A few weeks ago, several of our church members joined a thousand-person march against police violence, raising their voices in solidarity and anger and grief. After the march, I asked some of them if they could write a short piece about their experience in the march for our blog.
The next week, I was arrested along side a dozen other people blocking the street outside a police station in North Philly. We were released fairly quickly, I started working on a blog piece about the experience, and I thought, “Okay, we can publish a collection of short pieces about how white members of our church have shown up for black lives in the past few weeks.”
Then, last week, I checked in with the person writing about her marching experience. She told me, “I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t sound self-congratulatory, so I don’t want to publish anything.”
Right then and there, I opened up my laptop and deleted everything I’d written in my blog draft. I started writing the piece over again. Thirty minutes later, I deleted it all again. I stared at the blank page in frustration – How could I write about my experience in an empowering way that didn’t make this about me? How could I recognize the rage of my black comrades and our different arrest experiences without drowning my writing in unecessary white tears?
In the drawer of my office desk is a sticky note that says, “This is not about you.” I put it there during my second month here when I was frustrated about something not going the way I wanted it to. I needed a reminder that I was not the center of the universe, that one of the most beautiful things about church is that it brings together people who carry an immense diversity of visions and stories. A few weeks ago, a visiting friend snuck another note into my desk drawer that said, “You are doing good things. You are enough.”
This is not about you. You are enough.
These two notes now sit side-by-side in my desk, a dual reminder of what God tells us, over and over again.
Our capitalist system, dedicated to turning everything into money, pressures us constantly to feel inadequate. We aren’t pretty or smart enough, we don’t have enough money or friends, we aren’t working hard enough… most of us have this internal script on loop somewhere in our subconscious. Lost in the constant barrage of messages of inadequacy, we grab hold of material things to comfort us. We literally buy into it.
One of the main ways we address our internalized inferiority is by making everything about us. We make conflicts all about our feelings, we close off our empathy, we refuse to hear what others truly need. When our animal selves are wounded, whether by violence or criticism or the daily grind of life, our guard goes up to protect ourselves from being harmed again.
I’m drawn again and again to the story that starts off Jesus’ first campaign of base-building in northern Palestine:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” [Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV]
As Jesus’ begins his work, he recognizes the need to immerse himself in his own watershed, in the Jordan River, a place laden with the stories of his community – crossings, leavings, returnings. He immerses himself both physically in water and spiritually in God’s story of God’s people in that place. Jesus connects his life to the larger story of God. Immediately after this, he is empowered by the Spirit of God, announcing that God is pleased, pleased enough to call Jesus “my Son.”
I can only imagine the uncertainty in Jesus’ heart as he prepared to begin his work – am I strong enough? Who am I to do this? Will anyone hear God’s call? Maybe he was already trying to close himself off to others, shielding his vulnerability. Maybe he was thinking “I’ll do this for a couple years, gain some power, then go land a cushy Rabbi gig in Jerusalem.”
But then he hears God’s answer: You are a part of my story, and you are my Beloved. And the rest is history.
This is not about you. And, yet, you are enough.
It is these two things that can ground us right now. In turbulent and transformative times, we can listen deeply for God’s voice, quietly reminding us, “You are a part of my story, and you are my Beloved.” Whether we follow in Jesus’ path through praying, or protesting, or teaching, or parenting, or organizing, we can always listen for God grounding us in ourselves and in the story of God’s people.
This is not about you. And, yet, you are enough.