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IFYC Alumni Led ILI Panel with Inspiration & Heart

Headshots of the IFYC Alumni speakers, Dr. J.T. Snipes - A Black man wearing a white cardigan and colorful bowtie, Olivia Elder - a Black woman with curly shoulder length hair, and Kaytlin Butler - a white woman with curly long hair, wearing a black top.

Thank you” and “Amen” and “That’s the truth! These words of gratitude poured out as Olivia Elder, Criminal Justice Reform Associate at FWD.usKaytlin Butler, Chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and Dr. J.T. Snipes, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville concluded their stirring conversation about interfaith leadership at the end of IFYC’s most recent Interfaith Leadership Institute.  

Check out the conversation for yourself.  

Kaytlin Butler: “When we’re in these crucibles of change, those questions get really hard and what I really like is sitting with people”  “It’s amazing how this moment has forced us all to be so honest, to be so honest with each other and with our communities. And to be really clear about what’s real and what’s not real and who we are and who we aren’t. I think that that’s having an incredible impact on my conversation with patients, it’s having an incredible impact on how I move around in the world and the ways I do ministry.” 

Olivia Elder: There's a lot of interfaith connections, and the ways that I talk about it most are justice, redemption, and family. Those are three themes that show up in any faith around the world. And if you believe in justice, how can you have a system that perpetuates so much injustice. If you believe in redemption, our system is just punitive it's not redemptive. If you believe in family if you believe in community and connection, why would you take people away from their family years, decades at a time?”

J.T. Snipes: “To stop. To rest. And recognize that I am not a machine.  And that my value doesn't come through how productive I am.  That there's something good about me especially when I rest.  So identifying as a Christian, there's this notion of Sabbath rest.  And that if I'm understanding this narrative, God didn't need to rest.  Right?  But I think there's some symbolic power in my own theology of seeing God as the Creator of this universe telling us to rest.  And that there is actual power in rest. 

Watch the full conversation here. 

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Or read the full transcript: 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  We are in the midst of what I call twin pandemics, COVID-19 and COVID 16-19 as Reverend Otis Moss III calls it, is present with us. And I want to kick this panel off with a humanizing moment just to see how you two are doing and where your minds are and where your hearts are at this moment. Kaytlin, can you share with us where you are?   

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Sure, absolutely. Hi, thank you all so much for having me, it's such a privilege. I think right now, and you know J.T. and Olivia and I have spoken about this a little bit, but I think right now I and I think a lot of my colleagues actually, are in this position of recovering from the spring and all we have been through here in New York City and also bracing for the future. So, everyone, we're really trying to soak in the sun of the summer and also kind of holding our breath at the same time and sitting with this fear of the unknown.   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Yeah, Olivia, how are you doing at this moment?   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Yeah, I was not on the front lines but I think that resonates with me a lot, that feeling of recovering from everything that happened and seeing the resurgence of Black Lives Matter was really, really inspiring and really uplifting, but it was also really difficult.   

I think bringing a lot of really hard things to light and having people realize for the first time things that I already knew and my family already knew.  So it was hard.  But I do feel like I'm in a place where just seeing the people around me, seeing everything that they have done, and how people have really engaged it has really filled me up.  And my cup is not full by any means, but it's getting there. And you know, I feel more energized to continue to do the work.   

 >> J.T. SNIPES:  Thanks for sharing. What I want to do for our time together, is quick -- or as -- as best as we can, I want to talk about your roles particularly. Kaytlin you serve as a chaplain. And what I would love for you to do is tell us a little bit about yourself in your journey to the chaplaincy at Mount Sinai. 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Sure. My name is Kaytlin Butler, I'm recently ordained, a Presbyterian pastor. I’m a chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital and worked here for three years.  I typically work with the cancer teams here and of course, everybody's roles have changed quite a bit in the last -- over the course of 2020. I did not come to chaplaincy intentionally it was very much an accident. I was finishing seminary and folks will know that experience of getting towards the end of Graduate School and not really knowing what comes next, and I decided to stay in New York City and to take a post in a clinical chaplaincy training program at Mount Sinai Hospital where I was really intended to be a bridge between where I was, and where I was going. And I ended up finding a career that I just absolutely adored and was fortunate enough to be hired here.  And the things that I just -- the things that mean so much to me, are the opportunity as a chaplain to cultivate and create good goodbyes for my patients and their families. And that's the piece that everybody associates with chaplains. The component of my work is death and dying. There's a different component of my work that is accompaniment. And being with people in the midst of a crisis and in the midst of extraordinary change. And I think what is so -- what draws me so much to that work is the way in which -- it's a no-bullshit kind of environment. Right? Like, when we're asking about our relationship -- when we're talking about faith, when we're talking about God, when we're in these crucibles of change, those questions get really hard.  And what I really like is sitting with people as they figure out what those answers are to those questions for themselves.  

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Yeah, I think one of the most powerful experiences that I've had, and this was actually when I was at -- when I was working here at IFYC, I lost my father. And in one of the most powerful experiences was to be able to have a not only family, because I'm from Texas, I got my Texas mask here, but to have co-workers surround me and hold me in that moment is really powerful. So I'm very appreciative of how you are describing the work of the chaplaincy.   

I'm wondering, in this moment of a pandemic and correct me if I'm wrong, you're in New York, right, at the epicenter of when the pandemic began, I'm wondering how your work looks differently now during this crisis. 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER: So there are a lot of ways that I've talked about historically that our work has changed. And so far, as these ways of connecting with people that are tactile or no longer possible. Right? So, we're in these awful moments. People are sick. Many are dying. During the course of the surge, you can't hold a hand, you can't pray. People can't be there. And it's really tragic. And I think that's really important and those nightmares are real, and I don't think we need to ignore them. And in this moment of recovery, I think what is most salient for me, is how raw everyone is.  And how the ways in which this year and this experience of the pandemic has resulted in people taking a really long look at their own lives and their own values. And so, my answer to your question, how has your work changed, is I'm having to walk my talk a little bit harder. Do you know? And it's one thing to sit with people and try to discern what are your values? What's important for you in this moment? I've had to look at that for myself. I tell my patients that I deal with storytelling and we're the stories we tell about ourselves about God and the world and I've had to look at the stories that I've been telling about myself and figure out stories I was willing to -- that felt honest to me. So since then, I've come out as a gay woman. And you know, it just -- it's amazing how this moment has forced us all to be so honest and to be so honest with each other and just be so honest with our communities.   

And to be really clear about what's real and what's not real, and who we are and who we aren't.  And I think that's having an incredible impact on my conversation with patients.  It's having an incredible impact on the way that I move around in the world and the ways that I do ministry.   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Oooh, that's so powerful.  I -- yeah.  I really love the sort of -- the retrospective piece that these questions of death have a way of putting things in focus for us.  Like what is important.  And I'm just in awe of the work that you're doing and the stories that you're sharing at this moment.   

You've already spoken to this a little bit, but I'm wondering if you could dig a little bit deeper and share how this change either personally and professionally -- I know you shared recently that you were ordained as a reverend. So there are lots of things happening in your life that are shifting the way in which you see the world. But I'm wondering if you can speak professionally in your chaplaincy and how has this change caused you to think about your work differently? 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  I think it's really cemented the way I think about my work. So, when I went to seminary I was trying to figure out how did I contextualize the sacredness that I saw. And the holy experiences that I had with people and friends of other faith traditions, how did I understand that in the language of my own tradition in a way that was intelligible inside of people of my own tradition. It's one thing to say well my best friend is Muslim. Okay, well my best friend is Muslim and what does that mean for what I think about God? What does that mean for what I believe and how I practice and what my actual theology is? So that's the thing I went to seminary with and also the answer to that question is what I bring to my chaplaincy and using the language of my own tradition is what chaplaincy is at its heart which is a sacramental endeavor. In my tradition, we use the tradition of the sacrament to talk about these ineffable ways we experience God in places we can only experience right there.   

And to me, when I get to meet somebody who has a very different experience of God than I do, who has had a different life than I have had, who is having an acutely different experience than the one I'm having, I think that I learn something about the divine in that encounter that I couldn't learn anywhere else except for in that moment.  And to be able to meet somebody where they are at. To see them. To bear witness.  Spiritually to who they are, to me that's my work -- that's the core of my work, as a chaplain and as a pastor.   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  So we've had a group of people here that have spent the day grappling with what does interfaith work mean in this moment.  And I'm wondering specifically for your area of work, what do you believe the role is of interfaith work in this pandemic? Specifically through the lens of healthcare workers. 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER: I think that healthcare workers in this pandemic are a model of interfaith work. I think that they are the gold standard, frankly. Among the most beautiful things I've ever seen are medical residents who have never -- are spiritual but not religious or atheist or maybe God-talk doesn't work for them or maybe they are ambivalent of what they think about God and they are fumbling over Arabic words trying to figure out how do you pray for somebody or they are calling me or my colleagues and saying this person's family isn't here, but can you say a blessing for them because I don't know what God is but I know that their life is sacred. And holding phones to make sure that they get to say goodbye to their loved ones. And doing everything that they possibly can to make sure that that person's life has been honored. To me, that's the most -- it's the most prolific part of interfaith work I've ever seen. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  That's beautiful.   

I do want to bring in our other fabulous panelist, Olivia, and give you a second to tell us a little bit more about yourself and particularly how you got connected to criminal justice reform work at FWD.us. 

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Yeah, so my name is Olivia Elder, I was raised mostly in New Orleans and Houston, Texas. We moved around a lot. I see the Texas bond is strong. But I spent most of my childhood in New Orleans and Houston, Texas. And, I think I came to interfaith work before I came to criminal justice reform work. And that was a very personal and difficult journey, because I just wanted to understand myself and my family. And I think for a long time as a person -- as a Black person from the American South, I felt like I didn't know myself and I didn't know my roots. There was no way to learn about that through school. They were not teaching us my history. And I felt like it was hard to connect with myself. And understand where my elders were coming from.   

So, I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand our family, the way we talked about each other, the way that we loved each other. And to me, one major way to understand that was to understand our faith. And I feel like there is a very strong connection, especially between Black Americans and faith. And so as I endeavored to understand my faith I think I learned a lot about myself.  

And so when I was in college I thought I was going to do immigration reform work, which was super, super relevant living in South Texas. And there were lots of connections between faith, migration, immigration reform, things going on. And I ended up interning at Texas Civil Rights Project. And that summer I was interning with them, there was a really big crisis at the border. People were being buried in trash bags, migrants coming over the border being buried in mass graves, no notices, no death certificates were buried in trash bags. I think at that moment it hit me the connection between the work and my faith, were how can you believe in human dignity, the dignity of every human life if you're going to treat people this way?   

(Background talking.) 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Just a reminder if you're not speaking can you be sure to mute your mic.  Thanks.  Sorry, Olivia,  

>> OLIVIA ELDER: No worries. So yeah, that hit me really hard.  And it reminded me of something that my parents told me in New Orleans during the hurricane.  We were in New Orleans as transplants as were a lot of people. I asked them, why is it so bad for people who look like us? Why is that? Why is it our neighbors are hurting? People who look like me are hurting. My mom explained to me, this was an act of God  but there are people who aren't looking out for you. And there are people who don't value you, don't love you, and that's why more people like you died. It reminded me of that moment of really understanding human dignity. The dignity of human life. In that I came to FWD.us my organization as an intern in the immigration team, there was no criminal legal reform team at the time. And that's what I wanted to do. That's where I wanted to work. When I graduated there was not a job on that team. It wasn't available.   

So obviously knowing where I wanted to work and being a senior in college, I applied to anything that was open. And one job was open on the criminal legal reform team. But as I started working and thinking about this issue in my own life, I started to feel comfortable talking about the ways the criminal legal system had affected me and my family. And that was something I never, ever talked about. There was so much shame. And so much stigma. Coming with, you know, having a family member or close loved one being incarcerated. It felt like something you could not talk about.  This is a family business. This is embarrassing. People are going to judge you.  And I think as I worked with people who were where I was five years ago and who needed what I needed to connect with their families, I became a lot more comfortable talking about my own family and my own experience and that shame and that stigma that had come with that so, yeah I've had family members that are incarcerated and I think fighting for other families like mine has really fueled me and has really pushed me to do more in this work.  And I want to be honest it wasn't something we talked about in our family at all.  And I want to get rid of the stigma for other families and really support them as well, while also fighting for them. So that's kind of the round-about way that I came to not only interfaith work but criminal legal reform work. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  That's beautiful. And as you're speaking, I can't help but think about the ways in which the criminal justice system has had an impact on my whole family. Right? Where I think Michelle Alexander's work made clear that so many Black folks are caught in this criminal justice Caste system. I've heard statistics of 1 in 3 Black folks are somewhere in the criminal justice system whether being detained or actually imprisoned or on probation. So, it's just such a wide net that this system spreads. And you know, as you're speaking, I'm thinking about my own experience. We don't talk about -- often talk about family members that are incarcerated. They just become these ghosts that haunt the spaces in which we live. And if someone hasn't told you this already, I know I'm grateful for the work that you're doing. And the beautiful blending of criminal justice work with interfaith sensibilities.   

So as a layperson, talk to me a little bit about what your work looks like day to day in criminal justice reform. 

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  So I work on our partnerships and engagement team. I work with mostly our grassroots and community-based partners. I also manage our portfolio of families-focused work, so what we lovingly call our Families Project, but a way in which we support families and uplifting families. That is what I do. It's just really cool to feel like I'm supporting direct service organizations on the ground while also advocating for policy solutions that can support them. But that's mostly what I do day-to-day. Meeting with groups, supporting them, seeing in what ways I can fill their needs, while also doing some policy analysis. But it's just been amazing to learn more about them, but also like I mentioned earlier, learn a lot about myself. And then to plug FWD a little bit more we released a report two years ago about the family impact of incarceration we found that one in two Americans have had a family member incarcerated. And that seems so huge, it seems so incredible, but I look at myself, my family, my parents, and it makes a lot of sense. So, it feels really cool to be supporting other families that are the one in two, as well. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  That's powerful. And hopefully, we can get that story out to folks.  Because I would love to read the report. I haven't read it myself. I'm wondering, too, if you could talk a little bit about how interfaith work intersects in your mind with criminal justice reform. What do you see as the areas of overlap and are there areas of separation that are worth calling out?   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Yeah, I think that there are areas of maybe hypocrisy a lot. And like I mentioned earlier, it's hard to look at people who don't believe in the dignity of every single human life, but who claim religion all the time. And that is something that really drives me, is the call to respect human life, and to reduce harm wherever I can.  And so that is more -- that's what fuels me and I do see that disconnect a lot. But I do think there's a lot of interfaith connections, and the ways that I talk about it most are justice, redemption, and family. Those are three themes that show up in any faith around the world. And if you believe in justice, how can you have a system that perpetuates so much injustice. If you believe in redemption, our system is just punitive it's not redemptive. If you believe in family, if you believe in community and connection, why would you take people away from their family years, decades at a time? And we are the only country that incarcerates people for as long as we do. There are so many ways that people of different faiths can come together and really see that fighting for reform of the system is a way to live out your faith.   

And I think also one interesting way that I see my faith, is as a framing tool to kind of frame the way that I can see this system. I think that one thing that's been so interesting when you look at the three Abrahamic religions, they all do a really good job of laying out the history of the major characters. They set the stage, and they explain how generationally this has continued. So one way you see that in Genesis they talk -- there's the begots, so Adam begot so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so and you look at Islam you can trace Mohammad's lineage all the way back to Adam. So as you think about lineage, think about history, about generations, that's a really good framing to think about the history of the system we live under. So in a lot of ways, slavery begot Jim Crow, which begot mass incarceration, which begot the police violence we see right now. It's all generational. We need to go back and think about the story that was laid and the way the systems have been passed down. So, that's one way I like to think about the ways my faith helps me understand the criminal legal system. But the final way, and I think maybe the most important way that interfaith is so important to this is the idea of community and collaboration. And you know as we all could guess, Black people are the most hurt by this system in the U.S. and Black people belong to every major religion, and so as you think about even fighting for your brothers and sisters in faith many of them are over criminalized. And so, in what ways can we stand up for them too? When we talk about being My Brother's Keeper, what does that mean for us? We need to stand up for people, even if they don't necessarily look like us.  

But even beyond that, religious minorities are also over criminalized. Minorities in general are over criminalized. So, when we think about this system that is rooted in slavery, slavery begot the current system, it is ever-expanding. That system of trauma, of brokenness, of hurt, is ever-expanding. And it's hurting all of us. When you talk about the 1 in 2, it doesn't matter what political party you are, or race you are, or even what income level you are, people are still impacted by incarceration. So, when we think about what does it mean to stand up for people? What does it mean to be in collaboration with people, to love people together? How can we fight against a system that's hurtful and traumatic but also ever-expanding constantly? So those are the major ways I think about how interfaith is important to this.   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Wow, what an amazing analogy. I'm letting you know right now that I'm borrowing that. I'll be sure to cite you the first time but after that, I'm going to claim it.   

(Chuckles).   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  No, I'm just kidding. But I am -- that is -- wow. It is blowing my mind to think about slavery begetting these other systems.   

As we -- as you are working towards criminal justice reform, I know I've been recently exposed to the Abolitionist Movement. And I'm wondering how you think about abolition in relation to criminal justice reform?   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Yeah. This is a good point to say, that my opinions here are not the opinions of my organization. And I love FWD.us, I'm super proud to work for an organization that does the work that we do, but there are certain things we aren’t the best suited to talk about. But, I, as a Black woman from the American South, as a person of faith, identified abolitionist, I do have opinions about this. The opinions that fuel me, really start within the Bible Isaiah 1:17 we're called to seek justice and correct oppression. I feel like, if my commission, my Great Commission is to seek justice, that cannot be found in the system that we have now. It can't. And knowing that the system came from slavery and thrives off injustice there's really no way to reform it. And one example that we use, is kind of adding on additions to a house with a bad foundation.  You know the foundation is rotting. And adding on additions to this foundation is not going to solve the problem, new windows aren't going to solve the problem. So, we need to really rethink the way we think about justice, that we think about redemption, that we think about repairing harm. I don't think we can do that effectively if we have this punitive system where the only goal is to remove people and punish them, and not to help them, not to rehabilitate them, not even to repair the harm that they did if they harmed someone. And that would be a complete rethinking of the system that we have now. And I think one way that I think about it, especially when you think about the long sentences that we have in this country that are unheard of, they are not typical for any other country in the world, but I think about Jesus on the cross when he was being crucified and next to him were two criminals. Right? Who was being crucified for their crimes? And Jesus turns to one of them and he says I say to you today, I will be with you in paradise. I say to you today, I will be with you in paradise. Not in 25 to life. Not in 90-year sentences. Not after community supervision. I say to you today, you are redeemed, and you will be with me in paradise. And I think that is the way that I want to think about this system rather than seeking just to punish people forever. And in what ways can we work with them, can we redeem them, and work with their communities and make sure communities are strong so we can all be together in paradise. That's a system that I want and I look forward to and that I think would be redemptive. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Wow. So Kaytlin, I want to invite you back into the conversation for us to talk about in these last few minutes -- we need more time.   

(Chuckles).   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  In these last few minutes I would love for you all to begin sharing what futures you imagine for interfaith work in your respective positions.   

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  So I think that the thing about that question in this moment is that -- 

(Background talking.) 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  It's really hard for me to think about the future at all.  It's -- you know, I wonder if other people can relate to that.  It's hard to think about next month.  Next year.  Next week.  Most of us are just trying to get to tomorrow.  So for me in this moment the best answer I have -- (audio cutting in and out).   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  You're muted.   

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Sorry y'all thank you. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  It's okay working through technology.  You're good.   

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Yes; yes.  The best answer I have for that right now, given that I can't see into the future, I can't see into next month, I can't see into next week is that interfaith work right now, to me, is wearing a mask. It's practicing -- it's taking precautions.  It is getting your flu shot.  It is using the full scope of our civil rights to demand changes at the state and Federal level so that this doesn't happen again.  And to grieve and to look at the loss of life that we have borne witness to.  Vis-a-vis this pandemic, vis-a-vis police brutality.  And to honor it by doing something about it.  And to figure out what our role is in that.  That -- to me that's the only thing that interfaith work can be right now, is figuring out how to protect each other and keep each other safe.   

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Thank you.  Olivia, do you have anything to add or you've already shared a little bit of your envisioned future when you spoke about this connection to abolition.  But I'm wondering if you have an even more nuanced or broader vision for what the work looks like moving forward.   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Yeah, I have goals for what I want the work to look like and also to be honest, what the work already looks like, and I think that Black Lives Matter was a really good testament to that.  The people that came and stood up for us ourselves and for each other was amazing so another IFYC alumni started a group called Dharma for Black lives so people from the Dharma faith could come together and stand up for Black lives. That's not only happening right now but it's common. And seeing that togetherness and working together is happening and I want that to continue. But I think what I hope for the future, I think there's a huge role for the faith community at large.  In a future without punitive systems, without the prison industrial complex.  And one thing that's really important is Community Care.  And so why do people commit harm?  Because they have needs that aren't being met in their community.  And so from a faith perspective, are there ways that we can meet our brothers and sisters' needs? Do people need fellowship? Do they need a community? Do they need food? Do they need education? Do they need jobs? And those are solutions that the faith community can come up with on their own and create healthier communities that don't have a need really for policing let's say. Or for really punitive sentences.  Or are there ways that somebody can get help if they need it or counseling if they need it and they can repair the harm that way through their own faith tradition, rather than you know calling the cops and sending that person to jail or prison. So, there's definitely a role for the interfaith community to play. But like I said if I'm being honest, I think people are really stepping up and doing it already. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  That's awesome.  I want to give you a second to ask questions of each other.  I've been moderating but we've been having conversations before this and they have just been so rich so I'm wondering if you all have any questions or thoughts that you want to ask of each other. 

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  I do. 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Olivia can I ask you a question please. 

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  Sure. 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  You speak so eloquently and I'm just so moved by what you said about family and redemption and justice and I'm wondering in your work how do you take care of yourself in the midst of dealing with the pandemic, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, the fact that People of Color are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic?  What -- what's giving you hope?   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  That's crazy because that was actually my question to both of y'all especially you Kaytlin as a frontline worker. But I'll say for myself, being honest it's really hard. It's really, really hard. And I think that I was able -- I'm blessed enough to rely on my family and have them close to me and talk with them.  You know, and we're going through some hard stuff as well. My father lost some of his relatives to COVID, so watching him go through that and not being able to be with his family was really difficult.  But I think to be honest fighting for your own liberation is really, really exhausting.  And it's fun and cool when it's a thought exercise, but when it's about, oh that was my grandfather, I don't want that to happen to any other people ever again.  It just becomes extra, extra heavy and you end up reliving a lot of that trauma all the time. I would say for me, and I know it's so hard right now because I can't be with people and touch -- I'm a people person and I want to be with people and love them and touch them.  But the community, the community has been really inspiring and really helpful and they have held me up when I couldn't hold myself up and I want to be that for other people as well and that's truly the way I get by. And journaling. Journaling and prayer and not letting anything sit too long without writing it down have been really helpfulBut, I bounce that question right back Kaytlin I want to hear from you I know you did take a sabbatical but how are you taking care of yourself seeing all of these tough things? 

>> KAYTLIN BUTLER:  Similarly. It was hard. I was really lucky to be able to take that time away. And I think -- it's the same -- it's similar to what you've said, which is leaning on community. We really just the ways that we need community to survive, today and every day. I really look to good friends who I can call and cry to. I am so blessed to go home to my girlfriend who is just a constant source of love and light. And humor, too. Trying to figure out -- trying to laugh, trying to -- try to connect and find joy and to you know to hold that up as holy, too.   

>> OLIVIA ELDER:  J,T. I would love to hear from you, too, what your answer is. 

>> J.T. SNIPES:  Oh. I don't have -- I don't have a good answer for this.   

(Chuckles). As a faculty member, there is a way in which I have learned what faculty are and how they are supposed to do. Right? In my mind, a faculty member always has the right answer, they are really smart they are really polished and they just are able to hold themselves together in moments of chaos. And I feel like I am none of those things.  (Chuckles). Is what I feel when I'm lecturing to a screen full of Zoom faces.  Like that's my life right now. But I think one of the things I am trying to do and building off of your point of the community, is to create that. To stop. To rest. And recognize that I am not a machine.  And that my value doesn't come through how productive I am.  That there's something good about me especially when I rest.  So identifying as a Christian, there's this notion of Sabbath rest.  And that if I'm understanding this narrative, God didn't need to rest.  Right?  But I think there's some symbolic power in my own theology of seeing God as the Creator of this universe telling us to rest.  And that there is actual power in resting.  In our session today, the Unconference session, we talked about that.  How these systems often thrive through the exploitation of our labor.  By doing way more work, we make other people very wealthy.  And we kill ourselves in the process.  So I'm trying -- what I'm trying to do is spend time with my wife.  We can watch something on Netflix and just support each other.  We started a practice of what I call grateful in the morning.  So one of the first things we do before we get out of bed is to say six things that we're grateful for. And I used to think that was real hokey and cheesy. But it's actually done a lot to help me feel better about all of these crises that we're facing. We need more time, y'all. (Chuckles). I have thoroughly enjoyed facilitating this panel with you as folks doing really important work, and we're honored and grateful to hear from your voices. 

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.