In an honest attempt to be helpful during a recent class discussion on Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I told my students that it was okay if they sometimes felt overwhelmed by conversations surrounding racial justice and needed to step back for a moment and take a break. I told them that I, too, often find myself exhausted by the challenge of these conversations.
An earnest student challenged me in this moment. “But Ms. Conway,” she said, “when you look like me, you don’t have that choice. It follows you everywhere.”
When I read today’s Gospel, I am struck by how uncomfortable the chief priests and the Pharisees become when they find themselves face to face with the powerful presence of Jesus. They find a lived faith that doesn’t match their own and are threatened by a reality they do not understand.
I, too, sometimes find myself uncomfortable with the way Jesus shows up in my classroom. I don’t always like how he calls me to live my faith. I’m tempted, like many people I imagine, to become complacent in my work. My reality is this: I love my students. I support them on their path to college. I talk to them about Theology. That’s all God asks of me, right?
Maybe not. The reality of our world is that I am a white teacher who teaches a primarily black student body. I am part of a system that systematically oppresses my students and their families. I can’t step back from this. I can’t take a break. My faith does not allow me to remove myself from conversations about racial justice.
This reality, like the one the Pharisees face, is uncomfortable. But like the Pharisees, I am also challenged by grace-filled encounters with Jesus’ miraculous work, my students, every day. I am challenged to break forth from my complacency and enter into courageous and uncomfortable conversations. I am challenged to truly put love into action.
- What do we do when our faith doesn’t look like we think it should?
- What do we do when God doesn’t look like we think she should?
Erin Conway teaches senior Theology at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. Prior to her time at Saint Martin, Erin worked at Xavier College Prep High School in Palm Desert, CA and Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, MD. She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and earned an M.A.T. from Loyola University in Maryland in 2012. Her dream is for all of her students to recognize God at work in their lives and to embrace the very real ways they can work for justice in their own communities.