By Michael Simmons
I recently was playing a game of Crazy 8s with my daughter Bina. I had just put my 2-year-old son, David down for a nap, when Bina, excitedly, started talking rather loudly. I feared she would wake David, and our game would be over, so I told her to be quiet, punctuating my command by shushing her. A few minutes went by and I knew I had overstepped, so I asked, “Bina, did you not like it when I shushed you?” She responded, and I quote, “Yeah, because I have one of those voices that can’t be stopped with human shushing.” I think we can all agree that children are often better prophets than pastors
What a prophetic response to my anxious and fragile attempt to keep the peace. What a statement for our time as we encounter and take action against both our internalized and structural white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia by beginning to give space to voices that have been shushed, silenced and choked out for far too long.
There exist among us, and within us, both shusher and shushed, oppressor and oppressed. There exists only one gospel, one good news, but different avenues for the oppressed and the oppressor. Miraslov Volf paraphrases Jurgen Moltmann writing, “The theme of solidarity with the victims is supplemented by the theme of atonement for the perpetrators. Just as the oppressed must be liberated from the suffering caused by oppression, so the oppressor must be liberated from the injustice committed through oppression.” Jesus comes in solidarity with the oppressed, and as a guide or sherpa toward at-one-ment, for the oppressor.
Bartimaeus & Nicodemus
I see this contrasted in the stories of Bartimaeus (Luke 18) and Nicodemus (John 3). Bartimaeus is an oppressed blind beggar, and Nicodemus is a Pharisee and “member of the Jewish ruling council”. Bartimaeus breaks through the shushing crowd with cries for justice and mercy. Nicodemus comes alone and anonymously with questions and logic. Bartimaeus is blind, but receives his sight; Nicodemus can see, but must become like a newborn baby, limited in his sight, if he’s to truly see. Bartimaeus is the victim of a social/political structure that leaves the blind stuck on the roadside begging, and Nicodemus is the beneficiary of a stratified culture that provides him access, and ample mobility as a Jew living within Roman occupied Palestine.
Among us and within us is both shusher and shushed, oppressor and oppressed. Christ visits both, and yet both must receive him differently. Nicodemus cannot shout for mercy when he’s participated in and benefited so greatly from such a mercilessness system. Nor can Bartimaeus come with logic or questions when his life exists in such opposition to logic, and so far beyond the safety of questions.
For the shusher there is the need for atonement, confession, lament, reparation. Needed is the prayer of the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and to be bearers of mercy and repentance like Zacchaeus, who gave back the wealth he’d siphoned off from the poor. For the shusher it is the at-one-ment, the active movement backwards and downwards to become “at-one” where we’ve become Legion, many, fragmented in our values and allegiances. We must not cross to the other side of the road when we witness the rage of the shushed. We must not judge those whose only way is through the roof when we had the privilege of entering through the door.
For the shushed it is to shout, to meet the firewall of oppression and apathy with true presence and honesty, and to give full range to the voice that can’t be stopped with human shushing. It is to be seen where before we were hidden, enter rest where before we’ve been pressed, breath where before we've been suffocated.
For the shushed who have bore the full weight of the cross, Jesus comes in resurrection. And for the shusher who have created a synthetic blend of life, often on the backs of the shushed, Jesus leads in the way of the cross.
A Final Word
As companions to others we are naturally attuned to the Bartimaeus and Nicodemus metaphor for the inner life. We are aware of the metaphor these two men represent and they are easy to recognize as we navigate the inner landscape with others. However, we must also be attuned to the systemic structures of injustice that exist today as they did in 1st century Roman occupied Palestine. We must remember that the poor and the blind are not metaphors, but entire populations we can run past or simply live separate from. We must be aware of the vast whiteness and upward mobility of the of stream of spiritual formation. We must be aware of the people who are not represented in our circles, and the authors we are not reading, and the perspectives we are not privy to. This is not easy work because the physical spiritual divorce came well before us. It is; however, our work to wed them once again, and be people who walk alongside others, both shusher and shushed, and seek compassion for the oppressed and justice and accountability for the oppressor.
1 Exclusion and Embrace, Volf, P. 23
Michael is a spiritual director, retreat facilitator and writer. You can find out more at Innerworkcommunity.com and email him at email@example.com.