the underground railroad

kathyescobar church stuff, equality, faith shifts, healing, incarnational, injustice 27 Comments

underground railroad“if i could have convinced more slaves they were slaves, i could have freed thousands more”

– harriet tubman

this past weekend i was in portland for a women’s gathering called convergence.  it is not a typical conference; there are no speakers, no people getting paid, no flash.  just a sacred safe space for a bunch of women leaders to share & learn & soak & be challenged & encourage & grieve & grow. i went to see dear & inspiring friends and get a little soul care; it was also an honor to get to process some of the material from down we go with women interested in cultivating intentional little pockets of love & freedom and planting new trees.

one thing that i am always struck with in these moments is just how many incredible women there are whose gifts haven’t been fully valued.  how many have been slaves to systems that mistreated them.  and how even though they have been used and mistreated and undervalued in all kinds of ways, they still have hope & passion & dreams for the kingdom and are finding ways to live it out despite the obstacles.  seriously, it’s amazing.

i know so many women–and men, too–who are being set free.

free from the bondage of religion.
free from the shackles of the system.
free from the oppression of abusive power structures.
free from being called nasty names & having our dignity stripped.
free from limitations on our faith.
free from a squelching of our gifts.

and freedom is costly.

when we choose the path of leaving systems & structures that continue to keep us in bondage, we choose a lonelier, scarier road.

but nothing tastes better than freedom.

the same day i arrived in portland, my wise & amazing friend phyllis mathis and i finished our first walking wounded online class:  hope for those hurt by the church.  it was so beautiful, so healing, so inspiring.

i was also reminded, yet again, how tough it is to find our way to freedom without a little help along the way.

my friend mar shared that walking wounded was a little like the underground railroad, a stopping spot on the way to freedom for the slaves.  a hidden pocket of love & hope & refuge on the journey toward freedom.  manned by others who believed in freedom, the underground railroad was made up of shelters & places of protection, places to be reminded that freedom was possible, places to be nourished, places that pointed others toward hope.

her words took my breath away.

i do not for a minute want to minimize the kind of oppression & human slavery african americans and so many other people experienced or are experiencing today.  i respect that as westerners escaping from the grip of the institutional church, our bondage is quite a different kind.

at the same time, the imagery works for so many of our journeys.

the slaves wouldn’t have made it to freedom without the underground railroad.

and i wouldn’t have made it to freedom without other people who first told me i was a slave (i didn’t even know it) and then carried me along this path, gently reminding me that there was, indeed, something better ahead.

6 years ago i didn’t know i was a slave.

i was happy settling for crumbs because i thought that was all i deserved.
i thought the weird power dynamics i was experiencing as part of a church staff were normal.
i thought i should just be thankful i was “allowed” to do anything and knew it could be a lot worse.
i was stuck working for a system that didn’t really want me, just what i had to bring to make their system more successful.

that harriet tubman quote has gotten under my skin:

“if i could have convinced more slaves they were slaves, i could have freed thousands more”

so many men & women don’t know they’re slaves.  don’t know they’re being bullied. controlled. used. limited. unvalued. stripped of dignity.

i certainly didn’t.  but as i started walking this direction, i started meeting others who had been set free, too.  they told their stories.  they fed me.  they gave me shelter. they pointed me on my way and told me to keep going, to not give up this journey.

years ago i watched a documentary on human slavery and remember clearly the story of an entire village who were slaves for generations upon generations in a free country.  they had no idea they were slaves until someone bought one of their people’s freedom.  then, one by one, the freed slaves helped the others be set free, too.

i believe in every fiber of my being that Jesus came to set people free, like really free.  free-er than we can ever even imagine although i hope we can experience more and more of it this side of heaven.

and my freedom isn’t only about my freedom.
my freedom is about our freedom.
i’m not really free until my brothers & sisters are.

your freedom isn’t only about your freedom, it’s about our freedom.
and we’re not really free until our brothers & sisters are.

God, help us recognize our slavery.
and that there’s a true & beautiful & bumpy path to freedom. 
for those of us already on the road there, may we play our part in offering shelter, hope, love, support, food, water, and courage to those walking this direction, too.