Day #16: Justice

Zion will be redeemed by justice,
and those who change their lives by righteousness.
Isaiah 1:27

The South African Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu defines the Zulu word ubuntu as, “A person is a person through other persons,” or, “I am because we are.” Bishop Tutu advocated for a theology of ubuntu in post-apartheid South Africa, placing mutual thriving at the center of social and political life in order to build a more just and equitable society. Humans are created for interdependence. My flourishing is bound up with your flourishing. For this reason, resilience is social and resilience is political. Those who have the greatest need for resilience are those who have been most marginalized by political commitments. Our individual resilience is tied up with our commitment to justice for those around us. Bishop Tutu wrote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” The prophet Isaiah preaches that, in a moment when there is an elephant standing on the mouse’s tail, transformation, healing, and change will come from those who do justice. What does Isaiah mean by justice? He defines it: “help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” Redemption will come from those who restore right relationships—those who remember that a person is a person through other persons.

Takeaway: The nature of injustice is that it feels overwhelming to respond. Choose one act of justice today—one moment where you can say to the mouse, “I see the elephant on your tail and I will work to move it, no matter how long it takes.” Perhaps that means buying lunch for the panhandler you pass daily; picking up the trash in the parking lot at work; looking up your senators’ phone numbers and save them into your phone, so that you have them ready the next time you need to call and advocate for justice. Choosing to act is a gesture of resilience. It is choosing to be defined by your capacity to heal.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

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Day #14: Engagement

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
-Jeremiah 29:7

 Sometimes hopefulness fails. Sometimes persistence fails. In this verse, all the doom Jeremiah prophesied has come true: Jerusalem is crushed. The nation of Judah no longer exists. As he sits down to write a letter to his old neighbors, now deported to Babylon—neighbors like the teenaged Daniel, who is being trained into assimilation—Jeremiah pens these words. He assures the exiles it is okay to work for the good of the city where they find themselves, even if that city is a hellhole of heathens. It is worth it to make it a better place, even if you’re not convinced the place is redeemable. Stay engaged, Jeremiah writes. Just because hopelessness and displacement and corruption have won the day, we don’t get to tune out and go numb. But, Jeremiah warns, engagement is not the same as assimilation into the oppressor’s culture. Seek the peace of the city where you are: seeking the peace often means nonconforming, improvising, hospitality. “Build houses,” Jeremiah urges them, “plant gardens. Become resilient.” Carve out small, countercultural places for flourishing communities, even if it seems like the most grueling task in the world.

Takeaway: Do one thing to strengthen the community where you find yourself today, whether you are at home or traveling. Is there a city council meeting tonight? Go. Even if you don’t have an agenda. Build a Little Free Library. Visit the Little Free Library down the block. Go to the closest park. Walk there. Take a plastic bag and go picking up trash around the neighborhood. Do something that keeps you engaged in the welfare of those around you.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #13: Hospitality

He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them…
-Genesis 18:2

Recently, I asked an acquaintance to coffee, someone I’d known for years, a little-known but long-seen acquaintance who always seemed older, cooler, more confident, more competent. I was hesitant to ask her, and I felt awkward and imposing the whole (almost three hour) conversation. When she reached out later and said, “Let’s connect again soon,” it occurred to me for the first time that perhaps I was not an inconvenience in her day. I was surprised to realize she was not making a charitable indulgence to me, but actually experience a mutual sense of connection. In a culture that worships busyness, it often feels like a burden to ask someone for their time or company. In Genesis, Abraham boldly and effusively welcomes the strangers who pass by him in the desert. On sight, he offers water, bread, a place to rest. He offers hospitality without worrying about what else these strangers might have on their tight agenda or what he will do if they say no. Turns out, the strangers are actually God. If even God had time for a drink of water with whiny Abraham, who are we to assume our hospitality is inconvenient? Hospitality is the choice to move through the world assuming other people welcome connection. It’s the courage and the resilience to not wait around for someone else to make the first move.

Takeaway: How would you move differently today if you acted like everyone you met genuinely welcomed the chance to connect with you? As if you were not an inconvenience in their day? It’s easy to talk yourself out of reaching out to others. We avoid connection, for fear of imposing on people who seem far cooler and more together than we are. And yet research overwhelmingly concludes Americans (and others) have high rates of loneliness. Today, extend hospitality to someone. Whether it’s buying coffee for the stranger behind you in line or speaking to an acquaintance you’ve always wanted to make a deeper connection with, find a way to extend Abraham levels of hospitality. For today, believe people will welcome your invitation as if you’re offering them a shady tree in the hot desert. (And if they don’t–well, you’ve got 12 days of resilience behind you to remember how awesome you are anyway.)

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #12: Improvisation

During their journey, as they camped overnight, the LORD met Moses and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a sharp-edged flint stone and cut off her son’s foreskin. Then she touched Moses’ genitals with it, and she said, “You are my bridgegroom because of bloodshed.” 26 So the LORD let him alone.
-Exodus 4:24-26

So, uh, Trigger Warning: this reflection contains references to circumcision and murderous God. Exodus 4 is a strange story any way you cut it (no pun… never mind). Before we get into details, it’s worth noting that in the U.S.  roughly ¾ of infant boys are circumcised. The Centers for Disease Control actually recommends male circumcision for public health reasons. This story is early in exodus, after the Awe of the burning bush but way, way before Moses’ Boundary Setting (this is either referred to as the A.A. or the B. B. S. part of Moses’ life).  It’s strange, in part, because God was the one who sent Moses on this journey back to Egypt. Now God goes on a murderous rampage? We cannot overstate the weirdness of this story. But we can relate to the ways faith often requires improvisation, and Zipporah improvises before God. In circumcising her son, she ensures Moses will have maximum credibility with the Hebrew people he’s been sent to lead out of Egypt. It also sets the stage for Moses’ lifetime of improvisation, building a radically counter-Egypt culture in the middle of the desert with a group of nomadic escaped slaves. Moses’ whole life is like a massive improv show with God throwing the scene prompts. Resilience comes in the willingness to improvise when threatened.

Takeaway: The number one rule of is improv theater is to say “Yes, and…” Take what’s given to you and instead of denying or resisting it, add to it and turn the narrative a different direction. When you find yourself in a sticky situation today, say, “Yes, and…” Is there a way in which Zipporah—in this scene, in marrying a bicultural Hebrew man, in joining her husband’s social justice project, in returning to visit her father—says “Yes, and…” to God? Is there a way she says “Yes, and…” to despair? Channel the power of “Yes, and…” today.

 

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #11: Nonconformity

Why not test your servants for ten days? You could give us a diet of vegetables to eat and water to drink.
-Daniel 1:12

No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb. But what if you could stick out like a very polite middle finger? That’s what Daniel does in the verse above. This is Daniel before the Fiery Furnace (or, if you will, Daniel B.F.F.). Although Daniel is born and raised in a middle/upper-middle class family in Jerusalem, he has the bad luck to come of age at exactly the point when his nation-state gets obliterated by the Babylonian Empire. Educated and healthy, Daniel gets deported to Babylon to join the slave class of the civil service. Essentially, it’s an invitation to become part of the system that destroyed his life—if he can prove his loyalty to Babylon and reject his cultural and ethnic identity. It’s conformity and cycles of violence marketed as resilience. The first step of his journey is formal palace training, which means formal palace rations—including all the foods Daniel is not supposed to eat as a Jew. Daniel pushes for a nonconforming diet and after ten days he gets approval for this clean eating plan. It’s more than a nutritional win; it preserves his Jewish identity and a small piece of his core values. It’s an F-you to a system that demands conformity with values like wealth disparity, violence, and anti-Semitism. There would be no Fiery Furnace without this small act of integrity. Nonconformity is Daniel’s lifeline back to the values he shares and the person he wants to become. It’s his first refusal to become part of a system of oppression, and his choice to become resilient in a system that threatens to erase his history.

Takeaway: We live in a culture that loves to market the status quo as resilience. Our culture sells oppression back to us at every turn, insisting patterns of systemic oppression are necessary for self-care. Where is it easiest for you to fall into systems of violence, consumerism, environmental degradation, exploitation? Be consciously nonconforming today. Maybe that looks like calling your senator about gun violence or making art instead of watching Netflix or being vegetarian for a day. Maybe it means tipping your Uber driver $15 (congratulations—you may have just doubled their take-home salary for the hour). Do something that gives a polite little F-you to the systems of oppression that structure our lives.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #10: Confidence

But I have understanding as well as you;
I am not inferior to you.
Who does not know such things as these?
-Job 12:3

It’s hardest to write what you don’t feel. In all honesty, when I looked at my notes for today’s topic, I wanted to skip Confidence. I’m not feeling very confident at the moment. No reason; I’m getting miles of positive feedback right now that should put my confidence through the roof. But emotions are fickle things, they don’t always follow logic. Which is perhaps why I’m turning to Job for insight on confidence. As a book, Job is mostly an argument between friends and at this point, it’s getting heated. Just before this, Job made the sarcastic comeback, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you,” (meaning, you will be the death of wisdom). For 37 chapters, Job’s friends insist he must have done something to be abandoned by God and there must be some “everything-happens-for-a-reason” feelgood conclusion to the tragic death of all his children and livestock and also his sudden painful acne. Through it all, Job’s confidence gives him resilience. He argues that everything doesn’t happen for a reason, that God is not out to get him, and that God loves him. He stays confident that he is no less deserving of love that anyone else and, after 37 chapters, God jumps into the argument to take Job’s side. Sometimes, confidence is the willingness to insist you are deserving of love and dignity—even when you don’t feel it, you keep speaking it as truth. Because somewhere deep down, you know it is.

Takeaway: Ugh, now you (I) have to go live out the confidence you (I) don’t necessarily feel. Borrow a cue from Job’s resilient strategy—“I have understanding as well as you,” he says. Job gives himself affirmation to get through this argument and to insist on his worthiness. Write down five quick affirmations for yourself. Any topic “I have great eyelashes,” “My home is just perfect for me,” “I like that I went to the gym yesterday,” “I noticed a robin this morning.” Pick one of those affirmations and write it 10 times (or more). Because it’s true, every time. And sometimes you just need to hear it 10 times to remember that it is.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Day #9: Boundary Setting

“Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing isn’t good. 18 You will end up totally wearing yourself out, both you and these people who are with you. The work is too difficult for you. You can’t do it alone.”
-Exodus 18:17-18

The first time I had the pleasure of quitting my job, I walked into the small corporate yogurt shop and announced it was my last shift. My supervisor said, “Would you mind working out your two weeks’ notice?” and I replied, “I don’t think you’re paying me enough for that.” I felt a twinge of guilt as I spoke, but I’d made my decision. I knew I was on the edge of collapse and the functioning of a low-traffic minimum-wage-paying froyo shop needed to be a lower priority than my sanity. Moses has a more crucial job doing dispute resolution, but it’s untenable and he needs to set a boundary. It’s his father-in-law who realizes this first (an outsider and, interestingly, not among the Hebrew people Moses escorted out of Egypt). Moses is on the road to burnout, which is eroding his capacity as a leader. He needs to adjust his leadership style for the health of the community. Resilient people anticipate their limits. They know when the community begins to rely too much on one person and they shift their commitments to extend their energy and impact. A resilient leader knows they are not the answer to every problem—part of their work is to empower the community to find other solutions.  Resilient people say no, and they learn to delegate.

Takeaway: Say no to that one thing: that positions or role you are more than capable of doing, but cannot do without draining all your energy. It could be serving on the PTA event planning committee; the church volunteer position you do because no one else will; an obligatory but exhausting social commitment. Say no. If you’re doing it because “I’m the only one who can do it,” then you are not obligated to do it—you are obligated to help the community find alternative ways to function that do not require draining the life out of you. You don’t have to stay at the froyo shop. If you’re the only one keeping the doors open, maybe the community doesn’t actually need froyo.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).