Contemplative Justice: How Turning Inward Helped My Outward Action | Sojourners

Contemplative Justice: How Turning Inward Helped My Outward Action

On June 1, 2020, I stood somberly in front of City Hall, in Brockton, MA joining other clergy members, city officials and police officers. The death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on May 25 brought out a rare opportunity for the community leaders to stand together in grief.

My heart broke, but a sigh of relief came when Police Chief Gomes said, "I was sickened by the video of the criminal conduct of those Minneapolis police officers." Everyone attending, including Mayor Sullivan, took a knee, and I was utterly amazed at this unique moment of solidarity in my community when other regions experienced growing tension. Pastor Manny Daphnis expressed what I felt, saying, "I was really grateful that the mayor and police chief called the death of George Floyd what it was: a murder." Hence the work of police reform began, with the support of Gomes and Sullivan, with the goal of rewriting the Brockton Police Department's use of force policies. The Clergy Caucus of the Brockton Interfaith Community, of which I am a member, continued to push the work of police reform forward and kept the city leaders accountable.

As a pastor of Asian descent serving in a city that boasts 45.6% Black or African American and 18.3% non-white (2% Asian), I had a lot to learn. Navigating through how racism and injustice impacted these diverse BIPOC communities differently was challenging enough, but the rise of Asian hate during the covid-19 pandemic complicated where I wanted to invest my energy. In a city where Asian American voices are often missing, my involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement both lifted the voice of my community and recognized the distinct struggle that Black communities have endured over 400 years of oppression and inequality. It affirmed the need for all of us to work together toward achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion.

However, before the shooting in Atlanta that grabbed national attention, which took the lives of six Asian women out of the eight killed, there was a severe lack of media coverage on crimes against Asians. During one of my Clergy Caucus zoom meetings, I shared a prayer request regarding Asian hate crimes, and I saw nothing but blank stares. No one on the call understood the prevalence of Asian hate crimes. I remember thinking, “Wow, even they don't know...” A couple of days later, I received an apologetic email from a group member who had done more research, saying, "Dan, I'm so sorry! I didn't know!" In one of many emergency AAPI meetings in response to Asian hate, one pastor from New York City confessed, "I try to stand with everyone, but who stands with us? It's like we are completely invisible!" I couldn't agree with him more.

The injustice and inequity, the sufferings and cries of BIPOC people, weighed heavily on my soul. I felt stretched beyond capacity. I was in over my head. I began to wonder, how I could escape this inescapable work before me. I was overwhelmed with the temptation to run, quit, and disappear, but where could I flee? When I consider the life of my Black friends who cannot escape this reality and view my desire to simply step away from the work, I realized how privileged I am. And I began to cry from the depths of my soul.

For the past five years, I sensed the Lord inviting me to "come away." Growing frustration within me screamed out, "When, God? Where, and how?" Many colleagues suggested a personal retreat, but I was in the middle of police reform in my city and didn’t want to take time away. Then I met a group of spiritual directors, reflective practitioners, and heart-formation coaches at ReWire. JD Ward, the National Director of ReWire, and his team guided me in practicing contemplative spirituality.

ReWire trains people, pastors, and communities to be contemplatives in action. My ongoing training & coaching with ReWire enabled me to change my approach to ministry. I took a class on contemplative prayer, committed to a daily practice of centered living, studied how to be a change agent like Martin Luther King Jr., and learned how the culture has captivated my notion of what is acceptable in our world.

I learned that contemplative prayer is really a way of life, and although it was new to me, it is a 3rd-century practice found in monastic communities. I asked and listened to God in a way that I could put aside my agenda, thoughts, and plans. It re-centered my mind, heart, and soul while I rested in God’s presence. The most significant benefit I have experienced was the ability to let go of what I thought were brilliant strategies.

In practicing surrender daily, I began experiencing God in a way that infused a stronger sense of justice, mercy, and compassion without feeling overwhelmed by the work. By going inward, I was able to reach further outward. How is that possible? ReWire helped me make contemplation a daily practice. I learned that we all struggle with our false selves, and my compassion grew. I was able to experience God’s concern for justice and realize how much more extensive it is than mine. God is the biggest activist there is, and Jesus carries that burden to the cross daily, which makes our load light. It does not excuse me from the call, but I get to bring whatever strength I have with joy and gladness, and it’s enough, for God’s grace is sufficient for me.

Lamenting, standing in solidarity with those experiencing injustice, and fighting to correct the wrong creates discomfort in all of us. It is tempting to step off this path in privilege and return to where we were comfortable. But as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, "No one is free until we are all free." If we are not in deep connection with the Creator in heaven, who is the author of life and all that is good, then we might discover that we are just a hired hand that runs off when the wolf attacks (John 10:12-13), unwilling to sacrifice our needs to protect God’s sheep. Contemplative spirituality leads to contemplative justice, for our God is a God of Justice.

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