Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree!
Jeremiah 29:8-9 (The Message)
“Looking at yourself now in your community, ask: are there things happening now, as happened then, that I’m not seeing, not even trying to see? Looking back is all right if you’re only looking back at others. But if you have to look back at yourself, that is the hardest thing.”
Marie Collins, The Irish Times, 2017
We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon
“To the Moon” by Sara Groves (2005)
* * *
I am not a radical. At least not these days.
I am your basic white lady, working for a Christian charity, living somewhat comfortably in the suburbs in a roomy rental house. We have only a few casual protests under our belts – the usual suspects, like climate change and immigration bans – plus your frequent prayer walking. That’s a form of protest, too, I suppose.
But one protest fills my cheeks with hot shame and humbles my heart in ways I’m still trying to make right. Back then, I was self-righteous and self-assured, as only a recent graduate of a Bible college could be. I oozed the confidence of being right, being white, and knowing my place in the world. So I showed up to a protest with my handmade sign, stood on a street corner, and shouted at the oppressed.
If you were to ask me, “what radicalised you,” that protest would likely be my answer. Not because it confirmed what I already believed, but because staring into the face of an oppressed person whose indignant words were filled with grief exposed what I did not know and could never truly understand. I was their oppressor, and even worse: I claimed God as their oppressor, too.
But as I say, I am not a radical. Though, I think I might be raising a few.
We are raising three Irish-American children in a post-colonial, post-Celtic Tiger, post-recession society. The history they learn is both a thousand years old and just last week. Before COVID, we paid their bus fare for youth group and the occasional volunteering gig or climate march. Now we juggle their Change.org petition logins and discuss how to turn slogans and scripture into policy. Somewhere along the way, they discovered the burden of oppression and the work of liberation. As much as I wish they got it from me, their desire for justice can only be attributed to the One who stood in the synagogue and taught the law of love, freedom, and reconciliation, of making all things right.
The Deliverer, the Saviour, the Emancipator is coming.
Marie Collins, who survived childhood clerical sex abuse to become a world-renowned advocate for Catholic Church reform, speaks powerfully on remaining in the church while demanding better from the church. “Looking back is all right if you’re only looking back at others,” she told The Irish Times in 2017. “But if you have to look back at yourself, that is the hardest thing.”
Facing myself after that protest forced me to consider the incredible notion that I was both the oppressor and the purveyor of an oppressive system. When faced with the imago dei in the eyes of the oppressed, how could I shout or scream in return? How can we not ask ourselves if or how we contributed to it? How can we not try to bind the battered, and free the burdened?
Some days, I’m afraid we’re more likely to take our church to the moon than we are to declare Good News for the downtrodden and downcast. But if it takes becoming a little downcast myself, that’s more than a fair price to pay.
Karen Huber writes and frets over culture, faith, and parenting abroad. Originally from Kansas, she and her family now reside in Dublin, Ireland, where they work in arts ministry and community restoration both within and without the walls of the local church. You can connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.