Each time we gather at the Disciples Divinity House luncheon at General Assembly and listen to the Distinguished Alumna/us for that year, I think to myself, “I wish I had that person as a classmate,” and I imagine the meals and conversations I would have had with them. Clark Gilpin, David Vargas, Daisy Machado, Clark Williamson—just to name a few recipients—have changed our thinking and ministry through their work. This year I am grateful for our Distinguished Alumna, Sandhya Jha, who was my classmate. She helped many of us think through hard theological issues back then, and still to this day.
There were late night conversations and deep theological debates; conversations in the classroom bled into the pub room. But I will admit that it wasn’t easy either. Sandhya kept pushing many of us, especially me, telling me to work harder, to cook better food in the basement at DDH—all of which I am grateful for today. I needed a big sister to help me navigate the complexity.
In conversations at Monday Night Dinners or throughout the many rooms at DDH, Sandhya always grounded us in the community and in the potential of what our beloved community can and should be. I remember the very first meal I had with Sandhya when I came for a visit as a prospective student. We met at the Salonica Restaurant and talked about creation, the earth, the environment, how it is important to care for our planet and its people. But it was more than just about creation for Sandhya, it was also about making sure that the communities who can’t advocate for or defend themselves get a chance to be advocated for as their water, air, and forests were being polluted and taken away.
Sandhya reminds us that there is always a power dynamic in every situation and community. When it comes to disagreements, ministers are sometimes advised to ask, “do you want to be right or do you want to be in relationship?” This question, as Sandhya has consistently taught me, is wrong and does not help us to be in better relationship; for one thing, it assumes that everyone is on an equal playing field when we know that is not the case. For Sandhya, it is not about being right or being in relationship; it’s about being in right relationship. It is about honoring each other; it’s about understanding the ways in which systems of oppressions and power hurt people and that the hurt is not equal. It is about recognizing that, in order to create the beloved community that God calls us to be, we need to understand and dismantle the ways in which each of us have different power and privilege. We need to do that difficult, painful, long work of pushing one another and helping each other remember that the beloved community is worth fighting for.
As I think about recent events and the ways in which so much violence is tearing us apart, I am grateful that Sandhya has been so engaged, both intellectually and pastorally, in challenging many systems, organizations, churches, denominations, to live out fully what it means to follow Jesus in a way that helps us to dismantle racism and oppression. Her work and prophetic words were challenging twenty years ago when we had our first meal together at the Salonica. They are now even more important and needed at this time.
I am grateful that she is our Distinguished Alumna recipient this year, and I am grateful that we, as a community, have her as a conversation partner and, some of us, as our elder, in helping us to think through the complexity that hinders us from being the beloved community that we are called to be. Sandhya – thank you, for poking us and always challenging us, still. Congratulations.