What Is Our Work in the Face of Empire? | Sojourners

What Is Our Work in the Face of Empire?

I shuffle around my office, grabbing a stamp to mail a bill, looking at the books on my bookshelves and the pictures on my wall, finally sitting down to light a candle that has been sitting on my desk, unlit, for weeks. The scent of honeycrisp apple fills the air of this tiny room in my attic, and I get back to work.

We live in a time when the daily task of comparing notes on everything we do and think can be daunting. On social media, we feel the pressure to respond to everything happening in the news, wondering when we should be silent and when we should speak up, wondering if what we do is ever really enough to change anything. I feel this tension as an author, speaker, and activist.

This last weekend, I spoke at the Evolving Faith conference, led by Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu. We gathered at a hockey stadium in Denver to ask a lot of questions, most of the time without a clear answer to follow. The most important conversations seem to leave us with thoughts lingering in the air. We leave with more thoughts, with more ideas, with more tension inside of ourselves. I believe this is where it matters most to use the most human parts of us to create change inside and outside of ourselves.

On the second day of the conference, I moderated a panel on justice, deconstruction, and soul care. Beautiful, challenging and kind words came from the panelists: Alicia Crosby, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Kathy Escobar, and B.T. Harman. The session of over 700 people felt full of buzzing energy, and I knew that we all had a question at the front of our minds: How do we do this work and do it well? Really, at the end of the day, what does it mean to be human?

I was particularly impressed with what Alicia shared about what it means to do the work we are each called to do. Alicia shared that this work will look different to each of us, but we have to be willing to ask what our work is, and to own the complexities of that question for ourselves and those around us.

What is the thing you do in this world? Do you pray for people? Do you march in the streets? Are you prophetic in another way? Are you an artist? Do you remind people that they aren’t alone?

There was a beautiful sense of solidarity in that space, and it has continued to speak to me after leaving the conference. The goal isn’t that we all, slowly, become more and more like each other. The goal is that, in our differences of opinion and experiences, we hold space with one another to perpetuate fierce love and beauty in the world. That journey often comes through our own grief and trauma, turning what is difficult into what creates something new in us and solidarity with one another.

So, we must not be afraid to ask the question what is my work today?

Without looking around, without seeing what everyone else is doing, what is the thing in your gut that propels you forward? At the end of the day, what is the ache in your stomach that reminds you that there is still work to be done, still peace to pursue?

There is the grandma on the block who takes care of all of the children.

There are the parents who take in trans teens the church has turned out.

There are the kids at school who stand up against bullying.

There is the young man caring for immigrants at the border.

There are the teenagers fighting for gun control.

There is the single parent working two jobs to care for their children.

There are pastors trying to decolonize the way they practice Christianity.

There are people of all faiths trying to practice solidarity with one another.

There is the educator dismantling ableism and racism in their classroom.

There are artists painting flower murals on street corners so we remember beauty.

At the panel for Evolving Faith, I asked if certain people are “called to justice” or if justice is already rooted inside of us, and we awaken it. If we are all inherently activists, created to fight against systems that oppress and de-humanize others, it often takes an experience or a moment in time to awaken us to the reality of the work we have to do and even the ways we’ve been complicit in systems that oppress. Some of us have been on that journey for a long time, and some of us are just beginning.

I like to think that in those moments when Jesus escaped to the hillside, when he asked for some alone time, he was going, not just to commune with the earth or to have private conversations with God, with Mystery, with Creator, but that he was actually taking inventory for himself.

Today, in the face of empire, who will I be and how will I be?

Our greatest prophets took the time to ask that question often, and we can follow in their footsteps. The only thing required is that we remember we are human in the process.

Stay in the spiritual fire.
Let it cook you.

Be well-baked loaf
and lord of the table.

Come and be served
to your brothers.

You have been a source of pain.
Now you`ll be the delight.

You have been an unsafe house.
Now you`ll be the One
who sees into the Invisible.

-Rumi

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