Of all of the images coming out of Charlottesville, it is the ones of the clergy in silent protest that most cause my eyes to sting and my chest to tighten.
For a moment, when I see these priests and pastors standing together against those armed with guns and hate, I understand more deeply their vocation, my vocation: to be present in the ugly and the gritty stuff of this world, to stand alongside of the marginalized, to be beacons of hope, to kick against darkness, to love God and neighbour, to live God’s Kingdom in unlikely places, to be truth-tellers.
There they are, in the eye of the storm, a visual signpost of truth and love.
And I wonder if I would be with them, were I living in that city or if I would be cloistered at home, wringing my hands?
This weekend I have felt like there is nothing much I can do but wring my hands, as my heart has felt sadness and anger and angst at watching the events unfold two thousand miles away.
My prayers feel limp. Even prayers of lament feel a bit hollow. So I read my Twitter feed and click “like” when someone writes words that ring true, all the while knowing this isn’t doing much.
As these thoughts skitter across my brain, I realize I’m asking the wrong question.
It does no good to ask what I would do, were I there. I should be asking what am I doing?
What am I doing to make the world less hostile and more loving? How am I standing alongside the marginalized and the oppressed? How will I use the power and privilege that I have to make a difference?
These questions are much harder to answer that the hypothetical one of whether I would have marched with the clergy in Charlottesville.
We are in a delicate season where we recognize with clearer eyes that the world is not the way it should be. Where we recognize things that have been hidden or we (some of us, at least) have had the privilege to ignore in the past.
How do I live in a way that goes beyond simply wringing my hands in worry and sadness and anger?
A friend of mine from college said that yesterday she watched Hidden Figures with her young daughters, and they talked afterwards about how things were and how things are. What a simple, yet powerful thing for her to do with her kids.
So, today I will talk to my kids. I will tell them about what happened in Charlottesville and have a conversation about racism. And then we will keep having these conversations, naming racism or sexism or hate or oppression where we see them. I will teach my kids to be kind. I will teach them to look for those at school who are left out or made fun of. I will teach them to tell on bullies.
And I will do my best to do the same. To recognize and name not only the racism that takes place in my nieghbourhood and my city, but the racism that is buried in my own heart. Because, let’s be honest, I am not innocent.
I will try to listen to other people’s stories, to hear where they have come from, what they have experienced, rather than assuming that I know.
I will pay more attention to the structures around me, and ask the hard questions of how they are allowing privilege.
I will foster in my family a celebration of diversity in my family, giving us opportunities to see, smell, taste, and hear the gifts of other cultures.
I will try to do more than wring my hands because wringing my hands doesn’t seem to be getting any of us very far.
At Iona, in Scotland, they talk about “thin places,” where the distance between this world and heaven collapses. I have always imagined those places to be places of natural beauty—perhaps standing on a mountaintop or sitting on the edge of the sea.
But as I look at the pictures of the clergy in Charlottesville, not in a place of natural beauty, but in a place of ugliness, something deep in me is stirred, and I can’t help but wonder if they are standing in a thin space. And maybe this is why I am so deeply moved when I see them.