What You Can Do

I’m hearing a lot of overwhelmed from people right now – and understandably so. Here’s what I’ve got to offer – take it to the extent it is useful:

Keep speaking truth to power with love.

Keep doing works of mercy.

Keep learning so that you gain ever more clarity and ever more skill in those tasks.

Rest as you need. You are allowed to rest. All living things require it.

Pay attention – and discern when it’s useful to speak and when it isn’t. Both issues and people reveal themselves – and are changed in and by – the stresses of the world.

Remember that this work (all of this work, wherever you are) is a long haul. There are acute moments, but it is most certainly a (life-) long commitment to a better world. It was here before you. It will (sadly) be here after you. Each of us is but a small part of that work.

You are called to do what you can. You are not called to do more or less than that. Work on discerning what is within your control and what is beyond it.

Be kind when you can – for the sake of your own heart as well as those around you.

There are contextual variations on these principles. And I’ve got more thoughts for my fellow Jesus followers (and that’s what I preach on each week). But I’ve found that these notions hold true in most contexts and for most people.

Peace and blessings for the day, friends.

Social Justice and the Healthy Self: Parenting for a Better World

When my daughter was around a year old, I took her with me one evening to a peace movement meeting. Never one with much patience for quietly sitting still (can’t imagine where she got that from), she wiggled and wriggled and made all the quiet and not so quiet noises that little ones make. We got a couple of looks from people.  I ended up trying – and failing – to slip away silently, reflecting with some sorrow on the seeming incompatibility of parenting and social justice work. It wasn’t just this episode, but that night epitomized the complexity of trying to be dedicated to so many things.

A few days later, I encountered an older-than-me activist friend and I told her about my dilemma. “What am I supposed to do?” I mourned, “I feel like I can’t be everywhere I am supposed to be. There’s so much to do.”

I can still see us standing there on the sidewalk, me in my angst and her with her kind smile and thoughtful energy. “It’s okay,” she said, “take care of your daughter. Do what you need to do. There will always be work to be done.”

While it counts as a tragic fact that the need for social justice organizing may never end, what she said is true. It brought me necessary peace and new clarity about pacing myself for the long haul.

It’s like this – now that I’ve been a parent for 15 years, I can assert with confidence that good parenting is an inherently important, albeit ever-challenging, task. Dedicating our time and love and energy to raising the next generation matters. These are the people – even if it’s hard to see it while they’re in diapers – who will guide the steps of our world long after we are gone.

Our humanity begins at home. It’s the crucible from which we find our place in the world, whether we are 3 or 23 or 53 or 93. Creating a home that fosters love and kindness and justice and mercy is a gift to the world. It is a moral good to do that work and no one should feel guilty about it.

At the same time, It’s a continual invitation to see beyond the boundaries of one’s own family.  You remember the whole “it takes a village to raise a child” concept? It’s true. And we are all a part of that village for other people’s children (and everyone who is breathing on this earth is someone’s child).

Parenting is an intimate lesson in our interconnectedness. It is an immersion course. And while the intensity of daily routines, especially with young children, may consume every waking moment, it is possible to view that work as both intrinsically morally justified and as unique preparation for an ongoing lifetime of loving the world and the people in it.

You don’t have to do all of the work at once. The fact is you probably can’t. That you are concerned about this problem reflects the depth of your commitment to both your family and the cause of a better world. That helps to keep you from sinking into the pernicious view where the only thing that matters is you and yours.

But please let go of the guilt and frustration about what you can’t do in this moment. Just put it down. You’ve got enough to carry without it.

And by all means, when it seems the right thing to do, carry your kids to meetings and protests and lobbying days. Let us as a movement cultivate connections and community among social justice-oriented parents and between parents of young children and the other generations around them.

We as that movement have the obligation to create kid-friendly spaces and to nurture both the young children in our midst and the families that care for them. That is a part of how we offer concrete care for those around us.

What I am saying is not limited to biological and adoptive parents, for there are many ways that people care for others. A lot of parenting gets done by people who are not the actual mother and father of any given child – and that is a huge blessing. We also care for parents and grandparents and others who at any given time may need some extra help.

That too is necessary. It is vital to our very humanity as well as the needs of the moment. It should be seen as a part of the work for a better world, not as a distraction from it. The methods connect on every level to the ends we seek.

These days when we get home after school, my daughter sets herself up at the kitchen table and disappears into hours of homework. Since I’m now the mom of a disciplined and independent-minded high school student, I have a little more time to be involved in social justice work. I’m glad of it.

But some things don’t change. When my daughter, having a hard week in the way that can happen with GEOMETRY-HOMEWORK-IS-IMPOSSIBLE-I-DON’T-KNOW-HOW-TO-DO-IT (yeah, that’s a quote) wanted me to stay home last night instead of attend a community event that was on my calendar, I had no trouble making the choice. Balancing obligations can still be tricky. I continue to regularly examine my own priorities and their effects on the people close to me, on my broader community, and on my commitment to justice in the world.

But I long ago put down that parental guilt (well, at least that part of it) to claim the challenging and satisfying role of social justice parent. I invite others to do the same.

Social Justice and the Healthy Self: Starting the Conversation

Social justice work is supposed to be selfless, right?

We’re out there trying to make the world a better place for everybody. The work demands all that we have to give – and then some.

For those of us driven by a passion for social justice – whether our work is religious or secular –  the needs of the world are so great that they tend to eclipse any focus on ourselves, on our own wellbeing and balance.

Organizing and activism and protest and movement building.
Speaking and arguing and writing and fundraising.
Issues and outrage.
Showing up and showing up again
and showing up again.

Caring a lot.
Caring so much,
even when it’s frustrating,
even when it seems futile,
even when the world feels like a bleak, dark, mean place.

It’s the work we do.

And when we’re tempted to set it aside for a minute to tend to our own needs or our family’s needs, it’s mighty easy to feel guilty about that. For most people I know, that guilt is self-imposed (‘but I’m not doing ENOUGH’). Yet if we happen to escape the self-imposed guilt, there’s usually someone around to raise an eyebrow. We’re supposed to be selfless.

Except there’s a problem.

We can’t be selfless. We are always our own selves. I carry my physical body, emotions, spiritual life, mental processing and cognition, personal and professional relationships, personality quirks, and history and experiences with me everywhere I go.

All of this is a part of me. I can ignore it – until something happens and I can’t ignore it any longer. Or I can work with it with in community with as much honesty, grace, and wisdom as I can muster and develop.

I am not suggesting feeding our own egos just for the sake of their insatiable ego-appetite. I’m talking about equilibrium. About integrity – not integrity-honesty (well, that too), but integrity as in structural integrity. Something that’s not going to fall in on itself when the winds or waves pick up or the ground starts to tremble beneath us.

There’s always a danger of self-indulgence. It can happen. But it’s much less likely to happen when we find equilibrium and stay both nimble and grounded. Most of us operate in communities that help keep us accountable. That also means that those communities need to recognize the need for the care of their members.

We work best when our mandate to care extends to ourselves and to the others around us. Better work – more honest, wise, and skillfully executed – comes from a better place.

Our selves are our strengths – they are our wit and wisdom, our intelligence, intensity, and insights, our willing hands and reflective consciousness. It’s our laughter and our joy. It’s our role as friend, parent, partner, spouse, cousin, neighbor, congregant, or student.

If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anybody or anything else.

I’ve been a part of many conversations over the last few months and years that have dwelled on issues in the social justice community of physical health, mental health, burnout, despair (both personal and global), financial insecurity, family stress, nagging guilt, and spiritual melancholy. I hear how we’ve made an idol of busy-ness (a problem endemic in the larger culture as well). I hear how people are tired, aching physically and emotionally, overwhelmed with worry, and utterly joyless, how they mean to but don’t address their own spiritual malaise and critical health needs.

I bear witness to the transgender activists who have committed suicide over the last year and to Ohio Black Lives Matter organizer MarShawn McCarre who shot himself on the state capitol steps last week. We don’t take time to eat right, move our bodies, and kick back and enjoy good company. And if we do, we worry that we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do. I heard 3 different parents in one day lament that they feel like they’re neglecting social justice work because they are (wisely, rightly) tending to their young children.

We need to fix that. We need to change the narrative. The work will continue. It must continue. But we must also create a sustainable paradigm for social justice work. We must make a priority of our own health and wellbeing, our own deep joy, and our life-giving relationships with others.

There’s much more to say about this multi-faceted topic. Over the next few weeks, I will be writing in greater depth about different aspects of the problem. I’ll be posting other things as well, but these posts can be found  under the ‘social justice and the healthy self’ category.

I’d love to hear from social-justice oriented organizers and activists and clergy and academics about their thoughts and experiences on this topic. The About/Contact tab at the top of the page is one way to get in touch with me – and folks who know me can also reach out by other means.

Let’s work on this – for our own sake and for the sake of the causes we care so deeply about.