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Sojourn, America: An Introduction

James Warren September 04, 2022
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“Are we just waiting for everyone on the other side to die, so we can declare victory?” 

This might be the question we ask ourselves as we observe our behavior and the behavior of others in the midst of ideological conflict, social change, political disagreement, and more fluid racial and cultural identities and  lived experiences. Just wait for everyone on the other side to die or better still, have a hand in the machine, whether subtle or blatant in the destruction of people, communities, and ideas. Then we, or at least some of us – some of them – can declare victory. 

But I think there’s a better way, one that involves seeing our differences, differently. One that focuses on finding and experiencing true unity in the midst of fear, chaos and new ideas. Unity, I suggest, isn’t about finding agreement within a group of like minded individuals, nor ignoring the root causes of our conflicts. The unity I am speaking of must travel  across the chasm of difference, for it to truly make a difference. 

My dream is to inspire unity, through the connections of UNiqueness, commonalITY and commUNITY. I feel I’ve been writing through this lens for a very long time, even when I didn’t know it. Over the past several years, I’ve become a little braver in speaking out this way, leading this way, and writing this way. And as I’ve done a lot of inner work over the past few years, and especially over the past few months, I’ve gotten clarity on where my writing needs to go from here. 

Sojourn, America is the name I’ve given to what I hope will be an honest, hopeful, challenging and revealing collection of personal essays and stories – that inspire us to envision and pursue a new reality based on the spirit and the work of unity. To reject the notion that we are inherently and hopelessly divided and that the only way forward is through conquering. I intend for it to be a way to reimagine what is possible in our families, communities, society and country, if we first identify and focus on what we have in common and what already unites us, and then use those commonalities and similarities to bridge our real and perceived gaps and understand and embrace our unique and common identities. 

Personally, this is about embracing my role as a unifier, and sharing what the often frustrating pursuit of unity has revealed about our society, our community, my family and myself. I know I have been called to connect and bridge people to a place that occupies a “large middle ground” – a common ground of sorts. I don’t necessarily mean politically or even ideologically, though it’s hard these days to get past those frames. Still, I believe this sojourn in the middle, in the place of common ground is absolutely necessary, and accomplished through hope and revelation. The focus is squarely set from a values and needs perspective — getting at what lies beneath the surface of who we are as Americans (and perhaps, as global citizens) and exploring what it takes for us to find that common ground, together. 

I have a story consisting of many dualities (and a lot of you do, too). My journey is one of living in predominantly Black communities and, at different times, predominantly White communities and everything in between. Of attending Black churches and at times, White churches. Born and raised in a Black family with an upbringing rooted in Black faith and spirituality (the Black Church) and now living inside of an interracial and interfaith family. My  place-based Black Family History in the Black South has evolved into a timelessness of Black Progressiveness of sorts, especially of the cultural and creative kind, that expands our definitions and manifestations of Blackness. Of both a strong upper middle-class upbringing and lifestyle, and periods of complete and utter poverty, homelessness and loss. Making decisions that reflect empathy, love and support for those around me, and struggling with my own self-centeredness. Mine is a story (and a lifetime) of pain, love, forgiveness, exploration, fear, awakening, acceptance, restoration, more forgiveness, revelation, love, self-exploration, expression, a glimpse of future, a look back at past, surrender, saying yes!, hope, community, even more forgiveness!, and healing.

I believe these experiences have shaped me into someone who is comfortable with – perhaps even at home in – the blended spaces, and instilled in me a vision, a belief, a passion for connection and community. I love looking beneath the surface. This unique perspective allows me to serve as both the narrator of my own stories and revealer of our larger, shared stories. I have seen us at our best when we have love for one another, and I have seen us at our worst when we don’t. 

Because I know I am both unique and have much in common with many others, I believe some of you will be able to relate to these stories, even the ones that surprise you. My sincere hope is that in identifying with my story, you might also begin to believe in the vision this story inspires within me: a vision of peace, with no more fear, a shared future instead of a divided one, and a celebration of what is right about us, not what is wrong about us.

I’ve been asked, “Who are you writing this for?” I think I’m writing it for all of us, but I guess more specifically I’m writing it to give a voice to everyone who believes there must be a better way for us to live together, in spite of and because of our politics, no matter what our continual use of social media and the 24-hour news cycle would have us believe. I’m writing to give voice to people who long to feel connected to something bigger than themselves, who want to see their community and their country in a bigger, more inclusive way. Who want to celebrate their unique identity in the context of community and who strive to appreciate the unique identity of others, even and especially when this is difficult. Ultimately, I hope to speak to and for people who care more about unity than division. I believe this book is for the “Middle 80%” who don’t believe in the narratives of extremism and absolutism but haven’t found something that can speak to what they know to be true deep down inside: that we are connected and we can choose to live more connected lives together where our difference and our sameness can coexist and co-create a better future. 

Because I am not one-dimensional and neither are you, I’m writing a number of pieces that I believe work better as parts of this broader collection. I expect it to provide some catharsis for everything we have been through as a people, and also provide an exhortation for people to come together through a sustained process of listening and sharing to find understanding, healing, and unity in ourselves, our families, our communities, and our society. We have this capacity within us, because this is how we all came into this world, in need of the support from others to survive and thrive. I desire to arrive at a vision for the future together, based not on what is wrong with us or separates us, but based on what is right about us and what unites us.

Some of what I’ve written about recently – mental health and my sister’s death from suicide, accepting that we can be both brilliant and broken at the same time, and gratitude – reflect this energy that I’ve been resonating with lately, a desire to find deeper meaning that can connect and heal. And, looking back at my writings over the years, after major social events, political developments and national crises, I can see the seeds of what I was trying to say, even when I was writing from a place of collective frustration. But as I embrace this role and invite you to press pause on division, to stay in this place with me for a little while, I know it means talking about stuff we don’t always like to talk about. I’ll do that here, sharing my personal experiences and perspectives on a range of topics that life has brought my way. 

Here’s a little of what I’m thinking and writing about:

  • I would rather we just all got along (my early memory of bringing people together) 
  • I’m Good on Paper (my parent’s legacy)
  • A Mother’s Love
  • Fatherhood Part 1 (what I learned not to do)
  • Michael said it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White. Let me think about that for a minute.
  • Block Busters: living where one is not wanted
  • Are we worshiping the same God? Then where are all the Black people?
  • Homelessness: living where no one wants you
  • Dreams of Heaven
  • And a little child shall lead them (Me, a child preacher?)
  • January 1986: Challenger
  • Summer in Germany
  • Winter in Moscow (surprising connections)
  • Registration Hold (My experience navigating college affordability)
  • Academic (in)Excellence
  • September 11
  • NYC, you almost broke me (near self-destruction, Act I)
  • Jump the broom and break the glass: Let’s get married!
  • You almost broke yourself (near self-destruction, Act 2)
  • Obama
  • Mom is gone (the last time you’ll see me in a pulpit)
  • Fatherhood Part 2 (trying and failing as a father myself)
  • I have a different dream
  • Trump
  • So I am a writer
  • Summer 2020: George Floyd, Covid-19 and buying a house
  • Fatherhood Part 3 (redemption as a dad of young men and little ones)
  • January 6
  • Is it over yet? (to mask or not to mask, that is the question)
  • Are we there yet? (the present imperfect)
  • I am here (discovering gratitude and contentment as a way to live)
  • Roe v. Wade (and why our conversations about abortion don’t reflect most people’s views)
  • Catching Covid (how are we living this way?)
  • Maya’s Legacy (preventing the next suicide)

I am writing here on Share More Stories’ StoryTeller platform, because it’s designed for sharing stories, experiences and the perspective they inform. That said, I’m writing and speaking for myself, not the companies I work for nor the organizations I work with. I am showing up as myself and I invite you to do the same! Share your stories and experiences related to unity, community, and connection with me here, especially across real or perceived divisions or differences. And then be bold! Share those stories out there in person with each other, and let’s rediscover our capacity to connect at a deeper level; to find unity. I realize there are other organizations and individuals doing similar work and I hope to connect with them, and amplify their work as this project unfolds.

To sojourn is to stay in a place for a while, and there is an even more inspiring explanation of this term, found in Oxford Bibliographies:

“This Hebrew term and its translation convey the basic idea that a person (or group) is residing, either temporarily or permanently, in a community and place that is not primarily their own and is dependent on the “good-will” of that community for their continued existence.”

That is what I hope we can do as a society. Find a better place that is neither mine nor yours, dependent on the goodwill of this newly defined community, and stay there for a while, together.

Let’s Sojourn, America. 

 

Photo credit: iStock.com/adamkaz

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