The hurricane news hasn’t gotten better since last time, but worse. No sooner did the electrical power come back in Florida after hurricane Irma than hurricane Maria devastated many islands in the Caribbean, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s plight is especially hard to watch, knowing that the people suffering there face days or weeks of food and fuel shortages, weeks or months without electrical power, and years of recovery. The old and the young in particular will suffer. Another big news story – and there are so many, aren’t there? – concerns the President’s outburst about African-American players “taking a knee” during the singing of the national anthem at football games. The two don’t have much in common, except timing and one other thing I’ve not heard anyone speak of: the role of preparing for adversity.
Self-reliance provides the first resource for those in crisis. The money, food and water you stockpile will be the first you can use after the disaster, assuming you (and it) survives. And because it can be too costly or logistically impossible to stockpile these at the last minute, civil authorities recommend building up kits: gather the minimum, and add when you can, rotating the supplies of canned food and batteries. They have lists of what you should keep. Self-reliance depends on preparation, constancy and (counter-intuitively) encouragement and reminding.
All of that applies to a self-reliance of the soul. What replaces the bottled water and saltines when the storm comes from the White House, stirring up smoldering resentment and hatred against you? The various yous include African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, transgender people, anyone who might confused for these peoples, women in general and scores of individuals in particular. And the list grows. Anyone with empathy might feel targeted. What then, do you cultivate to maintain your dignity and relative safety in these days? What goes in the bag? Will it be enough?
As a protest, “taking a knee” is actually pretty mild. It’s not loud, vulgar, demonstrably angry or physically destructive. But the rage against the players to do take a knee shows knowing that absolutely nothing will be inoffensive enough to prevent bitter criticism. God bless those who are quick to remember that those people who are remembered as heroes today (Martin Luther King for instance) were treated the same way in their time. That’s a resource. It is not the responsibility of oppressed people to keep their oppressors entertained. That’s a resource. Self-reliance in these days includes, but is not limited to, cultivating a healthy sense of self-worth, knowing how to disagree with friends, keeping a view for the long run (the President was only inaugurated eight months ago; most of these problems have much older roots) and finding ways to break the mental cycle of news and meme consumption.
The flipside is that any one of us can then over-rely on self-reliance to sooth the insults and cruelty of living, leading to two outcomes: feeling like a failure for not being self-reliant in the face of overwhelming force, or feeling like a fool for relying on what you know to be an untenable situation. Build self-reliance into mutual aid. We do this for material needs. Check in on friends, in person if possible. Test organization to see if they help as they say they should. Send money for legal defense. Question consumption that only values people as a profit center. Stockpile those storm supplies for those who might be without. And take the same steps to spiritual mutual aid. Let the wisdom of those who have gone before us inspire our responses. Pray for others, but also ask for prayer (even if you’re uncomfortable doing so) and meditate on how those prayers are being answered. Report back to those who care for you. Indeed, so many of the works of spiritual mutual aid are the work of the church that we find an answer to that question that has plagued Universalist Christians for generations: “if universal salvation is true, what’s the use in preaching it?” It’s worth it, because when it has to be applied and lived, it must be re-spoken and encourages.
Do good and be of good spirit.
(The Rev.) Scott Wells