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Letter 46 | American Values Religious Voices

Letter 46

DAY 46

Serene Jones

President
Union Theological Seminary
March 6, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

You have been elected to lead us during one of the most traumatic times in our history. Right now, we are a quaking, fearful country. Violence and death have drawn so near that their horror has made their home in our bones.

In my own Christian tradition, the “Road to Emmaus” story comes to mind (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus’ disciples have just gone through a devastating crisis. Their beloved leader is gone, they are riddled with fear and anxiety, and they are compulsively recounting “all that has happened” to them. Our whole nation is trapped in that same panicked chatter about “all that has happened.”

A stranger starts walking beside Jesus’ disciples, listening to trauma spilling out of them. They aren’t sure what to make of the stranger, but he doesn’t leave. He just keeps walking. When night falls, they invite him to their campfire dinner.

“We need your calming, feeding, healing actions at this moment in time…”

Something unexpected happens. The stranger takes their fire-cooked food and serves them. They suddenly recognize—through the work of his hands, his actions—that the stranger is Jesus. Their trauma is calmed and their overwhelming fear and distrust starts to ebb. Maybe they laugh for the first time in a long time.

What I love about this story is that during the meal, they keep forgetting who he is. The trauma inside them keeps popping back up, and they need reminding, calming and feeding, over and over again.

I lift up this story because it reminds us that people who are afraid and suffering can easily lose track of reality. Trauma does that. It also tells us that the way to calm harmed souls is not through words alone but through actions: feeding hungry bodies, mending harms, holding fear rather than being afraid of it.

We need your calming, feeding, healing actions at this moment in time more than we need anything else. Love us, Mr. President, Madame Vice President, and Members of Congress. Try to love us all, as we stumble along our many Emmaus Roads. And don’t give up when we forget. Feed us, the people.

Peace,

Serene Jones

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
President
Union Theological Seminary

the author

Serene Jones is the sixteenth President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and the Johnston Family Chair for Religion and Democracy. Rev. Dr. Jones came to Union from Yale University, where she was the Titus Street Professor of Theology at the Divinity School and Chair of the University’s Program in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is a Past President of the American Academy of Religion and the author of several books including Trauma and Grace and her memoir, Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World. Pres. Jones has a deep grounding in theology, politics, women’s studies, economics, race studies, history, and ethics.