As I write this, it hasn’t even been a week since it happened. I usually like to have things processed and thought out in my own mind before speaking. However, because the events are still so fresh, I offer these words, incomplete and inchoate as they might be. With humility and a desire for dialogue and hearing from you, my friends.
As we sit with recent events and feel it and act on it, I find that it is helpful to return to the same questions over and over again: Jesus, how can I/we best serve you, and how can I/we best join you in your work in this world? What, Jesus, would you have me/us do? And in the midst of the storm raging around us and the exhaustion so many of us are feeling from all that we’ve been dealing with—and then adding one more thing to all of it—we can also make the question more specific: Jesus, what does it look like for us to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you in all of this? As individuals, as families, as local churches and the broader Church, as communities, as a nation, as the whole global community. What is the next right thing?
Silence in word and deed is not an option. Not for me. Not for the Church.
I encourage you to find a way to act for peace and justice in the midst of everything that is happening. Whether that’s in your personal relationships or local community or engaging with the government. I wrote to my senators and congressperson for the first time in my life just a few days ago. Doing so has led me to commit to communicating with these elected officials more often. I’ve been present with and had conversations with family members and the clients and students I work with about how all of this has been impacting them, their functioning, their daily lives. I’ve tried to stay informed without overwhelming myself. I’ve prayed.
I also encourage you to find ways to care for others and for yourselves. The world has been through an incredibly painful year. Some groups have been impacted more than others. People from marginalized groups have been dealing with discrimination and injustice and hatred directed at them for years. And here is one more massive example of how Whites and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals are treated and valued differently in the US. The pain is real. The grief is real. The anger is real. So how can we care for and love others and ourselves well during this time?
I don’t have all of the answers. I often feel helpless in the midst of such large forces and events. But even though I can’t see the way forward, I choose to trust that with God speaking in and to and among us, with us joining God in God’s work in the midst of such violence and pain and fear, with us listening more (to God and each other) and speaking less, with us finding support and love in community that we then share with others, with the privileged using our power to elevate and privilege the marginalized and to end systems of oppression, with communal discernment of God’s desires for the world—with all of this, we can receive, experience, and spread peace and healing and hope and love. We can be the bearers of Christ’s presence to each other. We can carry each other’s burdens. We can experience rest and stillness in the midst of the storm and in the process of working toward justice and mercy.
Whatever God is calling you and us to now, bless you. Maybe that’s stillness and shock. Maybe it’s grief and lament. Maybe it’s speaking locally or to a broader audience. Maybe you have ideas of concrete actions to take. Maybe you’re already taking those steps. Whatever it is, may we do so as individuals and as groups with Christ as our center. May we be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves as we do this difficult work.
Be gentle with yourselves and with others, my friends! We’re dealing with so much.
God, help us!
Christ, have mercy!
Justin T. Neiman Westbrook
Justin T. Neiman Westbrook, Ph.D., is a Teaching Psychologist at the Internal Medicine Clinic at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, OR, who helps people with a range of mental health issues, as well as with issues in daily living, including spiritual concerns and self-care. Justin serves as Eden Spiritual Care's secretary/treasurer.