Calibrating My Sight for Liberation

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Kelley Nikondeha -Sight for Liberation3

He’s African American—a threat. She’s Mexican—an immigrant, maybe an illegal alien. Her hijab says she is a devout Muslim, a mother of terrorists. His accent marks him as an outsider and thus, suspicious. Our current society shapes our sight of others in ways that are incongruent with the imperatives of Scripture.

In days like these I find myself buried in the thickness of Exodus, our primal story of deliverance. It is a narrative about another pharaoh from another time, though not too different from today. We hear of harassed people, an oppressive regime, and an insecure pharaoh. Let’s start there.

“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we,” said the unnamed pharaoh.

Upon seeing the fecundity of the Israelites, the seed for oppression took root in the soil of his heart.

He summoned two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and instructed them, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” He tells them to see like he does, with an eye to discriminate.

But the women didn’t see like pharaoh. They feared God. They refused to see as the pharaoh commanded them. As each child came through the birth canal, Shiphrah and Puah looked as God looks.  They saw goodness arrive with squint and squall into the world, into their waiting arms. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. As long as the midwives had their way, everyone lived.

An exasperated pharaoh found other people who would accept his vision for the world. Others who discriminated when they saw a Hebrew baby. Others who tossed baby boys into The Great River. Others who comforted themselves, saying they were just obeying orders and were keeping Egypt safe.  How could you defy a pharaoh appointed by the gods?

Meanwhile Shiphrah and Puah kept delivering babies.

Jochebed bore a son and saw that he was good, good as all creation. Miriam saw her mother put that good son on a raft in the reeds, she watched to see what would come of him. Bithiah, a daughter of pharaoh, saw the baby. She saw the baby boy. And she refused to see him with her father’s eyes. Instead she joined with Miriam, Jochebed, with Shiphrah and Puah, to keep the boy alive. Together these women saw another way forward and worked to subvert the death edict.

These women remind me that it matters a great deal how I look upon the world.

Do I fear pharaoh? Do I fear people who speak a different language or worship in other temples? Do I let my fear of an uncertain future cause me to scapegoat another people group? Do I see them as a threat to my peace or a danger to my way of life?

In times of peril, can I look like strong women with vision shaped by fear of God alone? Can I look for creation goodness in my neighbors, no matter what their skin color or nation of origin? Can I see the Spirit’s subversive ways working to upend the empire? Is my sight calibrated for liberation?

It feels like another day in pharaoh’s house, to be honest. But I can’t let his vision set my sightline. Like the women who’ve gone before, I must resist seeing as pharaoh, labeling people ‘thug’ or ‘elitist’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘bad hombres’ or—fill in the blank.

Instead of divisive labels, I see neighbor love. Instead of threats left and right, I see God’s potential to free us all from our oppression, our hate, our hard service and hardened hearts.

In the wake of another recent bout of hate, maybe especially in its wake, I must see differently.

The Hebrew language reveals the real names of the midwives: Brightness and Brilliance. I want to see like them—a brightness that pierces the darkness, a brilliance that cuts through ignorance. I want to see how to subvert the deathliness of my age. We are told that God rewarded Brightness and Brilliance with families for their courage, and it began with the way they determined to see the world. Before we event act, it matters how we look. Who shapes our sight?

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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Kelley Nikondeha
  • The question I will be carrying around with me today:
    “Can I look like strong women with vision shaped by fear of God alone?”
    Thank you for sharing the story of Brightness and Brilliance, who encourage us that we really can.

  • Olivia Butz

    “I want to see how to subvert the deathliness of my age”. Reminds me of God setting life and death before us…let us choose this day to be a blessing, for life.

  • Choosing to see differently – such a hard and dangerous choice. Thank you for this reminder, Kelley!

  • Choosing to see differently is, I find, a choice we must make again and again. My vision is so easily dulled by the grind of the day to day! These words are the fuel I continually need. Thank you!