Liberation

Liberation

The transcendent image of a resurrected Christ shines with liberation, even from death, with a promise of life everlasting.  This audacious promise is the heart of our faith.  It is also the heart of our mission of justice and equity for all, because life everlasting begins not after death but in this life on earth.

 Justice and witness ministry is a ministry of liberation:  to free the oppressed, to use power and wealth on behalf of the powerless and poor, and to act boldly for justice.  This ministry carries our Christian faith into the world through action, amply supported by scripture and the ages-long actions of our UCC forebears.

 This ministry, however, contains within it the seeds of its own undoing.  As we work to free the oppressed, we may assume we are free and they are not.  As we give and ask nothing in return, we may flaunt our power, separating us, the powerful, from them, the weak and oppressed.  As we fight for justice, we may focus on a furious fight against injustice, on oppression rather than liberation, and take our eyes off the prize.

 A few months ago, I came across a quotation that rings true to me for justice ministry.  It is often attributed to Lilla Watson, an Australian Aboriginal elder and activist, speaking to a missionary:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

 “Your liberation is bound up in mine.”  What a marvelous phrase.  In a few simple words, the arrogant assumption of being free, the inequitable separation from the other, and the furious focus on oppression, are all replaced by a call to work together for liberation.

 In our justice ministry we are clearly not free.  In the Rev. Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham jail, he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  We work for freedom in a mutual mission of liberation, with a handshake, not a handout.

 “Bound up…”  A profound intimacy pervades those words, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We are not separate from each other, any more than the body of Christ is dismembered.  A Jew, Martin Buber, expresses this best for me.  His “I-Thou” relationship is warmly intimate, as is the Bible.  Today, we see the Biblical use of “thou” as formal and stiff, but in the England of King James “thou” was a term used for friends and relatives, bound by kinship and friendship.

 This intimacy is empowered in forgiveness.  The oppressed, and those fighting oppression, are often angry, outraged.  The justness of the cause becomes a justification for anger that can blind us to each other.  Forgive us our rages, as we forgive those who rage against us.  Liberate us to love one another.

 “Let us work together.”  We work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with our eyes firmly on the prize: liberation.  Of course we fight oppression, but as a gardener fights weeds, as a part of growing a finer garden.  Gardeners of justice work together not for a final prize but for a recurring cycle of sweet, savory prizes that nourish and grow through constant, careful tending.

 Christ did not die for our sins; he rose from death for our salvation.  He came because his liberation is bound up in ours.  As we work together for justice, may we follow Christ.

Will Fuller – Kairos-Milwaukie UCC

Deep Travel

Will Fuller, Kairos-Milwaukie UC

Every summer for the past four years, my wife and I have traveled by car to a small city in Quebec, Canada to visit our son’s family.  This year, as we traveled I was reading a book by Tony Hiss, In Motion.  This book explores

making use of an ancient, innate, ground-shifting variant of ordinary waking consciousness that we can … call Deep Travel. … It can, among many effects, give…the sense that even a long-familiar route…exists within such a fullness of brand-new or at least new-to-me information and questions that I wonder how I ever had the capacity to exclude them from consideration (p. 9)

In short, the very act of travel can bring a deep appreciation of the transcendent splendor that surrounds us.  We see our old world with fresh, new eyes.  In that transcendence, we may gain a glimpse of the One in whose Name we call for peace and justice

in the rimrock land of eastern Oregon

 

in the prairie preserves of Illinois

 

in the rushing rivers of Quebec’s Laurentian Shield

 

in a friendly Canadian public pool

 

in the Nevada desert, where Latino workers walk from a shantytown across the tracks to work in the luxury casino resorts on the other side

 

in Montana’s mountains, where tough Harley bikers kneel before chipmunks

 

in Yellowstone National Park, where pilgrims from all over the world, speaking a Babel of languages, stand in awe before the old, faithful grandeur of Creation

 

and in all the places we travel on life’s journey.

 

Food Justice, First Congregational, and Food for Lane County

Brenda Kame’enui – First Congregational Church UCC – Eugene

http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/files/2009/09/freefarmstand-bounty.jpg

The Earth Stewardship Team at First Congregational Church-UCC Eugene helps the Justice & Witness Committee keep food justice issues and farm-to-table opportunities in the minds of church members.

FOOD for Lane County (FFLC) is Eugene’s local nonprofit food bank, dedicated to eliminating hunger by creating access to food in our community. For many years, First Congregational UCC in Eugene has provided volunteers for the Dining Room, which provides free, nutritious meals for low-income diners in a café setting (200-300/night, M-Th). The delicious food is prepared by a FFLC employee out of food provided by local donors (e.g., grocery stores, the U of O).  As First Congregational’s Rev. Melanie Oommen says, it is the heart and spirit in which the food is served and received that makes the experience unique. FFLC staff and volunteers warmly welcome diners and treat them with respect and dignity in a nondiscriminatory setting.

Food Rescue Express is another Food for Lane County program that uses a large group of FCC-UCC Eugene volunteers. This program recovers food from hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores, and schools and repackages it into family-sized portions.  A large group of FCC-UCC members, including families, volunteers monthly to repack food for distribution.  It’s a fun and productive evening for volunteers.

FFLC sponsors a Grassroots Garden and Youth Farm, where local youth grow and sell produce to the public.  The farming and business development make this project an excellent way for young people, many of whom have been in trouble or have faced disadvantage, to meet the public.

Each year on Pentecost Sunday, the Justice & Witness Committee at FCC-UCC Eugene recommends an organization to receive the special offering.  The goal is to help seed a program that would benefit from a jump start.  This year’s choice was another FFLC program, a cooperative endeavor with food businesses in Eugene.  FFLC recently launched a drive to put healthy, protein- and fiber-rich locally produced chili on the tables of hungry people in Lane County.  The shelf-stable meal-sized packages of lentils, barley, and spices are ready for patrons, and the Oregon State University extension service has been providing tastes and recipe cards to food bank recipients.

This exciting program began with FFLC’s purchase of 6,000 pounds of lentils and barley from a Willamette Valley farmer.  GloryBee Foods then chipped in chili seasoning.  An Idaho farmer read about FFLC’s efforts and donated 10,000 pounds of lentils left over from last year’s crop.  The project attracted the interest of the Oregon Food Bank Network, and OFB has now contracted to buy hundreds of thousands of pounds of lentils and barley from Willamette Valley farmers.

There is no end to both the need and opportunity to feed our hungry neighbors.  It’s fitting to dedicate a “row in the garden” and a place in our hearts for feeding the hungry delicious, healthy food with a dose of dignity.