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Notes to myself when things seem impossible and unbearable

8.27. 2018 Posted By: Regina Shands Stoltzfus 446 Times read

Here is what I believe to be true.

The tradition of Jesus and the Scriptures have a consistent message: care for marginalized people and justice for all creation. I need daily reminders of this amid all the news I consume, and I need a community with which to practice and build resilience.

I need spiritual practices for right now. Here are what ground me in the right now: memory, witness, resilience, hope.

Memory

I need to remember. As a community of faith, we practice remembering throughout the liturgical year, recalling and retelling the biblical narrative. We claim the power of telling the story again and again. I need storytellers, teachers, preachers and artists more than ever. There is power in narrative. There is power in remembering history. In the summer of 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till’s lynched body shocked a nation that had turned a blind eye toward the lynching of black people, primarily (but not only) men and boys.  Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open casket so the world could see what had happened to her son. While Till’s death and its aftermath have been called a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, today it is not uncommon for me to mention Till in class and have only a handful of students know the name and the story. We must remember this history to understand that the events of today did not spring from a vacuum. Such thinking makes it too easy to think violence toward marginalized and vulnerable people is the result of a few bad apples rather than the inevitable consequence of a long history of buying into and supporting the notion of white supremacy. In the tradition of my African-American forebears, I carry forward the memory of aligning their liberation narratives with the biblical text. I also carry forward the complexity of those liberation stories: How might my “freedom” bind another? We cannot remember slavery and its violent aftermath without recalling colonization and the forced removal of Native people from their lands. None of us is free until all of us are free.

Witness and testimony

I need the power of witness and testimony. This grounds me in the reality that, despite the overwhelming stream of news about the enormity of injustice and violence and tragedy in the world right now, we have been in places like this before, and I need to remember the testimony of those times and bear witness to the current struggles. “We have been here before,” I murmur, over and over. Arrests and detentions, separation of children from their parents happened under legalized enslavement, forced relocations of Native people, internment camps and more. I recognize again how oppressions are connected—the pattern of dehumanizing and criminalizing groups of people, the separation of families, the normalization of it all in the name of law and order. I follow and comment on and often repost stories about acts of violence perpetuated against marginalized people. Those who know me well get this about me. Some of them worry about me—worry that I am in a perpetual state of unhappiness, gloom and despair. Sometimes people caution me about my attitude; this usually comes from people who know me less well. They say I shouldn’t dwell on negative things so much but should be more grateful for the good things in life; if the news cycle gets me down so much I should stop paying attention to it.

I am glad when people are concerned for me, and I do get weary and overwhelmed. I do understand the need to step back, to check out for a bit in the name of emotional and spiritual health. But I hope I always step back a bit in order to step up again.
Because what I hope we can do is what people of faith have been called to do from the beginning. We show up. We lift each other up. And we have to hold on to faith in something bigger and more powerful than our individual selves and abilities, to believe in the power of good, to believe in the power of God, to believe in the power of God‘s people holding on to one another in the face of insurmountable hardship. I see evidence of this every day. While social media may be exhausting, with story after story of the terrible things that are happening, it also allows for mobilization—the recent “Families Belong Together” rallies across the country are one example. At the rally I attended in Goshen, Indiana, energy and passion were evident.

Resilience

I see signs of resilience every day. I see people of all ages, from different walks of life, figuring out ways to endure, resist and build anew. I see my friends and family, my siblings in faith, organizing, writing, praying, marching and donating funds. I see and sit with tears. But I also see and sit with holy peals of laughter. I hear music (thank you, music makers). I see and experience the fall of rain on my cheek, a beautiful sunset. Yet even while I experience these lifegiving moments, there is a tug at my heart because I know many are suffering right now. The work of faith is to not get mired down in the guilt of the immediate moment but become ever more resolved to do what one can to move the dial a little closer to justice.

Hope

At the end of the day, here is what I am banking on: the witness of my various communities breathing hope together. May we remember what has been accomplished in the past when people pursue justice. When one of us falls down, may there be another to lift them up.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus is assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies at Goshen (Indiana) College.

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