Empathy is quickly becoming a buzz word of the 21st century. I don't think that this is our intent, but I don't think we often consider what empathy truly requires of us.
Empathy requires moral courage. Moral courage means taking risks while knowing the consequences of doing so. It is not the risks or the consequences that make empathy an ethical choice. Knowing the risks and consequences and still acting is what makes empathy an ethical choice. [A short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hde8IHusgJ8 that can be helpful.]
Empathy requires moral imagination. Moral imagination means allowing the mind to communicate with your heart. This mind-heart communication means that you will not just hear about people starving at home and around the world, but you will seek to understand those persons' plight from their point of view and life circumstances. You will "see through their eyes" and "feel through their pain." This feeling and seeing emboldens one's moral courage.
So, why this talk about empathy right now? As I read the news and hear pronouncements from government officials (as well as some of our fellow citizens) about immigrants and the services we will no longer provide for children and families, I know that empathy is not among the social values and principles guiding our national conscience and domestic or international policy.
Likewise, as we become more and more embroiled in what is labeled the "abortion debate," we reveal again our failure to be a national moral community. Too many politicians and citizens are claiming religious moral high ground as they push to overturn Roe v. Wade. Calling this a debate about abortion rather than a struggle to keep in place just public policy for reproductive choice is one of many signs of the kind of absolutist morality--binary, rigid--that guides our national life. Empathy cannot thrive in the context of absolutist morality.
Some will say: "That's politics. You're being idealistic." If politics were disembodied from persons and groups making decisions, I might agree with you. People make political decisions. Politics can be guided by principles of empathy.
How are you engaging the world with empathy? Start where you are and don't limit the ways and means of your engagement. There is no one way to protest. There is no one way to educate others about controversial issues. There is no one way to be a witness to divine activity in the world.
Are you going to advocate and practice a politics of empathy?
Come out on a limb with me.
Charlottesville happened because _______________. How do you fill in the blank?
The violence of Charlottesville is historically ingrained in the United States. This is a nation that has never truly acknowledged the hatred of peoples of color--indigenous, enslaved, detained, immigrated—and the violence inflicted upon these peoples justified by an ideology of white supremacy. Every institution in this country is embedded with this ideology.
Those Alt-right groups marching are the embodiment of white supremacy. Yes, they are the extremists who terrorize with words, guns, fire, and weapons of mass destruction—bombs and cars. They are the extreme violent actors in our social drama, but they are not an aberration in the society.
How can I make that last statement?
We live in the omnipresence of violence. Although theologically I might say that we live in omnipresence of evil, I choose not to use the term evil because I think that folks tend frequently not to give evil agency. Instead, evil is more often described as a condition or a being (i.e. the devil) that emanates from something outside of ourselves. Violence is active; it emanates from us—our decisions and actions.
As I teach and preach intentionally from a religious ethical mediation consciousness and worldview that asserts that violence happens every moment of every day, some folks ask me about my negativity and challenge my ideas as esoteric. I don’t tend to be a negative person. My ideas are not usually described as esoteric—difficult to hear, yes—but not esoteric.
Think about it: Violence happens every day when. . .
Peace be with you in these troubling times.
What a week! Yes, I do know that it’s Thursday, because I woke up this morning “clothed in my right mind.” I have heard this black church elder’s testimony uttered in two versions (there may be more): “I thank God that I woke up this morning clothed and in my right mind” or “I thank God that I woke up clothed in my right mind.”
As this week hurls to a close, either version will do. To be clothed—having reasonably good health, a place to live, and a way to make an honest living are praiseworthy ways of being in a country where health is becoming more and more by way of policy a matter of wealth—who can buy health insurance, pay for health care in the hospital emergency room or doctor’s office, and who gets a tax break—I truly do know as a Black woman in the US, except for believing that God is ultimately on the side of justice, that I might not be clothed. In my right mind—having psychologists almost daily this week confirm the long-term effects of racial trauma, hearing Black women bloggers across a spectrum of ages, faiths, education, economics declare the righteousness of rage, and reading the Georgetown Law research study reporting that black girls are viewed less innocent than white girls—I do know as a Black woman in the US, except for believing that faith and justice go hand in hand, I might not be in my right mind.
I am focusing on being clothed in my right mind today. Perhaps, as an academic knowing that I am fully cognitive is reassuring. However, it is that and more than that. As I read the report on young black girls, my own experiences and those of friends emerged and emotions—anger, sadness, courage—surged. Anger (ENRAGED): someone finally “documents” the experience of black girls past and present, so now it’s real. Sadness (DESPAIR): some black girl somewhere is living the pain of being the subject of an authority figure’s unspoken but acted out disdain for her upon her mind and body (and that I carry that pain and she will too into adulthood). Courage(EMPOWERED)—reaffirming that, in spite of it all, Black girls do grow into Black women who “turn the world right side up” as Sojourner Truth predicted when she declared “Ain’t I a Woman.”
What a week! #sayhername is a recognition of and a clarion call to all Black women to be our truest selves, despite and amid everything and everyone who denies our truths. Black club women of the 19th century issued a clarion call to “Awake, Arise, and Act!” Those women, our ancestors, are still issuing the call and their hearts beat within us each time we thrive, even though “we were never meant to survive. (Audre Lorde)
What is activism?
Standing where you are and telling the truth as you have discerned it and doing that truth nonviolently
Walking with others in movements for justice and peace
Being an aware and engaged presence where you are
We are not all called to the same acts of protest
We are all called to protest – to witness – to act up
Where we are!!
If you are in a classroom,
Are you doing pedagogical activism?
If you are in a pulpit,
Are you doing homiletical activism?
If you are painting,
Are you doing artistic activism?
If you are writing a book or giving a lecture,
Are you doing intellectual activism?
The question is . . .
What are you doing to act up – to protest – to witness where you are?
I started this blog to encourage people to think, hopefully in dialogue with me and others in their circles of encounter, about what’s happening in the world as it pertains to justice, nonviolent resistance to injustice, and ethical reflection “outside the box.” I go out on a limb to provide space for all of us to “grapple for meaning.” Most definitely, I have theological beliefs and ethical convictions, but I am not writing to impose those as “the” best way to think and be and do as persons of faith, moral agents and social activists.
Last week I posed a series of questions for me and readers to use in reflecting upon the election results. The three questions with their biblical reference points were these: (1) Which time is it? (Eccl. 3); (2) Isn’t God still creating? (Gen. 2: 1-4); (3) How shall I lean into today’s trouble? (Matt. 6: 25-34)
I posted the blog last week as part of a search for perspectives from which to engage with the myriad of post-election feelings and analyses. In the meantime, as a member of an editorial board for an online theological journal, I engaged with board members about doing a special election issue. Hoping for a quicker than usual turn-around, I proposed that we invite blog-like entries from a variety of voices in our campus community with an editorial introduction about listening for and hearing diverse interpretations in response to the election. Additionally, I proposed that the usual educational resource at the end of each journal be comprised of links to select non-theological voices who are at the center of much of the current public discourse. I admitted to the others that I knew that I was asking us to do this issue outside the box, suspending the usual format and rules for the journal.
When an invitation was finally sent to the faculty only, they were invited to write a 1000-word essay that (1) set the issue in a larger sociocultural or politico-ecclesial frame and (2) offers a theological vision for our time. The general editor admonished the faculty to offer “distinguishable” voices from the best writers of, for example, The Atlantic. The additional caveats to reinforce this admonition were that our audience is laity of the church and they need more than to hear us cathartically releasing or mimicking voices from other settings.
Well, I suppose this blog post is out on the limb of cathartic release. As I engaged as the only person of color on the editorial board, I realized how often I push down that which needs to be released as I participate in the historically, predominantly white theological institution where I have been answering my call to educational ministry for the last 25 years. Yes, I am outspoken about what I see as injustice on the campus—among students, faculty, and administration. Yet, what they hear from me emerges through a prayerful, measured intonation of my voice that I hope that they will be able to hear. Yet, still . . .
So, after hearing no direct response to my suggestions for the issue but receiving along with the rest of the faculty the general editor’s invitation, I decided that I would not contribute an essay to the journal’s issue on the election. I have even decided to resign from the editorial board.
Why? Not because my idea had to be implemented, but because I needed to be at least heard and acknowledged through dialogue about the idea. The churches and theological educational institutions of the churches are far too often microcosms of the larger society’s exclusivism in all of its various guises. Progressive white liberals inside and outside of the church still seem to be functioning as gate-keepers whose function it is to ensure that the “right” ideas get out. When will progressive white liberals affirm and engage in authentic democratic dialogue?
So, I invite you to offer comments of cathartic release here out on this limb.
What time is it? A simple question when asked during the day. A not so simple question when asked at this moment following this election.
What time is it? At this moment, do I turn to Ecclesiastes 3? Or, might I turn to Genesis 1? Or, what about Matthew 6?
When I turn to Ecclesiastes 3, I am not sure what I want to make of the opening line: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” That opening line introduces a parallelism of times: “a time to break down, a time to build up;” “a time to seek, a time to lose;” “a time to keep silence, a time to speak;” “a time to love, a time to hate;” and “a time for war, a time for peace.” These are a few of the times that are poignant for me right now. Which time is it?
When I turn to Genesis 1, I am reassured by the activity of God to create a universe that includes human beings as one aspect of God’s Creation that is declared good. Thus, I hold this present moment in time in the moments of God’s creating, and I take the seventh day Sabbath pause of Genesis 2:1-4, suspended in the divine moment of God’s rest from the labor of Creation. Isn’t God still creating?
When I turn to Matthew 6, I am drawn to verses 7-14 where the Lord’s prayer is offered as the section concludes with the admonition to forgive others their trespasses. Likewise, verses 25-34 remind me to release anxiety about what is and is to come: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” How shall I lean into today’s trouble?
As a person of faith, as a preacher of the Gospel, as a theological educator, as an African American, as a Womanist ethicist, I want to offer some Word, some thought, some ethical insight that can help us to live into this present moment with moral courage. But, I offer only this: We need one another to live into this moment with moral courage. With whom are you in solidarity for answering the call to choose a time that is most likely to engender a just peace? Who are your creative partners for doing the difficult work of re-creating of racial/ethnic, sexual/gender, and economic justice that lies ahead? Are you ready to acknowledge today’s trouble daily and work to transform that trouble from sun up to sun down?
What time is it?
Now is the time . . .
Recent events have taken my breath away as emotions of anger, grief, hope, and joy have waxed and waned with such force that my footing seems at times not on solid ground.
The murder of the nine persons in Emmanuel AME Church broke into our lives, broke our hearts, and breaks us out of apathy.
The Supreme Court Decisions this week regarding the Affordable Care Act and Marriage Equality breaks into our lives, breaks our resolve to restrict benefits of citizenship in these United States, and breaks us out of apathy.
Now is the time . . .
We who are religious leaders in the United States must be awake in this moment and lead in this space that has been hallowed out for us. We are not staring into an abyss of despair; we should be looking into this space as a kaleidoscope of anger, grief, joy and hope. We leaders must look into this kaleidoscope and remember that the design in a kaleidoscope changes as we turn it. We leaders must choose to turn our kaleidoscope such that anger, grief, joy, and hope are ever being reconfigured in each moment of life—tragic or triumphant.
History has taught us that legal justice is necessary in order to address symbolic oppression, systemic discrimination and institutionalized racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religious intolerance, etc. But, as history and recent events teach us, laws and policies on the books are not enough for moral justice.
Now is the time . . .
We religious leaders must answer our higher calling to nurture hearts and minds for moral justice. Our vocation as religious leaders is to be ministers of reconciliation. Reconciliation is not solely an end to be sought, but it is a process initiated by the power of God’s love and justice for a creation gone awry, alienated and estranged from the source of its created goodness. Reconciliation is a gift that we must accept and as with all good gifts, sharing it allows others to know and experience its goodness.
Now is the time . . .
We, people of many faiths and good will, must seize this moment, walk courageously into this space that has been hallowed out for us by forces and events that have broken into our lives. This hallowed space is the space of the movement of the Spirit of our Creator and the encounters of our human spirits. We religious leaders must be of service by continuing to open the space for authentic encounters one with another for doing ministries of reconciliation.
Now is the time . . .
As the circumstances around the death of Mr. Freddie Gray continue to unfold, I find myself dismayed by news media reports. I do think that investigative journalism is important and needed. However, the blow-by-blow construction of a narrative about how this man died does not represent for me that type of journalism.
As news outlets, like CNN and nightly network news, interview various legal experts, police consultants, politicians and/or political pundits, news anchors as well as those being interviewed offer interpretations that are deeply embedded in histories of problematic relationships between all of the groups involved-- African American people (male and female), lower socioeconomic classes of people, and the police. The relationships between these groups have been and are fraught with distrust, fear, and brutality on all sides.
Brandon Scott, Baltimore City Councilman, offered important commentary on CNN Live this morning as he called on everyone to stop leaking contradictory information and give the state’s attorney opportunity to do her work. Yes, he was on CNN, but Mr. Scott was not there offering an interpretation; he was most importantly calling for accountability, due process, and justice. All of these—accountability, due process, and justice—are not easily attained in these matters. However, why not seek to reach for them from whatever role we are playing in this sociopolitically charged moment?
Furthermore, the reporting on Toya Graham and her public disciplining of her son is a mixed bag. I am glad that the news outlets have chosen to interview Ms. Graham, thus allowing her voice to be heard. Still, as Michaela Angela Davis (African American cultural critic) reminds us in her interview on CNN Live today, “Toya Graham is complicated; she is a symbol and not a hero.” Ms. Davis elaborates upon this point by calling attention to Ms. Graham’s response as one that can be assessed as a response that bespeaks of the feeling that your only option is violence because of the terror of systemic violence that daily impinges upon her life. The CNN Newsroom anchor Carol Costello tries to provide a balance (corrective?) to Ms. Davis’ commentary, pointing out that the son was a big guy who was unhurt by his mother’s slaps. Why not simply seek clarity from the cultural critic?
What do you think about news reporting during this event, and/or in the 21st century generally?
Come, join me out on a limb . . .
I have decided to join the "company of bloggers."
Why? Well, mostly because I want to keep myself thinking, grappling, and engaging with others through one of today's ways of being in conversation.
Also, going out on a limb is part of the way I am a moral agent in the world. For me, it is a point of departure for discerning how to be morally courageous.
I will be blogging at least weekly about current events and/or whatever questions are vexing my spirit. I hope that you will join me with your comments, when the Spirit leads you.
Let's keep the tone of our comments dialogical, invitational, respectful.
Welcome to my blog.