I feel it in my dusty throat, the clench of my shoulders, the hot winding in my belly. It is difficult to swallow the events of these past months: the sight of neighbors masked, shelves suddenly bare, a casual knee on his dying neck, lives extinguished by the thousand, blocks aflame, a market braced for collapse — the fear, the rage, the monotony.
The sound of that one last, gasping cry for his mama.
Our grief is relentless and swirling and heavy. We lug it along, we sling it over our collective shoulders, we smile with our tired eyes, the weight of it all stuffed where you cannot see. We hold this heaviness close and clutching, as if keeping it with us will protect us from further assault.
I know this fear, this grasping to protect all that is precious and mine. I am the one who pinches the tender skin at my wrist during turbulence. I am the one who chews the inside of my mouth when cruel words swirl and beg to be let loose. I am the one who lies wide eyed for hours after a solitary bark in the night, wondering if I pleased enough people, said enough right things, left enough in order.
I imagine what it would be like to lose the people I love in varying degrees of tragedy, as if forecasting it rends it impossible, as if anything could control or anesthetize that exact, scalding slice slipping through the tenderest parts of my heart.
And yet the thing I remain the most afraid of is being wrong.
I want you to find my entire self to be true and righteous, my laundry pristine in the fresh country air, no stray hairs stuck in the cup holder, no vulgar words littering my journals. I do not seek to be merely tidy on the exterior, I want to be scrubbed the whole way through, every vein and socket and ugly thought, each corner of my mind, soul, and closets in order, enough.
I want to prove to you that the thing I profess to believe is an actual, real thing — the highest standard, the noblest cause, the truest salvation. And how I can prove this except through perfection or at least a life marked by dogged, exhausting, earnest effort?
I know the fear of not being-having-doing enough, I have a mind that marinates in it each evening: ashamed at my inability to carry this impossible weight with ease under the stars of our longest night.
These days are coated with scarcity and the fumes of our own fear is drifting around us– invisible and lethal–choking out what could instead foster beauty, change, unity. This scarcity is causing our temples to throb, putting us in a dull sleep that we cannot seem to awake from no matter how much we are shaken.
And we are, all of us, shaken.
And so, as things shift, we clutch our securities, we defend our tribe, we draw our lines, we double down, we load our lifeboats, we insulate our echo chambers, we choose who is allowed aboard. We row our sinking boats while singing loudly of hope and grace and love without conditions. And as we drift in darkening seas, we continue to weigh ourselves down with unnecessary rhetoric, with bulky pride, with false history.
God, may we have the nerve and the humility to swiftly and violently grab these things and throw them over, may we watch them swirl into the angry roar and feel nothing except for relief at the sight of it: a total exhale, a first breath of true, salty freedom.
And yet, I find again and again that we are too afraid of being wrong, of admitting that we didn’t know, that we are embarrassed to be found ashamed or left lacking. We are too afraid of realizing we unknowingly caused harm and so instead, we are allowing that harm to continue, to intensify.
What I have come to learn– slowly, painfully– is that I don’t know and I’m still learning are solid and juicy words, sturdy enough to stand on before taking another step in the expansive direction of peace.
I have found the posture of repentance is back wrenching, heart breaking and wildly freeing. And yet through steady, daily, gnarly work, my muscles have begun to forgive my apathy, they now stretch and allow me to fold further, reach farther, and become stronger and less resistant.
I can promise you, hand over heart, This Scary New Way is less excruciating than the way of Perfection, of Carrying it All, of Staying the Same in the cramped, dim chamber of reassurances that make me feel warm, happy, and totally hollow.
And yet–God help me– I refuse to pave this path by scouring the way with shame. I have found that true and nourishing freedom is not earned by enslaving others in violent and sweeping accusations. These large, ugly, scrawling labels taste so decadent on our tongues: ignorant! bigot! gullible! arrogant! greedy! wrong! corrupt!–but they scar our very souls on the way out, they demolish our ability to be heard or hear others.
Let me be clear: I can call racism evil. I can acknowledge it’s deep systemic roots in our nation — it’s in our dirt and our neighborhoods and on our bodies and in our laws. I can acknowledge the hypocrisy prevading evangelicalism. I can tell the story of my own broken, tender and wildly proud heart. I can call these things wrong and unacceptable, but the exact moment that I begin to call an entire group of people by these names, I lose the very grace I claim as fuel.
Our tribal chants may drown the screaming and rage of the “other side” so that we can survive the discomfort of this moment, but when was the last time someone asked us, hungrily, about the hope that is within us?
Are we trying to protect the borders of our belonging or expand them, compelling others with a feast of mercy, curiosity, a hand cupped full of cold water in these dry and dusty days.
I am finding lately that my prayers are less and less God, fix the world and more God, be with the world, less and less fix this broken person and more heal me, please.
These days are difficult to wrap words around — and yet it is equally as difficult to describe the rebellious joy that remains, the resistance of peace that grows from the grit of this time: togetherness, a circle made small and sturdy, a family stitched stronger, undergirded by long and lonely, lovely days together.
It’s okay to feel weak, humbled, inadequate for this journey — we are.
I totally am.
My prayer for today is this: may we allow scalding mercy to scrub, cleanse and release all that would poison us otherwise.
And may every exhale of grace become a chance for another neck to be released from the tyranny of this moment.
May we take our next steps on these faltering, fragile legs — and then may we take the next one after that.