How do we build a bigger table? Through love.
Last weekend, John Pavlovitz, a well-known Christian activist and author, held workshops at Peace United Christian Church about the concept of building a bigger table. Among this broad topic was a conversation around compassion fatigue within social justice — something many of us wrestle with on a daily basis.
On the first night of the workshop, six young adults from Project Legacy — Muslim, Christian and Atheist — attended the talk. The next night, five middle school girls were there for the youth session. And with a level of enthusiasm only middle schoolers are capable of, they asked, begged and pleaded for a picture with Pastor John and Pastor Paul. One young girl was grinning from ear to ear because Pastor Paul had recognized her Iowa sweatshirt and complimented her on her good taste — and that’s all it took.
She wanted a picture of just the two of them, saying: “You can all get in the picture, too, but then I want one of just us. Alone. Just me and Paul.” When Paul left that night, she called after him…”Remember me...Iowa!” And he turned around and smiled and gave her a thumbs up.
While this exchange might seem simple, to her, she was seen and heard. “I like him. He’s nice. He smiled at me,” she says.
He saw her.
Friday night, Abdi stood, mic in hand, to thank John Pavlovitz, saying: “I’m Muslim, and I just want to say thank you, man. Thank you for your message. I’m Muslim and you’re Christian. We have a lot in common, we’re not so different, and I appreciate you. Thank you.”
Later that night, Alysha and I were sitting on the couch together at Peace UCC. The young girls were playing games while Alysha was teaching me more about Snapchat. She noticed something and turned to me, saying, “Remember when (one of the young girls) started coming here? She said she wished she was white and didn’t like her brown skin. Well, when she started in Project Legacy, her Snapchat avatar was white. Look at it now — it’s brown. She changed the color, and that’s pretty cool.”
And there it was. In the Project Legacy group chat, ten little female avatars with various shades of brown skin were waving back at me. The little girl who was being raised by a white grandma and who had no friends of color is now part of a peer group of other girls of color with adult women of color who facilitate the Circle. She no longer wants to change the color of her skin.
She’s embracing it — claiming her identity.
In the final morning session at the workshop, I listened as person after person spoke of their feelings of hopelessness, anger, fatigue and isolation. Working tirelessly towards the hope of peace, reconciliation and true activism, many said they now believe things will never change. Some said they are shocked every day at the level of hatred and cruelty in our country.
This time, I felt like I was on the outside.
While I, too, have felt all of those things, I have come to believe in the importance of seeking the joy, miracles and beauty in our world — because they are also just as prominent.
Recognize the injustices, work for justice, love and compassion, but in the process, don't become that which you despise. If you are calling names, are you any better than the person you are railing against?
The Snapchat avatar that changed color, the young Muslim man who stood to thank the Christian pastor, the little Muslim girl who now counts another Christian pastor among her friends because of a simple exchange of kindness — inclusivity, love, hope, and positive self-identity.
These are the blessings that we consider this morning: Everyday miracles brought to light by love.
There is good in this world, and at Project Legacy, while we are working for a better world, we strive to do so in a spirit of love and compassion. Does pain break our hearts, at a times, causing us to speak from a place of pain and hurt?
But then, we need to move back to center. To love, compassion and the ideals we strive for. Our children are watching us. They are looking for hope and love and justice and we need to respond accordingly.
We need to continue building a bigger table.