This Is What Democracy Looks Like
(photo by the remarkable Daniel Osborne)
This past week, Sunday couldn't come soon enough. The shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas, the deep sadness of the families of those who died, the anger on all sides and the sinking feeling that we are stuck on play-and-repeat...by the end of the week, I was drained.
But I knew that gathering with my church community on Sunday morning would help, and it absolutely did. It helped to sing together. It helped to read and reflect on Jesus' response to the lawyer who asked him, "Who is my neighbor?" And it really helped to pray together with a group of people who know that however sad we get, however much we rage, however deep our despair, God will meet us there. Those aren't just words at the Kittamaqundi Community. That is our experience.
Then, after worship, I gathered with a group of 12 other women (ranging in age from 18 to 82) who will be leading a summer camp for girls from our own church and our partner congregation in Baltimore, Agape House. We did some hard work together, listening and speaking the truth to each other in love. We ended with a sense of excitement about our work together.
Then, I drove Jimmy home. Jimmy is a treasured member of our congregation who lived on the streets for almost 15 years before we met him. We talked about the week's news in the car and shared our reactions which were not the same. We listened to each other with respect.
Then, I joined in with my Daughters of Abraham book group. I got there late, but I didn't want to miss this monthly gathering of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women. I had missed an extended conversation about the veil, but I arrived just in time for a conversation about the meaning of grace for Christians and whether there is a parallel concept in Judaism or Islam.
The bookclub ended 15 minutes early because most of the women were heading over to the Black Lives Matter demonstration a few blocks away. We walked over together and met up with some other members of group who were already there. I was delighted to see a number of folks from my church and others I know from school or the neighborhood. I held a sign and waved at cars for a while but I also wandered around and talked to everyone I knew. There was sadness and anger in the mix, but there was also a lot of positive feelings. People were excited that so many people had come out. People were happy to see their friends and their neighbors, and to meet the people standing next to them.
By the end of the day, I was filled up again--filled with faith and with hope. I live in an amazing community filled with people who want to connect with each other and build a better world.
But here's the thing: None of what I experienced on Sunday happened by accident. The church (the people there, the kind of worship that happened) is the result of decades of intentional work. Same with the camp. Same with Jimmy, who I would only know (and who I'm pretty sure is alive) because of the Route One Day Center and the long hard work of Anne Dunn and many, many others. The book club has been going for 5 years now, but only because of the sustained commitment of Ruth Smith, the remarkable woman who called it into being.
And as for the Black Lives Matter gathering, I am so aware that I benefitted on Sunday from the work, the commitment and the inspiration of other people, around the country and here in Columbia. These protests have been happening for months and I've never felt motivated to attend. But I was so grateful that it was already happening when I finally paid attention enough to hear God's call to show up and join in.
This is what democracy looks like. We build it together, not by accident, but on purpose. We have such a long way to go as a country. There is so much work to do are we are all so tired of working on these problems. We have to stop and cry sometimes, alone and together. But then we get back to work, taking one small step, making one connection, having one conversation and then another and another.
(This photo is mine--my favorite from the day.)