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Walking Through the Invisible Fire

What’s going on is pretty darn bad

As you have surely noticed, a lot of things really don’t feel okay right now. And a lot of us do not feel okay about that.

I’ve been hearing from people in health care doing their utmost to save those who may not survive and those who will not survive. I’ve been hearing from people trying to secure adequate storage space for human remains. I’ve been hearing from other therapists. From people who have gotten ill and been hospitalized. From those who are losing loved ones, losing jobs, losing savings, losing health insurance, and from those feeling trapped and scared and angry.

We are all facing an enemy that uses our greatest human strength in its attack against us: our connections with others. An invisible fire is burning through humanity, and we don’t know who is aflame, who will burn, and who will pass through unharmed. The uncertainty is nerve-wracking.

You may hear people saying “Humanity got through previous pandemics, it’s not the end of the world!” Well, yes…humanity survived, but we didn’t all get through those crises. Many died. And for those who died, it was the end of the world. (At least, this world.) And the world was permanently altered for survivors and their descendants. So this event is a true threat. It makes sense to feel distress.

What our experiences are and how we are dealing with them – it’s okay

Whatever we may have already been struggling with has been exacerbated: loneliness, depression, illness and disability, social issues, financial issues, employment, relationships. Meanwhile, many of the life trajectories we were working on in the hope that they would provide us with security, stability, and balance, have been upended. Exposed as transient, fragile, or even inconsequential: careers, money, possessions, self-image, institutions, political and social dynamics. These are great losses that may leave us feeling anchorless, or make the world feel frighteningly unreal.

For many there is also a cognitive dissonance between feeling the background hum of constant threat, while other parts of life continue apace as though nothing is happening and things are normal. “When your world falls apart, some things stay in place” (Billy Bragg). This dissonance can be crazy-making too!

With all that is happening, many people are experiencing an increase in symptoms. Some new, and some familiar. Many are symptoms of depression, anxiety, or past trauma. But please know that you are not alone in this. The most common symptoms I’ve been hearing about in the past few weeks are:

Sleep issues: insomnia, exhaustion, hypersomnia.
It’s hard to sleep when you’re feeling threatened. It’s not surprising many are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. If you are sleeping more than usual, it is partly because you have so much more to process, and that is exhausting!

Dreams: increased vivid dreaming (or increased memory of dreaming), not necessarily nightmares, either. We have a lot to process lately and it’s spilling into our nighttime hours.

Impaired executive function: forgetfulness, loss of concentration, unusual time perception (speeding up or slowing down).

Dissociation: losing track, losing time, spacing out, not being present, feeling numb, feeling unreal or that the world is unreal.

Hypervigilance: being easily startled, easily woken, heightened anxiety about possible contagion and contamination.

Grief and anger: we have incurred countless losses, individually and as a society. It is not wrong to grieve losses or to feel anger about them. It’s understandable.

Guilt: This has been a big one for a lot of people! Specifically, guilt about productivity, guilt about parenting, survivor guilt, and free-floating guilt. Please understand that unnecessary guilt is a symptom of both depression and anxiety, but it’s a feeling that makes it especially easy to buy into the content, so we tend to think it’s real.

Regarding the productivity guilt: your value as a human being is not your productivity. The most important thing you are producing is someone who survived the pandemic! If you come out of this alive, and with your children alive, you did it!

This is the earliest reference I can find, but we all know this statement by now. You’re not “working from home,” you’re at home, working under a global crisis.

Furthermore, you are not obligated to somehow optimize yourself. You never have been! But this is a good time to finally understand that at a deep level. It’s an especially ludicrous expectation right now.

Many people are struggling with unhealthy coping mechanisms right now: drinking and substance use, eating behaviors, self-harm. But the first thing is to cope. To get through this day, and this night, and the next. So if you are using unhealthy coping mechanisms, instead of beating yourself up about it, allow yourself first to cope. And then start working on adding in some of your healthier coping mechanisms. All behaviors, even dysfunctional ones, are adaptive in some context. Sometimes an unhealthy coping mechanism is healthier than not coping at all.

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Future directions & hope

Listen, we don’t get to choose what arc of history we occupy, only what role we play in that arc. You are living through a historical event that you did not choose.

A lot of things are not okay right now, many of us aren’t okay with that, and it’s okay to feel that way. It’s reasonable to feel distress. We are all walking through this invisible fire, but what matters most is how well you walk through the fire (Charles Bukowski). You can still choose what role you will play.

Humans have an immense capacity to take something good and positive out of surviving even the most horrific events. Things we always heard could not be done are now being done: work flexibility, distance learning, accessibility, financial and personal support. Meanwhile, things we always heard were implacably crucial, are turning out to be not so important. Deadlines! Attendance! Fees! Work pants!

Many more people who are in a tough spot now suddenly understand that we all need support and we are all mortal. We are all vulnerable. This kind of insight can be a turning point for great change. This is a liminal space in which we can effect that change.

It’s easier to see the real rock-bottom truth from here. Human connection is still our most important strength, even without physical proximity. We take care of each other: family, friends, neighbors, community, churches, local government and organizations. Our strength comes from sharing via those systems. Power comes from the people. You are the people! So let this radicalize you, rather than leading you into despair (Mariame Kaba).

Let this radicalize how you treat others: What can you do to help reshape an inequitable system? Is there some way you can help support those who are already marginalized, on whom the bulk of the crisis falls? The illness and death, the job loss, the financial hardship, the limited access to resources. If there is to be a new normal, what social improvements do you want to help solidify?

Let this radicalize how you treat yourself: Learn that your value does not lie in your ability to produce. Learn to treat yourself as well as you would treat an honored guest, a close friend, or even a beloved pet. If there is to be a new normal, what habits do you want to bring back from this experience? What deserves to be left behind in the ashes?

Walk this invisible fire with compassion, flexibility, and acceptance. Acceptance for others, but also for yourself.  ❤

Intersectional Life Counseling and Psychology offers remote video sessions for PA residents, as well as sliding-scale rates from $70. Please EMAIL if you would like to schedule or have any questions!

“May Her Memory Be a Revolution”

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

 

❤️

 

Scam Call Targeting Professionals

Scam warning: caller targeting professionals, saying you missed a court date for which you were subpoenaed to testify. Lancaster County DA states two such calls reported so far.

“If you received such a call, contact the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office at 717-299-8200 or your local police department. Do not call the number back – or provide any personal information/payment.”

 

Centering Marginalized Voices as Spiritual Practice

Image: Jennifer Hosler for Messenger

From Pastor Belita Mitchell and team, Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren:

Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren ‘Black Lives Matter’ Statement

 As followers of Jesus we stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters enduring racial violence and systemic oppression. We denounce anti-black racism resulting in police brutality, mass incarceration, and unjust legal systems that disproportionately harm black and brown people. We denounce the evil “principalities and powers” at work in our world that seek to kill, steal, and destroy people made in the image of God. 

As a congregation we commit to doing justice and peacemaking in the way of Jesus. For the times we as a church have been complacent about the suffering of others, we confess our complicity. By God’s grace we repent and courageously align ourselves with the Spirit’s activity and the Messiah’s reign on earth. And in obedience to God we seek to set things right where every valley is lifted up and every mountain is made low. Jesus teaches us how to struggle against oppression through his example of standing in solidarity with those who were considered ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ in his society. And because Jesus affirmed that poor people’s lives mattered, that Samaritans lives mattered, and the lives of those crucified by Rome mattered, we affirm that black and brown lives matter too, and are precious to God. 

As a congregation we commit to deepening our faithfulness to Jesus through holy listening, through intentional learning, and through discerning congregational public action. As a congregation we commit to creating intentional inter-generational space where the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters are received with love. In line with God’s upside-down kingdom, we will encourage marginalized stories to be centered while inviting those in the dominant culture to step back and be slow to speak and quick to listen. Specifically, we will make space for this congregational practice immediately after we return to worshiping together in our building.

  • As a congregation we commit to deepening our understanding of the history and present systems of racism in the United States, as well as the complicity of the western church in the legacy of white supremacy. We will study the history, our present society, and the theological implications of racism and its ties to the church. Specifically, our congregation will begin with Jemar Tisby’s “Color of Compromise” video series. We will follow that up with ongoing learning. 
  • We will grow in our understanding of what it means to be an intentionally and actively anti-racist church. Finally, we commit to taking public action because we are called to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Just as Jesus spent most of his time out in the streets of Galilee serving and living in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable we too seek to take action that makes the Jesus story visible to those who have their backs against the wall.
  • Specifically, we commit to ongoing discernment as a congregation about what public actions, community partnerships, and organizing efforts in our neighborhood we will participate. We know that faith without works is dead and discipleship requires a love willing to respond to the suffering of others. We pray for a prophetic witness that pleases God and participates in seeing justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. 

Harrisburg First Discernment Team & Pastor Belita Mitchell 

(Harrisburg First CoB is located on Hummel St in Harrisburg’s South Allison Hill neighborhood which is comprised of the largest concentration of low-income families between Philadelphia & Pittsburgh.) ~

You can watch Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” series too!

 

“When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace.” ❤️

 

 

*Installments of the peace-building series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

Juneteenth: “America can never be free until her people are free”

Yes, I used the exact same title as last year’s post. Because it’s still true and more salient than ever!

In this time of critical mass, we have an opportunity to make changes at every level. Governor Wolf just declared Juneteenth a state holiday.

Time to make Juneteenth a federal holiday!

Original Juneteenth order found in the National Archives:

Some ways to help others:

And some ways to help yourself. We need you alive and doing okay!

 

❤️

 

AntiRacism Links and Resources from Workshop

Includes videos we watched in the workshop, book lists, recommendations for action, materials for youth, and much more! Thank you all!

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The emotional impact of watching white people wake up to racism:

Medical professionals bias tiktok:

“Dear fellow White ladies” video:

White progressive backlash:

“This google doc was thoughtfully put together for white people and white parents. Read, teach your children, others, and more importantly yourselves. Do NOT rest on the laurels of black people and expect them to continue to do the work for you.”:

DC physician’s Detroit childhood Girl Scouts experience:

How to show support to Black colleagues:

For White academics:

Your Black colleagues aren’t okay:

“Dear White People: this is what we want you to do”:

“White folks wanting to help? Here’s your one freebie”:

Thread of reading list recommendations from Victoria Alexander:

The Anti-racist book list:

Book recommendations to share with young readers from Kathie MacIsaac:

Someone said I did a racism, now what?

What to say when someone says something racist or bigoted in everyday situations:

Image credit: Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc @AndrewMIbrahim
Becoming Anti-Racist: Fear Zone, Learning Zone, Growth Zone

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Race Action Workshop Saturday 6/13

Saturday, 6/13, 10:00 am:

This workshop is aimed at helping White women (trans-inclusive, NB-inclusive) to understand and work on their own racism/ gain understanding of systemic racism. (Women of any race may attend, but Black and Brown women may find it remedial!)

Emphasis on movement perspective of connection, cooperation, safety, kindness, trust, and inclusion, rather than the western-masculine model of critical and exclusionary activism.

WHAT really is race?
WHY is race hard to talk about?
WHY is “White women” a charged term?
HOW does feminism fit in?
HOW can we heal racism?
WHAT can White women do to help?

Presented by Dr. Liz Yaelingh-Scoffins of Intersectional Life Counseling & Psychology

$25 (or request scholarship if needed)
BIPOC may attend for free using the code: BiPOC
20% of proceeds will be donated to the BLM cause (TBD).

Register Here: http://www.ombabycenter.com/race-action.html
Zoom link will be provided in a reminder e-mail prior to the workshop.

 

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Why Should White Women Teach White Women About Racism?

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(Comedian and National Treasure, Sarah Cooper)
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Sometimes people–invariably White people–question why I should be the one to teach anti-racism to other White people. For the most part, I believe this is a good-faith question brought by those with good intention regarding unpacking their own racism.
However, what it usually tells me is the questioner has already not been listening to BIPoC people at all. If they had, they would have already heard the following words hundreds of times.
Not every one of the following posts is from a Black person, but many are.
Read them now and understand why.
Read every one!

Regarding those last few tweets, it’s fairly common to see White people wanting to be absolved of guilt by having the forgiveness or approval of a Black person or people.
However, this is merely placing more emotional labor and weight on those who are already suffering from oppression, to make yourself feel lighter.
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Working through and unlearning our conditioning into racism is hard work, sometimes painful, and always a lifelong process. You can’t authentically work on your own psychosocial dynamics if your motive is to “look better” to someone else or gain their approval.

Furthermore, no matter how hard we work on it, no one owes you or me absolution. That’s not how this works. Become better because it’s the right thing to do and will make society better for all of us.

(And lastly, why don’t you know any Black women?)

PS: Whatever you do, resist the urge to do a “not all White People,” –no really, do not do a “not all White People.”

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Know Justice, Know Peace

2020: Not Done With Us Yet

Look at this: future universities will have entire specializations in the study of the 2020s.

Turbulent times with great disparity in who is affected are likely to lead to social unrest. Medically, financially, socially, emotionally, and legally, marginalized groups have been dealt an incredibly disproportionate blow by the events of this year.

The killing of George Floyd was a tipping point. We all have a choice now. Will you contribute to peace? How are you using your voice?

How can I contribute to peace?

By contributing to justice. By combating injustice. By helping when you can help. By educating yourself. By understanding the context in which we all–not just any one of us–live. By helping others to understand as well.

Reverend Belita Mitchell (First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg) on peace-building in 2014.  First video in a series*.
“How are justice and peace related in your thinking or your experience?” (5:00)

If you are someone in a dominant social group, there is no need to burn or break anything to make yourself heard. Authorities and media attend well to peaceful protests from White people.

2020 Minneapolis Anabaptists

In fact, you don’t even need to take to the streets. Just speaking up when you hear unjust or racist words spoken is incredibly helpful. (Here is a very helpful and practical list of ways to speak up against bigotry in many settings.)

When we truly know justice, we will truly know peace. ❤️

*Additional installments of this series can be found here:

Belita Mitchell

Are You Old Enough to Remember the Idealism?

I’ve heard that a number of you played roles in or watched Godspell as a musical number at your youth groups or summer camps. I never did. But I did see the movie as a child and we had the vinyl album at home, which I’m pretty sure I wore out memorizing the songs.

At the time this movie came out it was considered very hippie and almost heretical, though by today’s standards it may seem pretty tame.

Have you ever really listened to the words, though? Do you get them?

When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
Flowers of thy heart, O God, are they.
Let them not pass, like weeds, away.
Their heritage a sunless day,
God save the people!
Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father,
That men shall toil for wrong?
‘NO!’ say thy mountains,
‘NO!’ say thy skies.
Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.
God save the people!
When wilt thou save the people,
Oh, God of Mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns but men!
God save the people, for thine they are,
Thy children, as thy…

 

❤️

 

Black Moms Are Grieving; Are You Listening?

A widespread crisis is a risk to all, but it will always have worse effects on those who are in any marginalized group. Tynisa Walker has a son who is 15 and autistic. She fears for him daily, but especially now that there is unrest. She is pleading for his life.

Maya Richardson has some good mental health recommendations for Black people, especially Black youth who may be newly exposed to the threats and dangers of living in this society:

If you are White and you don’t know where to start with understanding race issues in America, you can start here: Someone Said I Did A Racism; Now What? A Guide

You might also consider watching When They See Us, currently available on Netflix.

❤️

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