Reflections on Belonging and Justice

Since writing my last blog post I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the implications of a greater belonging. What does it mean to place ourselves in a larger story? One thought that kept coming up again and again when I asked myself that question was, “it means there’s no such thing as ‘not my problem.'” By which I mean that if I truly believe in a larger belonging then I can’t ignore it when I hear about instances of injustice and suffering. I do not exist in a vacuum, nor does poverty, or hunger, or war. This doesn’t mean it’s always my job or my place to directly address every given instance of injustice in the world, but it does mean that it is my job to care. 

Personally, I tend to have a fairly strong sense of responsibility about the pain I see in the world, especially when I feel particularly aligned with a greater story and sense of belonging. But even the simple act of caring brings up further questions. How do I put caring into action? How do I be of service to others in this given situation? How do I respect the feelings and stories of others while still offering my support? How do I reconcile my desire to help and see peace and justice in the world, when the privilege I have (as a white, middle-class, straight woman) may create a barrier between me and the people I want to be of service to? This last question is one I encounter almost every time I learn of an issue of injustice previously unknown to me. I have tried to learn what I can about how my privilege affects how I see the world in order to discern how I may best be of service to others and help to magnify their voices instead of playing the loud hero myself. It turns out that this is a fairly complicated discussion to enter. Thanks to centuries of racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and a whole host of other “isms”, and the divides caused by those prejudices, many of us are prone to forget that we don’t always know what’s best for people in situations vastly different from our own. We often make judgements in order to try to find solutions instead of listening to the needs of others and attempting to understand them as people instead of just problems to be addressed. I believe that living into a greater story means listening to these smaller stories and understanding where, why and how they connect to that greater story (is my history major side showing yet?). Belonging means no such thing as ‘not my problem’ but it also means listening and trying to understand how we can serve, instead of assuming that our perceptions and therefore our solutions are the best ones. 

Once we have listened and learned sometimes it is very clear what we can do to address injustice, we can make changes to our every day lives to live in awareness of larger issues. We can be mindful in our consuming and support fairtrade organizations, we can be conscious of our impact on the environment and do our best to limit it, we can support local facilities that work to alleviate pain and poverty, etc. However, more often solutions to the injustice and suffering we see are unclear or seemingly non-existent, and the issues themselves are complicated to the point of being completely overwhelming. For the last week or so my Facebook feed has been overflowing with news from Gaza. Heart wrenching photographs of parents cradling their lifeless children, statistics showing the number of non-combatants who have be wounded and killed, arguments about who is at fault and who we should support and how we should pray… and all I can think is that men, women and children are dying. And there’s nothing I can do but pray that it all stops. It’s almost paralyzing, and sometimes I can’t help but feel angry that all I can do is pray. It doesn’t feel like enough, especially when nothing will undo the suffering that has already occurred. But what else can we do? As individuals? As a country? We see the injustice, how do we respond? What is our role in this larger story? How do we cultivate peace? 

This post won’t have a satisfying conclusion, because I can’t answer any of those questions. I have been wrestling with them for a long time but any glimmer of an answer leads to more questions and more wrestling. At this point, I am simply trying to have faith that the story is far bigger than I can imagine and that somehow we are heading towards the world of peace and love that is so desperately needed. 

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