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Building Resilience for After the Election

By Evin Carvill Ziemer

adult with sparkler celebrating

Here we are a week after the 2020 election, an election where UU’s really worked to “UU the Vote”. If you’re suffused with joy or giddy with relief, you can stop reading now. Go outside and soak it all in. Celebrate. Do not let anyone distract you. This is part of how we build resilience.

If there’s a knot in your stomach still; a dread of what else may be coming; fears about the Supreme Court; worry about your safety; feelings about your neighbors, family, and fellow citizens who support racism, fascism, and misogyny; this is an offering from me to you.

Dr. Rev. Elizabeth Stevens writes in her 2018 post-election poem:

“Oh, my dear ones.

I know you were hoping

For a once-and-done.

For an earthquake,

A tidal wave.

Hoping that if we gave it our all,

A single push would be enough.

That after this, we could

Sink

Back into complacency,

Back into the comfort of our privilege.

I confess, in the secret corners of my heart,

I wanted to believe it could be that easy…”

adult blowing red white and blue confetti

There is a tension for many of us who have some privilege and come from communities without an ongoing generational commitment to change. We know how to come together to exert effort for a time, but I, at least, did not learn radical patience from either my white New England family or my childhood UU congregation. In fact, I lived my young adult life ricocheting between cynicism and bursts of effort. But when in seminary I took a class with a pacifist, anabaptist Church of the Brethren professor, the anabaptist idea of “radical patience” lodged in me. And today I know I am returning to wrestling with what I need to have radical patience. Not to dismiss the world with cynicism, but to stay engaged, heart open, for the long haul. Because every crisis facing us is a long haul crisis.

When we speak of any of the crises facing us, including the climate crisis, we speak of crises already impacting communities who have lived under oppression for generations and have created ways to sustain life and sustain struggle even through continuing trauma that is never “post”, never post-traumatic stress, but continuing trauma (this phrase and idea is Rev. Kimberly Hampton’s*).

I’ve heard many people realizing how much trauma they’ve carried in their bodies from the 2016 election. And others struggling with realizing, now, again, how very alive racism, misogyny and hate is. This is not trauma that will be “post”. It will be on going. Even if we ourselves are not targeted, there are too many deep threats to our people of color, queer, disabled, immigrant, can-get-pregnant, friends and family members. Yes, this is trauma.

Yet until very recently the field of trauma healing has only focused on trauma we can be past. Where healing requires being entirely safe from that trauma to focus on “recovering”. We are moving toward an understanding that we can build resilience even while living in a traumatizing world.

As well, trauma research has found something called “traumatic growth”. That people who have experienced, and move through trauma, becoming someone who has integrated the trauma so it doesn’t limit our lives often find new strength, resolve, even calling.

So, I want to suggest to UU’s, especially white UU’s like myself, that we move through this trauma, accepting that the work of justice is not going to be a tidal wave, and there will be more to come. And that if we care deeply about ourselves and each other, we will be able, as individuals and as UU communities, find the traumatic growth that leads to the kind of radical patience we might be (I pray!) beginning to learn.

For today, this means:

Listening to Black author, poet, and activist adrienne maree brown* remind us this is a dangerous time and to keep each other safe.

Joy, dancing in the streets, shouting—these are part of how we release; how we build resilience and relationship and commitment.
Good food, cozy blankets, warm snuggles, familiar books, movies, and shows to remind us how to feel safe.
Finding ways to release and discharge the stress building up in our bodies through the pandemic and the election.
And spiritual practice and prayer.

The words of adrienne maree brown:

“…universe i, we, surrender to whatever chance you will give us
universe i, we, trust that we cannot know everything about the divine nature of change and how discomfort is what presses us into pearl and bursts us out of seed and shell and cocoon
and perhaps you are helping us to see how tight and breakable our current iteration is
and i am saying and singing that i see it
yes i feel the claustrophobic nature of our current ways of thinking
and i surrender to more, we surrender to more.
we pray that you open the way to us, with us,
the way that seems impossible with all the corruption and closed hearts and systemic denial of miracles
and even, quite frankly, the willful stupidity of reason and emotion

but we small and mighty choose life, choose this life
we choose the struggle of navigating dissonance and finding rhythm
we choose the brick winters and the terror of letting the child walk to school alone and even the nightmares that remind us how much we love sunrise
we pray today for sunrise
we pray today for tomorrow,
we pray for generations beyond terror
we pray today for memory,
for every single person to remember back through their lineage
all the way to when yours was the only voice they knew
guide us all in your way, weave us back into the tapestry,
let us be earthseed
let us be earthseed
let us be earthseed
again.”

*Rev. Kimberly Hampton, a UU and seminary classmate of mine, has been studying the theology of continuing trauma, especially for people of color who live in a world where there is not a “past” to trauma. She blogs at East of Midnight.

adrienne maree brown blogs at adriennemareebrown.net. She is the author of Emergent Strategy, Shaping Change, Changing Worlds and co-hosts the How to Survive the End of the World podcast. Her latest book is We Will Not Cancel Us: And other Dreams of Transformative Justice.

About the Author

Evin Carvill Ziemer

Evin serves the Central East Region in the areas of Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Intercultural Competency work and as Primary Contact for congregations in upstate and central New York. Evin holds a Masters of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton...

For more information contact cer@uua.org.