As I was growing up in an evangelical church, one of my pastors’ favorite scriptures to use to wake up a congregation and remind us to keep going was the “run-the-race” scripture. In Hebrews 12, we are instructed to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” But I was never a runner — or, in fact, had any athletically inclined bone in my body — and I desperately needed a different metaphor, something that I felt would teach me to carry on my faith in a sustainable way.
To this day, I’ve yet to find one that really fits, but the idea is the same: The long haul work of justice, of making things right in a world where things have gone wrong, is work that lasts throughout the centuries. For prophets must recognize that the dreams we work toward probably won’t be realized while we are still living and breathing.
Perhaps prophets realize that our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, foster children, our students, they are the ones who carry forth the work that we could only hope to finish. They are the ones who will realize the dreams of God in a hurting world.
I think about those who have carried that in their lives, the ones who have led others to do this work as well:
Rachel Held Evans.
Nelson Mandela fought, both as an imprisoned citizen and as president, for the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
Autumn Peltier is an Anishinaabe 14-year-old water rights activist.
Alice Wong is a disability rights activist who started the Disability Visibility Project.
Rachel Held Evans was a prophet in the modern church who fought for inclusion.
In a 2018 HuffPost article, Mychal Denzel Smith commented on the famous Martin Luther King quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” sharing the vision the sentiment quote was born from: a longer sermon delivered by abolitionist Theodore Parker. This is what Parker said:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.
Smith’s piece touches on a really important aspect of this quote, that the work of justice must be active and consistent, and that it won’t happen unless we work toward it happening.
Just as the “long arc of justice” is never-ending, we must also understand that justice work is not linear; it moves in and around us in a way that we cannot fully understand.
And as we work, we remember that empire and white supremacy have long goals of their own, and these goals constantly work to dismantle justice at every turn. The work of genocide, assimilation, and oppression last for centuries. Our vision of a just world must last longer and be even more sustainable.
The world feels really heavy lately. And when things feel particularly heavy, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s ahead, to lose sight of hope. But we must remember that the work of justice has no sides and isn’t categorized neatly into political statements.
Justice simply happens in the margins where wrongs are made right for the oppressed. Justice happens when the heart of God, the way of love, makes itself known and seen among us.
Justice work must stretch far past our current president, and it must stretch into all political parties. It stretches into every religion, into cultures all over the world.
Justice work must be envisioned across the world, where atrocities happen every day that we are unaware of. So we must be citizens of the earth, not just our own nations.
Justice work must bear in mind the goodness of the earth, an earth that deserves our attention, our care, and our love, an earth that actually teaches us what justice is.
The long haul of justice is universal, and we simply step into a current that is already moving, trusting that it leads us to become the people we need to be.
The Dalai Lama once said, "All religions can learn from one another; their ultimate goal is to produce better human beings who will be more tolerant, more compassionate, and less selfish." If we want to join in the current of God that is moving us toward compassion, we must trust one another to do the work as well.
Prophets know that we must speak out of our own spaces, but that we must also trust other prophets around us to speak out of their own spaces, too. Our aim is remembering the things that last, what we give to those who come after us.
I was recently hiking with my family in Georgia where we live, and I saw a small black ant carrying a large piece of food back to its home. Ants are truly creatures to behold beneath our feet and our realities — they go on journeys that we will never understand just to find food for their kin.
Ants do whatever necessary to return home with sustenance, to do their part to make things right, as they should be, for the well-being of all.
The ant is in it for the long haul, and we have so much to learn from them, and from the other creatures of the earth. We have so much to learn about work that sustains, and what it means to continue the work even when giants walk among us.
We can give future generations tools of racism and hatred, or we can pass on the aim of kindness, love, and belonging.
But we must remember that we wouldn’t be here without those who came before us, and nothing will change without those who come after.
It is up to us.
And we are in it for the long haul.