Lament is not about helplessness or hopelessness

A reflection from our dean, Emilie M. Townes

2020 was a year in which we, as a society, saw the highest surge of hate crimes in 12 years. Rimmed by the start of the pandemic, we bore witness to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others. This sad litany has become lament over the years as we try, desperately, to speak up and out against this clueless and sometimes calculated hatred and take steps to stop the violence in our lives. Lament is not about helplessness or hopelessness. When done in community, we name that which is causing us to be tempted by despair with as much precision as possible and then begin to take steps to address—if not eradicate—that which keeps us from a more just world.

And as the years have passed, many of us in 2022 wonder who are we becoming as a nation? Others feel that we have been a violent nation for many years. We were only seeing it more clearly with media coverage that replayed the horrors of the hatred that kills our souls—bit by bit—as hatred is mixed with fear and arrogant disdain for what I call the rich differences among us. However, those who fear difference may call this richness the end of civilization. The end of civilization occurs when we believe it necessary to kill living human beings who have families and friends, and lives with histories that may be imperfect. Some of us respond to those who may be like us with an unthinking, reflex action to put an end to those folk whom we do not know. Be it because of race, class, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, age, ability…the list goes on. And then we spread this hatred to the environment and other living creatures and justify our actions with a farcical reading of Genesis 1:26.

Friends, however you may interpret the words of that verse, having dominion over the earth or subduing it does not mean destroying it. Nor do those words grant to any of us the right to annihilate others.

Hatred linked to the fear of difference does not grow us as a nation or as individuals. It stalls on the altar of despair and violence and gives us few resources to live into the new heaven and new earth that so many of us try to help build in large ways and small. There is no nobility in this quest, I think. Rather, it is a necessity if we want to grow our lives and that of others larger as we fill all lives with a loving orneriness that refuses to let hatred have the final word. We build this together.