they were actually supporting the system they thought they rebelled against. The best way to bring down the system is to quit doing crime and drugs. If everyone would do this the worldly system would collapse.

So many people live under oppression around the world. We, here in America, live under oppression. Consumerism is a tool of the oppressive system to placate us, to keep our minds away from our oppression. Yet, this world stands opposed to the Kingdom of Heaven where there is no oppressive structure. To usher in the Kingdom we need to come to grips with our oppression and do like Jesus and subvert the system. We do this with radical love, radical acceptance. If we are in one marginalized/oppressed group we stand with all of those in all marginalized groups, even those with whom we disagree. Men are freed when women are freed. No one can be free until all are free, even our oppressors need to be freed because even they are in bondage. Just as God left Paradise to come be in solidarity with us against that which oppresses, the structures of this world ( I want to caution that we become the oppressor when we go against people instead of the systems of oppression) we are called to be of that same mind as Christ (Philippians 2:5-8).

Yet we hear over and over in our churches and from Christian leaders that we should support and adopt the systems of this world. Support and adopt a system that stands opposed to the Kingdom of God.

I am calling for us to be like Christ and love all people, be for ALL people, yet subvert the systems and structures that oppress.