To go fast, walk alone. To go far, walk together.
—A Rwandan proverb
We are living in a marathon-moment for peacemaking and justice seeking. But I am afraid that some of us are treating it like a sprint. The urgency of now is felt in visceral terms. Lives are literally on the line (though they always have been). So pastors and church leaders sprint in a hurried pace toward organizing around a commitment to peace, justice, hope, and love. And we may go fast, but we may also end up walking alone or putting ourselves (and others) at risk of many missteps. Or we may walk all over each other in the process with postures of allyship that paternalistic or peformative.
The urgency of now requires more than a sprint. It requires a commitment to the long-haul. It is a marathon. If we go at a good strong pace, not hurried but not slow, then we can walk together and minimize the risk of unnecessary missteps. From time to time we may grow displeased with the pace, but we will go far. We will finish strong, whatever finishing looks like, and we will do it together.
There are many necessary steps in this marathon if a community of faith is to organize around a commitment to peace, justice, hope, and love. Here are five to consider:
1. Protest is necessary
It’s in protest we find a place where injustice and suffering can speak. Our words and actions disrupt the status quo. We discover solidarity with other people’s suffering and discover a shared language of lament. It's in protest we find a place where injustice and suffering can speak. Our words and actions disrupt the status quo. We discover solidarity with other people's suffering and discover a shared language of lament. Click To Tweet
As a church leadership team, we are always looking for community-based organizations or movements where injustice and suffering are given a voice. We listen for local protests or community organizing efforts and attend them for the sake of being present, listening, and learning with our eyes and ears. We ask if anyone in our faith community or neighborhood is attending and join with them. When injustice and suffering are not given a voice, we discern whether or not we organize and engage. For example, when we learned that National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was not observed in our city, we organized and inaugurated it. It made sense for us due to our longstanding presence with our neighbors living through homelessness. As a church, we wanted to make sure that no one in our city dies alone or unknown, and that our neighbors living through homelessness had a platform.
2. Naming things is necessary
It’s in the naming that we commit to truth-telling. We call things what they are and do the self-reflective work to avoid scapegoating. We clarify assumptions and the meanings of the words we use. We confess our sins and describe our joys. We are summoned to forgive and are forgiven. We cultivate a shared language that brings us closer and clarifies each person’s place in the marathon.
In our church family, we are purposeful with our language. We err on the side of candor rather than language palatability. We do not want to placate abstraction by using generic terms. For example, when the President of the United States refused to denounce white supremacy during the recent presidential debate, our church’s pastoral team felt it was important to use the language of “white supremacy.” When Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, we chose the language of “lynched” and helped our congregation understand why. It was important to us in both instances to stir the imagination and make the historical connection. Every faith community must choose a language adequate to their own context, but it is important to steer away from softened rhetoric and abstract propositions. Every faith community must choose a language adequate to their own context, but it is important to steer away from softened rhetoric and abstract propositions. Click To Tweet
When something tragic happens in our nation, whether it is gun violence, a weather disaster, ethnic or racial injustice, or police brutality, we name it when we gather and offer a prayer of lament. Admittedly, there are times when it feels as though something tragic is named every Sunday, but so be it. As the “royal priesthood” of God, we need to see that what happens “out there” impacts who we are “in here” and shapes how we live “out there.” It is important for us to see that our diversity and solidarity with our neighbors teaches us that there is no “us” and “them.” There is only us.
3. Tables are necessary
It’s at the table that we hold space for hard and meaningful conversations in gracious hospitality. Eyes meet ears, and hearts meet minds. We can be ourselves in our own bodies of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Tears flow freely and laughter finds a voice. Food and drink keep us present to one another, and surprising friendships become possible.
A pandemic makes this particularly challenging. Literal tables may be difficult. People may be screen-weary. But when it comes to hard or controversial conversations, I have opted for face time over a screen or meeting outdoors (properly socially distanced, with masks). It is important to have eye contact when talking about hard things. Face-to-face contact makes it harder to dismiss or dehumanize each other. Therefore, when it comes to controversial conversations I avoid texting, emails, and voice calls. In a pandemic, we must learn to build virtual tables. In a pandemic, we must learn to build virtual tables. Click To Tweet
4. Thinking is necessary
It’s in the thinking that we engage the minds of others and discover the bias of our own. We respect the many hours another has labored on the issues we care about and critique with humility. We do the work of removing the plank from our own eyes as we uncover our faulty beliefs, clarify our convictions, and deal honestly with our ideologies. We untangle our notions of God from the country we love and rediscover the beauty and vastness of God’s Kingdom. We awaken to self-deception so we can present our truest selves to God and others.
In our church family, we host a reading cohort. The curriculum of books is purposefully chosen and cover three categories: Christian living, race/ethnic studies, and ecclesiology. Concerning our Sunday liturgy and missional community liturgies, we choose readings and prayers written from different and diverse traditions and make these resources available to our congregation. We want to encourage the congregation to become familiar with the time and context of other men, women, or faith traditions.
5. Roots are necessary
It’s through our roots we learn to stay put, especially when it gets hard. We dare not leave just because we are hurt or disagree. There is wisdom in stability. We do the work around the table to rediscover the truths between us and in the love of God’s presence. We mutually submit to one another in the Lordship of King Jesus. And if we stay long enough and make every effort to seek clarity in our language, think deeply about our own views in light of others, and frequently share tables, especially when things get hard, the reign of Christ may reveal a way forward in our disagreements and make reconciliation possible. And then when I see my brother or sister suffer injustice, I stand with them, weeping as they weep, sharing in their burdens, or remaining with them in the struggle for dignity, worth, and empowerment in the reign of King Jesus. When I see my brother or sister suffer injustice, I stand with them, weeping as they weep, sharing in their burdens, or remaining with them in the struggle for dignity, worth, and empowerment in the reign of King Jesus. Click To Tweet
All of this takes work—protest, naming things, tables, thinking, roots. I’ve come to believe that these practices are necessary if we are to learn what it means to contextually embody the peace, justice, hope, and love we long to display for the good of our cities and neighborhoods, to the glory of King Jesus.