Before the preacher started, she said, “Jesus tells us the moral to this story right up front. But I want you, as you’re listening, to write your own moral.”
The story goes like this:
One moral jumps out at me immediately: those in power will never do the right thing unless we make their lives too uncomfortable for them to let the status quo continue.
At a meeting I was at recently, an activist described the tactic of “birddogging” like this: When a person in power (elected official, judge, whoever) refuses to talk with you, you just show up wherever they are and ask your questions. You disrupt business as usual in order to pursue the justice you require.
During that meeting, it seemed like some folks were uncomfortable with this practice.
So, a second moral to this story, particularly for well-behaved white folks: If you ever think that a tactic that an impacted community, minoritized group, or vulnerable person is using is too disruptive, remember the widow and the unjust judge – and that Jesus approved of the widow’s tactics. (v 7)
This story is also about accompaniment, through its absence. How would it have been for the widow if someone with more power – in today’s terms, maybe a straight, cis, white man – had gone with her each time she petitioned the judge? Not to speak for her, her voice was strong. Not to impose, but at her request.
If the widow had been accompanied, she wouldn’t have had to face this struggle alone. More, the judge would have seen that she wasn’t alone, that she had friends with more power. Even more, the judge would have known that someone with power was seeing his injustice every time he turned down the widow’s request.
To be present, to be seen, to be a witness: the three essential tasks of accompaniment.
This gets to a third moral: look for the people who are fighting fights for survival in the face of injustice and ask if they want you to go along with them.
Because nothing will change if we all stay comfortable, and tactics that seem “disruptive” to you might mean survival to someone else. We’re all in this together.
From time to time, when meeting with my volunteers, we write flash blogs together: 10 minutes to get down our thoughts on a common prompt. We're practicing expressing ourselves and being less scared of blogging. I'm not going to exactly write to this prompt because I'm in a little bit different place than my YAVs in "mission service"
Here's what I think: Saying "mission service" is just a softer way to say "mission." It's what church progressives say instead of "mission," when we want not to associate ourselves with colonization and the extractive, destructive, imperialist history (and present) of church mission. We say "mission service" to maybe indicate that we recognize the power dynamics and that we're here to serve, not to impose, the word mission is in there because we're from a church but it's just, like, mission-adjacent.
Is mission service really a different thing? (Not unless we make it so?)
It's more important, I think, to wrestle with what mission has meant and what we want it to mean now. "Mission" has meant force, displacement, violence, erasure, charity, assimilation, empire, going-out-to-civilize. (Has there ever been a good mission?) To me, anyway, mission means well-intentioned (mostly white) people perpetuating global colonialist power dynamics. It's always "mission to."
In the best light, I'd like to think that mission service can at least point us at shifting into a "with" framing. "Service" to say being with people, working alongside (still problematic), entering with humility.
When I was "in mission service" myself, as a YAV, I told a group of mostly-white seminarians that they were my mission field, and that I was with them to proselytize a gospel of demilitarization and open borders. They didn't appreciate being the recipients (subjects) of my "mission service." I hope that discomfort stays with all of us, and we don't practice what we don't want practiced on us.
Author, Alison Wood
queer, white, cisgender, U.S. passport-holding, Presbyterian, church-employed, challenged by faith, imagining something better.
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