the underground railroad

underground railroad“if i could have convinced more slaves they were slaves, i could have freed thousands more”

– harriet tubman

this past weekend i was in portland for a women’s gathering called convergence.  it is not a typical conference; there are no speakers, no people getting paid, no flash.  just a sacred safe space for a bunch of women leaders to share & learn & soak & be challenged & encourage & grieve & grow. i went to see dear & inspiring friends and get a little soul care; it was also an honor to get to process some of the material from down we go with women interested in cultivating intentional little pockets of love & freedom and planting new trees.

one thing that i am always struck with in these moments is just how many incredible women there are whose gifts haven’t been fully valued.  how many have been slaves to systems that mistreated them.  and how even though they have been used and mistreated and undervalued in all kinds of ways, they still have hope & passion & dreams for the kingdom and are finding ways to live it out despite the obstacles.  seriously, it’s amazing.

i know so many women–and men, too–who are being set free.

free from the bondage of religion.
free from the shackles of the system.
free from the oppression of abusive power structures.
free from being called nasty names & having our dignity stripped.
free from limitations on our faith.
free from a squelching of our gifts.

and freedom is costly.

when we choose the path of leaving systems & structures that continue to keep us in bondage, we choose a lonelier, scarier road.

but nothing tastes better than freedom.

the same day i arrived in portland, my wise & amazing friend phyllis mathis and i finished our first walking wounded online class:  hope for those hurt by the church.  it was so beautiful, so healing, so inspiring.

i was also reminded, yet again, how tough it is to find our way to freedom without a little help along the way.

my friend mar shared that walking wounded was a little like the underground railroad, a stopping spot on the way to freedom for the slaves.  a hidden pocket of love & hope & refuge on the journey toward freedom.  manned by others who believed in freedom, the underground railroad was made up of shelters & places of protection, places to be reminded that freedom was possible, places to be nourished, places that pointed others toward hope.

her words took my breath away.

i do not for a minute want to minimize the kind of oppression & human slavery african americans and so many other people experienced or are experiencing today.  i respect that as westerners escaping from the grip of the institutional church, our bondage is quite a different kind.

at the same time, the imagery works for so many of our journeys.

the slaves wouldn’t have made it to freedom without the underground railroad.

and i wouldn’t have made it to freedom without other people who first told me i was a slave (i didn’t even know it) and then carried me along this path, gently reminding me that there was, indeed, something better ahead.

6 years ago i didn’t know i was a slave.

i was happy settling for crumbs because i thought that was all i deserved.
i thought the weird power dynamics i was experiencing as part of a church staff were normal.
i thought i should just be thankful i was “allowed” to do anything and knew it could be a lot worse.
i was stuck working for a system that didn’t really want me, just what i had to bring to make their system more successful.

that harriet tubman quote has gotten under my skin:

“if i could have convinced more slaves they were slaves, i could have freed thousands more”

so many men & women don’t know they’re slaves.  don’t know they’re being bullied. controlled. used. limited. unvalued. stripped of dignity.

i certainly didn’t.  but as i started walking this direction, i started meeting others who had been set free, too.  they told their stories.  they fed me.  they gave me shelter. they pointed me on my way and told me to keep going, to not give up this journey.

years ago i watched a documentary on human slavery and remember clearly the story of an entire village who were slaves for generations upon generations in a free country.  they had no idea they were slaves until someone bought one of their people’s freedom.  then, one by one, the freed slaves helped the others be set free, too.

i believe in every fiber of my being that Jesus came to set people free, like really free.  free-er than we can ever even imagine although i hope we can experience more and more of it this side of heaven.

and my freedom isn’t only about my freedom.
my freedom is about our freedom.
i’m not really free until my brothers & sisters are.

your freedom isn’t only about your freedom, it’s about our freedom.
and we’re not really free until our brothers & sisters are.

God, help us recognize our slavery.
and that there’s a true & beautiful & bumpy path to freedom. 
for those of us already on the road there, may we play our part in offering shelter, hope, love, support, food, water, and courage to those walking this direction, too. 


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Your blog entries always touch me so deeply. Please give me a “heads-up” when the next online Walking Wounded group is held.

    I love you, sister.


    • thanks, linda, for reading and being part of this little underground railroad out here. i will let you know. looks like the first monday in may. peace to you from afar.

  • This very idea has been spining in my heart lately, Kathy. Almost like “sealing the covenant in each other” or something like that. I love how you’ve phrased it here.

    • thanks,sarah, there’s something very very powerful in the whole idea of how desperately we need each other in this process of moving toward freedom. it’s weird, it feels like our lives somehow depend on it. thanks for all you do to nourish others on the way.

  • Kathy – beautiful – and clear, concise, and true. Wisdom in your words and those of Harriet Tubman.

    I have a dream that using Brene Brown’s work (The Gifts of Imperfection) and my skills with holding transformational conversations via my HeartWork – I will reach into the church. I have over 60 years experience of church and know the shaming that is used to control and manipulate people into obedience and submission.

    For now, my focus is women because I believe the Margaret Meade quote is true, “Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.”

    We have all (male and female) been put into boxes that are too small for whom God has made us to be. Let us break free of these boxes and receive the gift of freedom that Christ gave us to be our authentic selves. The world desperately needs us to be fully present.

    • thanks, elaine. yes, you have so much wisdom and experience and i’m glad you’re bringing it to the world to be part of helping set people free. you are a liberator.

  • Kathy,

    beautiful! I am going to share this on my FB page. Your have been one of those places of nourishment and encouragement for me! <3

    • thanks liz, for reading & for sharing. i’m so glad we know each other.

  • I too felt the same way until a few weeks ago when I heard a sermon from an amazing woman who is obviously anointed. The thing she said that stood out was “Are you called to a platform ministry but you have not been allowed on the platform, is God enough? Preach it from the street corners!” No one can keep you from sharing His Word, His love and living your purpose.
    My blog is my new street corner and the freedom I have found is not in the walls of my church but on the wall of my blog.
    I am so glad you found a safe place to find your freedom and you are passing it on to others who don’t realize that they need to be free.

    • thanks for reading, hope, and for sharing. i’m glad you are writing, proclaiming freedom and bringing hope to others. that’s what i love about what’s possible outside of the walls. it can’t be contained!

  • Your words are like a healing balm to my soul. AMEN and AMEN! I am moved by the courage and wisdom of Harriet Tubman and others. I am also thankful for having the veil lifted from my eyes regarding how some people are “being bullied. controlled. used. limited. unvalued. stripped of dignity.” in the church. There ARE some healthy wonderful churches out there, thank God. I refuse to invest my heart in another oppressive unhealthy church system. We can’t encourage healing and change the system until the problems are acknowledged. Here’s to breaking free from oppressive and exploitative systems and encouraging others on this journey towards freedom and healing.

    • thanks for reading, laurie, and taking time to comment. i’m so glad the veil has been lifted, too. that is the imagery i have been thinking a lot about–the scales falling off our eyes. amen to your last sentence, too!

  • Kathy, I remembered Mar saying that about the underground railroad. Beautiful picture of how we were once slaves to the church system and didn’t even know it! It’s so hard to be around people who are so enslaved to controlling leaders because they don’t see it. They will protect them, argue for them and accuse me of being rebellious toward authority to not face the real truth. Thank God that I found you and your wonderful friends online and in Las Vegas! I’m encouraged to go forward!

    • yeah, that was one of my favorite lines, but there were so many awesome ones in there. i am glad we all keep finding each other. may we play our little parts in passing it on.

  • Thank you for reminding me that it is not just about me…and that I need others to help me find freedom…to even show me that I was a slave. So good.

    • thanks for taking time to share & yeah, our freedom is all tied up in each others. that’s what i love about it, it’s not just mine but yours, too.

  • The taste of freedom is getting sweeter as the days go by. I remember as a teenager feeling something wrong in my spirit, but I wasn’t deep enough to recognize the beauty of searching in places of my heart that were harder to see. So I stayed close to the surface and followed others into slavery. I even became a leader of slaves and helped perpetuate the bondage of my brothers and sisters.
    Now, I am a lonely wanderer from one blog to the next gleaning kernals of encouragement wherever I can find them. Thank-you for leaving the corners of your fields unharvested so some of us can experience some community nourishment. Maybe someday we will find what we are looking for and connect with fellow freedom lovers like you.

    • thanks for sharing brian. yeah, it’s so hard when somewhere inside of us we sort of know something’s awry but when everything around is says its okay it’s really hard to listen to it. i am glad you are here and if you are game, would love to have you be part of our next walking wounded group in may. 4 weeks with some other wanderers. regardless, so glad that somehow a little of this corner of the world brings some hope. you are definitely not alone. i love that phrase “fellow freedom lovers.” peace.


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