Following is the text of the poem performed during President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. You can watch her perform five of her poems here.
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade We’ve braved the belly of the beast We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace And the norms and notions of what just is Isn’t always just-ice And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished We the successors of a country and a time Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one And yes we are far from polished far from pristine but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect We are striving to forge a union with purpose To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another We seek harm to none and harmony for all Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree And no one shall make them afraid If we’re to live up to our own time Then victory won’t lie in the blade But in all the bridges we’ve made That is the promise to glade The hill we climb If only we dare It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy And this effort very nearly succeeded But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated In this truth in this faith we trust For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation Our blunders become their burdens But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it.
As Nov. 3 and the election quickly approaches, I have been thinking about what it means to be or to have a distinctly Christian political witness. Of course, inherent in this statement is the assumption that we cannot divorce our Christian identity from the realm of the political. To borrow from Stanley Hauerwas, the church isn’t above politics, the church is its own politic. But my experience in the Church of the Nazarene (in which I was born) has taught me the boundaries of our political engagement. We tend to limit our engagement to voting and speaking out against abortion. For the most part, I was taught that church/spiritual life should remain mostly separate from political life. My general thesis is that when we understand political engagement in such myopic and dualistic ways, it hinders the possibilities of a more robust catalyst for Christ’s love made tangible.
Rather than voting being the “end-game” of our political engagement, it should act merely as an entry point. To view voting as an entry point means there are many other ways for Christians to witness to our distinct kind of political life. And here I want to be clear, to talk of Christian politics necessarily references the means, processes, and eschatological vision of what Randy Woodley calls the “Shalom Community.” To talk about our political witness is to talk about the community of peace and how to enact it.
In the midst of ongoing racial injustice, violence, and erosion of public trust in “truth,” I’d like to point toward an historical flashpoint of racial violence to talk about one of these alternative ways of enacting shalom that faithfully represents a Christian political engagement.
Ironically, Nov. 3 is a meaningful date not just for the 2020 election. It also marks the 31st anniversary of the Greensboro massacre. And in this moment, I agree with John Paul Lederach that Christians ought not “forgive and forget” but “remember and change.” On Nov. 3 1979, Ku Klux Klansmen and Nazis, with what would later be described as police complicity, disrupted a labor march in a predominantly black neighborhood in Greensboro, N.C. They killed five and injured 10 people. In the subsequent trial, all but one participant were exonerated by an all-white jury. Twenty years later, the community remained divided and the germination of the United States’ first Truth and Reconciliation Commission began.
Many of us know the term Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as the process enacted in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. TRC’s are a form of transitional justice utilized in the wake of community harm and mass atrocities, either past or ongoing, that entail truth finding, witness testimony (including victim-centered approaches), acknowledgement of wrongdoing, structures of accountability, and steps toward healing and reconciliation. Many TRCs have been commissioned; including ones in Rwanda, Sierre Leone, Canada, Northern Ireland, and the United States. Typically, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are situated in a broader framework of Restorative Justice and works to bring together survivors, accused offenders, and family and community support networks.
In 2004, The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project, guided by the International Center for Transitional Justice and a National Board, crafted a process and mandate through a local task force to undergo the first TRC in the United States. Over two years, they received testimony from individuals, held conversations with stakeholders, facilitated conversations, held three public hearings, and learned from other TRC processes. They invited Desmund Tutu to gather with them, who spoke of how violence can lead to a “crippled community as long as you refuse to face up to your past.” A video summary of the Greensboro TRC can be found here.
In May of 2006, they published their findings and recommendations. Fania Davis, in her book, “Race and Restorative Justice,” summarizes: “The final report called for community healing by way of institutional reform, official apologies, anti-racism police training, public memorials and museum exhibits, and the creation of a community justice center and police review board” (Davis, 78). This particular TRC process was initiated by community members and was a grassroots effort. That is, legislatures and policy makers were not a part of the process. The city ultimately rejected the recommendations of the board. The process did, however, spark communal healing in a divided city.
And while there are many lessons to be learned, I’d like to just share a few:
The Greensboro TRC interacted with and was hosted by faith communities. Churches are much more than a collection of individuals who come to worship on Sundays. Churches are built-in community structures that have the capacity to link and fortify social relationships across a community. As such, being willing to partner with and engage in a diverse cross section of community organizations is an essential witness to the shalom community. And, this includes government agencies that can match community work with policy change (one that might have had better results in Greensboro).
Churches are much more than a collection of individuals who come to worship on Sundays. Churches are built-in community structures that have the capacity to link and fortify social relationships across a community.
But this means several things, especially for Nazarenes who are predominately white. First, we must seek the truth of historical, systemic, and ongoing harms. For many in the United States, that means listening to the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters (both in relationship with our neighbors and through diverse authors). We must either join spaces or create spaces for storytelling and relationship building. Black Lives Matter grew as a collective movement because these listening spaces have not been cultivated. Listening well with grace and compassion is a distinctly Christian political practice.
Second, these spaces-of-encounter must provide an avenue for truth-telling and accountability. If the goal is healing, then we must look at these historical and ongoing harms (like institutional and cultural racism) as wounds that cause trauma. And here’s the thing about trauma — in order to overcome it, survivors need validation that the harm was wrong, answers that help them reconstruct a coherent narrative, the power to have their voices heard, physical safety, and resources to heal. All of these, collectively together, provide a sense of justice. Accountability, then, requires the ones who are responsible for harm to be accountable to these measures and make amends. Our current legal system prosecutes “individual acts,” but doesn’t account for systemic and communal harms done. Community-based truth and healing initiatives (like ones found in the restorative justice field), with churches as primary participants, provide a process for such accountability.
Third, a justice that leads toward shalom requires reparative action. Equity needs to be restored. In a TRC process, the outcomes are constructed from the conversations held in those “spaces-of-encounter.” That means, we’re talking about constructing a justice “with” rather than a justice “to” or even “over” a community. Communal participation across racial or political divides is key to lasting change. These reparative measures can be economic, policy based, educational, relational, and even psychological (see above from the Greensboro TRC as recommended outcomes).
Our engagement doesn’t doesn’t have to be a full on Truth and Reconciliation process, but instigating spaces to gather with the “other,” for story-telling, for truth-telling, and for participatory practices for accountability are all options for re-imagining our life together (the Christian polis). My hope is that the church doesn’t fall into the trap of defining our political witness only through a ballot box or narrowly through any one issue. Rather, Christian political engagement holds the possibility of building social cohesion, repairing a myriad of harms, and through such work witnessing to the shalom for which God longs.
Eric Paul is an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene, the District Coordinator for Justice and Compassion in the Hawaii Pacific District, and the Executive Director of West Hawaii Mediation Center. He continues to believe that the work of reconciliation is not an addendum to the church’s mission, but is the church’s mission.
There has been a wonderful move away from talking about “uniformity” to instead talking about unity in our diversity. Hopefully we have long abandoned any idea that we need to all look, act, and think like one another in order to work together.
And, of course, from a biblical perspective, unity is both a goal to work towards and a promised gift of the spirit. Being united in spirit and purpose, at our tables and places of worship is good. We know intuitively that harmony comes through unity.
However, we should be aware that calls for “unity” have sometimes been used to silence voices of those on the margins. When those in power use the term in frustration at the challenge of the status quo, the word can become contemptuous. It says, “You’re not like us but you should be, because we are best and right.”
For those of us who are white allies, we have to understand that we may not be trusted in our calls for unity. We may have more reparative work to do. We might need to do more confession and reconciliation work.
It is incumbent upon us to earn trust.
While police-led “unity marches” may have both sincere and beneficial trajectories, we should understand why they might not be accepted among BIPOC, especially if policing practices continue to be excessive.
We have to be careful that our calls for unity are not just an attempt to silence those who dissent. This involves a humble posture of listening, a recognition that all of our answer may not be right, and a deep value of the culture, values, and beliefs of the other.
We’re honored to be able to tell the story of Nazarene student, Chelsea Stone, as part of the Black Stories series in our #reHumanize Project.
My name is Chelsea Stone. I am an Indigenous, white, and Black woman in the US – mixed raced. However, I mainly identify as Black because that is not only my culture, but the community where I feel most at home. I grew up in Salem, Oregon – a predominately white, conservative, suburban bubble. I currently attend MidAmerica Nazarene University, after spending two years at Trevecca Nazarene University, and will be completing my Interdisciplinary degree in Intercultural Studies and Sociology in the Spring of 2021.
I am a bold, outspoken, vivacious, loving, confident, straight-forward, empowering, strong, never-afraid-of-a-challenge, Black woman, and you best believe I’m proud.
As a Christian, I believe in a God that lifts up the oppressed and a Gospel that holds a message of anti-racism.
I believe in a God who fights for immigrant men, women, and children, Indigenous peoples, and refugees.
I believe in a God who fights for Black people who have been oppressed by the hands of racism for hundreds of years, and I believe this because I must believe in a God who fights for me.
I believe in a God who fights for Black people who have been oppressed by the hands of racism for hundreds of years, and I believe this because I must believe in a God who fights for me.
In my 21 years of living I have experienced and seen more racism from Christians than people from any other faith tradition or lack thereof.
I have observed how white Christians coped with their racism and the reality that Black and Brown people are created equal in God’s eyes by way of selective “color-blindness” (refusing to see the color of Black and Brown “friends” as to not treat them less-than but being actively racist towards Black and Brown strangers—ironic in itself as refusing to see color strips Black and Brown people of an intricate part of who they are).
I have been the victim of the “aggressive/malicious” Black girl narrative and have often had to have my white counterparts speak my words for me in order for my ideas to be considered valid.
I have had my identity stripped from me and not seen wholly because white people refuse to acknowledge Blackness because of their own fear and prejudice.
I have seen the photos of my Black family; the photos they took as they were slaves in the South.
I have seen the photos and read the history of my community, the photos of them being lynched, put into zoos, photos of their heads scalped, bellies cut, babies stomped on, teeth pulled out, and backs brutally torn from being whipped.
I have had people come touch and pet my hair like I am a petting zoo animal.
I have seen Black friends struggle to accept and embrace their Blackness because of a society that perpetuates a message that equates “white” with beauty, elegance, and well-read and “Black” with ugly, uneducated, illiterate, deadbeat, lazy, and aggressive.
I have been called racial slurs, dehumanized, and had my dignity stripped from me until I felt naked and alone.
And yet, the most angering and disappointing thing of all is this: watching my closest friends, peers, and members of the Church remain entirely silent on the issue of racism in such a time as this. I, and other Black men, women, and children, have experienced too many moments where our dignity and humanity was stripped of us or questioned, and some of us have not lived to tell the tale.
The reality is this, we will continue to experience these moments if this movement does not transcend beyond the last two weeks and into the days forward.
Now, I am addressing the Church here in saying that there is a disconnect between the mission of the people of God and anti-racism. Whether it is from the “color blindness” rhetoric and teaching the Church picked up to cope with racism, or the lack of conversation around the sin of racism is not something I would like to get into.
But I do want to say this: anti-racism is a part of the holistic living we are called to in our spiritual life. We believe in a God who is bold. A God whose love is living and moving, not passive. A God who loves holistically, encompassing all of who we are, not just parts. A God who remains present and wrestles with us.
In our profession as the people of God, I believe our heart’s desire and mission is to not just receive this love but to exhibit it. A love that moves boldly in pursuit of what is good, true, right. A love that challenges us to wrestle with our innermost shortcomings. A love that prompts us to live in a holistic way in which our prayers, laments, commitments, and praises are not merely one moment in time, but parts of a whole.
What I am saying is this: Enough is enough. It is time for the Church, the people of God, to remember their mission. It is time for the people of God to listen to the cries of Black people. It is time for our prayers to be more than words spoken, but actions carried out because we are living holistically with the Gospel. It is time that your prayers for the oppression of the Black community to end be followed through by a dedication to be anti-racist.
I believe in and serve a God who is good, holistically loving, and just. And I must believe that God is these things because I must believe in a God who sees me, hears me, walks with me, and fights with me.