I collect experiences, my own and others. My worldview is an infinite puzzle, built piece by piece from my collection of experiences, the good, the bad, the ugly. Some pieces are big, some small. Some have to be moved to the edge to make space for more pressing, present issues, but none are forgotten. Old ones may change in shape and color. It all depends on what else they surrounds them. The last few weeks’ experiences layered upon the last few years have painted a picture I just have to share.
It began over a month ago, sitting around a friend’s dining room table, sharing a meal and honest conversation. She spoke candidly of the abuse in her marriage and how she is finally learning what it means to be honest about it, but not be defined by it; to acknowledge it and not live in fear. She didn’t have answers for what her next steps were, but she knew when they were revealed to her she would take them. A verse that echoed in our conversation was “the Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” (Psalm 103:6 ESV)
The last month or so, my church has been covering the topics of slavery, oppression, peace, and caring for widows, orphans, and the oppressed through Paul’s voice in 1 Timothy, focusing at times on recent events in Ferguson and NYC. They have not shied away from the controversial, but sought to speak truth into the difficult topics of race, injustice, and oppression.
Last weekend found me in Manhattan with a few friends from St. Louis enjoying Les Miserables on Broadway while protesters lined the streets. The conjunction of events resonated so palpably it was impossible to ignore. Here I was watching the story of a man and a people oppressed unjustly by a government several hundred years ago that resulted in a revolt that called for justice, the beginning of the French Revolution. Outside, people were marching to call our present government to a better form of justice.
Final piece, this Thursday I had jury duty. A young black man was being tried, another number to add to the statistics. The diversity of the room was incredibly lacking, painting a familiar picture. He was not going to be tried by a jury of his peers, but a jury of those with the privilege to possess the resources to take three weeks to sit on the jury in the first place.
These experiences were surrounded by interesting conversations with people about race, prejudice, and bias. I can’t help but be excited about what is going on. I know that seems weird, but hey I’m a lover of difficult conversations. My awareness of my own prejudices and biases were brought into sharp contrast when I was thrown into Newark urban culture and New Jersey in general after living in the midwest my entire life. You want to talk about a collection of experiences? Now that is quite the collection. I have been blessed with a diverse group of friends here to share cultures and life. Factor in taking a year taking social work classes and I’d think it’s fair to say the blinders have been blown off.
Our society is not perfect. Our justice system is broken. The brokenness is both personal and systematic. As much oppression as I have experienced personally because I am a woman, a white woman in Newark, etc., I have also come to recognize the oppression in myself. When I stay away from engaging in difficult conversations, when I isolate myself from those not like me (and that doesn’t have to be just race), when I ignore situations of oppression I see in my daily life, my lack of initiative perpetuates the oppression just as much as someone who actively expresses it.
Reconciliation, healing, and redemption do not come with time.
They are not inevitable. The truth must be fought for; it must be hard-earned; it must be won. That’s why the recent events excite me. It has been far too long that the differences of class, race, and ability have laid latent in our conversations. We have forgotten the blood we have shed on American soil in the name of progress: African, Native American, or Chinese, just to name a few. We have forgotten the battles our great-great-grandparents fought in the sweatshops and on the streets to be known as American when they first set foot in this country. We have forgotten from even a year ago the protests on Wall Street. How quickly we forget.
But the conversations have begun.
We have begun to remember.
May we continue to do so.
May we learn from each other.
May we be a part of the reconciliation, not the oppression.
We each hold a piece to the puzzle.
But a piece is only a fragment when isolated from the rest.
Be brave and put your piece on the table.
Join the bigger picture.