The memes have been floating around the internet since Senator Elizabeth Warren was admonished in the United States Senate for arguing against Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as United States Attorney General. The memes that have been made are of well known women who have persisted. Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Coretta Scott King, and Harriet Tubman are women who made the memes. They are women we know to be a part of our story of justice. And this is good, it is good to know their names and their persistence.
There are so many more women and men who ‘never the less, persisted.’ They are the laborers in the vineyard who show up day after day, trusting in God’s promises of life.
Scriptures are full of stories of those who persist. Our God is a persistent god, who doesn’t give up on creation. We are a people of faith who show up demanding from God and community time and time again.
My favorite tale of persistence is from the 18th chapter of Luke.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
This is my favorite story of persistence for a very selfish reason.
I was once a mental health case manager. I had more than 30 people on my case load. More than 30 people who struggled with severe mental illness. More than 30 people who needed to be seen at least once in the month. And often, at least half of the people on my case load were in crisis. Perhaps a psychiatric crisis that meant hospitalization or a commitment. Perhaps addictions that were reaching a crisis point. Perhaps there were legal issues coming up. Perhaps there was an eviction notice. And, sometimes, all of these things for one person.
It is overwhelming work.
There were days when I couldn’t respond to calls fast enough. I couldn’t manage all the crises because I needed to sit in the ER for 4 hours with a client to ensure they were given the treatment they needed. I couldn’t respond to the “smaller” crises, because the big one took my day. And there would be so many voicemails to respond to. There were many days in which the person who left the most voicemails was the person who received priority. Their persistence moved them to the top of the list.
I am not proud of this. I wish that I could say I had a way of prioritizing the non life threatening crises and that there weren’t people whose needs didn’t get met right away. I wish I could say that. Instead, it was the persistence that demanded my attention.
I have taken comfort in Luke 18. It is Godly for folks to be persistent and God has grace for the person who takes a while to get to the persistent one. Or at least, there is space for me to not respond and then remember that God calls me to respond to the persistence. There is grace in it all.
On the street, week after week, I will be asked similar questions about housing, blankets, hygiene products and food. I will be asked and some days I say “no” and some days I have the joy of saying “yes.”
Persistence is survival.
The person who keeps showing up at the public housing authority is the one whose application gets processed.
The person who keeps telling the ER that something isn’t right despite their dismissals that they are mentally ill, is the person who survives a health crisis.
The person who shows up at the schools demanding their child receive the education services they need is the person whose child is served.
Persistence is biblical.
And it is the unnamed mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, women and men who show up day after day demanding justice that show us what God is up to in this world.
Persistence is demanding that God see and hear what is going on in creation.
We persist. We persist in trusting the promises of resurrection and new life in Christ. We persist in engaging in the joyful work of liberation in God’s world. We persist.
Keep Hope Alive, dear ones.
That is how we persist together.