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BY DANIEL WILLIAMS

July 7, 2021
Too often, working for change within an oppressive, unhealthy system can deaden us inside, which can be unfaithful to our calling from the God of Life Abundant.
Photo credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates are joining Howard University’s faculty, school officials announced Tuesday in a major recruiting victory for the private institution in the nation’s capital -via The Washington Post.

It was a simultaneous setback for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to lose Hannah-Jones after a long and remarkably contentious effort to recruit her.

“It’s not my job to heal the University of North Carolina,” Hannah-Jones said. “That’s the job of the people in power who created the situation in the first place.”

“Look for worthy people in whatever town or village you come to, and stay with them until you leave. As you enter a house, bless it. If the home is deserving, your peace will descend on it. if it isn’t, your peace will return to you. If anyone does not receive you or listen to what you have to say, leave that house or town and, once outside it, shake its dust from your feet.”

-Matthew 10:11-14

“I know I should have stayed and worked to change it from the inside.”

A member of my congregation recently told me about their decision to leave a church that was becoming more conservative and less inclusive. I’ve heard similar sentiments from countless friends and colleagues who made the difficult decision to leave churches and organizations that they had grown to experience and understand as toxic, reactionary, bigoted, and/or unwilling to grow.

I understand the choice to stay engaged in a system in need of change in order to be part of that change. It’s a choice I myself have made several times before and I don’t regret any of those instances. But, despite the conventional wisdom in certain segments of our culture, it is not the only faithful or effective choice to make. 

Each of us has our own unique calling from the Source of Life. In fact, each of us has many callings. God calls us to respond to the deep needs of the world, but as Howard Thurman reminds us, ““Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Too often, working for change within an oppressive, unhealthy system can deaden us inside, which can be unfaithful to our calling from the God of Life Abundant.

Nikole Hannah-Jones wisely said that it’s not her job to heal the institution that harmed her. It is someone’s job, and we can pray for and support the people for whom that is their calling. But we would be wise to follow Hannah-Jones’s example and focus on the work that is ours to do, rather than focusing our energies on work to which we are not called.

What is your calling to the work of justice, peace, and love? How can you live out that calling in the world? Take some time this week to prayerfully consider the ways in which you are answering God’s call for your life, and commit to any changes that you may discover need to be made.

One tool for this sort of discernment might be the daily prayer of Examen. If you need guidance on praying the Examen, consider the smartphone app “Reimagining the Examen” or the book Sleeping With Bread. For white co-conspirators in anti-racist work, this Examen of anti-racism may be helpful as you continually assess how you are answering the call to anti-racism.

Source of Life,

You call us by name to lives of

justice, service, peace, and love.

Make your voice known to us as we seek 

to answer that call faithfully and with joy,

so that we might co-conspire with you

toward a world of expansive love.

Clear the path for us toward those places

where we can answer your call,

and help us to shake the dust off our feet

as we leave those places where the work is not ours to do,

so that we might come alive in you.

We pray this in the name of the One whose victory over death

gives life abundant to us all.

Amen.

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