By Rev. M Barclay
As I often do when invited to offer a reading for reflection, last week I turned to the work of adrienne maree brown to share in digital community. Her “spell for grief or letting go” is a timely invitation to release control and practice our humanity in ways that heal.
The responsive insights of the gathered group were rich, and one struck me in particular. In the midst of conversations about the protestors calling for the premature opening of businesses - the white supremacist, gun-toting, embodiments of toxic masculinity and its accomplices – one person shared, “I’d love to see M read this spell on a large megaphone in front of all those protestors.”
I was struck by the suggestion. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t for half-a-second think it would make a difference in their actions and I don’t believe the person who suggested it does either. While I don’t dare to imply that I know the limits of each individual human heart, I do know better than to believe in such sentimental and quick approaches to human transformation. If only it were so easy.
This is, after all, one of the seductive beliefs we are offered on the regular. We love our glimpses of shared humanity that equalize by erasing our political differences and thus, the choices of some to dictate the lives and well-being of others. Popular commercials have mirrored these sentiments back to us with great applause. It has been suggested, the simple kindness of offering an officer a Pepsi could be enough to bring an end to anti-black police brutality. Or, perhaps, that a single conversation over a beer could cover-over the violence and inequality enacted against trans women on the daily. The implied message: a kind human touch is all we need to change society.
These are deeply dangerous sentiments furthered by left and right alike. They use the best of what’s possible in human connection to actually keep us from achieving it.
If only a simple reading of a beautiful poem were enough to break down the years of hard-heartedness, pain, and dominance alive in the souls of the quarantine protestors. The thought of them opening up to their own grief, bursting into tears of acceptance, embracing one another in vulnerability as they burn their confederate flags in repentance – it would make a beautiful commercial. In actuality, what would probably happen if I made the attempt to read brown’s work is that my own safety would be threatened, queer and transphobic remarks would be pointed in my direction, maybe also a gun. At best, the gifts of brown’s words would be quickly drowned out by the noise.
What grabbed me, though, what I heard in the idea, was the reminder that those protestors are grasping for control – in much more violent and extreme but nonetheless similar ways – that keep all of us from grieving, letting go, or simply being in touch with our own full humanity. To cope with their own insecurities, untended wounds, heart-hardening egos that have cut them off from their humanity, they turn to evil, violence, and destruction through acts of supremacy.
We are sold such terrible lies about how to survive in this world. Lies we inherit that enable capitalism to run smoothly. Lies that ensure white supremacy will not falter. Lies that secure patriarchal values in our homes and movements and churches and hearts.
Some of them sound like:
- If someone is not treated right, they didn’t act right
- Tending feelings is for the weak and irrational
- To be weak or irrational is embarrassing
- Control is fear’s remedy
- What’s mine is mine
- Our struggles are only personal problems
- The more polished the person, the more trustworthy their intentions
- Some lives are disposable
- Pain can and should be avoided – through power, purchase, or apathy
These and so many others. We inherit them from family, religion, and society at large and they turn us against ourselves, each other, and other forms of life around us.
The power afforded by white supremacy and patriarchy makes the results of these lies far more terrorizing among some than others. We can see this all around us. The differences of impact are vitally important here. But still I believe, reflecting on the common roots of these shared impulses is a vital part of finding our way through the ruins of our collective life.
The slow work of learning and un-learning the insidious teachings of destructive systems and norms helps us to separate the causes from the symptoms, even as we address them both.
Tending to our own healing from systemic violence – spiritual and physical – enables us to interact differently with the still-gaping wounds in others who wish us harm.
Letting our own hearts break when they need to, feeling what we need to feel without judgment or shame, strengthens our ability to be in true solidarity with one another, to withstand the losses and imagine the possibilities together.
“We transform ourselves to transform the world,” said Grace Lee Boggs.
This, not instead of fighting for equality, justice, and liberation, but as the process by which we do it. This, not instead of feeling angry, not rather than holding people accountable, not by avoiding rage or neglecting resistance, but as the recognition that all of this, too, at its best is love-work.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world and against the spiritual forces of evil…”
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Rev. M Barclay is a United Methodist deacon serving as Director of enfleshed. M formerly served as Director of Communications at Reconciling Ministries Network, advocating for queer and trans justice in The UMC. They have also enjoyed working as a hospital chaplain, youth director, justice associate and faith coordinator for reproductive justice in Texas. As a queer and trans minister, M is passionate about writing, teaching, and preaching on finding the Sacred in the people, places, and ideas often overlooked.