The staples of my desk at work consists of red chili pepper flakes, salt, a glass name plate, and a black and white photograph of James Baldwin. I am sure others wonder why I have a photograph of James Baldwin on my desk, when they have family photos and old cards, because I can see their quizzical faces. But Baldwin’s life and words are a constant reminder of the authentic self – of what is required to say and do that which aligns with the trajectory of one’s soul.
This is a strange space that I currently inhabit. Several decades ago the population of San Francisco looked much different than it does today. Many of SF’s diverse population have been run out of their neighborhoods and homes and pushed to the margins. I am a transplant. I live in an area that was once warehouses, but now house high-rise apartments. While I find some solace in knowing there were no homes where I currently live, I know that each of us in the city plays some role in how the current events of SF are playing out.
I am also now part of the 3% of black people in this city, and I take the Caltrain down to the peninsula, where I feel the disconnect along the way between the tech capital of the world and marginalized communities who were once the foundation of the very culture that is celebrated here. That culture is a ghost and a shell of itself. The disconnect of community and people is often palpable. I have actively sought the spaces where I could feel connected here. I have found that in a space I have long inhabited in other cities of my now many past lives: the connection of my faith to my passion for social justice and community development.
People have told me I am crazy for traveling 2 hours on public transit on Wednesdays to get to my Live group -the small groups of the church I attend here in the Bay. I go in early to work on those days, so that I can leave early enough to get to my LIVE group on time: I take a shuttle from work to the Caltrain. Wait for the Caltrain, and then take it to Millbrae from Redwood City. I wait on the BART, staring at its doors, already tired from the journey. I get on the BART and ride it 14 stops to Downtown Oakland. I then take an Uber or bus toward to the apartment where our Live group meets. Four forms of transportation. But oftentimes to meet transformation where transformation occurs, we have to be willing to traverse great distances.
Lately, my thoughts have been more scattered, and I feel the weight of the constant tragedies compounding in my mind. I am thinking about honoring narratives. Thinking about how people can feel stuck in the middle of stories they aren’t proud or scared to tell. Thinking about whether or not what we are doing matters. Thinking about what it means to channel social justice through faith. But most of all, thinking about the hopelessness I see creeping steadily into the lives of many.
There are those who use God’s name to enact violence and oppressive systems, and now many feel that Christianity is synonymous with such things. But religion has long been a creation of man, and if we can reach far enough back to reclaim the names of forefathers and mothers in the Motherland than we can certainly reach passed the images of White Jesus to the actual site of salvation. As Jasolyn, our Live group facilitator, reminded us, we are the least of these. Christ came for us. His message is for us. His life was and has always been the work of dismantling hopelessness and bringing healing.
So how then do we begin the work ourselves of dismantling hopelessness? It is not new work, but it is arguably needed more than ever. And not only how do we dismantle hopelessness for those around us, but also what that means to do for ourselves as well. As black women we sometimes forget to do that work. We show up to marches for our men, and bear burdens the size of the world on our shoulders and often forget that we have two hands: one to help ourselves, and one to help others.
Our Pastor on Sunday preached about how we are healers, and how we can help bring healing to our own lives and to those around us. In order to do so we have to first confront complicity. I know oppressed communities often hear that we are responsible for many of the problems plaguing us, such as gang violence. But what we have to confront is not that which is told to us by the very groups benefiting from systems that create the environments that leave communities ripe with violence, but rather what are we complicit in that brings about the oppression of others. If we cannot confront where we have rejected becoming a healer, than we cannot move forward. We cannot read the Bible in a way that makes it acceptable for people to oppress us or others.
The second thing the pastor outlined was about taking risks. And it is frightening to think about. In Live group last week, I talked about how I let others know at work and in my friend groups about my faith, and I talk to them about how God’s love has saved and kept me, and how I channel that through the work I do. And it is never easy. I wrote my college admissions essay on the miracle I believe God granted my family in healing my brother from a serious illness. I have often studied and worked in spaces where talk of faith is looked down upon as nonsense. But people know me, and they see more than they will ever hear, and that risk affords me the ability to do healing. To talk to people, bear witness to their suffering, and to walk with them through it.
The third and final thing Pastor Mike mentioned is that we have to ask ourselves what crosses we are willing to carry so that we can achieve healing and liberation. Even when you are good, bad things can still happen to you. They will happen to you. It is still the loudest message I took away from my first time in Ghana, when I thought that malaria and typhoid would take my life. This statement is more than health, more than comfort, it is about knowing where you stand in your work and who gives you the power to do so. Despair and despondency are the tools of the world. It is always when the tide is about to turn that we are made to believe that there is something wrong with us, that nothing can ever work out in a world stacked against us. But even when we receive consequences for doing the right thing, we have to keep expecting liberation. I have yet to think of a more powerful force in my life than to know the ending while still in the midst of the battle. I just have to firmly trust it.
So while we wait we should wait with a prayer, with a song, and with the CONFIDENCE that God can do expediently and abundantly. “Above all else, trust in the slow work of God.”
On the broken nights, when I find myself thinking about re-boarding the Caltrain to the familiar tracks to home when it feels like the BART doors will never open or the journey is too long, I focus on blessings upon blessings upon blessings from God and how He always sends me the most remarkable groups of women and social justice believers and builders to do the work alongside. That has always been the true trajectory of my soul.