Letters to Peregrinus #51 - On Response-Ability

Dear Peregrinus:

I’m glad to hear from our friends Tara and Rick that you are doing well and staying safe and healthy in the midst of this global pandemic. This year has been quite different than I ever could have imagined, but then again, most years (most days, even!) ebb and flow in an unanticipated rhythm. I am grateful that my family is safe and healthy. We have even experienced great blessings and joys due to being forced to slow down and simplify our everyday life.

Yet while my personal life has a steady, peaceful rhythm, our collective reality creates great sadness and worry in my being. My spirit is burdened for the families who have experienced (and are still experiencing) sickness, death, financial hardships, and new day-to-day burdens. My heart is breaking at the discord around Black Lives Matter and the reality that even in the 21st century, our country remains burdened by inequality due to the color of skin, despite the fact that all humanity bleeds the same color. I am baffled at the depth of political divide we are experiencing, and how acceptably and easily we say unkind words about and to other people.

Oh, Peregrinus… my heart is heavy. As Tara said, this is not what any of us would have chosen for our children or for ourselves.

When I watch the news, when I read headlines, when I scroll through Facebook anger rises in me, and worry overcomes me. How easy it is to allow negative feelings to weigh me down and take over my thoughts. Do you ever find yourself spiraling in the chaos and hurt of the current times, Peregrinus?

I was reminded of this beautiful Prayer for Serenity when watching the funeral service two weeks ago of John Lewis, an American hero and civil rights leader who personally suffered some of the greatest injustice, hatred and division in our country’s history…

Prayer for Serenity

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.


- Reinhold Niebuhr

Is it not right to feel infuriated and aggrieved at the world’s injustice? I say, Peregrinus, I would be concerned with my moral compass if I were not troubled by the reality of present-day life. Yet God does not call us to worry. Rather he commands us not to worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

- Matthew 6:25-27

I have found it important to listen to that feeling of worry when it comes (which it does more often now as a mom), and to ask myself “What is my worry for?” Worry often tells me that something matters to me. What is it that matters?

But if I am told not to worry, am I to throw my hands up and let things be as they are? Do I have no responsibility?

Perhaps rather than focusing on responsibility, I can contemplate my response-ability.

Consider the definition of the single word that is created from two words, and the distinct meanings they project when conjoined or separated.

Responsibility the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone; the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something; the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization

Responsea verbal or written answer; a reaction to something

Abilitypossession of the means or skill to do something; talent, skill, or proficiency in a particular area

Suddenly, I see that my role in responding to the world around me is no longer burdened by having to fix everything or control outcomes or place blame. My role is to identify talents and skills unique to me and respond in that way. How freeing and empowering is that!

I recently witnessed a beautiful embodiment of response-ability in my city of Portland. Last month, Imago Dei Community Church, a nondenominational Christian church in the heart of the city, was tagged with the words “Black Lives Matter” in spray paint on the side of their building. Rather than reporting vandalism, or finding who was to blame, or painting over the graffiti, the church staff asked a local artist and fellow church member to enhance the statement by creating a beautiful mural around it. What a profound example of how we as Christians can respond to the world’s hurts and divisions to work towards unity.
I am grateful to communities like Imago Dei who teach me to own the gifts I have been given and use them to respond boldly. I am grateful for leaders like John Lewis who have the wisdom to identify issues that matter and the courage to respond by making “good trouble.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept and love the things and people of this world that I cannot change, the courage to take response-ability to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Stay well, Peregrinus, and please do keep in touch. Your friendship and words of encouragement bring peace to my soul.

With love,

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