The following was written after Corinne Causby, second-year student, attended a worship service the Sunday after the horrific June 17, 2015 events in Charleston, South Carolina and then edited the week of July 19 following the events in Tennessee for inclusion here.
This summer has been… different. One year under my belt in divinity school, I found myself back at home, caring for three children during our summer break. It was nice to reconnect after a crazy year of writing, studying, memorizing, and more reading than I’d ever done before. But once we reconnected, I sat with the gnawing feeling that I was missing a part of me. I missed the friends I had made during my brief time at school. I missed being plugged in to that community on a daily basis. I missed having people around me who are thinking theologically about our lived experience.
In the midst of longing for my community, our country has found itself once again in the middle of an ugly, broken, human reality. When we awoke to the news of the tragedy in Charleston, I found myself reaching out to my Wake Div community. I texted friends who I knew were hurting. I read sermons written by alumni. I followed dialogue on social media with my colleagues. I wanted a professor to tell me what to think. I wanted friends to guide my opinions. I wanted answers that I knew were right without the risk of being wrong. But in the end, I had to sit alone with reality and try to think through the mess for myself.
“You can be wrong,” Dr. James M. Dunn once said, “but you can’t be silent.” This is a truth that I often struggle with. I fear offending my friends, saying the wrong thing, or doing something that wounds rather than heals. I am afraid of looking stupid. It is my fear that paralyzes me, and it is my fear that holds me back from deeper growth in my community and in my calling. But underneath the fear of wounding others, of looking stupid, and of being wrong is a deep-seated fear of discovering what and who I really am.
The problem for me lies in my inability to sit with my guilt as a racist. It lies in the quick fixes I seek out to numb the pain of realizing how fundamentally broken I am and how I participate in systems that normalize racism. This fear certainly holds me back from community and faith, but not for the reasons I assume. It holds me back because it prevents me from doing the hard work of reconciliation by beginning with addressing the enemy within.
And this has me wondering if this is not what ails our world today. We are all living, breathing, and broken people, terrified of being exposed for what we are. In our misguided attempts to remedy our brokenness we demonize and judge those whose differences are more external and obvious. Or, instead, we focus simply on structural explanations for tragedy, failing to recognize the personal and spiritual dimensions of the systematized structures we participate in. As William Slone Coffin once said, “Never fight evil as if it were something that arose completely outside oneself.”
Just last week, following the tragedy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a well-known son of a preacher-man took to social media and in one fell post to his wall, categorically judged, dehumanized, and condemned an entire Abrahamic faith. In my anger, I lashed out and wrote a snarky response, and felt quite good about myself for being so quick to come to the defense of the millions of Muslims he had demonized. It wasn’t until later that I realized that, though I was right to defend and stand up for my brothers and sisters offended in the post, in the very next breath, I was just as guilty as the author of the post in demonizing and judging him and the many who support him.
This is the hard work that my time at Wake Forest has taught me. This is what our Dialogue Groups seek to accomplish: an openness to our differences and a need to listen to the deeper issues behind our superficial reactions. Wake Forest School of Divinity has proved time and time again to be a community that allows for difference–that provides grace in the journey inward as we discover not only our callings and vocations, but who we are as people in a broken world. The diversity of our school allows for conversations most of us would otherwise not participate in; it allows for us to sit with others in dark moments of pain. This community has given me friends who call me out when I perpetuate racial stereotypes, when I’m silent on issues I should speak out on, and when I just need to shut up. Together, with professors, staff, and colleagues, we have entered difficult theological and sociological conversations. We haven’t always ended on the same page, but in showing up, we can walk away changed.
This is the tightrope of love we must walk: standing up for justice and loving our enemies; loving the oppressed as well as the oppressor. Because truth be told, the capacity to oppress lies within us all. Thank God we don’t work out this balance alone as we journey together towards wholeness.
Corinne is pursuing her calling to ministry in community both within and without the church. She is a wife, a mother, and has a penchant for poetry, good books, dark coffee, bright colors, belly laughs and loud kids.