The STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resiliency) model offers one way for individuals and communities to come back even stronger despite experiences of trauma.

This past week, I was privileged to work with group of colleagues and social change companions charged with selecting the next year’s UUA Common Read. In addition to engaging in rich conversation with other readers, I just loved being able to read several books at one time. Reaching consensus on a final selection was hard for us given so many excellent and relevant nominated books.

One of the over-lapping themes among several candidates was the effort of individuals, families and whole communities striving to recover from trauma. Learning ways to actively intervene in de-humanizing systems and breaking the cycles of violence sometimes takes a generation or more and is critical to redeeming our shared humanity.

Breaking_Cycles_of_Violence-Snail_ModelCongregations, in cooperation with other community-based groups in our towns and cities, have an obvious role to play in this process. We live in a world profoundly broken by violence. Strategies for healing the consequences of lovelessness and injustice in our own souls and the souls of our brothers and sisters is a deep yearning among many today. I know I am not the only one willing and ready to risk experimenting with new ways of being of service to one another in our local – and increasingly global – human community.  Just Mercy book coverWe are repeatedly invited to work to build resilience in our families, congregations, and communities for the benefit of all creation.

What is the healing purpose of communities of faith in a world profoundly broken by violence? The stakes are high given the immediate and long-term aftermath of individual and societal violence. When gripped by our own and others’ pain and suffering, how do we guard against confusing justice with revenge?

While reading Gather At the Table – another book nominated by members of our UU community – I came across these words from Psalm 85: “Where mercy and truth have met together and justice and peace have kissed.” I was reminded of the words of Ware lecturer Cornel West who said the two insidiously internalized oppressions of white supremacy and male supremacy are alive in most of us today regardless of social identity.

There is no “us” and “them.” We’re all in this together. De-colonizing hearts and minds will take a lifetime and longer. And most surely it will require a community of support. Together, we practice breaking the cycles of violence and become increasingly resilient. Gradually, we grow stronger and start to live into the place where justice and mercy have kissed. This was most recently modeled by the people of Charleston, SC and members of the Emmanuel AME congregation. Their actions inspired the larger community to gather outside in the streets that Sunday, to sing the hymn Amazing Grace to the congregation as its members exited the church.

The book we selected for the UUA Common Read, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, encourages me to continue trusting what many are feeling and sensing: something radical and  transformative is trying to be born into the world today.  Maybe our role as people of faith is to serve as midwives, to work together in our congregations and communities to break the cycles of violence and build resiliency.

Reading this book will definitely provoke reflection and discernment on the role religious communities might play in systemic social change and healing justice. So consider yourself warned. It is not only a compelling read, it is subversive. Look for it now. A discussion guide with ideas for sustained engagement is forthcoming and available on the UUA website in October.