The Modern Abolitionist Movement as “Wounded Healers”.
This week was the first Abolitionist Academy of 2011, and even though I had already taken part, I did so again – and feel the better for it. Investigation was what first drew me to Not For Sale, investigation is also where Not For Sale came from. Dave embarked on a journey of investigation after he had a “born again” experience into the issue of modern slavery when he was made aware of it’s existence in the Bay Area (Chianti Pratipatta presente!). His journey has lead to my journey, and many other people’s journey’s uniting under an orange banner in this uphill march for freedom. Dave and Mike Duffy’s Erasmus class (some of whom would become NFS staffers) began with investigation. My point is that it was nice to get back to the NFS roots – the week has actually left me feeling energized, well maybe figuratively energized. It has also been great to reconnect with Dennis Mark, the NFS Academy chief investigator and instructor – he has stayed with us throughout the week and over the weekend, there has been a lot of laughter and good times. I took part in the Academy last October, just after the Global Forum. I remember listening to Keturah talk about the Fellowship then, and being utterly disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to take part. It was kind of trippy to be talking about the Fellowship to a new Academy class almost half way through my Fellowship, five months later. Let me take this time to again thank everyone from the bottom of my heart who helped me get here.
I still cannot find exactly where the below quote comes from, I read it in Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution” – to be fair I didn’t spend very long looking for it [side note: all books should have bibliographies, just saying].
Anyway, Henri Nouwen, a Catholic Priest and writer wrote, “In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.” On Friday night I took part in a presentation about human trafficking and the story of Not For Sale at a Catholic Church. I opened the talk with this Nouwen quote – I’ve also used it to close out my “white paper” (an academic piece I recently wrote on the political economy of modern-day slavery). It is an eloquent and profound quote. Read it again. “In the face of the oppressed I recognize my own hands. Their flesh is my flesh, their blood is my blood, their pain is my pain, their smile is my smile.” Nouwen wasn’t writing with the diablerie of slavery in mind, but I think his words speak very well to this issue, and especially to those working against it.
There has been a running theme playing out in my head all week. What does advocacy really look like? Advocacy for me means, to actively standing along side of someone who is oppressed. But do I even know what that means – or what that would really take? The first day of the Academy we heard the story, in the first person, of a survivor of sexual exploitation. Two things she said really left me thinking. She said, for those of us working with survivors, who haven’t experienced what they have experienced, to truly stand with them, whether that is in rehabilitation or even prevention, we must journey with them in their pain – we must in a way be able, at times, to suffer with them. The word compassion is thrown around a lot. I think what she was talking about however goes beyond compassion – more along the lines of empathy, to be true healers we must be true feelers, “there pain is my pain”.
I would add something to this, which is easy for me to say, as I haven’t been victimized in such a horrible way. I believe this compassionate empathy must be extended, in some way, to the traffickers – the men and women perpetrating this crime. In this horrifying saga that is modern-day slavery, who do you think is the most broken? If we are to see ourselves in the hands of the oppressed, then why not, how can we not see ourselves in the hands of the oppressor? If we are to truly heal the world and be free, we all need to be free – ALL of us. From my Christian perspective, the blood of God was worth all humanity, was it not? God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus sanctifies all human life (Mark 15: 33ff). We talk about redemption, (and yes it does takes “two to tango”) but I do not believe anyone is beyond redemption, and suffice it to say, Jesus would agree. But as I said that is easy for me to say.
The other remark that Ming, the survivor (and PhD candidate) made, that really left an impression, was that in this work, especially working directly with survivors, it is okay to make mistakes. Obviously in everyday life it is okay to make mistakes, we all make mistakes; it is okay to make them as long as you don’t ignore them. However I think people working to restore justice, especially those working in aftercare, really need to hear Ming’s words. It is okay to make mistakes, none of us are perfect, in fact many of us have our own wounds – we carry our own crosses. Henri Nouwen wrote a book titled, “Wounded Healers”, in the book he asserts that we need to risk being wounded to be healers, he draws on Jesus as THE wounded healer. I think the abolitionist movement must be, in this way, “wounded healers”. We need to risk being wounded, we need to risk making mistakes (and understand that both of which are okay) we need to embrace all of this to be true advocates – I guess what I am trying to say, is that we must allow ourselves to become vulnerable and uncomfortable. Perhaps a recasting of Nouwen’s quote for this movement could be, “In the face of the oppressed or the oppressor, I recognize my own wounds. Their vulnerability must be my vulnerability, their brokenness must be my brokenness, their journey is my journey, and without their freedom mine will never be whole.”