There’s a lot coming at us these days—families separated at the border; health care under threat; racial profiling everywhere, from lemonade stands to police stops to coffee shops to funerals (funerals!); multiple political maneuverings to keep track of and decide which are important and which are “nothingburgers;” multiple indictments handed down against Russians this past Friday for possible tampering in US elections; federal repeal of environmental safeguards; changes in regulations at some prisons making it more difficult for those incarcerated to keep in touch with loved ones and to receive items such as books—both vital for successful re-entry; and then the local concerns—state, city, neighborhood–to track.
Some of these issues have called to me and I have responded, delving deeper to learn more so I can respond. Each time I learn something, it leads to more questions; every path branches three or four times, leading me deeper into a thicket of study. It’s like an onion—I peel away a layer of knowledge and find another, and peel that away to find another, and on and on. Except these onions have no center—they just keep going, infinite onions of injustice and questions and tears.
A personal example. It began very simply for me, with a seminar on anti-racism for white people (Doing Our Own Work, www.alliesforchange.org). The readings and discussions made me aware of the work I needed to do and how much I needed to learn. This intersected with the jail ministry I had recently begun, and my reading of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Alexander drew the connections between race and incarceration for me in a new way, and I understood what I had not before—I had understood the injustice, but not the why. I found more issues to work on, more organizations to support and work with, more things I needed to learn about. Prison ministry itself was not something I had learned much about in seminary, so I began learning about that—more reading, people, programs, issues, organizations, possible projects. This process repeated itself with LGBTQ+ people who were incarcerated, and that became yet another layer—and then LGBTQ+ people of faith who were incarcerated. And so on… And each layer offered opportunities for projects, outreach, programs, service, study, ministry. I felt pulled to become involved in every one and ended up feeling overwhelmed.
My point is this: we who try to “do justice, love mercy, and live in fellowship with the Divine” will always find so much to do in this damaged world. Every injustice is connected to another, is based on another, or results in another. All justice is intertwined, and so, therefore, is injustice.
None of us can heal it all, fix it all. Most—if not all—clergy have hearts that yearn towards justice and comfort for the hurting. It is our calling to ensure safe places for people who are vulnerable, to offer refuge, to offer support, to visit the lonely, to be a safe place to organize for justice. But we can’t do it all ourselves. Nor can our churches, our congregations, our faith communities.
What we must do is be effective—knowing what I can do, within my time and skills and location. Effectiveness allows me to be an ally, prevents burnout, and lets me use my talents, time, and energy where they are most needed—and lets others use theirs as well. If I try to solve all those problems myself, I won’t get anything done, or not well. But if I work on one or two or three, maybe I can make progress.
A friend who is a veteran public defense attorney takes the long view. It’s impossible to deal with all the petty injustices that pop up every day—and he sees many. He picks the few he has a chance of fixing—triage, as the emergency room says–and works on them. He spends most of his energy on the cases on his desk, researches and prepares them so thoroughly that he knows them inside and out and there’s absolutely nothing left to be done by time for the trial. He knows he’s done the best he can with each case—and that’s all he can do. Does he fix everything? Win every case? No. He’s still frustrated by the system, and still loses cases—that’s the nature of the public defender’s job. But he works hard on what is in front of him, undistracted by all the other injustices that are also demanding attention and deserving of his time and work, focused where he can be most effective.
Yes, there is much to be done. Listen for your call, recognize the Spirit-driven passion that stirs you, know where you will be most effective—time, talents, will, strength, location—and then go and do.
Go and do.
Rev. Martha Daniels is an MCC pastor serving Holy Covenant MCC in Brookfield, IL. She is a contributor to the RevGals book (“There’s a Woman in the Pulpit!”). Her current goal is to finish reading all the books she has begun in the last six months. She blogs at rainbowpastor.blogspot.com.
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