“The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what's that? The freedom to starve?” ― Angela Y. Davis
What does freedom mean? Or more specifically, what does a Christian sense of freedom mean? We've all heard the words "freedom in Christ" in some variation or another, in some context or another. And I wonder, what do we mean by these words? I think a lot of Christians, when talking about freedom, are speaking of spiritual and mental freedom, which are important and beautiful states of being. When I think about folks in prison who have lost everything and who are physically captive but who can still claim their spiritual and mental freedom, I am reminded to not take those forms of freedom lightly. At the same time, I think of how those of us with freedom of movement - physical freedom - have to be careful to not emphasize spiritual and mental freedom at the expense of physical freedom. We cannot forget the words Jesus chose to read from the scroll of Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry (which happens to have been the lectionary passage this past weekend): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NRSV). I think to myself when I read this: there's no way Jesus is just talking about spiritual freedom, but about bodies too. Because Jesus's ministry involved bodies - healing of the sick through touch, eating and drinking at the table with misfits, weeping with his friends, flipping tables with the strength of his arms.
Today I want to emphasize the definition of freedom that reads, “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.” The definition that reads, “the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.” Liberation that involves bodily freedom of movement. I have this freedom, and you might too. I am not imprisoned, and I am also mostly free from the fear of violence because of my skin color and gender. I am a white, cisgender woman who can move quite freely through this world without much thought. We all have metaphorical cages, whether of our own making or forced upon us by the world, and I will not discount these as any less oppressive to our bodies and souls, but at the same time, most of us can't say that we actually see the physical cage. I am reminded of this quote by Ocean Vuong from his must-read novel On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous:
“How the calf is most free when the cage opens and it’s led to the truck for slaughter. All freedom is relative… sometimes it’s not freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracting with distance but still there… but I took it anyway, that widening, because sometimes not seeing the bars is enough” (p. 216).
The folks incarcerated inside of the WCCW can see the bars. During this COVID outbreak, folks in the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) are doubly captive. Their scope of movement, which was already limited to the gates of the prison, has shrunk down even further to a few square feet inside of a cell, and 20 minutes a day to shower and possibly make a phone call. I believe that the opposite of freedom is control. And that the opposite of control is love. The folks I love inside of the prison have their spirits, which cannot be taken from them, but their physical bodies are controlled and caged, and this is antithetical to the Gospel, is it not? I dream of a day when all will be free, when prisons will be obsolete (click the link for a free PDF copy of Angela Davis' pioneering work on prison abolition).
Today, I invite us all to reflect on freedom. Can we use our particular freedoms (whether of movement, of time, of choice, etc.) to be in solidarity with those who are still held captive?
Join me in holding vigil for the folks held captive within the walls of the WCCW during this traumatic time of further isolation and captivity due to a mass COVID outbreak. Let us pray for a day when liberation is for all and in all forms.
Read more below for the vigil information and also for information on how to register for a special pen-pal event in February with Abolition Apostles.
WEEKLY PRAYER VIGIL
Due to the mass COVID outbreak in the WCCW I am not able to go inside right now - while we wait, I invite you to a weekly, brief (15-20 mins) time of lighting candles and praying for the folks inside of WCCW. Every Wednesday at 5:30 pm (Pacific time) until the quarantine over. Please join me in holding vigil for the incarcerated individuals at the WCCW. Please feel free to share the link below with your congregations and whoever else may be interested.
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 850 8017 3663
INTERESTED IN A PRISON PEN PAL? Click the picture above or click the button below to register for this special educational event with HCC and Abolition Apostles. We hope to see you there! Please feel free to share this opportunity far and wide. All are welcome.