Do you ever have weeks that flow seamlessly from one event to the next, and you can only thank God for the way things have happened?
This past Sunday, I heard Union’s own President Brian Blount teach and preach at First Presbyterian Church in Durham, NC. The overall theme of the morning (of course, focusing on the book of Revelation) seemed to be about standing up and stepping out, testifying and witnessing, and loving God’s children and creation in a new and radical way– in a way that pushes us out of our comfort zone and might even take us somewhere we aren’t ready to go. The messages were very timely, but even more so, they were incredibly challenging.
During his sermon, Dr. Blount shared the quote from Robert F. Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
As I went through the rest of my day, I couldn’t help but wonder “Why not?” Why can’t I stand up and speak out? Why can’t I love my neighbor with radical love instead of just a passive hello? Why can’t I make a change in my small corner of the world?
Still reflecting on the message from Dr. Blount and the call to witness in Revelation, I drove up to Richmond dark and early on Tuesday morning because this week, Dr. Paula Parker and Dr. Katie Cannon are leading a workshop entitled “Writing (Righting) Wrong: Memory, Resistance, Resilience” (and I learned, a while ago, that one does not miss a class by either of these women, especially if they are leading together!)
In this workshop we will assess and redress the muted, masked, and mangled testimonies and the trans-generational experiences of women, men, and children whose ancestors were enslaved Africans. We will mine the mother lode of survivalist intentions inherited from our foremothers and forefathers who worked as chattel property in the economies of North America for 300 years. Instead of giving in to justified feelings of fury, our workshop combines the anatomy of the idea with the genogram, in order to stabilize in writing how characteristics prevalent in the Black Church community are ingrained and shaped by memory, resistance, and resilience.
As I sat in this class surrounded mostly by stories that I cannot begin to understand, but a few that I can, I realized at least initially, my role was to listen. To hear the wisdom and experiences of these women, to hear firsthand the accounts of what my history books never told me.
For a fleeting moment, I wondered “Should I be here? Should I go home?” In that moment, I returned to Sunday morning and asked myself “WHY NOT? Why SHOULDN’T I be here? Why CAN’T I not just hear these stories, but maybe even share some of my own? Why CAN’T I ask questions and try to understand a narrative that isn’t directly related to my own, but does influence it every single day?” Then we read a litany based on Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love and these words called to me, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”
As I reflect on the messages of Dr. Blount’s sermon, the call to witness and testify in the book of Revelation, and the stories of these women and those who came before, I wonder where I am limiting myself and the ways that I can relate to and grow with all of God’s creation? I wonder “Why not?”… not just in my own life, but in the life of my community and the Church.
Why not ask more questions? Why not listen more?
Why not seek to find the root of the story? Why not take the pen and write the next chapter?
Why not love radically and seek fervently God’s grace with and in one another?
This question of “why not?” is, or should be, at play in every aspect of our lives– in the way we make personal decisions, the way we relate with our neighbors, in the way we complete our jobs, and in the way we gather together to worship.
As we ask this question, we also have to listen. We have to listen to the stories that have shaped us as individuals and as communities. We have to listen to the stories that have shaped those around us. Every story intertwines at some point, every story influences another in some way. If we can hear and receive each of these stories, if we can find the root of the trauma and the growth, we can write our next chapter.
Reading John’s call to the seven churches in Revelation, a call to stand up and testify, or act in “non-violent resistance” as Dr. Blount translates, I hear this echo of “why not?” As we are called, with God’s children of all time and space, to step out and move forward together no matter what the risk, I am tied into the story. Asking questions might be one of the most dangerous things a person can do, but asking AND listening just might be what finally connects our stories and begins to move our pen on that blank page.
One exercise that has been incredibly eye opening and beneficial this week has been “free writing”. Following each portion of our discussion, we are given a few moments to journal our initial thoughts– without edits, without hesitations. I have written this particular blog in this manner and invite you to practice this act of reflection as you consider your own story and the story of your community– whether that be your family, neighborhood, or congregation with whom you worship.
And now, in the style of Dr. Katie Cannon,
“Your prompt for this free write is:
Knowing the story of where I have been and am now, I want my next chapter to say…”
Ashe. May it be so.
Rev. Jordan B. Davis
“Writing (Righting) Wrong: Memory, Resistance, Resilience” is an offering of The Womanist Institute at Union Presbyterian Seminary.