Rev. Jennifer Bailey: May We Bear Witness To The Pain and Not Turn From It

In this Holy Week reflection, Rev. Jennifer Bailey shares the origins of her strength and the continued call to bear witness to the pain that too many communities are experiencing across our nation. Rev. Bailey is the founder of Faith Matters Network as well as The People’s Supper, where hundreds of people from different political and societal backgrounds come together to share a meal in hope of learning  compassion for their neighbor. Rev. Bailey’s work creates the conditions of possibility for us to see a different pathway forward where collective healing, resilience, and new life might flourish. Auburn is proud to include her as one of our 2018 Lives of Commitment Honorees.

By Rev. Jennifer Bailey

Recently, The New York Times published an obituary for Ida B. Wells some 80 years after her death. Considered by many the most famous African American woman of her time, Wells was an educator, suffragist, and civil rights leader who pioneered the field of investigative journalism. On March 9, 1892, the course of her life changed when a hooded mob dragged her friend Thomas Moss out of a Memphis jail cell and shot him to death over a dispute that started with a game of marbles. His haunting final words were recorded in a local newspaper reporter present at the scene: “Tell my people to go West, there is no justice for them here.” Moss’ death would become one of 4,084 documented racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. These public spectacles were designed to subjugate black populations into a perpetual state of servitude to their white countrymen. Wells would spend the next decades of her life shining a national spotlight on her crisis through her reporting and the publication of Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.  

She bore witness to the pain and did not turn from it.

This Holy Week I have found myself thinking about the story of Mother Wells, as I revisit the passion story in the Gospel of Luke. Throughout the chapter, Luke gives several accounts of the women who followed Jesus. Some, like Mary Magdalene and Martha, are well known, their stories the stuff of speculation and legend. Yet, there are others. Unnamed women who followed Jesus from Galilee to the very end. On the road to his execution Jesus calls them Daughters of Jerusalem. When the disciples were nowhere to be found, it was these women who stood at the foot of the cross bearing witness to the horror of the crucifixion as their prophet was brutalized, mocked, and humiliated. Like Mother Wells, they did not avert their gaze. When Jesus drew his final breath, they did not disperse with the crowd. The resurrection was not yet in sight. Hope was not promised. Yet, they followed his body and prepared it for burial. They continued to do the work.

They bear witness to the pain and did not turn from it.

In my own life and ministry as a clergywoman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Founder of Faith Matters Network, it is the witness of everyday daughters of Jerusalem that has rooted me. Church mothers who embodied the parable of the loaves and fishes by turning a few boxes of spaghetti into a feast for the multitudes. Aunties, by blood and by choice, who modeled how to stand with dignity when society degrades you by telling me to define my own self worth and showing me how to do it. Ancestral warrior women, who were brought to this nation in chains, whose ability to survive taught me the meaning of radical resilience. Their stories were close to my heart when a phone call with my friend Lennon prompted the formation of a project called the People’s Supper.

The 2016 Presidential election cycle was an apocalyptic moment that uncovered how deeply the ties that bind our democracy are frayed. The People’s Supper seeks to cultivate community over shared meals that create healing spaces that strengthen our individual and collective resilience and wellbeing and bridge across lines of difference. We began with a simple goal: 100 suppers in 100 days. In the end, between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2018, we held over 1,000 suppers in 180 cities and towns across the United States.

I know one dinner will not solve the deep crises that face our nation. Yet over the past year, I learned that to create the world we wish to see we must start somewhere and continue to grow. It is messy and sometimes painful work, but if it creates the conditions of possibility for us to see a different pathway forward it is worth it.

May I bear witness to the pain and not turn from it.

We are living in a crucifixion moment. Each day stories of young lives lost flood our social media feeds. At 22 years old, Stephon Clark was standing in his grandmother’s Sacramento backyard when he was shot and killed by police officers that mistook his cell phone for a gun. On Valentine’s Day, 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They were daughters. They were sons. They were teachers. They were loved.

At times it appears there is no end to the despair before us. The daughters of Jerusalem in my life taught me that we must never turn a blind eye to suffering of the world. Through their example, they also showed us a pathway forward. In the absence of hope, our task is to keep doing the work knowing that the resurrection we seek may not come in our lifetimes but will instead someday come.

May we bear witness to the pain and not turn from it.

Meet Rev. Jennifer Bailey and join Auburn in its 200th at Lives of Commitment in NYC on April 26th, 2018 as we honor these women of moral courage, who are dedicating their lives to advance justice in our time  Follow Auburn on Twitter. Facebook, and Instagram.

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