A Constant Struggle

By Rachel Snack

(same disclaimer as Leslie’s – there’s been a lot happening this week, so it’s kind of long!)

 

“We’re all looking for life, but life doesn’t happen naturally in this world, does it? Death happens in this world, and life is in constant struggle against it.”

The words of pastor George Hopkins this week at church are stuck in my head. From the people we’ve been meeting with just even this past week – it’s clear that life is never taken for granted. The night we moved in to the neighborhood, there were 6 homicides in one night in Baltimore. We pass by many corners with flowers and teddy bears in our daily walk, a constant reminder that life, even for young people, isn’t promised.

We spent our first week talking about how life should be, and how we’ve fallen from that. The “Ought”, and the “Is”. We read about Adam and Eve, how they were made perfectly and abundantly cared for by a Creator who made them in his own image. But this wasn’t enough for them. When they heard of a way to gain the knowledge of good and evil – a Hebrew idiom which would here mean “self-sufficiency” – they decided that they wanted to be God. Not needing anyone, having all the power. And this was their downfall.

I think about the ways we seek power and self-sufficiency in our own lives. As a white American, this is especially prominent in the ways my people have historically put ourselves first. When we watched the documentary “13th” on Friday, it was eye-opening to think about the ways that we, as a country, sought power at the expense of others through slavery and mass incarceration. The white colonists at the onset of America had decided that to be a world power, it was worth it to enslave and abuse millions of African people, to force them into work and dehumanize them so that we didn’t have to think twice about split-up families and lashed backs.

Death happens in this world, and life is in constant struggle against it.

I think about the ways that slavery evolved, once we had accumulated a shame and self-consciousness about our robbery, rape and murder of the black body. When slavery ended, we added a clause that freedom was only guaranteed for those who weren’t criminals. Then we proceeded to criminalize freed slaves – locking them up over small offenses, creating stereotypes of only cunning, malicious, evil black people out of the same people that had been trusted for decades to care for white children and cook for their families.

In rebuilding ourselves after the civil war era – we continued the very same treatment that we had inflicted upon black Americans in slavery, through the prison system. We still had free labor, and we could justify it through the moral lens of the law. All of our structures would be argued on a moral ground until they became too politically inconvenient to defend – you can see it in segregation and Jim Crow laws, you can see it in the War on Drugs – we just keep evolving and camouflaging the same hatred and exploitation that continues to break up families and take lives.

Death happens in this world, and life is in constant struggle against it.

And it’s not as if only evil people do this, right? Self-sufficiency, power, control – they are certainly desires that I find in myself. So America wanted to be the best nation, the best people group – so that we can avoid losing what we believe is ours – anything to not be in need. It is ugly, but relatable. It is horrible, yet hits close to home. When we idolize something other than God, we dehumanize God’s creation.

We see that in the violence and drug abuse that happens in our neighborhood. People who have spent much of their lives in poverty may have lost hope, or not see the value in their own lives. Sometimes that means turning their lives over to something that endangers themselves and others.

We see that in the way that so many unarmed men and women die at the hands of police. I have been processing the death of Philando Castile this week, and the “not guilty” verdict of his killer. I think about all the reasons why he didn’t have to die, and why life does not have to be taken from people so thoughtlessly and suddenly in so many police encounters. I think about the message it sends about the values of lives when there are no legal consequences for taking it.

Death happens in this world, and life is in constant struggle against it.

On Saturday, we ate with two families of Syrian refugees who had prepared us a meal and wanted to tell us their stories. We heard about the limited resources that refugees receive, and their limited mobility from housing that puts them in poor schools and bleak living situations. We learned that many resources at refugee centers are only available for the first 6 months someone lives in the country, and that just a few months after that, monthly payments start to reimburse the country for their travel costs. We met their children and talked to them about the ways that they were bullied at school, ways that they felt alone because of their limited English. Even in this, we were able to laugh a bit and connect – and even in this situation, where they seemingly had so little to offer, they welcomed us to come visit them for dinner some other time if we ever wanted to reconnect.

Even in that, my heart broke for how well they had welcomed us, and how unwelcoming our country can sometimes be for them.

Death happens in this world, and life is in constant struggle against it.

George’s talk was not all about gloom and doom (if you’ve ever heard George talk – you know that’s not possible). What he went on to say was that when things are getting tough, that might be God’s invitation to you to stay put, set up camp, and really prepare to do the work he has commanded you to do. He said that we often labor under the belief that things will get better – but what if things are going to be bad for a long time? Does that mean we’re going to give up and move out and stop caring? That is not how good work gets done, and that’s not how the gospel gets spread.

We were encouraged by the sermon, that even if things don’t get better for a long time, our God is at work. George asked us, if we could see what things would be improved in 10 years, would we think they’re worth fighting for? Worth staying for? I believe that they are.

God loves us so deeply – all the people struggling with relocation and drug addiction and racism and poverty and sin and despair – they are seen by Him, and they are not forgotten. Whatever life comes from the struggle of fighting for life and recovery and redemption, it is worth it.

By Rachel Snack

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