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A Different Mirror

Be Moved By Different Touching Stories

Dive in and explore A Different Mirror's blog page. Read moving stories and unique insights about life from a biblical perspective.

The Alchemy of Rest

by Angelene Thompson 

For many, 2020 was and perhaps remains a year of protracted anguish and suffering, a surreal and forced journey down Lewis Carroll's 'rabbit hole' into a Huxleyan dystopia that began with COVID, accelerated and intensified with the racialized killings of Ahmaud Arbery and immediately thereafter Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. 

In the face of their deaths, many of us sprang into protest, we petitioned the powers that be, we labored tirelessly to inform and encourage others to be agents of change, as we should, but, we disregarded (and still do) the essential need to rest. As a result, the trauma inflicted by the killings and experienced in mandated isolations, have left indelible marks on and in the collective black psyche.

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery seemed, for me, especially traumatizing. Before Ahmaud, I had read about and seen photos of countless images of black and brown bodies lynched and brutalized as casual sport but the heinousness of such hate crimes as they occurred in broad day light were never captured for the world to see in real time. Something about watching the video of the way in which Ahmaud was hunted by white men and brazenly murdered in the light of day terrified me. The photo of Ahmaud pre-death, his dark skin, his brilliant smile— reminded me of my older brother and caused Ahmaud's murder to lodge itself under my skin. His death, felt personal. Before I (we) all could recover from Ahmaud’s murder, Breonna Taylor was by police while she slept and George Floyd was choked to death with casual ease while America and the world watched in horror. My body responded with internal tremor, visible to no one but me.

In an ouroboros, I sought 'doing' as my refuge in order to shed myself of the tremors that dislodged my sense of control, or at least the semblance of it, from beneath my skin. I wanted my movement, my doing, to possess the centripetal force to restore me to “normal,” though nothing else around me was. My body's response, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk articulates best when he notes in his work, The Body Keeps The Score, that, “traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort.” (Kolk, 97). For people of color, America’s racist past is palpably alive in the present every day and our skins lightning rods for injustice. Thus, we cannot with a bystander’s detachment look on as black and brown bodies are continuously taken or broken. There is no escape hatch of insulation that shields us. When another person of color loses his or her life in the context of racism, the black community grieves. Inside that grief is a profound knowing that the life lost could have easily have been your own even when you have done everything right and nothing wrong. With perpetual fear, the footprint of trauma, sadly, is familiar in the black community and with it a dying away of safety, trust and hope.

So, how do communities of color confront trauma? How do they find rest? How do they heal during a pandemic when, out of financial necessity, there has been a disproportionate hemorrhaging of black and brown lives?  Will the tyranny of the 'strong black man/woman' be a continued refuge? While the strong black and women constructs have helped generations of black men and women survive trauma, they have also hindered the transparency and healing the black communities desperately need and furthers the cycle of trauma and suffering.

According to Mental Health America, of the 13.4% of Americans who identify as black or African American, over 16% reported having mental health issues in the past year. 

That is over 7 million people. Protesting and activism are necessary tools to lift disembodied voices in communities of color in response to institutional racism and social injustices. Yet, while we hold space for protests, there is often little to no space held for the sacredness our mental and emotional health. Our posterity demands that we be as brave and unashamed in our need to rest and heal as we are bold in protest. That must be the legacy the next generation inherits but, we can only take others where we have been. Harriet Tubman was able to guide slaves to freedom because she embarked on that journey herself. We must take responsibility for our own rest, prioritize it less we remain slaves to our trauma.

As “definition belongs to the definers—not the defined” (Morrison, 225), the message on loop in this country, with systemic racism baked into to our justice system, is that the humanity of people of color is dispensable, a thing to be used as red meat to stoke fear in the soul of white America. Who I am, who we are, must therefore be rooted in and informed by who God says we are in order to reclaim my humanity or, like Peter, I (we) begin to sink (Matt. 14:30). 

God's mirror is the way forward. It dismantles. In his mirror, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). That is the truth, an absolute. Racism, injustice and bigotry do not and cannot “cancel” it even when we find ourselves struggling to believe and walk in it. The work of resisting and countering the narrative of inferiority is a head to heart. It is the longest many people of color will ever travel. Resistance must, however, be constant. This constancy leaves us battle fatigued and in need of rest, I know full well, but on it rests, our emotional and mental wellbeing.

During slavery, there was reportedly a place in upstate New York where former slaves spent time healing and learning how to walk around in their humanity after escaping slavery or becoming legally free. Myth or fact, people of color who have been generationally wounded (visibly and invisibly) by racism need such a space of refuge to reacquaint or introduce themselves to themselves and to reconstruct their identities outside of the context of wounding, demonization and dehumanization. The black church was and continues to be instrumental in helping with the pivotal “reconstruction,” and redressing of systemic racial trauma. It was and is where many black bodies and souls are made "sons" and "daughters" of the King. It is where their black lives matter, where they find rest.

Rest, to be effective, must be unequivocal. God, in fact, commands us to rest, (Heb. 4: 1-3). Jesus demonstrated the necessity for rest during his ministry. After hours of serving, feeding, healing and attending to the spiritual and physical traumas of others, he “made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him, while he dismissed the crowd,” (Matt. 14:22). He modeled prioritized pausing for his disciples. God, after he had finished the work of building creation, “rested from all his work on the seventh day" (Gen. 2:2). It is clear, as Christians we are called to both work (and/or protest) and rest. It is at rest that our bodies, our souls, are repaired. It is one of the most radical acts of love we can gift ourselves and our communities in order to help shift and prioritize a paradigm of self-care.

As a gym enthusiast, I know that my workouts are only as effective as my rest. My tremors demanded that I find and participate in it. That meant spending less time consuming the news and more time with God undoing and scrubbing from my hippocampus society's message of insignificance. It meant being intentional about renewing my mind daily (Rom 12:2) to counter notions of blackness that would carve up my identity into parts while denying me wholeness. It has meant paying attention to my internal conversations and engaging in the things that restore and remind me of the complexity of my being. It has meant committing to rest though that commitment is constantly under siege.

Emotionally fatigued after writing my last piece, “That Part: The Danger of the Single Story,” it took months before I felt some vague return to a sense of normalcy and the tremors slowly abated to a whisper. “Normal”, however, was and continues to be tenuous. Within a day of writing this piece, the shooting of Jacob Blake dominated the news and before I neared the end of this same piece, Chadwick Boseman died. Interruptions, each. Each, threats of derailments to rest and healing for myself and that of the larger black community. Chadwick’s passing was acute because his portrait of a blackness was an urgency the black community needed and devoured in a pernicious landscape. His death felt like the cruel taking of a “good thing” from a community already gutted by loss and grief.

While I often want the world to stop spinning on its axis long enough for me to catch my breath to heal after yet another wounding, murder or beating of a black body, I know it will not and cannot because healing dwells in walking through, not around, our pain.

I don’t know that I will ever fully understand the purpose of the losses and sufferings of 2020. I know that we were never promised what Jesus himself was not speared, hurt; sorrow. In Jesus’ last moments before his crucifixion, he tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). It is the part of the gospel that we would prefer to omit because it is neither endearing or innocuous. I know that our collective racial trauma is an opportunity for our collective healing if we use it as a portal of transparency and empathy to draw strength from each other to build repositories of joy and hope. 

Works Cited

Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Penguin Publishing Group, 2014.

The Bible. New International Version, Zondervan, 2011.

Mental Health America. “Black and African American Communities and Mental Health”. 2020,

That Part: "The Single Story"

By Angelene Thompson

How we see locates us and influences how we tell our stories. The stories that have been told in this country have been stories of singularity because of who has and is doing the telling. Those stories do not reflect the complexities of people of color. They have been what Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie calls, the “single story." “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

For black and brown people, that single story remains incomplete. It is replete with disparities wherein the black presence is marginalized and served up as dangerous, untrustworthy and fundamentally void of humanity. In the single story, whiteness is superior and good. For every person of color, the disentanglement from this suffocating narrative of monolithism is necessary and ongoing in shifting the paradigm.

To the father and son in Georgia who murdered Ahmaud Arbery and the person who recorded it, Ahmaud was a single story, a thief who jogged out of his designated boundary. To the police officer who denied George Floyd the right to breathe, he was a single story, a menace. To Amy Cooper, Christian Cooper was a single story, a threat against whom she wielded and exploited America’s deeply embedded fear of black men. Her intention was to set in motion what George Zimmerman, George Floyd’s murderer and the justice system have relentlessly executed, the destruction of black lives and bodies because such egregious injustices have been permissible. Amy Cooper leveraged her whiteness with certainty that the system would work in her favor as it so often does. She used her whiteness with impunity to attempt to intimidate Mr. Cooper and remind him of “his place.” That is the insidious evil of the single story. It sanctions the dehumanization of black men and women and continues to inflict trauma.

Rachel Yehuda’s controversial 2015 study of the genes of 32 Jewish women and men who either had been interned in Nazi concentration camps, forced into hiding during World War II or saw or experienced torture, found that the cells of those Holocaust survivors were altered as a result of the trauma they witnessed or experienced. After decades of holding in our bodies and psyches the trauma of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and the countless deaths of black men and women, one can only imagine the ways in which trauma has devastated and transformed the minds, spirits and cells of blacks and African Americans in this country. The vocabulary of the interior life of a traumatized race is fear.

The single story is grotesque and intractable. In it, there is a hollowing out of one’s humanity and a denial of integration and wholeness. In these single stories, people of color must perform their humanity and hustle for their dignity. In them, the Dylan Roofs remain human and are taken to Burger King after killing 9 people in a church. The brutalizing disparities in these single stories threaten to erase and reduce people of color. Their counter must continue to be daily resistance.

The statement, “Let’s begin to have a dialogue,” without an actual show of action, for me, rings of emptiness and elicits frustration. I have heard the gambit and quite frankly am exhausted by the noise. Doing persuades. It is my love language. It is what the black community needs. While I understand that talk is often a ramp to action, too often talk eclipses action and we walk away congratulating ourselves for having had the “hard-talk.” That is not enough. Private shows of empathy behind one’s impregnable privilege, particularly by our white brothers and sisters in Christ, are meaningless, cowardly and further the wounding of those who are hurting. Resistance cannot be a moment. It must be a commitment. It asks that the humanity of black and brown people be the norm and not the exception.

The selective blindness and silence from parts of the church body in the face of overwhelming injustice is tragic. Though Paul tells us in I Corinthians 12 that the church is one body, a unit, and that when one part of the body hurts so does the rest of that body, that has historically not been the case for the black church, for black people. 

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many… As it is, there are many parts, but one body… If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (I Cor. 12: 12-26).

It is clear that God created and promotes diversity. It is not, however, the universal practice of the church body.

In the story of the blind man from Bethsaida whose sight Jesus restores in Mark 8, Jesus asked the blind man, “Do you see anything?” (v.23). That is a question I believe God continues to ask those who watch in detached silence, do you see anything? Where is the righteous outrage and show of support from the white churches that watched as a black man, a human being, was put down like an animal? Equally important is the instruction Jesus offers the blind man when he restores his sight. He sent him home and told him to not return to the village. (Mark 8:26). What is important to note here is that Jesus sent the once-blind man forward, not backward into a community of rooted blindness. That is what he wants for the church, for this country, for us to not return to choosing blindness when we have been given sight. 

The vast majority of white America’s vision, however, is impaired. It is what God has been trying to correct since slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, voting and in our current broken justice system. We have a responsibility to each other, particularly as Christians, to name evil and confront it. Racism is an evil to which we are called to demolish as the body of Christ. For too long that demolishing has been siloed and lonely work.

I want desperately to hope but a degree of cynicism arrests me; afraid to hope lest it again finds itself junk-heaped on a pyre along with the hope I felt when police officers were charged for the savage beating or deaths of: Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. I ache to believe that George Floyd’s death will be different, that it will be the catalyst that shakes the justice system to its core. I wait. I wait for the end of the bearing of strange fruit.

If America and the church are to be repudiations of injustice,  attention must be paid to the frontiers of our thinking. We must respond to the clarion call for change and lead the charge in standing in proxy for the disenfranchised and the voiceless. We must create a legacy of change that lasts. 

While I wait, I must be the church. I must be the advocate I seek in the fight for social justice reform and challenge the deleterious, recycled notions at work in the single stories of black and brown people that render us as other. My vote, my advocacy for the marginalized, the businesses I patronize, are my tools of resistance against the single stories that disempower. 

As I occupy the tension of anger and hope, I recognize the importance of rest. To fight well, we must rest. We must take seriously the mental, psychological and intergenerational trauma inflicted on us and find spaces of rest. We must fight as aggressively for our healing as we do for justice because our rest will help sustain us.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved heartens me in this fight. There is a moment in the text when Baby Suggs gathers the traumatized and fragmented runaway slaves in the "Clearing" to help them experience love, restoration and healing. There, she tells the children to, “let your mothers hear you laugh.” She instructs the grown men to “let your wives and children see you dance.” She encourages the women to, “cry” (Morrison, 103). In the Clearing, Baby Suggs, turns on its head the single narrative of devalue and helps reconstruct for the slaves identities and narratives of worth.

May we each, like those in the Clearing, run, walk or amble our way toward our healing. I pray God’s presence goes before you, beside and behind, in your weeping and rejoicing.

Works Cited:

[Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of the Single Story.” Youtube, uploaded by Tedtalk July 2009,]


Dr. Anita Philips, very helpful in exploring and understanding trauma. 

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