But a book does not endure the way the Bible has because it is shallow or meaningless. So I am always interested in what I can find by checking out the Bible.
Today, when I began to consider the issue of privilege I wondered what this thing we believe to be God's Word might offer to the discussion. I ran across this in the 22nd chapter of Jeremiah 22: Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. And it seems to me that this informs the discussion in this way: All the people for whom God is advocating (resident aliens, the fatherless, widows and the innocent) are all people generally agreed to have less power, less "clout" than folks who are here call "oppressors".
The sad truth is that oppressors come in lots of shapes and sizes, colors, genders, lands, et al and sometimes they become oppressors BECAUSE they have themselves been oppressed. They do not get a free ride because of their back story, of course. But having had my own teenage experience with a bully, it took me decades to realize that the behavior probably came (as does most bad stuff) from fear. And I was extraordinarily blessed to have had wise counsel and great love that encouraged me to take that experience to grow compassion and faith rather than rage. To understand that is truly humbling since as a person with very little personal power that grace was obviously a gift. For folks whose oppression experiences are great and long term I can appreciate something of how hard it is to break out of the cycle of abuse and fear.
I suspect that we are all bullied at times because there is much evil and always someone bigger, with more money or political pull or who is more plausible. Our legal system is a hot mess, but no system run by human beings is ever anywhere near perfect. So why, oh why, are we so slow to see the vulnerability in others? Why do we buy the giant lie that fear provides protection? (Caution and moving gently with maximum wisdom is strongly recommended, but fear breads impetuousness, carelessness, ruthlessness, despair, rage and panic -- none of which bodes well for the actions they drive.) Yet, since we estimate the book of Jeremiah was written more than 2500 years ago, it is clear that this is not a new problem.
And for those of you who would say to me, oh but things are so much better, I would suggest some reading into the numbers of people including in our communities who are suffering as slaves, the number of people whose experiences in their own homes wound them deeply, often for a lifetime; the ravages of pornography and addiction and how it is affecting both slavery and domestic abuse, just to name a few ways bullying is rampant in our society.
So here is how I currently view privilege. God calls on me to do what I can wherever He opens my eyes to injustice. For starters I have to search my own heart for places where fear breads contempt for those with less power than I have and be willing to embrace both compassion and the call to take action where I find injustice.
Of course, this is hard! It might result in being embarrassed! It might mean my effort to do the right thing gets scrambled in my own human brokenness – even making someone I’m trying to help angry. So be it -- because I can learn from that. But being complaisant because my sense of safety is not being rattle at a given moment is just not an adequate reason to ignore the pain of others.
We need all hands on deck here folks. We need to risk being uncomfortable in the quest to learn more, grow more, invest more in helping others understand how deeply they are loved, how important, how valuable, how urgently needed they are in this life God is calling us to create in the midst of a broken world.