USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Bridges Over Troubled Waters

“Making It to the Other Side” by Rev. Dr. Najuma Smith-Pollard

In Luke 8:22 we learn that one day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So, they got into a boat and set out.

The other side feels so far away!

Several years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Egypt and Israel. On the trip, we took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. It was the sea that Jesus traversed a few times with his disciples. The purpose of the boat trip was to give us a sense of how long they would have been at sea and how the miracles would have played out for Jesus’ disciples. What should have been a simple two-hour boat ride turns into an overnight fiasco for the disciples, as an unexpected storm rises up and delays their travel. It made sense on that trip why the disciples lost hope when faced with storms, winds and rain: All they wanted was to get to the other side.

The other side represented hope, calm, security, safety and rest from all the “healing” work that had just taken place. Still, they were stuck on a boat, and the other side was so close, yet so far away.

Pastoring through this pandemic has been like a stormy quest of just trying to get to the other side. In the beginning, many people said things like, “We’ll get on the other side of this disease.” But we are coming up on one year of lockdown, and we are still not on the other side. What we expected to be a simple two-week, then two-month shut-down is now reaching 12 months, more than 500,000 deaths, lost businesses, lost wages, lost loved ones, and we are still not on the other side. Some days, when the weight of this storm is pounding down, the other side feels so far away.

As a pastor, it is my role to preach the good news in the biblical text. The good news is this: The disciples eventually get to the other side with Jesus, but not without wrestling with a very long night. I have a similar prophetic role in the midst of this multi-layered pandemic–in the midst of all the racial and political tensions we have contended with at the same time–which is to help my congregation and community stay in the boat (stay in your home) and survive the storm as best you can; to shed light on the fact that, even if it feels so far away, with the right sailing mates (Jesus, faith, hope, belief, prayer and collective work to survive and thrive at sea) there is a brighter side, a better side, a re-imagined side, a healthier side, a more equitable side, a side for the unhoused, a side for the undocumented, a side that honors–finally honors–indigenous people, Black people, Latinx people, queer and trans people. There are safer shores ahead, on the other side.

I am hopeful about the other side. God please don’t let us down when we get to the other side!

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