Reflection: Welcome to the Department of Self-Worth

This is a reflection written by Carmen Pauls Wiens — a shorter version of which she shared with us on Sunday, April 19, as part of our Eastertide sharing on where we see “signs of the new world.” It is based on the Gospel passage for that, SundayJohn 20:19-29.

On March 13 when San Jose Unified closed the school doors, our world became suddenly much smaller and much bigger.  The Financial Times article by Arundhati Roy which came out recently, speaks of the “Pandemic Portal” inviting us to think clearly and critically in this moment, to leave behind what we know is not working and walk through the portal into a new day carrying only what we know will truly sustain us.  I have an increasingly clearer picture of what I will carry through the portal, not because of Arundhati Roy’s take on it, but because of my connection to this community we share, and the way in which the messages articulated by Sheri, Joanna and others since the day our church went digital have so powerfully met me exactly at the point of my fear and my curiosity.

When San Jose Unified closed its doors, like Jesus’ disciples in the story in John 20, “for fear of the authorities,” I retreated with my little band of insurrectionists into a house with a locked door.  Like the disciples in the story, my insurrectionists have names and personalities, and a God-given purpose and calling on their lives.  In my imagination, the disciples in the story are locked up with the mother of the chief insurrectionist (Yeshua), whose spirit enters through a locked door to speak clearly to the deepest needs and longings of the newly beaten up and broken up band.  All the disciples in the story seemingly have now are their memories of a better time, their grief and each other.

When I say that our family’s world became both much smaller and much bigger on March 13, I mean that we’ve simultaneously been watching and waiting for news from all over the globe about the footprints left by the pandemic, and at the same time we have an opportunity to focus clearly on the politics of our own home, the daily weaving in and out of five specific lives on earth.  In our particular situation, the authorities we defy are the dominant auditory culture; the chief flag we fly are the colors of neurodiversity.  So it didn’t take me long to realize that the enemies we would face in our days and nights locked up in our little room would be marked by the traits of our foes in the real world:  social communication challenges, impulsivity which can make the ground shake, and the piss that passes all understanding, which is the inability to naturally take into account the needs and feelings of the people sitting right next to you.

Drawn at once to the role of the chief insurrectionist and the mother of the chief insurrectionist, I immediately gave up many things and focused on just a few:  providing high-fiber foods to a small crowd in a small space; maintaining my own lifeline of sanity and emotional integration through prayer, fabric and digital social connections; and setting up the Department of Self-Worth to manage all of the other matters.  It’s the Department of Self-Worth and Mutuality, really, as my goal for each interaction at our house going up and down the scale of noise level, size and duration of the conflict, comes down to this:  Do you have the thoughts and needs of other people around you in mind?  And, how do you want others to think and feel about you going forward?

Of course, how we think and feel about ourselves in every way shapes the extent to which mutuality, the ways in which we use our personal power to consider the impact of our decisions and actions on other people, will play out.  What’s happening at our house is not always pretty, and certainly not easy; we fall off the intended path every day, and yet I can see that the actions and intentions of the cast and the crew are rooted and grounded in love and justice, which is our hope and prayer for our wider world as we emerge from the pandemic portal.  We recognize that it’s love and justice at the foundation in our home, in part because we are connected to the river of love and work for justice in this community, and in the other small communities which nourish us:  our schools, workplace, extended family and neighborhood.

The doubting Thomas in our personal Easter story takes on another name, many other names actually.  Rather than “bar the door,” we relish and welcome their presence with us, especially in this time when we are locked up in our little house “for fear of the authorities” and what’s going on outside.  The time we spend naming and talking about our doubts and fears is helping us decide what to pack and what to leave behind when the light turns green, and we can emerge once again into the marketplace of school, work and life.

My prayer for the new world is this:  When we walk away from the pandemic period toward the period which is coming next that we will use the lessons of what has been working and what has not been working to shape the foundations upon which we as a society will rebuild; that we will come out of this quarantine ready to recognize our basic human connectedness, the inherent worth of each one, and our need to rebuild our financial and healthcare systems on a foundation of love, respect for the access of all and justice.  “Oh oh … ?  Naïve and polyannaish?”   I can guess what you may be thinking:  “I know her!  After all the trouble she just referenced in her own home, how the heck is this possible?”  It’s precisely the trouble we navigate, how we recognize, define, claim it as our own and navigate it, which opens our imagination to the other side.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a mother and an insurrectionist, it’s that I can only begin to build on the ground where WE are standing.

So against all odds, my prayer is that the financial, environmental and “value of life” shockwaves we feel today can and will speak to the hearts of those in power in ways which we feel, in our doubt masquerading as “reality,” may be “impossible.”  I am also praying that the grieving hearts across our country and our world may find comfort and consolation in access to resources and relationships, attitudes of heart and daily practices which truly satisfy.  The Yeshua spirit which has entered our home in this time has spoken to us and said:  “Peace be with you.  Wake up to climate change; examine and develop your personal habits in light of what you now know is true; most importantly, start right where you are at with your little band of insurrectionists, which is at home.”

So the Department of Self-Worth and Mutuality is open at 356 Fuller Ave in San Jose, and we are training for the gold.  In the words of Yeshua and our own youth:  “Peace Out.”