It’s before 5 am. It’s before the time the cats will start to meow incessantly at me to put food in their bowl. It’s well before the time I have any intention of getting up for the day. Perhaps it’s my pregnant body or perhaps it’s the heaviness on my mind that keeps me awake. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. Waking in darkness seems to be my new norm.
I can’t get comfortable. I toss and turn, but no position I find gives me ease. Thoughts toss and turn in my mind, but none give me comfort. I can’t forget images and stories from clergy colleagues of their experiences in Charlottesville this weekend, just 250 miles from where I now sit. I can’t un-see images of people who look like they could be my brothers or classmates bearing images and shouting words that stand for oppression and genocide. I can’t forget the fact that many of those same people are people who are likely sitting in church pews just like mine on Sunday morning. Nor should I forget any of those things.
I’ve reached the point in my pregnancy where I think I’m starting to feel movement from the baby. Often, it’s just as I’m lying down to go to bed, when I’m still enough to notice it. And there it is – a slight flutter, maybe a tiny pulling sensation. But then it goes away, and I slide back into a kind of forgetfulness that there is something living and growing within me.
Watching the events unfold in Charlottesville was like experiencing one of these moments. In that moment, I could see more fully that there is something living and growing in our society. Sure, I’ve cognitively been aware of it before now, in the same way I’ve been cognitively aware that I have been carrying life inside of me these past few months. But in that moment, I really knew – the kind of knowing that isn’t a disconnected sense of being intellectually aware, but the kind of knowing that comes like a gut-punch, where your head and heart connect at last and you wonder if you were ever really awake before.
Our society is pregnant with fear and hatred – and fear and hatred grow into racism. They grow into white supremacy. They grow into violence. They can even grow into genocide. History has shown this to us time and again, and yet it seems that we, as a collective whole, continually slide back into a kind of forgetfulness that fear and hate are living and growing.
My instinct is to want to lash out at those who claim white supremacy. My desire is to condemn and use choice words to say what I really think. And actions of hatred and violence do deserve condemnation. At the same time, my instinct is to try to distance myself, to say, “Hey, I’m one of the good guys. See how against all of this I am?” My instinct is to deny all culpability in contributing to a society where white supremacy has been given voice and validation.
It’s now a number of hours later. I was able to fall back asleep for a little while, and for the past little bit, I’ve been going about my day as a pastor, doing pastoral things – making phone calls, checking on those of my flock in the hospital, contemplating next Sunday’s sermon, and planning for a celebration of life for a church member who passed away. Even through these and other aspects of pastoral responsibility, I find myself pondering some things in my heart: perhaps one of my greatest pastoral duties is to model confession for the people who look to me as a spiritual leader. Perhaps one of my greatest pastoral duties is to lead the way in modeling what it looks like to repent of the fear and hate that exist within my own heart.
Darick and I had a conversation the other night about what we would do if the KKK/neo-Nazis/other white supremacist groups came to Charleston. For both of us, we knew we would make sure we were present, offering a witness to the love of Christ in the midst of it. We would not stay at home and hide. It wasn’t even really a question of where we would be. One might think that my pregnancy would make me more hesitant to put myself out there and potentially make myself a target – but I find the opposite to be true. As I was talking to a friend this afternoon, I told her that I feel like being pregnant is calling me to task. I have realized that in bringing new life into the world, I will be responsible for showing him or her what it means to work for the sake of the kingdom. I have realized, if Darick and I do not speak and act, showing our child the way, how will he or she ever know how to live it? (As an aside, I would not act in a foolish way while pregnant or with a small child in tow, placing my child in a situation where physical harm may be a known potential outcome. I would, however, find appropriate ways to be a public witness where my child could see, learn, and participate.)
My thoughts are incomplete. My theology is incomplete. My work is incomplete. I remain restless in thinking about that which is living and growing inside of me, and that which is living and growing in our society. And I find myself anxious and fearful. But I am also reminded of Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. Jesus tells us that God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed. It is the tiniest of seeds, but when it is planted, it grows – it grows into the largest of shrubs and even the birds find rest within its branches. Yes, fear and hate grow. But so does love, and love is the stuff of God’s kingdom. I find hope when I see the way clergy and other people of faith gave (and continue to give) witness to the seeds of God’s kingdom in Charlottesville. I find hope when I see many people here in my own town planting seeds of love and justice. Fear and hate grow, but so does love. May love live and grow inside of us and among us. May it grow and grow and grow until all people may rest within love’s branches.