Most of the time, attending the First Unitarian Church in Des Moines is a joyful experience for me. I’m fed by the music, the ethics of the community, the wisdom and passion of the ministers. I feel at home there.
But, because it is an Unitarian community, social justice is a big part of the zeitgeist. We are called to wake up and “stay woke” to the inequity of our justice and prison systems, to the destruction of black bodies. Sermons, like Erin Gingrich’s message a few weeks ago, Black Lives Matter, gnaw at my comfort. Adult education classes include discussion groups about books like Jennifer Harvey’s Dear White Christians and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Affirmed Justice small groups meet to plan how to incorporate Restorative Justice into our schools and courts.
I’m proud to be part of this vibrant, caring community. I just can’t figure out where I fit.
Yesterday, after a particularly fiery sermon, I left with a plan. I would go see Straight Outta Compton, the movie about the first gangsta rap group, NWA. Rap music scares me. The language, the violence, the rage—they all scare me. But, I know that all that is someone’s real, lived, experience. I thought, I can do this. I can watch this movie with curious compassion and be mindful of my fear. I can do this.
I had read in the church bulletin that next Sunday would be the Blending of the Waters ritual. Congregants bring water from a significant source, talk about what it symbolizes to them, and pour it into a common bowl. It’s a way to acknowledge the gifts we all bring to the community.
So, when I got my popcorn and diet Coke for the movie, I filled the cup to the top with ice. This would be my offering to the bowl next Sunday, this ice that would hold my fear and my courage.
I came out of the movie shell-shocked, over-run by the full range of my bipolarness. I drove home crying, raging, and ultimately locked-down. I sedated myself and went to bed, hoping for clarity in the morning.
And, by gum, that’s what I found.
My feelings of ineptness and desperation around social justice mirror my old feelings about work and being a productive member of society. I had to keep trying to go back to work until I learned that my mental illness took that ability. The stress of working is now a trigger.
Now I know that the stress of being an activist, of even considering being an activist, is also a trigger. I can’t keep the pain, injustice and rage outside of me. My boundaries aren’t that strong.
Knowing one’s triggers is important information for anyone with mental illness. Self-knowledge and insight are vital tools. Going to this movie set me free in many ways. It gave me a new sense of clarity and purpose. I will never be on the front lines with those in my church fighting for social justice, but I will be right behind them armed with my own kind of courage.
That’s what I intend to say next Sunday when I pour my melted-ice water into the community bowl.