It was at least 8 months ago when I finally sat down and watched The Butler. A common disturbance recurred in my heart during that movie. A feeling like I had missed out on being part of an important time in American history. I started to glorify the role I was sure I would have played had I been a young adult in the 60’s. This was the night that I began saying the phrase “I wish I was born in a different time”. I’ve said that so many times since that night – longing to live in a time of unrest and civil disobedience. Longing for a cause that was so clear, so right, so obvious, so uncomplicated.
During this time I also read a biography on Dorothy Day – further solidifying my grandiose image of Sher Sheets the social crusader – if only I had the chance. I read the story of Dorothy Day and others refusing to follow air raid drills – a time when the entire nation was required to take shelter from the threat of bombings. I cheered as she and others were arrested year after year for refusing to participate in a national practice of fear and terror.
I longed for the opportunity to be part of a big movement where the festering wounds of our nation were finally lanced and the necessary purging begins to happen to set us on a path for healing.
And then #handsupdontshoot happened. And #BlackLivesMatter happened. And #Icantbreathe happened.
The last two months have been very busy for me and JUSTembrace. We hosted a big party for Melvin’s 61st and possibly last birthday. We hosted our 4th annual Fall Festival with hundreds of our neighbors gathering for a great time. We kicked off our Holiday season with a visit from Santa and dove into a pace of 2 holiday feasts a week – complete with 15-20 new guests each night. One of our closest friends and community members disappeared to rehab and we continue to feel his absence in our home, at our parties, and on the street daily as we pray for his comfort and healing. We honored the 1- year anniversary of the loss of Anthony Garcia, our first dinner guest and co-founder of JUSTembrace. We hosted 7 adult leaders from a Lutheran Church on the WI/IL boarder for a weekend of training and equipping for lifestyles of restoration. We continued to sit with Melvin as his cancer prognosis leads us to consider how to make the most of the time we have left. With all of this we continued our weekly bible studies and monthly foot clinics – maintaining the rhythms of JUSTembrace life.
In the midst of all of this the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases have taken center stage in our nation. My facebook feed has been lit with pictures, videos, documentaries, articles, rants and events right here in my community surrounding the unrest these two (and other) situations that have become the face of a deep unrest over the injustices born of personal and corporate sin.
Here it is. It’s my time. I had been longing for an opportunity to gather with others in combating injustice! I’d been ready to march with MLK or sit with Dorothy Day just months ago – and here’s my chance! This is my opportunity to be on the “right” side of history as I see it. To lend my voice for the fight for justice, equality and dignified humanity for all!
The struggle is real. Sometimes people say that about a bad hair day or when their favorite coffee mug breaks. I actually mean it though. The struggle is real. It has been deep and unsettling in my heart and soul. While my friends have been out protesting around the country and in my own neighborhood, I have been watching (and cheering) from the sidelines. I have been unable to join them – but not because I do not agree with the cause.
The struggle is real.
Last Sunday I was finally able to put words to the struggle and find some comfort and release from the personal battle over my role in this current movement.
As my pastor led us in confession and my friend Christa led us in the prayers of the people, I began to weep. The conclusion of our corporate prayer time consisted of a confession of our racism, of our complacency, of our role in the injustices of our world. And then – my pastor prayed a prayer of kingdom vision – asking that God would allow us the gift of sharing a feast with those on the other side of our socio-economic status, the other side of our racial identification, the other side of our social bubbles. This visionary prayer was just that for most in the congregation – a vision of what could be – seemingly spiritually tangible, yet physically intangible. My weeping intensified as gratitude and pain coursed through me. I curled into as small of a ball as possible as a 5’11” woman wearing her dad’s flannel sitting in a very visible part of the sanctuary. Trying to be unseen while unable to keep my cries silent. Hashtag awkward.
As I wept, I thanked God for the undervalued lives that I have had the opportunity to develop community with. I felt an unspeakable joy at the knowledge that the vision my pastor was casting for this idea of a feast with “others” was not only something I experienced on a regular basis – but it is kind of my job to provide for anyone who is ready to sit at that table. JUSTembrace has become a safe place where the miracle of that vision takes place on a consistent basis.
As I wept, I thought about what it means to me that #BlackLivesMatter.
#BlackLivesMatter looks like sitting with Melvin as he chokes back sobs as we discuss his fears of how his fight with cancer will lead him into eternity – how his body will be treated, who will make sure he dies when God comes for him and not a moment sooner or a moment later. Listening to his honest fears and confusion about the unknown.
#BlackLivesMatter means grieving the loss of Anthony a year after he was found dead in his SRO. It means not allowing our friends memory to be lost over time or dismissed because of the role alcohol played in his death.
#BlackLivesMatter means keeping a prayerful vigil for my friend suffering with addiction and deep shame. It means, that while a most faithful friend is hiding his suffering from his loving community, we don’t let him go. We cry out to God for him – we cry for him – we carry his precious image in our hearts and we miss him each and every time he is not with us. It means waking up from vivid dreams where we are reunited and the hugs and tears flow.
#BlackLivesMatter looks like standing outside with our neighbors who have been evacuated from their SRO because of a fire. It looks like being present to listen to one after another recount the terror of the fire, and to sit in the reality of their constant fears and vulnerability.
#BlackLivesMatter looks like standing in line on a Tuesday night for soup at the local soup kitchen. It looks like listening to the guys who live under the bridge lament their friend’s recent double amputation from frostbite suffered in their tent community, over a bowl of soup.
#BlackLivesMatter is a lifestyle. It isn’t about race – it’s about visibility.
This is my protest. Will you join me?