Knee on the Neck

i can't breathe

I haven’t watched the video.  I couldn’t even handle hearing it when my husband was watching it in the same room.  Yet, the still image of the knee on the neck, posted in so many places, is etched in my mind. I cannot stop seeing it behind my eyes.  They say a picture paints a thousand words, but this one paints a thousand lifetimes.  In one snapshot, the spirit of oppression is clear for all to see.

Breaking down the Latin word oppression from the 14th century, I find its parts: op-against; pressen press down; and -sion the act of.  Roll them together and you get: the act of pressing down or against. Interestingly, it comes from the same word as rape. Other definitions include to crush; to put down; to overwhelm; to overpower; to keep down by an unjust exercise of power; to afflict; to torment; to subdue; to burden with cruelty; to unreasonably restrain; to smother.  That last one got me…to smother…to take the breath of. The last words of the oppressed are:

I can’t breathe.

Oppression is not new to our generation, our country, or the world. Going all the way back to Cain and Able, we see the roots of oppression are in the desire for superiority.  In Genesis, when Cain killed his brother the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”  His punishment was to wander the earth but never be killed.  To be tormented.  To be oppressed.

Before Cain, there was Lucifer.  He wanted to be worshiped.  He wanted to be superior.  His punishment was to be thrown from heaven and to wander the earth.  Coincidence?  I think not.   The spirit of oppression has been around destroying lives ever since. It wanders the Earth, never dying, only bringing torment.  The Crusades, the Holocaust, the Race Wars all over the planet…the spirit of oppression is the pressing down of “The Other”.

Who is The Other? Anyone who is different than me.  Different color, different beliefs, different politics, different religion, different worldview…just different. The human way is to think my way is best.  It is the truth.  Anything that strays from it is the wrong way…the way of The Other. My way seems so clear to me.  Why can’t The Others see it?  If I just tell them, you would think they could see the truth that is so obvious, right?  But they don’t.  And it makes me angry.

It makes me uncomfortable to be around The Other, who is so blind.  So much so, I decide it would be best to silence their voices.  Refuse to let them speak their truth, because I know I have the real truth. I decide to shout over them so they will not be heard.  I decide to justify myself, discredit them, or opt out of the conversation all together.  I press hard against them. Oh wait, what was the definition of oppression again?  The act of pressing down or against. Yikes, I resemble that definition.

The spirit of oppression is wandering and settling in hearts.  I only have to look at our political system to see it in action.  I long for “the other” side to be pressed down.  Our country swings red by pressing down blue.  Our country swings blue by pressing down red.  We fight oppression with oppression. Until The Other has felt what I have felt I will not relent, because my way is the right one. It should not be a surprise to me when this does not work.  The blood is crying out from the ground. It is on my hands.  It is on all of our hands.

  I can’t breathe.  

 Pressing down is not the answer. Lifting up, that is the way.  I don’t lift up, because it is not easy to lift up The Other.  It requires me to open my heart.  It requires me to examine myself.  It requires me to admit I was wrong.  It forces me to listen to The Other’s voice. It requires me to see from a different viewpoint than my own.  Lifting up puts me in the shoes of The Other and I don’t like it.  It is uncomfortable.  It is unsettling. It is messy. It is humbling.

I choose, instead, to continue on my current path.  Then I wonder why things never change and why everything is falling apart. I wear the robe of oppression like superman’s cape, never realizing as in the story The Emperor’s Clothes, I am actually naked.  The blood is crying out from the ground.

I can’t breathe.

Oppression is not God’s way, so it shouldn’t be mine.  No, his way is to lift up.  It is the opposite of oppression.  He fights oppression with freedom. The blood of the ground reached God’s ears and he responded with the blood of the tree, and the blood from the ground was appeased.  His Son was lifted up so all could be free from oppression. Superiority died at the foot of the cross, and all were welcomed on level ground. If only our world would believe him instead of the wanders.

Jesus walked among The Others of his day. He sat with them. Ate with them.  Listened to them. Loved them.  He lifted up the prostitutes. The demoniacs. The broken.  Those rejected.  He set them free from oppression, by his words, actions, and blood.  If I claim to follow him, shouldn’t I do the same?


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