The following commentary was written before the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States.
On Jan. 21 I will join thousands in D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. My first stop will be at a local congregation, one of several hosting a prayer service and warming station for marchers. I’m an anti-racist feminist Christian, and for me, faith will be part of the day.
I’ve been disappointed with Christian silence and even active resistance to social justice imperatives, but my commitments to justice stem from my faith, and that’s why I march.
So I’ve been poring over numerous guides and packing lists. I’ve got the app. I’ve got my sharpies, my layers, my trail mix, my map.
But as a Christian marching for justice, what should I pack? What is my way, my fuel, my gear for the journey?
I’m convinced that these days, when the justice forecast seems particularly bleak, it’s best to put one foot in front of the other, starting humbly, powerfully, right from where I stand. Be intentional to do the things I can do to carry on, in order to do the work that must be done and stay healthy.
Sure, one alternative is to walk around defeated, a zombie. There are days, recently, I have done this. I have cried. I have wanted to stay in bed. My body sometimes shakes. One time I hyperventilated.
But given the circumstances, all I can do is the job I’ve set out to do, the job I know how to do, with justice, kindness, humility. There is urgent work to be done in our world, and we must get on it. Jesus was an activist. Martin Luther, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr.: these are Christians who followed Jesus’ example of action for justice. We each have gifts, and as Christians, it is our call to use them to mobilize: health care for the poor, full inclusion of the LGBT community, welcome to immigrants and all faiths, value for the lives and voices of people of colour, equity for women.
Sometimes that means making myself call senators even if I feel nervous. Sometimes it means thanking someone who is working hard for equality. Sometimes it means writing a post on Facebook from an anti-racist Christian perspective. One time I worked with colleagues to crowdsource an “Ally Advent Calendar” listing daily justice actions that can be done by anyone, any day, Advent or not. I’ve realized I need the dailiness of it.
As feminist poet Marge Piercy writes in “To Be of Use”:
“The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.”
The trouble of this very real work, I know, is that it can be devastating. What I have come to expect is that each day I will read about or watch things that will cause me to come undone.
But here’s what we know as Christians:
We are already broken.
Imperfect, weak sometimes.
And we love anyway. We pray and then get to work anyway. We have faith and believe in our worth, anyway. We search for work that is real, but we need fuel to do it.
What I’ve learned as a Lutheran is that grace and forgiveness are tools for justice. Why?
Because grace frees and feeds us, radically, to do the hard work that must be done. If we believe that our value comes not from whether we succeed or fail, are lauded or criticized, but rather from God’s deep, unwavering love and faith in us, ALL of us, then we are liberated. We have gotten free. We can’t fail. And then we can work to liberate others.
As black feminist writer Toni Morrison says to her students, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
Because of God’s radical grace, we draw from a store of energy and power that cannot be drained. We have inherent worth because we are loved, forever. The cup is always full, overflowing, and God is the source. “Let justice roll like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
So, when we march, when we work, when we write and call, we have a uniform, we have the gear we need. It’s not a plaid school jumper or a monogrammed polo, not even a solidarity armband or a pussycat hat, though I wear those things too. We put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. We wear love. These are our impenetrable armour.
God provides us with a pathway toward justice, and as Christians — who have at times failed or remained silent in the moments when we have been called to speak out — we see what to wear, we have our sustenance, and we understand how to move forward. The world may break our hearts, but each day, we already know what to do.
As Christians, God sends us out the door, ready to go. So let’s get to work. Now. I’ll see you at the march, and beyond.
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer is a social justice writer, facilitator and speaker.