What Can I Do?
When the prophet Isaiah heard the call to cry out the hope of justice in the midst of the wilderness, his reply was breathtaking in its simplicity: “What shall I cry?” Or, as Becky Allender asks today, what can I do? In the midst of staggering atrocities and systemic, generational injustice, what difference can we possibly make? As always, we are so grateful for Becky’s insight and vulnerability as she wrestles with the call to join those who are crying out in the wilderness. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.
I turned off the television and stomped my foot and almost growled with agony and anger. I couldn’t help it! I turned around and harshly spoke, “Why hasn’t the church spoken about this? I am so mad! Why isn’t more being said from our pulpits?”
My husband quietly said, “I am not mad at the church, I am disappointed in myself.”
This stopped me in my tracks.
We had just finished watching HBO’s documentary 4 Little Girls. It opened in American theaters on July 9, 1997 and was directed by Spike Lee and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. In 2017 this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”—I think that’s a way of saying that this film is a big deal. 4 Little Girls was only in box offices in America for three months and only brought in $130,146. I am angry. I am disappointed in myself.
I remember watching the news on September 15, 1963 when I was 11 years old. On that Sunday morning a group of young girls had just finished a Sunday school lesson and were in the basement of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, changing into their choir robes. At 10:19am, 15 sticks of dynamite blew apart the church basement and four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair were killed and 20 others injured.
A week before the killings, Governor George Wallace said that some people would have to be killed in order for laws to remain strong in Alabama. It is too easy to dismiss this truculent racism as an aberration of the past.
It is too easy to dismiss this truculent racism as an aberration of the past.
When I taught sociology in the late 1990s, the students were passionate to hear about the 1960s. I was surprised that they were curious. I showed black and white documentaries of the lunch counters and fire hoses aimed at African American women, children, and men, with Bull Connor’s police dogs ravaging countless African Americans. The ‘60 were volatile times, and somehow, life went on and I looked away.
I don’t want to continue being disappointed in myself. I speak up for women’s rights. I speak up about sexual abuse. But I know in my gut that speaking about racial injustice is wrought with much more resistance than any other wrong that needs to be made right.
The Teaching Staff at The Allender Center challenged Dan and myself to not stop at sexual abuse when it comes to our teaching and training on trauma and abuse. Sadly, we were clueless. Our colleagues of color are the valiant ones who challenged us to step into white privilege and educate ourselves. My point being, I don’t think many people do this without being pushed or nudged—frankly, why consider our white privilege? Well, I believe that racism is from the pit of hell and is the delight of evil. And I am angry and desire change and yes, speaking up is costly and unpopular.
Towards the end of today’s hot yoga class, we were asked to place our sweaty arms on one another’s shoulders and raise our right knee towards our chest, and then to begin bending over while reaching our right leg behind us into a Warrior three pose. It’s much easier to do this while holding on to one another. It was a beautiful pose for me to be in while wrangling with inequality and what I can do about it.
What can I do? I can write, speak, sing, and march. I can read, vote, and especially weep.
It is the call of every believing soul to cry out against injustice, and not just our own suffering.
We are told “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
I don’t know how to pray, or often what to do. The sorrow feels too deep and the desire for goodness for all people is like waters which threaten to engulf me. It is easier to deny suffering. But I have sweaty hands on my shoulders, and I am again reminded that it is easier not to do this alone. Rather than being afraid of how hard it is to hope, we can join the Spirit with confidence and listen to where the groaning takes us.