It’s that time. Time to say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016. Some of us welcome 2016 with open arms; others, have a hard time letting go of all that 2015 held for us. Time to think of who we are and who we want to be. Time to set resolutions and goals for the year ahead. For many of us, these lists can be exhaustive. I want to exercise more, eat better, spend less, travel more, etc. I am a list person; I love lists and, quite frankly, I am good at them. I am pretty skilled in getting things done and accomplishing tasks. To be fair, I am not good at exercising more, eating better, etc… but I am good at doing surface-y things fairly well. I feel good when I “accomplish” things.
A few years ago, a blog I follow asked readers to ring in the new year with one word. Not a long list of resolutions. Not a to-do list of goals. Not an amount of weight to lose or cigarettes to cut out. One word. Initially, when I read the blog, I was not sure if I liked this or not.I feel accomplished when I meet goals. However, when I look back on my new year’s resolutions in the past, I cannot say I actually successfully accomplish them all. In fact, when I don’t, I feel really discouraged. So, for the past few years, I have attempted to be more thoughtful in thinking about what my word would be.
2016 is a big year for me; with a wedding, exciting travel plans, and other changes in sight, it is a year that I can very easily focus on me and me alone. 2016 gives me plenty of opportunities to be entirely selfish. This is not what I want but I can see it being an easy trap to fall into. Connect this with one of the last books I read in 2015: “Just Mercy”. This book is disturbing and powerful, troubling and important. Bryan Stevenson challenges his reader to think about what justice and mercy really mean; he looks at this through the lens of the current (American) criminal justice system and the injustice that it breeds.
I have so many thoughts on this book that I can share at another time, but something that stood out to me was a conversation that he had with an old woman who had experienced significant injustice throughout her life:
“’All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don’t care. I don’t know, it’s a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here [at the court] to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.’
I chuckled when she said it. During the McMillian hearings, a local minister had held a regional church meeting about the case and had asked me to come speak. There were a few people in the African American community whose support of Walter was muted, not because they thought he was guilty but because he had had an extramarital affair and wasn’t active in the church. At the church meeting, I spoke mostly about Walter’s case, but I also reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, he told the accusers who wanted to stone her to death, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The woman’s accusers retreated, and Jesus forgave her and urged her to sin no more. But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can’t simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stonecatchers.
When I chuckled at the older woman’s invocation of the parable, she laughed, too. ‘I heard you in that courtroom today. I’ve even seen you hear a couple of times before. I know you’s a stonecatcher, too.”’
This conversation moved me to wonder: am I a stonecatcher? how can I be a stonecatcher? Am I throwing stones or catching stones? It’s been a few days since I finished this book and this idea of being a stonecatcher has been on my mind.
So, that’s my word for 2016: stonecatcher. Feel free to ask me about it and hold me accountable. I’ll need all the help I can get. To the year 2016, may we be stonecatchers. May we fight for justice, mercy, and compassion.