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Category Archives: Social Justice
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on right now.
Our city is still reeling from last week’s events as we begin to address the issues of stunning inequality, systemic racism, violence, and poverty.
In the midst of all this, many are also having their own personal crises as loved ones pass away or suffer illness, as unsatisfying jobs or the utter lack of them sap energy and optimism, as things don’t work out as hoped, as more die in Texas and Nepal and all around the world. —All of these things have the power to haunt and tear down all our stores of enthusiasm, hope, patience, and empathy if we allow them to.
In last Sunday’s Forum (led by The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley), we were encouraged to share “I” statements about how these issues have made us feel or have altered our perspective on things. I didn’t share anything at The Forum, not knowing how to put it all into words then, but now, here, I’ll do my best:
Last week, I began feeling that nothing I’d previously held important—my work, my regular/daily concerns, my personal goals—was important anymore. In the face of my neighbors’ pain and struggle, all these things so personal to me seemed empty and small.
Last week, I felt exhausted, oscillating seasickly (and often selfishly) between an energetic desire to act and a great energy-sucking despair at not knowing what to do (or, worse, knowing what to do but being too afraid to do it).
Last week, I felt my whiteness (and all the racist advantages it gives me) with an incredible, constant keenness that made me feel terrible about myself and my society.
Last week, I felt the nature of my neighborhood—one of those within Baltimore’s “White L”—with both a tremendous guilt and also an odd (troubling) sort of gratefulness.
Last week, I often felt petulant, petty, resentful, and angry.
But that was last week. And while many of these feelings continue to linger in me and while many of the lessons I’ve learned from this past week will no doubt stay with me for years to come, I have—through meditation, church, friends, and family—come to a much healthier, more energetic, and more hopeful place.
Last week, my husband and I listened to Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about many of the challenges and problems that Baltimore’s been facing for so long now. During the Q&A session, one woman asked Coates what she could do to re-inspire her children who, given all that they’ve seen on the news about the world around them, have come to feel helpless, hopeless, and at a loss. Coates, to my surprise and great appreciation, replied (paraphrasing), “If Ida B. Wells didn’t give up hope, then your kids certainly don’t have a right to.”
Last week, I let myself begin to feel hopeless. Because it was easy.
This week, I am practicing hopefulness because I believe it is what’s right. Consider John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God didn’t send Christ into a world deemed hopeless—but into a world deemed worthy of saving, a world full of possibilities, potential, and love.
And this means it’s all worth fighting for. This means it’s worth not taking the easy way out by falling into self-pity, hopelessness, and prejudice.
This week, I’m ready to take up the challenge Mary posed to us at our last Forum: to live by and look out across a twenty (thirty, forty, however long it takes) year horizon, and continuously open myself up to learn from and listen to my neighbors. For learning and listening are the tools of the hopeful.
Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.
At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.
Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.
As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:
Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!
Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!
For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.
By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.
It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.
It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.
–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley
“At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being.”
—Eucharist Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer, pg 370
Growing up Methodist, I never encountered this prayer. But as an Episcopalian today (freshly confirmed!), I thank my blessed stars for Eucharist Prayer C, because it stops me in my tracks every time. Unlike so many other prayers, creeds, and rituals (however important and valuable), this one always zings straight to the heart of me, reminding me of the vastness of the universe and of the Creator’s role in this vastness (not limited to me and my limited imagination; not limited to fragile Earth, my island home).
As well as a Christian, I am an environmentalist, and both have led me to a firm belief in the reality of climate change and of my significant role as a human being in the exacerbation of this phenomenon.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve done all I can to alter my behavior accordingly. This doesn’t mean I’m doing all I can to honor and protect the sanctity of Earth, fragile Earth—my sacred, God-given island home. And why? Because I’m imperfect. Selfish. Wasteful. Thoughtless. A sinner.
But, as with all sins, there are ways to repent and reform. There are other roads to take. So, where are they? What can I do today to change these things? What actions and new roads can I take now?
As poet Wendell Berry explains in his Yes! article, “To Save the Future, Live in the Present,”
“None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why ‘Take…no thought for the morrow…’ is such excellent advice. … I am not an accredited interpreter of Scripture, but taking thought for the morrow is a waste of time, I believe, because all we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today.” (emphasis added)
I love this advice from Berry (as well as his poetry!), because it speaks to me as both a Christian and environmentalist; it reminds me that both of these identities are activist ones, demanding action today rather than countless empty promises, pity parties, and nail-biting worries for the future.
Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This isn’t scripture giving us an “out” to stop worrying about issues like climate change or to leave such things for future generations to figure out; it’s a moral imperative to take action and do what’s right today. Now.
Or, as Berry puts it:
“The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stopping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once were called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’”
And there are many things we as individuals can do today to “start stopping” our wasteful behaviors and become better stewards of these divine gifts. For myself, I’m working to spend more time out in nature (both urban and rural); to dedicate more time to reflecting on and learning about Nature’s variety, strength, and fragility; and to adopt more conservative energy-use habits at home (such as unplugging computers and other appliances when not in use, avoiding the overuse of AC and heaters, avoiding the use of cars when possible, and by keeping more aware of my water usage). I also strive to keep myself as up-to-date on the latest energy and environment-related legislation as possible. But these are only starting places.
Don’t let worries of the future draw you into complacency in the here-and-now. Don’t let the vastness of the issues at hand convince you that you have no role to play or that the solution lies in the hands of others. Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re an activist—charged to love the world as God loves us, to love and care for the whole package: this fragile Earth, our island home.
Now, my fellow activists, let’s go act. (Now!)
“God invites us to be co-creators, to help transform our world and bring about new life.”
–The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley
As a world, we are suffering in many ways: a plane crashed in France, killing more than a hundred people; war continues to rage in the Middle East; Ebola continues to take lives in Liberia; women across the globe are still treated as second-class citizens (and often much worse); our prisons continue to fill and fill with more people each day; people all over the world still face prejudice for their skin color, religion, sexual orientation, and any other differences one can find to hold against them—but these are not the entirety of our world. These do not have to define our world.
Nothing is fixed.
It’s the desire to celebrate this fact—Nothing is fixed; everything can change; everything can be reimagined—that always excites me about the Easter holiday. Easter speaks directly to the author and artist in me as a time to recognize the radical transformation that’s possible in all of us. As a professional writer, there are few things I find more inspiring or important than this: that the radical transformation of our world is possible, no matter how engrained or “natural” our current systems and oppressive forces may seem.
And it’s for this same reason that I’ve always been particularly drawn to science fiction as both a reader and writer. Science fiction is unique among all genres because it’s dedicated not to the imagining of different worlds and systems, but to the reimagining of our current ones. It’s a genre focused on remembering that the power of transformation and change rests with us of the here and now, that these dreams are real and that nothing is fixed. Homophobia? Prisons? Racism? Sexism? Nothing is fixed. We have the tools, ability, and imagination to see these evils ended.
And isn’t this Christ’s Easter example to us?—to radically transform the world through love. To reimagine our world as run by the rules of love.
As renowned science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin said in her acceptance speech as Medalist for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (2014 National Book Awards ceremony):
“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of [people] who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need [people] who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.”
The celebration, possibility, and truth of this “larger reality” is a major part of what Easter has come to mean for me—to remember that I live in a world where a man rose from the dead, where a man was willing to suffer anything to pursue a better world for us all, and that we also have this power to drive change and pursue worlds that don’t yet exist, worlds that others may call impossible. We have the ability to be Realists of a Larger Reality.
“When we free our imaginations, we question everything. We recognize none of this is fixed, everything is stardust, and we have the strength to cast it however we will.” (emphasis added)
Nothing is fixed. The stone was rolled away from Christ’s tomb, and we have the power still to roll all the other stones away.
*In Le Guin’s above quote, I changed the word “writers” to “people,” as indicated by the [brackets].
The modern Valentine’s Day is often a time for exchanging love notes, candies, flowers, and other such romantic tokens. The history of St. Valentine, however, tells a slightly different story—one filled with a variety of myths, rumor, and much heartbreak. Some stories claim that the man who would be St. Valentine was a priest who sought to marry young couples in order to bring them to Christianity and more in line with the Christian traditions of the time. Other stories claim that a 3rd century (A.D.) Roman emperor attempted to “ban marriage among young people, believing that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers,” only to have his edict challenged by a (soon to be martyred) Christian priest (HuffPo, 2/14/14). The truth, however, is lost in the mire of legend.
Today, we celebrate Valentine’s Day for entirely different (and usually secular) reasons. Unfortunately, though, we continue to greet the holiday under laws that still prohibit many of our neighbors from enjoying the sacrament of marriage. While the landscape in the U.S. is steadily improving for gay couples looking to say “I Do,” there are still many prejudices and obstacles that stand against them, and still many countries around the world where being gay is not simply a barrier to marriage, but is considered an offense punishable by exile and imprisonment.
Even in the U.S., however, the Episcopal Church remains sadly unique in its level of acceptance, celebration, and inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Old St. Paul’s, itself, has already conducted two same-sex marriages since it became legalized in the State of Maryland. According to The Episcopal Church.org,
“In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that ‘homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church’ (1976-A069). Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.
… In 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated; in 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all; and in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited.”
This Valentine’s Day, don’t simply celebrate the love you share with your family and significant other—celebrate how far we’ve come as a Church and as a country when it comes to accepting and respecting the love of others, and keep up the fight for a more just and Godly world wherein none of God’s children need fear or hide their love.
For several weeks this winter, our Old St. Paul’s front sign read: Black Lives Matter. In our Sunday forums, we often discuss not only issues of equality in relation to race, but also to gender and sexual orientation as well. (In fact, one of the first forums I attended at Old St. Paul’s was on feminism and the Church, led by Youth Minister Jessica Sexton.) Right now, our vestry is working to get a new ramp installed to enhance ease of accessibility to the church building, showcasing our commitment to also reach out to people regardless of ability or disability. What’s more, Old St. Paul’s continues to actively look for new ways to strengthen and reach out to the fullness of its community, both in and outside of the Church (hence, the number of forums now dedicated to addressing social justice issues).
As a feminist, as someone who spent part of her childhood as a P.K. (a preacher’s kid), who has family members of different races and sexual orientations, who’s lived through a parents’ divorce, who acknowledges evolution and climate change, and who’s had close family members suffer everything from severe illness to death to imprisonment, I have experienced some of the best and worst of church communities. Old St. Paul’s, however, has proven to be nothing but supportive, open-minded, and welcoming—a place dedicated to not only being a true and constructive member of its colorful community, but to encouraging this kind of belonging and community within others.
As a Christian, I have learned that, if you want to consider yourself as belonging to a community or family—whether it’s as an American, Christian, sister, friend, etc.—then you can’t simply come to the parties and celebrate the community’s accomplishments. You have to be there to help shoulder the burdens, pains, and debts of your community as well. At Old St. Paul’s, I’ve been blessed to see just this kind of belonging and community exemplified week after week in both its clergy and laypeople.
My husband and I have attended Old St. Paul’s for just over a year, and we’ve now decided to be officially confirmed this upcoming March. As my confirmation date approaches, I find myself filled with joy, gratefulness, and a renewed sense of belonging. I believe I have found a place where I know I’ll have friends when I need them, and where I will always be honored and glad to extend my hand when called upon.
For more conversation regarding Community and belonging, be sure to check out The Rev. Mary Stanley’s recent post, “The Cost of Community.”