My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

White vigilantes shot Ahmaud Arbery to death. He was a 25-year-old unarmed black man jogging through their neighborhood. Viewing Arbery through the lens of their own prejudice, they presumed that a running black man must be a criminal.

Initially, there were no arrests. Prosecutors insisted that Georgia law justified the killing. After widespread public outrage, the killers have been arrested. Slavery ended more than a century and a half ago, and yet we still contend not only with the narrow-minded hate of individual bigots but also with laws that protect violent actions motivated by racism.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

The death toll in the US from the COVID-19 virus has topped 70,000. Worldwide the number is approaching 300,000. A tsunami of suffering, grief, and anxiety is crashing over us.

Millions have lost their jobs. Businesses have shuttered. Families face shortages of life’s essentials. Those with the fewest resources at the beginning of the pandemic have been hardest hit.

We are all feeling the strain, especially since none of us can see clearly when this will end and what the new normal will be like. And yet some refuse to take even simple measures to protect their vulnerable neighbors from infection.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

When I dwell on the state of things, I am sad and outraged, anxious and appalled. To borrow a phrase from Anne Lamott, I think “such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” In other words, my heart is troubled.

Some of you might be tempted to share with me an especially Jesus-y sounding bit of advice. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1) So, let me just be straight up here.

If you’re telling me—if Jesus were telling me—that having faith means that the world won’t break my heart, give me a migraine, and sometimes send me running for the airsickness bag, then I’ll never be faithful. Count me out. Because I don’t see how you can love in the midst of this beautiful, horrifying, electrifying, messy place called Earth without being shattered.

Now I don’t mean that life on this planet is only a crushing weep fest. My spirit soars at the everyday heroism of medical workers and the naive goofiness of my grandchildren. Sunrises and starry nights leave me breathless. My dog Gracie, well, don’t get me started.

And yet, greed, selfishness, violence, prejudice, oppression, and poverty stir something deep within me. These ways of being—and the carnage they leave in their wake—cannot stand. We must resist them. And we must persevere in our pursuit of a world in which every human being is treated with the dignity they deserve as the beloved children of God. A world where no one is expendable. No one is replaceable. In other words, we cannot allow ourselves to be disheartened.

As it turns out, that’s what Jesus was telling his friends on the night before he died. Here’s my rather loose and very amplified translation of the passage I mentioned above:

Don’t give up. Hang in there. Keep loving like I’ve been teaching you. Things will get messy, and loving will leave a mark. But I’m in this with you. Sometimes it won’t seem like we’re getting anywhere, but trust me, love wins. (John 14:1)

In other words, Jesus acknowledges that walking the way of love is arduous. We may grow weary and feel discouraged. But we do not walk alone. Jesus walks with us. Or more accurately, he dwells within us as both guide and source of strength.

Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, frequently draws on the text of Spirituals to make Jesus’ point. And I find those hymns especially moving: “Sometimes I feel discouraged/ And think my life in vain/ But then the Holy Spirit/ Revives my soul again./ There is a balm in Gilead (Song My Grandma Sang, loc. 124) Or again, “Walk together children/ Don’t you get weary.” (loc. 1328)

I admit. At the moment, my heart is troubled. Maybe yours is too. But I am not disheartened. Let’s keep walking.

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19 Comments

  1. Jesus was pretty heartbroken all his life, it seems to me, and he kept loving and opening himself up. That’s courage and resilience, and that’s why I follow him. He never said we wouldn’t be heartbroken by this world and, especially, those in it, including those in power over other people. He showed we would be heartbroken, we could speak truth to power, and we could keep going. There’s something to turning towards the pain, discomfort, and uncomfortable feelings–being with them when we can, and keep going. I’m echoing you, for that’s what you always model for us in your posts..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brunswick, GA, is my hometown. The killing of Mr. Arbery hurt to hear. We see so called leaders who have all the traits of psychopaths. We see large percentages of our population following these psychopaths. Violence is never the good answer. Love is the answer; but, sometimes throwing a few tables around and chasing the psychopaths out of power may be called for. “Make no peace with injustice in this world.”

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  3. I’m almost crying. You’ve taken everything that I’ve been feeling and put into the most eloquent words. Thank you..

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  4. I hadn’t heard about this prior to reading the precis for your post, ie. in Reader, and then reading an article in a NZ paper. What troubles me (greatly) is that you wrote “Prosecutors insisted that Georgia law justified the killing.” I didn’t know that. I think this is where organised church systems really come into their own … church systems, if only their leadership is willing, can exert pressure on the secular system to change these laws (I hope). You know way more about how this works and I know nothing – I just hope I’m right – I hope the Churches who are powerful enough to do so – will get on with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If only this were something new or rare. Systemic racism is mars the US. Along with others, the Episcopal Church has been resisting and struggling against this for a very long time. Currently there is a significant resurgence of white supremacy. We’re not giving up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure it often feels like a thankless task. I knew about police problems – now I see the whole legal system itself is stacked against black people. I was aghast the offenders HAD any *serious* legal defense – a swift sharp shock to my understanding of things USA. As an outsider it’s deeply shocking. Thank you and the Episcopal Church for striving to make a difference in a manifestly unjust system.

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  5. Charles Murphy , a Chicago musician and loving human, wrote a song which renews my spirit and keeps me grounded –Love take a walk with me, Love take a walk with me, love take a walk with me, and the Spirit Guide my feet. sometimes for me I sing this and take a virtual walk in places where decisions affect the life of the most vulnerable, and sometimes I am able to sing in my heart while I walk my neighborhoods. Helps me to be discouraged but not defeated

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