The following post is my message from today’s church service at Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship.
Overwhelmed. It’s a word I feel often living in New York. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by massive throngs of people, sometimes by crowded subways, sometimes by my volunteer placement, sometimes by injustices I see all around me, sometimes just by being in the world. There is so much to do, so much need, so much hatred, anger, violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism, militarism, you name it, it’s there and it’s incredibly overwhelming.
But I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this. You live in the same world as I. Though we don’t walk around in the same shoes or wear the same set of lenses, our lives overlap and we experience and witness similar injustices. Sometimes this overwhelming world is too heavy to handle so I begin to pick and choose which injustices I will see, which causes I will embrace, which people I will love. I can’t do it all and there is some release in knowing that but that’s no excuse for the blinders I often wear.
In fact, these blinders often block out so much of my view that all I focus on is me and all the angst, frustration, and discouragement I feel about my life: I hate sitting in an office all day, I wish I loved my work more, I want more recognition from my boss. All these things leave me wallowing in self pity, waist deep in complaints. Rabbi Margaret Wenig has this to say about a new day:” The universe is infinite. Unlimited possibilities are arranged before us still. We can awaken each morning to wonder: What shall I learn today? What can I create today? What will I notice that I have never seen before?” To wake up each morning with this sense of awe and wonderment is something I aspire to do but it is difficult to manage day after day. Living each moment with this deep passion can, and does, take incredible amounts of energy.
When I think of what a beautiful new day would look like it would be one where all pain is healed, all lives made whole, and all hatred ends but we can’t expect a utopia can we? So realistically I look for a new day where someone, somewhere will open their eyes to just one more injustice, to shake off the chains of self pity, to choose to see just one more person’s pain. I have a friend who was recently punched in the face for no reason while she walked down the street. People saw but no one came to help or see if she was alright.
Sometimes I wonder which part of the scenario I am living in: If I’m the one inflicting pain on others through my actions, if I’m the one hurting because of someone else’s actions, if I’m the one who ignores another’s pain, or if I’m the one who sees the pain and does something about it. A new day for me is a day where we not only witness an injustice but talk about it, write about it, rage about it. Yes I believe in a righteous anger which I think we as Mennonites, at least in my experience, are often afraid of. When is the last time an injustice really got your blood boiling, brought tears to your eyes, and made you want to scream so loud the whole world could hear you?
Jesus wasn’t one to shy away from anger. In Matthew 21 he saw his beautiful church being turned into something grotesque so he ransacked tables, drove out the money lenders, and freed captives. He let the pain that comes from witnessing something hurtful rise up and overflow in his soul. It wasn’t that he chose to speak and act, it was that he couldn’t do otherwise– his soul called to him so deeply that he had no choice.
This is what I wish for you and for myself: that we let something effect us at such a raw, deep level that we have no choice but to scream about it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish you suffering and I’m not condoning violent fits of rage. What I want for us is to feel so deeply that we cannot keep silent about injustice. As poet and activist Audre Lorde said “Your silence will not protect you.” I completely agree and would add that your silence will not protect anyone else either.
And isn’t part of the reason we are here, in church, to bear one another’s injustices, to see what others face and to let them know we hear them, we see them, we love them? If we can’t be real and open, with all our scars revealed in church then where can we be?
A new day for me is one where other young women who were raped like me no longer have to speak out on their own, no longer have to be a victim of their abuser and the system but have a rally of voices behind them, fighting for them and with them to end rape culture.
A new day for me is one where someone tells his or her bullied classmate they are not alone, where one more LGBTQ teenager is saved from committing suicide because one more person gave their voice.
A new day for me is a day where Mother Earth is no longer beaten and bruised, where her very pores no longer ooze gases and fossil fuels, where the rivers in her veins don’t run dry, and her body is no longer bought, sold, and exploited. And all this because people gave a voice for her and with her.
A new day for me is one where my brothers and sisters no longer have to die crossing our militarized border, where their bodies aren’t found in our deserts, where our nation’s hatred for immigrants is no longer tolerated. This would be a day where my undocumented friends would no longer have to stand up for themselves by themselves but where people across the nation from all races and places in life would lift their voices in righteous anger against our racist, inhumane border policies and immigration laws.
A new day for me is one where the church is a safe place for any and everyone regardless of class, race, status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, you name it. And I don’t just mean this building I mean THE church, the body of Jesus’ followers that are supposed to act, talk, and think like him.
A new day for me is a day when, as Howard Zinn expressed, the countless small actions of unknown people would empower them to create great moments of change.
Our scripture reading today said:”It is good to wait patiently for YHWH to set us free.” This beautiful verse makes my soul feel at peace because I know that our communal struggle for a more just and loving world is not hopeless. Yes, life is hard here and now and injustice is prevalent here and now but it won’t last forever. We will be set free.
Would you join me in my vision? Would you let someone else’s pain touch you so deeply that you have no choice but to speak out? Would you not keep silent any longer? Would you make this new day come for one more person, in one more place, and make the world a little more just?
I want to leave you with a prediction by Arundhati Roy. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”