By Liza Neal
My spouse was one of the clergy standing in a line before the white nationalists in Charlottesville. We both knew God is calling us to stand up to white supremacy. We understood the risk. Only one of us was going because we didn’t want our child to lose both parents.
That weekend I thought a lot about Peter’s wife. She is barely mentioned. In the synoptic gospels Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever, Jesus heals her, and she offers hospitality. You can’t have a mother-in-law without a wife…
Was Peter’s wife irritated to extend hospitality? They weren’t wealthy. She had a household to take care of. Now there were 13 men, and who knows how many others in and out.
In I Corinthians Paul says, “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter]? “
Was she angry Peter left his career? Was she afraid? One leader was beheaded and the next crucified. She could have divorced Peter. But she chose to stay, his partner in life and mission.
On Friday, “roll to the right because you have two kidneys but only one liver” gave me pause. My heart dropped when my partner made a video, in case she died. At worship she kept singing as white nationalists surrounded the church with torches and chants of “blood and soil.”
Saturday morning she texted links. I watched Cornell West preach. “Be a hope. Be a movement. Keep love at the center.”
I told our child, “Mommy has gone to stand up for justice. It’s dangerous so I’m going to have to be on the phone all day.” I felt her anxiety rise. “Mommy is with others. They are trying to make the world a better place for you.” “For who else?” she asked. “For all children,” I said. “Mommy, mommy, mommy,” she sang.
Should I be shielding her? But if my partner dies, I want her to understand why.
My partner texted – “pray for us. We are walking to the park. We are going to hold the line.”
Then the horrible waiting… Then more texts….10 -20 minutes apart..
“They are scary…They are spitting, throwing things…they have semiautomatics…we are praying, singing, chanting, love has already won…I have to go….”
Where are you…
“we are trying to figure out what to do….
“being here matters…people are thanking us, crying….we stood in a line and the Nazis turned away…the police are just standing by watching people beat each other…they are not protecting us….they are not intervening…”
I have always thought that you will never know if you will be able to sacrifice for what is right until you are placed in the situation. Knowing we are willing is not as comforting as I thought it would be.
Where are you…
“I am here (link to map)…a car just hit someone….there’s one other clergy with me behind the police line….there is so much blood…she won’t go to the hospital because she has no insurance…don’t worry…
I kept crying in frustration, sorrow, anger.
Then we started singing Happy Birthday in Spanish. Wait. My body at least was at a child’s birthday where people of different races, languages, sexual orientations, and gender identities were celebrating. Now I was crying because this was exactly what the white nationalists were trying to destroy, exactly what God is calling us to build.
It was hard for me to stay behind. I felt called to stand up, I didn’t know whether she would live, all my life I had striven to not live a traditional woman’s role. Yet here I was waiting by the phone, afraid for the life of my partner, unable to do anything.
There is an ancient tradition about Peter’s wife. The story goes that before Peter was executed, his wife went to die first. “Remember the Lord,” he said to her.
In my version he says I love you first, and then remember the Lord.
Before the Boston gathering we prayed “the beating of our clergy and death of our young will not stop us.” We didn’t know there would be 30,000 people. Would it have been different if there had been 30,000 at Charlottesville?
Neo-Nazis march in the streets, some claim the president as their leader, Jesus as their God. This weekend they will be coming to Tennessee. If there was ever a time to stand up, it is now.
God is calling us. What will be our answer?
Liza Neal is the Director of Spiritual Life at Hampshire College where she labors to explode the boundaries of how we understand ourselves and the world we live in. She studied religion, writing, and dance at Hampshire College followed by mysticism and liberation theologies at Yale Divinity School. She is an ordained UCC minister, writer, partner, and mother.