There is a temptation when the world is harsh and bad news abounds, when the winter is hard upon us, toward hibernation. There is an allure to a closed door, a fortified den, an arsenal against the cold, cruel currents; there is the possibility of aloneness, separation, and security.
There is a place for steel bolts and cameras. There is a place for the contemplation of danger and the assessment of harm, the strategic memorization of exits and the hermeneutic of slight suspicion masked by a welcoming smile, an outstretched hand; would that there were fewer places for these things.
But there are other ways to pursue security that do not drive us apart, set us apart, set up barriers between us and the others made in the same image. When God split the adam, flesh from flesh and bone from bone (see Genesis 2:18-23), it was not to divide them but to create companionship, desire, comfort, turning humanity into what Wilda C. Gafney in Womanist Midrash calls “a bifurcated being (1).”
If we were to pursue that which did not separate but brought us back together, what might that look like?
This is not a call to those who are busy defending themselves from direct action, nursing new wounds, or shell-shocked. It is the call and responsibility of those of us who are otherwise safe, with our feet by the fire, worried by the violence of others, and saddened by the sorrow of our friends. Our solidarity is not in pretending that our risk is the same but in changing the factors that destabilize the field.
What if we were to attack instead of retreat? What if, in place of despair or even a secure defense, we were to perpetrate an all-out offensive on the things that threaten to divide us: antisemitism, racism, domestic (what a word) violence, the prevalence, and ease of acquisition of guns, America’s preferred instrument of destruction?
From red flag laws to the red hot fire of forges melting down guns for garden tools, there are ways of making ourselves more secure that do not demand our separation but our cooperation. There are ways of reconciling ourselves to a human nature full of faults and fault-lines that require the filling in of trenches, the digging out of land mines, making straight the paths and passages between us (see Isaiah 40:3-5).
Fund a violence interruption program; find out from the local trauma center who is doing the work you want to support. Mount a letter-writing campaign; find out from local and state anti-violence chapters what kind of legislation is being considered that will make our communities more or less safe from gun violence and other types of harm. Attend anti-racist and abolitionist educational opportunities. Bring some home to roost.
What if we were to do the work of peace instead of the work of privilege, the building of towers of ivory and arrow-slits?
There are ways of loving our neighbors that do not require us to arm ourselves against one another, but that require us to equip ourselves with subversive understanding, deep collaboration, a conspiracy that recognizes the secret image of God settled subtly into every human being.
What if we were to combat the cold by setting fire to the things that chill us instead of shivering in dismay?
1 – Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 21