An Experiment in Justice

IsisMost of the time, attending the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines is a joyful experience for me.  I’m fed by the music, the ethics of the community, the wisdom and passion of the ministers.  I feel at home there.

But, because it is an Unitarian community, social justice is a big part of the zeitgeist.  We are called to wake up and “stay woke” to the inequity of our justice and prison systems, to the destruction of black bodies.  Sermons, like Erin Gingrich’s message a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter, gnaw at my comfort.  Adult education classes include discussion groups about books like Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  Affirmed Justice small groups meet to plan how to incorporate Restorative Justice into our schools and courts.

I’m proud to be part of this vibrant, caring community.  I just can’t figure out where I fit.

comptonYesterday, after a particularly fiery sermon, I left with a plan.  I would go see Straight Outta Compton, the movie about the first gangsta rap group, NWA. Rap music scares me.  The language, the violence, the rage—they all scare me.  But, I know all of it is someone’s real, lived, experience.  I thought, I can do this.  I can watch this movie with curious compassion and be mindful of my fear.  I can do this.

I had read in the church bulletin that next Sunday would be the Blending of the Waters ritual.  Congregants bring water from a significant source, talk about what it symbolizes, and pour it into a common bowl.  It’s a way to acknowledge the gifts we all bring to the community.

So, when I got my popcorn and diet Coke for the movie, I filled the cup to the top with ice.  This would be my offering to the bowl next Sunday, this ice that would hold my fear and my courage.

I came out of the movie shell-shocked, over-run by the full range of my bipolarness.  I drove home crying, raging, and ultimately locked-down.  I sedated myself and went to bed, hoping for clarity in the morning.

And, by gum, that’s what I found.

My feelings of ineptness and desperation around social justice mirror my old feelings about work and being a productive member of society.  I had to keep trying to go back to work until I learned that my mental illness took that ability.  The stress of working is now a trigger.

Now I know that the stress of being an activist, of even considering being an activist, is also a trigger.  I can’t keep the pain, injustice and rage outside of me.  My boundaries aren’t that strong.

Knowing one’s triggers is important information for anyone with mental illness.  Self-knowledge and insight are vital tools.  Going to this movie set me free in many ways.  It gave me a new sense of clarity and purpose.  I will never be on the front lines with those in my church fighting for social justice, but I will be right behind them armed with my own kind of courage.

That’s what I intend to say next Sunday when I pour my melted-ice water into the community bowl.

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22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leslie
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 12:35:28

    I’m impressed. I don’t know if I could go see that movie. The thought fills me with anxiety. The lives these men lived, to make the music that they make, makes me want to die a little from the notion. I’m not sure I could watch it. I love that you are using the ice water for the community bowl though. What a great idea.

    Reply

  2. Cathy Campbell Currier
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 12:43:22

    Very insightful and to me….shows LOTS of growth on your part and strength in being able to verbalize and recognize. Great to see you this morning!!!!

    Reply

  3. Karen
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 14:12:57

    Sandy, the movement for social justice needs those equipped to be on the front lines and those in the support crew. I see myself as a cog in the machine – definitely not equipped to be on the front lines either!
    I so enjoy your writing!

    Reply

  4. Bob Determan
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 16:15:46

    I saw the movie as well–and liked it. I had never HEARD of N.W.A. until a minister(now Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver) raged about the album when it came out and the group performed in KC–he kept holding up the album and said “F the police is on this record!” SOOOO….I went out and bought it. I put it on my turntable and loved it! Sadly, it birthed some bad things (misogyny, violence, excessive material lust), but it was of its’ time.

    Reply

  5. jinjerstanton
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 17:08:44

    We are all connected. Some of us are supporting those challenging evil things by making sure beauty is in the world, by holding space for peace and healing.

    Reply

  6. Val Boyko
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 19:00:04

    What an important insight Sandy! Knowing our limitations and accepting where we are is key for building a foundation to build on.
    I’m saying this from my heart … not any expertise of mental disorders or the unitarian church! 😉

    Reply

  7. Littlesundog
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 20:13:46

    I am such a justice person that I’m quite sure I would both enjoy yet become enraged watching the movie. In the same manner I do not enjoy rap music, but I appreciate the experience and emotion being expressed. This is such a great post Sandy. I am enamored by your courage and insight.

    Reply

    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 24, 2015 @ 21:49:39

      I have a better appreciation for that particular group’s music now. The language is meant to shock, so it gets in the way of my understanding. But at least I get why it’s done that way now.

      Reply

  8. bernecho
    Aug 24, 2015 @ 23:35:55

    “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
    Mother Teresa

    Reply

  9. pegoleg
    Aug 25, 2015 @ 10:08:07

    You’re really showing bravery in trying new things and going beyond your comfort zone, and the melted ice-water idea is so symbolic!

    Reply

  10. the secret keeper
    Aug 25, 2015 @ 14:06:58

    What you did and wrote about it was tremendously brave. Watching the trailer gave me the chills. Seeing the injustice and violence perpetrated on artists who want to express what their world is. That is essential to see and know about in our white world. Not having had the same injustice brought down on us.

    If you want to add to your experience in viewing another film, I highly recommend the Spike Lee film which came out many years ago, you may have even heard of it, it is called: “Do the Right Thing.” It is about police brutality in a limited but powerful form. It is about white people running a family pizza business in a black community. Hanging white memories on the walls. And their customers are from within the black community. It eventually all erupts. It is an intense film and Spike Lee is brilliant as both director & actor in the film. I’m sure you can find this film somewhere. It will give you a further insight into how cops don’t care about black people and over-react with their own behavior. It actually has seen pulled from headlines of the recent past, jettisoned back into the past. Almost identical in the polices’ reactions.

    Brave foot forward Sandy Sue. I do my revolution with my computer. Don’t have it any more inside me to go out into the fray. Good for you finding the courage to ACT OUT and stand-up for justice. #BLACKLIVESMATTER

    jk 😎

    Reply

    • Sandy Sue
      Aug 25, 2015 @ 17:54:11

      Thanks, JK. I did see “Do the Right Thing” several years ago, but don’t remember much about it.
      I know now that I have to take this truth in small doses. “Compton” will last me for a good long while.

      Reply

      • the secret keeper
        Aug 27, 2015 @ 18:14:47

        It is rough what is going on. I agree with you, one can only take the rough stuff in doses.

        In Spike Lee film the kid carrying the boom box gets an Eric Garner done to him, “choked” and they don’t realize they are killing him. Its at the end of the film, after the garbage can goes through the pizza joint’s window.

        Take it slow. There is so much history going way back flowing out all over.

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