Yesterday my day began with taking my youngest child (entering 5th grade) to her school for a couple of hours of “Hornet Camp” to get her acquainted with her new school. After the orientation session, signing up for the PTA and buying her a new school t-shirt, I headed over to my University for my own version of orientation.
For many folks across the country, the next few weeks mark the beginning of the new school year. Some of us are sending our kids off to new teachers, classes, and schools; others are dropping them off at college; and still others are watching facebook feeds of friends’ children and remembering our own first days of school or those of our grown children.
For academics, the week before classes is often a time of meetings, course planning, and shifting gears as we get ready for new students, new classes and the challenge and excitement of figuring out how to get 18-22 year olds to care about our topics as much as we do. While non-academics often think professors get the summer “off,” most of the academics I know spend our summers trolling dusty archives, collecting data, interviewing people, coding, analyzing, reading, and writing. Oh. So. Much. Writing!
As a social ethicist, my work is largely on topics and issues of social justice – economic inequality, racism, poverty, privilege, abortion and reproductive justice, climate change, violence against women, homosexuality. I am very careful when I teach these subjects to design my syllabi so that students learn about the ways in which violence, prejudice, and poverty are connected to and embedded in structures of injustice in society.
While I want them to think about themselves and how they are personally connected to these issues, I don’t want to stay in the “I” because most of these issues are not about them. At least not at the level of a university classroom. The point of my classes is to teach them how to think about social systems and how they contribute to injustice, it’s hard to do that if they can think about is “how does this affect me?”
In my social justice classes, I include assignments and projects that encourage students to participate in social change so that they can see how change happens and so they will have pathways to engage in transformation and change if they are so inclined. I don’t make them into activists, but I show them what activism is and how to get involved in the hopes that the content of my courses will not overwhelm them.It’s harder to figure out how to manage myself, particularly when my work takes me into the depths of despair as I engage in analysis and discussion of contentious and difficult issues both in the church and in society at large. Sometimes people attack me personally but more often it is just being immersed in the arguments and disagreements that wears me down.
This summer, with its barrage of violence, war, death, and hatred was even more difficult than usual. I know it’s not just me, so many of us are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world. One colleagues, yesterday, he told me that he was barely able to get any work done this summer because he was so engrossed in reading the news and political blogs as he was overcome by the events that are transpiring in our world. In my efforts to hold on and make it through the summer, I buckled down and focused on finishing my current book. While I read the news every day, I couldn’t blog on it because I had to focus on one problem at a time.
So, now that it is “planning week,” it is time for me to turn back to my regular responsibilities, to shelve my research books, map out a plan for what I can reasonably try to accomplish on my scholarship during the semester, turn my head back to the classroom and to my upcoming courses. And to start blogging again more regularly. The question remains, though, how do we keep doing the work of social justice in the midst of world gone mad?
There is no single answer to the question of “how?” Some of us need to hide for a while for self-preservation or to finish a task (like writing a book!), others focus on the work of building solidarity in their communities or families or churches, others volunteer their time and efforts on a particular social problem knowing they can’t solve all of them.
Most importantly, though, what anchors me in the midst of crisis, what enables me to re-engage when I must take some time off from the struggle, the very reason that I continue to fight against all odds is that we are a resurrection people. The hope of Christianity is in knowing that we are called together to live in community, solidarity, and love. It matters less how you interpret the resurrection than it does in recognizing the power of knowing that together we can overcome.