the weight of pretending pure

[An excerpt, a conversation, from a novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates about memory, connection and the heart of the Underground (Railroad)]:

“We can’t ever have nothing pure,” Robert said. “It’s always out of sorts. Them stories with their knights and maidens, none of that for us. We don’t get it pure. We don’t get nothing clean.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But neither do they. It is quite a thing, a messy dirty thing, to put your own son, your own daughter, to the Task.* Way I see it, ain’t no pure and it is we who are blessed, for we know this.”

” Blessed, huh?”

“Blessed, for we do not bear the weight of pretending pure. I will say that it has taken some time for me to get to that. Had to lose some folk and truly understand what that loss mean. But having been down, and having seen my share of those who are up, I tell you, Robert Ross, I would live down here among my losses, among the muck and mess of it, before I would ever live among those who are in their own kind of muck, but are so blinded by it they fancy it pure. Ain’t no pure, Robert. Ain’t no clean.”

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer

*Refers to owners who gave their own children, born to enslaved mothers, into slavery.

means and ends

[A sermon by Peter Fitch yesterday reminded some of us of this powerful letter, and this excerpt]:

Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.

But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.

don’t sacrifice truth

[Here is another excerpt from Lois Mitchell’s address at our Convocation this past weekend]:

The challenges are real; the stakes are high; reality is complicated; people are motivated by righteous indignation in the face of injustice. But our aim should never be to win at all costs when that means sacrificing what we know to be true (even though our knowledge of what is true is always incomplete) for the sake of what we believe to be right. In other words, a right or just outcome does not justify tampering with the portions of truth that we do have; as tempting as it is, we shouldn’t tamper with the evidence!

  • Lois Mitchell, Professor Emerita of International Studies at SSU (You can read her whole Convocation Address here.)

discovering a more complete truth

[This weekend was Convocation weekend at SSU, and our Convocation Address was given by Dr. Lois Mitchell, who is retiring and accepting the title of Professor Emerita of International Studies. In her address, she referred to the Don’t Call Me Resilient podcast of Vinita Srivastava, and in this passage below to a quote in that podcast from Rev. angel Kyodo williams]:

… But Rev. angel says that activists are not so much devoted to a cause, but to uncovering a “more complete truth.” Truth – as I’m sure you’ve discovered – is wonderfully, annoyingly, flirtatiously… elusive – we “see through a glass darkly.”

There’s lots of talk of activism these days and that excites me, as we encourage young people to become advocates and activists for social justice. But it also concerns me. Are we also equipping them to discover a more complete truth? I wonder if we sell activism short when we let it be about single issues or causes – racism, reconciliation, climate change, poverty, etc. etc. – or some subset of these larger issues, and not about a determination to get to the “wholeness” of a cause in all of its inherent and historical complexity. Do we tell them that it takes patience and determination to comprehend inherent and historical complexity?

  • Lois Mitchell, Professor Emerita of International Studies at SSU (You can read her whole Convocation Address here.)

a prayer after a hard year

God, you hold our memories of this past year in your capable hands. I imagine you’re weaving the moments that have shaped us into what will be a beautiful quilt, bringing all of the collective grief and the individual sorrow, the small delights and ordinary goodnesses, the moments we were afraid and angry alongside of the moments when we felt joy and contentment, all stitched together with your grace for it all. Wrap us up in the warmth of your love, knowing we are held, beloved, worthy just as we are in this moment.

We have been living in an apocalypse, Jesus, a true unveiling: help us to see clearly ever after this. Help us to name and remember what we have lost, what we have gained, and where we saw you at work in this broken and beloved world. Help us to be gentle with ourselves and with each other, we’re still not done yet. Help us to see the world more clearly and to love each other more particularly.

May we rest in that imaginary quilt of the totality of this year, be held by your grace, your love, your faithfulness, and your tenderness with us. May we always find you in the small ordinary things of our lives. May we always see the world as it is now and always, and love it all the more for the very things that break our hearts.