Each of our faith traditions, backgrounds, or stories move us toward some greater than ourselves. As a Christian in the Episcopal tradition, the practice of moving beyond myself is one I’m still working on.
Jesus’ first public words are in Mark 1:15 when he tells us to “repent” or what literally translates into “change your mind”. Jesus’ command is one towards introspection, it challenges us to transform our lives into one that loves the world and loves God. But with the world burning, how are we supposed to take up the task of “changing our mind”? What does this look like in our context?
First, we should start with some uncomfortable truth-telling. Our indigenous communities, black communities, latinx communities, and people of color continue to struggle to breathe under the weight of systematic injustice that even today has a rising body count. We’ve failed to protect our LGBTQ kin who can still be denied housing and basic services simply for who they love. Immigrants and refugees are being vilified and denied the most basic rights. We’ve failed women by creating toxic identities that lead to cyclical violence. We’re torn apart over politics, sports, wearing masks, and just about everything else.
This isn’t meant to be finger-pointing or shaming, it’s recognizing the real and uncomfortable reality that we’ve often unknowingly created. And you know what I am going to say next. “But together we can overcome!” And I believe that too.
But the real question is: will we?
Not if we don’t start with ourselves, our houses of worship, and our communities.
I’m a runner. At least, I try to run for exercise because I know it’s good for me. I was challenged by a friend to run a half-marathon this summer (congrats to all you marathon runners, I will NOT be joining you.) The goal seemed outlandish as the farthest that I had run beforehand was around 5 miles- well short of the 13.1 miles that was my goal.
I put off starting for months because I kept thinking in my head, “there is no way I can run 13 miles, that would kill me. Also, who has the time?” I was so scared of falling short of my goal, that I ended up paralyzed, having another bagel instead of putting my shoes on.
And I was right, if I went and tried to run 13 miles right when I started, I’d pass out at mile 6. But any good trainer (or any good therapist for that matter) will tell you to start slow. Have only 10 minutes? Great! That’s better than nothing. I ran 1 mile. Then 2. Then 2.5. I stretched. I huffed and puffed. I cursed the ever-growing stretches of pavement that I had to traverse on my longer outings. I worked my way up slowly, week after week. 5 miles. 7 miles. 10 miles. Weeks went by, slowing gaining distance. And a few weeks ago, I actually did it. I completed my first half marathon. It wasn’t fast, but I finished.
If you want to reach lofty goals then you have start slow. With small steps.
Big systematic change needs to happen to truly dismantle systems of oppression and violence. But if we don’t do the small steps first, then we can’t expect those big changes to take hold.
Now don’t get me wrong. When people are dying from a lack of access to healthcare, clean water, and domestic violence then there seems to be little room for “starting slow”. I’m not advocating for sitting idly by while others suffer. But, if you don’t know where to start, if you feel overwhelmed by the end goal, then start slow. Transformation will not take hold and be everlasting if we don’t do the internal, small work first.
So, we’ve got to start small. Start with self-examination. How have I benefitted from my race, social class, religious affiliation, disability status? Where are my “blind spots” when it comes to my own culpability in injustice?
We have to have conversations with our friends, families, places of worship, and our community about topics like white supremacy and how, in Wyoming, in 2020 we are complicit in systems of oppression and violence that are actively hurting people of color and other marginalized communities in our state. These aren’t fun conversations. I’ve been called out for getting stuff wrong and it doesn’t feel great. But, it’s not about guilt, it’s about recognition, working together, and moving forward.
We must take action. Small steps lead to major strides. It’s not just something that Christians should do. Jesus commands this of us in the Gospel of Luke.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.” – Luke 11:42
Since my time with WIN, this “small-step” approach has seemed truer than ever. We want to make some massive changes in our state. Can we really repeal the death penalty? Small steps, write a letter to your legislator. Can we really protect our lands for future generations? Small steps, volunteer with the On Sacred Ground Team. Can we really repair the political divide? Small steps, join in on a Braver Angels event.
If you’ve been watching from the sideline, wondering how to join in, I encourage you take that first small step. You might not be able run a marathon, or even a mile. But your capable of taking those metaphorical small steps that will get us closer to a more just and equitable Wyoming.
Jordan Bishop is the Executive Director of the Wyoming Interfaith Network. He serves on the Vestry at St. Matthews Cathedral and lives with his partner Dakota in Laramie.