One of our alumnae, Lisa Etter-Carlson (MATC ‘11), is the co-founder of Aurora Commons, a “neighborhood living room” (day shelter) in Seattle. Here, she calls us to see how the COVID-19 pandemic exposes systemic racism, poverty, and the criminalization of poverty—particularly among the unhoused.
As this Pandemic has spread, it has exposed and exploited the wounds and fissures of our society, revealing what has been here all along but many of us have refused to see. The true virus plaguing our country is one of systemic racism, systemic poverty, criminalization of poverty, and our refusal to address these things.*
Before Aurora Commons* was even dreamt up, we were on Aurora Avenue here in Seattle, Washington. We were learning, listening, and lamenting. The more time spent, the more moments shared with our unhoused neighbors, the more love was propagated and proliferated and with each new year, this web of connection has grown and so with it has the habitual, exasperated grieving of unnecessary death.
Let me write it one more time…
Watching precious human beings, with a name and a heartbeat, wither away before our eyes slowly or suddenly, is something we have had to learn to bear witness to at Aurora Commons. We unabashedly mourn the precious lives lost, the lives our society has named as “other” or “expendable”; the casualties of the exploitative capitalism and consumerism that we have inherited, that has co-opted our churches, our theologies, our priorities and every other aspect of our life.
It is because there are gaping, bleeding wounds in our policies, structures, and hearts that precious human beings die unnecessary deaths every moment of every day.
For us to bear witness to another death due to…
Lack of identification
Access to adequate care
Lack of Housing
Mental health issues
The cost of medication
The “war on drugs”
You simply cannot understand what is going on in these streets across our nation today until you recognize the compounding weight of unnecessary death and how it impacts precious people.
The hard truth is that every single one of us has accepted the unnecessary deaths of our Black and Brown neighbors for far too long. Despite our good “Christian” intentions, we allow death policies and politicians, law enforcement, our own ideologies, fears, and the privileged powers to be the hands of our moral compass, and this cannot go on any longer.
This current movement was infused and animated by folks who have not had the privilege to ignore unnecessary death. They stand on the shoulders of a long line of ancestors. From the homes with a lack of clean water in Detroit, Michigan to “Steve” from the Commons who cannot afford his diabetic test strips. From Treasure who was murdered two weeks ago to “D” who was a social worker but is now stuck in the cycle of untreated mental illness and living on the streets. There is a holy lament and call for change. A prophet of our time, Rev. Dr. William Barber, says to mourn in public is to shock this nation’s conscience. The system is failing our people and millions more every day so the venerable shaking of the fist and rumble of feet pounding these streets, yes, is the right thing to do.
But it must be more than that. We, all of us, must acknowledge our proclivity towards the public discourse of our minds and not the profound revolution of our hearts. For how can you get the power structures of our nation to say “yes” when only your mind is connected and not your heart.
We need to be committed to decolonizing our minds and hearts; allowing the experts (the precious people within our midst, who have lived experience) to lead us, guide us, dismantle us. We must be committed to living into an economy of interdependence. And as we continue on in this commitment, we MUST allow this love to be what takes us to streets and we must take to the streets because our highest calling is to love the thousands upon thousands of precious human beings who have and will die unnecessary deaths. And we must not be silent anymore!
Dearest people, followers of Jesus, you must keep on.
Please keep on…
And may we keep on until there is no more bread line.