Chaplains’ Corner

Valerie Bailey

Several weeks ago, I played the song, “The Kingdom of God is Justice and Peace” to a photo montage of the news of the week during a virtual Night Prayer service attended by an assortment of people, mostly outside of Williams College. That week’s news included pictures from the announcement of the Biden/Harris ticket and numerous pictures from the Trump campaign. The feedback from the service surprised me – one person said the montage did more to trigger PTSD than to inspire justice, peace or prayer.  

I could relate to these concerns:  I personally still feel like I’m recovering from the 2016 election. Listening and reading the morning news had been one of my favorite pastimes since high school. But since the 2016 elections, reading the news has been demoralizing. We are weary and tired of having a dose of bad news with our coffee and breakfast. Sometimes daily, we read news about the loss of someone’s liberties or the destruction of a law that upheld equality. And now, this week, we are bracing ourselves for more bad news following the 2020 election. We have no idea what the news will bring – we are too afraid to hope that the election might end the constant bad news cycle that we have been in for the past four years. We are also afraid that the bad news cycle will continue for another four years.

Here is something to think about — perhaps instead of waiting for good or bad news, let’s come up with new ways of reacting to the threats to civil liberties, democracy, diversity and legally protected equality. Perhaps one way of moving into new ways of reacting to bad news is by finding new words that will inspire us to action and to hope. 

An example of how word exchanges can refocus concerns about justice may be found in the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 61:1-3. This text is a proclamation that God cares about the brokenhearted and announces liberty to captives, sight for the blind and God’s favor on those who mourn. A portion of this text includes the reversal of words used during the difficult times. The prophet Isaiah says, “to all who mourn in Israel, God will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness.”

I have a few word changes that I would like to see. I want to replace fear and anxiety with an inspiration to take action. I want to replace lost rights with equity and equality. I want to replace loss of liberties and freedom with the restoration of justice and peace.  

Perhaps what is happening is not the end of justice and peace but the end of justice and peace that comes without work, action and hope. Most of us have lived for years in a country where justice and peace and at least the idea of liberty and justice for all was embraced by most U.S. citizens. Especially if you were born after the late 1960s, most of the rights and privileges that you enjoy were around your entire life without any help or assistance from you. Perhaps what has changed is now we know in order to pursue justice and peace, we have to be less individualistic and work together for the common good. Perhaps this starts with adopting a new language — instead of fear and anxiety, how about justice and peace?

As we go into the election season, may we find the strength to push back the fear and to become instruments of justice and peace. May we not give into the messaging that drives us from action, but may we grow in our love for our neighbors so much that this love inspires us to be part of bringing about a just and equitable society — no matter what happens over the next few days.

Rev. Valerie Bailey Fischer is Chaplain to the College and Protestant Chaplain.