swords into plowshares {or, what i do on days when i can’t breathe}

this morning in church, i held a moment of silence for freddie gray, and all those who have died before him: young men of color whose lives ended because of white men abusing their power. michael brown. trayvon martin. eric garner. i’ve been carrying them in my heart for months now, these brothers of mine–not because of skin color but because they were human beings, just like me, with hearts and minds and bones and flesh. i never met them, and we didn’t seem to have much in common. but they were my brothers nonetheless, and like cain, i can sometimes hear the earth crying out with their blood.

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i read the news, and i hear these stories of lives cut short. and then there are these protests that should have been peaceful, becoming perverted because of bloodlust and vengeance. violence only begets more violence, and then the cycle is perpetuated.

when does it stop?

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people snicker under their breath. i’ve heard the whispers. they don’t understand why a white, privileged american woman is speaking out, standing up. “does she think she’s black?” they joke.

i don’t think i’m black. i know my skin is a different color. but that doesn’t stop me from caring about injustice and racism and oppression and marginalization and violence. it doesn’t stop me from wanting to see the wrong things made right. it doesn’t stop the tears from falling, my hands from shaking, the air tightening in my lungs.

i can’t breathe. because things are not as they’re supposed to be, and as a follower of the Way, i won’t rest until there’s change.
God can’t breathe. because his children are murdering each other, and all of creation aches and moans.

that should be enough to make us all care, no? why are so many of us shying away from having these hard, albeit crucial, conversations?

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at moments like these, i hold on to the ancient scriptures, the holy words of the prophets. my go-to has long been the book of isaiah. amongst exile and destruction and pain, there is hope. a timely message, it seems.

the fourth verse of chapter 2 hits me especially hard:
“He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.”

swords into plowshares. it’s become a mantra, a prayer. when another life is lost too soon–swords into plowshares. when the darkness of this broken world seems too much, too heavy, when the light seems to get lost in its murk–swords into plowshares. when we can’t breathe–swords into plowshares. i believe that day is coming. i have to believe that day is coming.

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i remember a blog post i once read by rachel held evans, one of my favorite jesus feminists, a true eshet chayil. she wrote about the ability to take something ugly and create beauty from it. restoration from the rubble. new life from what was dead.

kind of like…swords into plowshares.

so i took my piece of paper and wrote about all the ugly, the hard things. poverty. murder. gang violence. abuse of power. systematic oppression. rage.

and because my fine motor skills need much improvement in some areas, i decided to forgo an attempt at origami and instead folded up that paper into a folded flower (of sorts…i mean, it kinda looks like a flower…to me, anyway).

and as i fingered the paper’s creases, and my hands worked busily, i prayed. and cried. and i believe my words were heard, by a God who also can’t breathe, by a God who is busy bringing light and justice, peace and restoration to a broken world he loved enough to die for.

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(side note: the metal cross holding up my flower is actually from liberia, a nation that went through a brutal 14-year civil war. after the violence ended, liberians would collect old bullet casings and even mortar shells and mold them into crosses. to liberia, they’re a symbol of new life, of hope and promise, after years of war and loss. you know–swords into plowshares.

during my four and a half years in liberia, i picked up many of these bullet crosses and have handed many out as gifts. they’re symbols for me, and their story is important. God is working. the light is coming. we just need to dig our heels in and hold on.)

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