While our country was going through a painful week of racial injustice and violence, I was camping in the wilds of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. While shots were being fired and people were dying, I was taking in the grandeur of our national parks, sharing meals with my extended family and sleeping in a tent under the starry skies of the West.
When we returned to civilization and connectivity last Saturday, reality hit me like a truck. At first, I couldn't even bear to read about what had happened, much less watch TV news. I wanted to remain in my peaceful reverie. (OK, it wasn't entirely peaceful because we were camping with my husband's five siblings, his parents and a handful of children, but that's another story.)
What seemed so clear to me upon our return was that our country holds incredible beauty and space and opportunity. And, yet, that is unimaginable to some people. Even though we took our vacation on a relatively tight budget—staying in campgrounds, carpooling with family and cooking communal meals— there are many, many in our country who will never have the opportunity to venture outside their neighborhoods or towns.
Some will live in poverty. Some will live with discrimination. And some will die. Far too young.
I'm not a politician or even a political activist. I'm not a philosopher or social scientist. I'm just like many other people. I'm saddened and concerned over what's happening in our country and wondering what I can do.
My gut tells me that what our family was doing last week is what we could all use a little more of. We took a break from work and technology and the hustle and bustle and pressures of life. We enjoyed nature and this beautiful country we live in. And, most importantly, we connected with each other.
My husband comes from a large family, most of whom are strong-willed and sometimes opinionated (aren't we all?). We joked ahead of time about which family member would be the first to break down in tears because of teasing from the rest of the group.
But, there were no tears of hurt or anger. There were very few criticisms or harsh words. Mostly we caught up on each others' lives and got to know each other a little better. We empathized and occasionally argued—and we always stayed respectful.
That, I think, is what we all need to try to do more often.
When I got back online this week, I found some advice from our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. He, too, urges us to take action—peaceful, loving action.
Here is a condensed version of Bishop Hollerith's advice:
- Pray. It's hardly a new, earth-shaking idea, but … we sometimes forget just how powerful prayer can be. Prayer is the stance we Christians take in the face of our own powerlessness. It is our unceasing faith in the power of God to create healing opportunity.… Pray for those who are in pain or are grieving. Pray for peace.
- Listen. One of the most important activities we can engage in is that of listening to the feelings and experiences of others. We live in a society where people are generally far more interested in asserting their opinions than listening to what others have to say. Or, in the words of William James, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." … Deep listening involves paying close attention to the stories of those who differ from us. And a listening posture helps create an environment where healing and reconciliation are possible.
- Speak. Not all of us are called to raise our voice in the midst of a public protest. But God calls every one of us to speak against injustice as we experience it in the day to day, ordinary contexts of our lives.… [We must] "speak the truth in love…" This is especially important … when we hear others—even those who are close to us—articulate hate or indifference or prejudice, the very tinder of social violence.
Whether or not you believe in God or any higher power, it is important that we believe in each other and listen to each other. President Obama spoke movingly of empathy. Sometimes we're so far apart that it's difficult to empathize, but listening is a good first step toward empathizing.
If you're feeling stressed by the news and what's happening in the world, consider turning off your TV, getting off Facebook and going for a walk. Greet your neighbors along the way—even the ones who may not look like you. Smile. Connect. Listen. And continue working toward a better, more just world.