Trauma, Disparities, & the Exercise of Needed Distrust

I’m thinking about Dr. Susan Moore, a Black physician who recently died after battling for her own quality medical care and against Covid 19. And I’m thinking about a mother named Mary from a long time ago who was unmarried and who spoke sonnets about her experience of getting impregnated and carrying a baby whose existence was misunderstood from mystical beginnings.

Trauma, a word coming out of an early surgical model for discussing injury, has come to encompass a full set of pains. Trauma is an injury, a bewildering injury or set of injuries.

A trauma can occur to a person or a people. A lot of people from many disciplines are talking about trauma these days, how it happens, what it means to be trauma-informed, etc. From anthropologists to neuro-scientists, chaplains and therapists, and social workers and teachers, lots of folk are discussing and working to respond to traumas in people.

There is language in these discourses about how a trauma is a discrete event in many cases. It happens; it ends. There is a healthy discussion on when and if that’s always true. Some traumas do end. Some are protracted and are, in a real sense, unending. I won’t get so much into that but I want to write a little about the way trauma can return.

After occurring and “ending,” it/they can revisit persons in seen and unseen ways, through known and recognized forms, as well as through insidious and unacknowledged means. Sometimes we see the re-visitation coming. We anticipate it. When we do, we can prepare and draw upon resources to help through the revisited pains. When we don’t see them coming, we are likely more reactive, doing anything in response to the unexpected-but-somehow-still-known.

Disparities in healthcare and medical treatment can be a means of trauma recurrence. Unfairness and mistreatment become a mechanism whereby trauma returns. Now, you’d have to accept a cultural transmission of trauma to appreciate this reality where earlier experiences are translated and handed over to subsequent persons related to those who have experienced trauma. In other words, what happened in prior times affects these times. There is another post somewhere in this direction that combines cultural trauma (at least that type of trauma) with attachment theory to explain this transmission and the patterns and connections making this possible.

Still, interacting with a disparity in the emotional neighborhood of a prior trauma is an uneasy psychological experience. I’m thinking about healthcare but this is true in other places. Whenever a person meets the reminders of prior pain, the body recalls and sends all its resources to preserve life. Emotional life. Spiritual life. Physical life. You don’t want to be hurt. You never do. So if you’ve been hurt, if your people have been hurt, you consciously or unconsciously respond to the disparity, the trauma, at least because of deep memory.

This is evidence of what, in The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman called a “strange quality of renewal.” The response to the disparity is to, in some way, resist it as a means of death. Resistance is a sign, a strange one perhaps, of life. Thurman says, “this is the way of life.” When you’ve experienced traumas and bruising pains, and when those are revisited among you, your reactions are little signs that life is present.

The exercise of distrust by Black people, then, is a needed one. It is needed because that distrust is evidentiary of a different trust, a trust in life. I call it everlasting life. Black distrust of the traumatic opens the world to the actual agitating presence of the God of life, the Source of life. Distrust of one system illuminates abiding trust in another. Distrust of medical science or research practices, say, points toward the life bonds elsewhere. Isn’t the question, “how do I find the life here?” Or “What does trust look like then?”

Take it from there. Look for the next sign of life. But name that life force. Relish the presence of Spirit. Moving against the brokenness and the flagrant disregard of life is a spiritual resistance that itself is being visited in the world through your own act of resistance.

Listen to the Spirit. Act with the Spirit to preserve life, to vanquish non-life. Do what will counter the forces of death and what will make right – or righter – what was wrong the first place.

Dr. Carla Hayden’s Swearing In

This happened last month, and there are so many things I love about this. To see Dr. Carla Hayden in this beautiful space, to imagine her walking through the long underground passageway, to know that she’ll be inspiring and leading us to read… This is a tad long but you need to see Dr. Hayden’s video explaining her vision even while you hear the words of every other person in the ceremony. Paul Ryan even discusses Jefferson’s way of cataloging his library, which is a treat to visit in the LOC if you can visit.

National Museum of African American History & Culture

Also, see a related interview by Anita Little at Religious Dispatch on Religion and Resistance. She speaks with the DC curator of the Center for the Study of African American Religion, Rev. Yolanda Pierce. That new center is housed in the NMAAHC. My favorite part of the interview is here–all this lovely stuff about the ancestors and symbolism–when Rev. Pierce discusses President Obama’s part in ringing a 500-pound church bell. This is fascinating to see this wonderful treasure open:

As a gesture, as a symbol, it is so powerful. The bell is tangible, it’s this huge thing that’s traveled to the seat of power, Washington, D.C. It came from this community of enslaved people who could have never imagined in their lifetime an African American president or an African American museum in our nation’s capital. It’s no small thing, we are at the evening of President Obama’s presidency.

A lot of the people coming on opening day are coming partially to say goodbye to President Obama in what will be one of his last public acts as president.

For me personally, it makes me think of the spirits of the ancestors, all the men and women who never lived to see this moment, all of our ancestors who died en route to the United States and whose bones now litter the Atlantic Ocean. The resounding clang of that bell as it reaches the heavens will remind me of those who could not be present.

The RD piece is here.

Social Media Authenticity

Dawn is over here doing her thing, blogging with a collective of mothers, thinking through and reflecting upon the mixed and wonderful life that is theirs and ours. Here’s her latest post, emerging out of both our stubborn insistence to learn how to see.

“If people are going to see me on social media, I want people to see my real life, the good, bad, and ugly of it all because human perfection is not beautiful, it’s a lie.”

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I gotta give it to Alicia Keys.  It takes character to decide to ditch make up in an industry as shallow as the music and television industry.  Keys has essentially kicked off another wave of media authenticity with the #NoMakeUpMovement (Jamie Lee Curtis shook the industry with her exposition of photoshopping among celebrity images).  Now that another form of natural beauty is trending these days with  Alicia Keys, Sanaa Lathan,  Kendall Jenner, and others  who have committed to natural looks in their public lives, it will be interesting to see if the movement will go beyond trend and revolutionize how we understand beauty as a culture.

Many of us were already on…

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Staring Contest That Is Spiritual Direction

by Vanessa BumbeersI located this post in my blog drafts. It’s worth my reading it as I prepare for the coming days. Even though it’s six years old, it feels relevant!

“If you fall asleep while you’re praying, you are either too busy or you are running from something.”  That’s something my spiritual director told me in one of our earlier sessions almost two years ago.  She was quoting Ignatius.  I thought about that quote for weeks.  I still remember it when I’m struggling to pray, when I’m avoiding prayer, and when I’m tired.

I mentioned in a few posts that I was completing the process of ordination.  Some time after I started pursuing ordination with the C0venant, I started seeing a spiritual director.

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice or discipline where a person seeking direction meets with a director.  It is an old practice, direction.  When I started, it was at the encouragement of our denomination’s Board of Ordered Ministry’s Executive Minister.  I was taking a class on vocation a couple years ago, and I decided I wanted to “enter spiritual direction.”

I had heard about it in seminary.  I read about some of the comparisons between direction and counseling.  I had been in counseling before by then but not in direction.  I sensed that direction would be helpful to me as I sought to fundamentally be a director to others though as a pastor. I’m influenced by Eugene Peterson’s perspective on spiritual direction (prayer and worship leadership) as the pastor’s primary tasks.

Pastoral ministry very much includes this kind of work.  In many instances, I provide spiritual direction to people in my congregation.  There are folks I counsel, but there are certainly folks who I am directing, even if they don’t know the nuances between the two.  Counseling, in a church context, tends to be directive and short-term.  Direction is broader and wider.

Rather than having a problem to fix, the problem is God. The context is not my relationship with my wife or my church leaders. The context is my relationship with God. So that direction becomes an experience in listening for the movement between me and God. It’s an  unending source of moving, dancing, singing, struggling, and silence–my relationship with God–and direction helps me face the movement.

It opens me up to being broader and wider. It opens me.

Chapel Prayers

by Victor ZambranoA little out of time with the season in one sense but appropriate in another given how the days are filling and changing. May this prayer fit the growth cycles in your life, too:

As the days are lengthening and the earth spends longer in the light of each day, grant O God that I may spend longer in the light of your presence.

And may the seeds of your Word, which to now have been long-buried deep within me, grow, like everything around us, into love for you; love for your people; and trust in your abiding and healing power.

May I become a visible declaration of your presence in the midst of life.

Grant, O God, that in this springtime I may be a tree in your world,

Getting nourishment as I am rooted in you;

Giving comfort to others as trees give shade in the heat of day;

Giving shelter from the winds of life to my family, friends, and those around me.

Revive me, O God, even as you revive the world of all living things this spring.

Amen.

When Suicide Happens

by FreestocksI’ve read of the suicides of many people in the past, and no such story is a good story. Whether it’s a person who’s in the public eye or a person who was hardly noticed, we lose a person. A mother devastated by her toddler’s death. An actor who suffered in bruising isolation. A seminarian whose struggle was largely unseen. A doctor who couldn’t continue under mental anguish. A pastor who was overwhelmed by everything.

The loss is aggravated by the circumstances surrounding the death. Those left to respond  rotate a series of questions, all of them in big-deal categories. We question life, ours and theirs. We wonder about God and faith. We query our social relationships and relatives. We turn to the tragic circumstances that form around an individual and try to see them.

Here are a few things I think are worth doing–commitments worth making–when someone commits suicide, in no particular order. They sound too general because I’ve written them about “a person” and I fully intend for that be come across as a person who comes to mind, a particular person, a designated individual or individuals who you love:

  1. We commit to being and not only doing, to tunneling into the beautiful wonder that is the self and to emerging from that wonder with a stubbornness for searching for the same in others.
  2. We commit to grieving, feeling as fully as possible, the deep fissures in us when someone kills herself or himself.
  3. We commit to becoming more human by relating to individuals differently and based upon their uniqueness all the time.
  4. We commit to the hard work of paying attention to what turns a person, lifts up a person, spoils a person, hurts a person.
  5. We commit to loving as much as possible in the present moment.
  6. We commit to getting mental and emotional support for ourselves and our communities in the forms of clergy who are permanently slanted in the direction of full liberation; therapists who are helpful in pursing with us our own deep change in the face of psychologically rough worlds; spiritual directors who can listen us into freedom as we journey into the company of God together; family members who embrace us unconditionally and love us lavishly; and friends who are just like family and who stay in place when family diminishes, drops, or dies.
  7. We commit to asking better questions, even when the question is “How are you?” and staying around for the response.
  8. We commit to telling another person how they impacted us, how we felt because of something they did or said, and how we are changed specifically because they matter.
  9. We commit to standing close when a person feels abandoned, reminding them by our physical presence when our unheard words ring hollow that we are with them.
  10. We commit to responding after any death with a voracious invitation to our own special life, to cultivating healthier relationships, to dealing with the destructive dynamics in our own lives, to being different and better people, and to advocating for everybody’s healthcare and self-care.

Also, if you’re in Chicago, consider attending the National Day of Solidarity to Prevent Physician Suicide.

A Lesson You Taught

by Ryan McGuire3

I had reason to think of you the other day. At first the same old stinging feeling came with the memory of you, and then it left the way a person walks through an open door that closes automatically.

I was glad that the pain we held between us didn’t stay long. It would have been a continual reminder that I hadn’t finished the soul business you left in the echo of our last conversations. I wouldn’t have accomplished as much as I needed. So when the sting left, I was thankful.

I thought about writing you a letter. And then I thought I’d simply write this. Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for changing me. I won’t have the same bitter feelings I did when we last met. I forgive you. I’m different now. I’ve changed.

I hope you are well. Really well. I hope I can take what you taught me into my current and future hurts so that the people I’m currently pained by get the benefit of what I learned because of you and us.

Prayer for Compassion

by Leeroy10Compassionate One,

when I am irritated or discouraged

by how my loved one responds

or does not respond,

fill me with compassion and kindness.

When memories of unpleasant experiences

of the past return,

assist me in extending forgiveness.

Help me, also, to be kind to myself,

to not deny the struggles.

Soothe my sore spirit

when I find the days especially difficult.

Forgive me for my own failings

and help me to overcome any guilt I have

for not always being my best self.

You know that these days are not easy ones.

Bless both of us with your merciful kindness.

From May I Walk You Home (pg. 35)