In Mark 8:22-26 the author introduces the idea of seeing with the eyes of God. In this story sight clearly plays a metaphorical role for spiritual vision and understanding. He portrays Jesus needing two touches to heal a blind man. After his first touch he asks the man, “Can you see anything?” and the man responds, “I can see people but they look like trees walking.” Obviously the man still had fuzzy vision, both literally and figuratively.

And so it remains with me, as I look out over the urban Houston landscape and 21st century world events. I see things, but like the blind man in the story, I don’t always know what I’m seeing, I have fuzzy vision. But with the help of the faith community, and of gospel stories like Mark, I am learning to see more clearly.

 For the last 6+ months Santos Omar Madrid and Yane Castro were two workers who did remodeling in two apartment complexes in Southeast Houston (Rustic Village and Bennington Square Apartments). They went to work on time, worked hard, paid their bills, and tried to make life better for themselves and for their families. And they did too, until they stopped being paid.

Zeeba management, the company they worked for, suddenly stopped paying them the wages they were due. They were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars between them. Turns out this is not the first time Zeeba has stopped paying employees without warning. Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center (HIWJC) contacted Zeeba many times regarding the lapse, provided documentation of work done and wages earned, etc… All to no avail. They would not listen. They did not pay.

And so I decided my faith required me to use my social capital (white, male, clergy, outspoken) on behalf of these men who deserved but were not receiving pay. On September 1, 2009 I joined Judy Hoffhien, several other Houston faith leaders, representatives from HIWJC, Santos Omar and Yane in confronting Zeeba regarding the loss of pay. After minutes of misdirection (“We’re not Zeeba.” [mail and signage said they were!] “The man you are looking for works upstairs.” [the upstairs suite they led us to was occupied by another business entirely] Etc…) our appointed spokesperson connected with a Zeeba employee, who was visibly shaken by our calm presence. In this exchange two realities stood out to me: First, the absolute non-anxious way our rep handled herself, though clearly she stood in the right. Second, the instant fear and anger that characterized the Zeeba rep. After refusing to look at documentation that would either clear Zeeba or help them obey the law, she threatened to call the police (she did) then barricaded herself into her office.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed in the office, and a second employee promised to look over our documentation and follow through on their behalf. As of Wednesday September 9, 2009 Zeeba has agreed that Santos Omar is due money (though they will not say how much) and declined to discuss Yane’s case. A second meeting (between one HIWJC rep) and Zeeba is Friday Sep 11 at noon. It is yet to be seen if Zeeba’s vision is cleared up and justice served.

This was a fascinating learning experience for me, if for no other reason than to see a large corporation shuttling responsibility from one employee to another. But I also experienced this in a deeper way. Like the blind man in Mark, I find my vision being cleared in stages. I see apartments and workers, beautiful buildings and successful companies, but I don’t yet have eyes to always see injustice where it lurks. I’m still learning to see our landscape in all its complexity, and to know injustice when I see it. Cases like this are teaching me not only to see injustice, but to work for justice and dignity for all.

When Jesus touched the blind man a second time, “he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” I pray that my time in Houston will include that second touch, and that one day soon my sight will be restored, and I too will see justice clearly.

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