One of the supreme gifts of youth is the seemingly unlimited amount of hope. The young have not yet spent years pushing against immobile walls of oppression, repression, and suppression. They still believe that “good” is something that can be talked into a person. They believe in their yet unchallenged selves and their hope drives them and pushes them relentlessly.
But as we grow older, and we fight against the powers and principalities, we come to realize how impenetrable are their walls. The desire for power is an ancient condition and nobody has ever given it up without a fight. As young people see it, taste it, and are battered by its very presence, their spirits are deeply bruised.
There is a reason why the late Rep. John Lewis said, “Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.” It is truly ongoing; the work never stops.
When progress is made and takes us one step forward, then comes the inevitable pushback from the powers and principalities and another bruise is added to our spirits. Bruises hurt. They need to be left alone when they appear so they can heal, but when they are hit over and over, the healing process cannot proceed. What should have been a minor injury can become serious and more painful with every blow
When our hope is continually accosted by the harsh realities, tendered by the powerful, our bruises ached. The trauma which caused them in the first place continues and the bruise cannot and does not disappear; they become permanent sores, and later, scars.
The killing of black men by police is a relentless beating against the souls and the spirits of people who believe in justice and who operate in hope. But with each assault, those same spirits become more and more wounded. James Baldwin said that after seeing the Civil Rights Movement crumble after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that his hope “had been poisoned by despair.” Despair is marked by depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and so much more. When we begin to be heavily weighed by our despair, the powers and principalities dance around gleefully; they have done their work.
With the shooting recently of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, there is the danger of despair welling up in those who are fighting so hard for reform. A police officer shot him seven times in the back, shooting him while holding on to his tee-shirt to keep him still, and now, we have learned, Mr. Blake, 29, is paralyzed from the waist down. Another black man, 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin was shot by police in Louisiana over that weekend as well. Pellerin died.
The psalm says, “I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor their seed ever begging for bread.” But when our hope is poisoned by despair, we often cannot connect to those words. We are more likely to hold our heads in our hands and ask why? – and of course, there is no answer.
The struggle right now is to shield our hope from such despair. Our struggle is to defend our hope against the weapons being thrown at it. If we stop struggling, the powers and principalities win. One thing that is striking is that to his dying day, John Lewis never stopped pushing against the impenetrable wall of injustice. With Stage-4 pancreatic cancer consuming him, he stood outside on Black Lives Matter Plaza with a mask on his face and his arms folded across his chest. He chased despair out of his orbit. Cancer had poisoned his body, but despair had not succeeded in poisoning his hope.
We must do the same.