The opposite of oppression is…

Oppressing is addictive, because it’s not about objective acts. It contains narratives of identity, and social status, and personal security, and family heritage.

Oppressing, in other words, isn’t just about what we do, it has become who we are. And also who we have been, who we want to be, and how we think we have to get there. It is an expression of our journey through space and time.

Ever since a guy was jealous about being rejected when his brother was accepted–which itself was built on the false hope that we could get all that we want if we are willing to cut out life-giving relationships–people have tried to make their way forward by pushing against each other, stepping on each other, minimizing each other.  We turned life into war, winners and losers and those caught in the middle, part of a millennia long feud.

We’re not free. Oppressed or oppressors.  Oppressors may think they’re free, but that makes it all the harder to discover real freedom. When we’re fighting for identity in ways that cause us isolation or keep us fighting for solutions that never really solve our needs for trust, hope, peace, joy, we’re doing a lot, but not getting very far.

Anger, loneliness, frustration, jealousy, conflict, hatred, injustice abound. And that’s just on my Facebook feed!

But we think that’s how life just is, how it has to be.  We’re not free.

It’s easy to eat a nutritious meal if you’re hungry and that’s what is on the table. It’s harder if you’ve filled up on twinkies and cheetos. You’re full, but it’s not good for you. And it’s not good for the people around you.

Far too often in our culture, we are given plates of twinkies and rationalized that there’s some good ingredients in them, so they must be what we need.  We drink gallons of Coke and assume that since our thirst is quenched we are physically fit.

We have apparent choice, but we’re not free.  And we take out our lack of real freedom on others through oppressing, and against ourselves in states of anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and all those traits that we can rationalize as being right but are tearing us apart spiritually, mentally, physically, and spiritually. But to get what we think is right, to be heard in the face of injustice, we assume that we have to assert our power, and anger can feel very powerful indeed.

We are not free.  We are responsible, which Dr. King highlights is a key expression of freedom, but in making choices, and seemingly unable or unwilling to make different choices, even to our detriment, we’re not really free.

Jurgen Moltmann expands on Dr. King’s definition of freedom with three different expressions of how freedom takes shape. These reflect the tensions of our life in this world as well as the possibilities for a bigger vision of life together.

The first dimension is “freedom as domination,” which approaches freedom in terms of power and control. This is a dysfunctional, zero-sum, approach to freedom, in which some are free while most are not. It is a very narrow understanding of freedom indeed, and not primarily interested in thorough liberation.

The second dimension is “freedom as a free community.” This dimension includes the values of friendliness and kindness rather than competition, exercising freedom as “neighborliness.” There is a cooperative sharing, giving, and receiving; trust is maintained even as people may have very different roles.

This dimension begins the process toward liberation, though can become narrow in focus and limited in scope, even becoming defensive about changes. We can see this as tribal or nationalistic freedom, where freedom is for some, but not extended to everyone, because trust and commitment can only go so far.

The third dimension understands freedom as “the creative passion for the possible.” This is the dimension of transformation. Freedom is aligned toward the future, inviting movement that leads first toward reconciliation and then into new discoveries of human thriving.

This latter kind of freedom is what I’m wanting to pursue and invite other toward. Not by saying, “Stop it!” to others, seeing myself in the posture of wise judge above the fray.  I invite others to this freedom because I need it.  The opposite of oppression, the opposition to oppression, isn’t repression. It’s creative passion for the possible, not limiting to a certain place where everyone must go, or a certain group who everyone must belong to, but finding new life that frees me to pursue freedom with and for others.

Not everything is really freeing though. There are types of freedom that seduce us into bondage, and kinds of freedom that drive us into frenzy.  Real freedom is lasting. It is peace-filled and peace-making.

I need the peace, joy, patience, hope that the Spirit brings and I know this is illusive if I live in ways that intentionally alienate the thriving of others around me.

This is a road I seek to travel, and in my journey, I’ve wrestled with my own tendencies to dysfunction and the many ways I’ve been invited to compete with, demand from, or undermine those around me for my own benefit.

There has to be a better way.

There is. But walking it involves risk. Because if we give up oppressing, where will that leave us?  If we let go our privilege, how will we keep up our sense of self and purpose?

That’s why, as Moltmann first argued, that we can’t begin by telling people what they have to give up, because they won’t “Stop it.” Rather, what is there to be gained? If people have a vision of a better life, and an experience of it, they stop doing the things that interfere.

What is this better way?


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