As a funeral director, I sit across from families trying to process their grief.
Just about any funeral director you’ll meet will tell you that no two families are exactly alike. Some families really open up, and their faces light up as they share their grandmother’s favorite recipe or their family’s favorite camping outing with Dad. Some families are a little shy. Others are so overcome with grief that they can’t say much of anything at all.
Since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I have found myself on the other side of that table, sitting with some surprising feelings of grief that I’m not sure I saw coming. I have admired Justice Ginsburg’s groundbreaking work for women’s equality, I have been moved by her stirring opinions from the bench, but when I learned she passed away, I felt an unexpected sadness. I felt a little hopeless, like I had lost someone who did much more for me than I ever could do in return.
When Ginsburg was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, I was only 11 months old. Twenty-four years after her confirmation, I stood at the altar of a Baptist church and slipped a silver ring on my husband’s finger only a little over a year after the court’s groundbreaking Obergefell v. Hodges decision that secured marriage equality.
As timing would have it, my husband and I learned of Justice Ginsburg’s death while celebrating our four-year anniversary. The day we lost Justice Ginsburg also happened to be Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the Jewish faith. It seemed fitting that Ginsburg, a woman of Jewish faith, passed away during this season, a time that calls for repentance, reflection and spiritual renewal.
The pursuit of justice wasn’t simply an occupation Ginsburg took on and off with her robe. The words from Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” were inscribed on artwork hanging in her chambers at the Supreme Court. They point to her sense of vocation, her prophetic call.
She reminded law students, “If you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill — very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, … something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”
“She made life a little better for people like my husband and me, and for thousands of other LGBTQ folks.”
Making life a little better was at the heart of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s prophetic call. She made life a little better for people like my husband and me, and for thousands of other LGBTQ folks. She made life a little better for women by challenging sexist structures that undergird our society. That work isn’t easy and is rarely popular.
The Bible says that when another prophet, Elijah, approached Ahab on Mount Carmel, Ahab asked the prophet, “Is that you, oh troubler of Israel?”
Justice Ginsburg can be said to have been a troubler. She made what Congressman John Lewis might have called “good trouble” for politicians, corporations and unjust power hubs across this country. She was often found on the margins, even pushing the margins, in pursuit of justice for all. This was especially clear in her well-known dissenting opinions. In issuing such opinions, which often challenged the so-called “conventional wisdom” of the day, Justice Ginsburg referred to what she called “the dissenter’s hope.”
She said: “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.” Tomorrow, she had decided, must be more just than today.
I believe the heart of the grief I feel is the sense that we’ve lost someone who cared more about tomorrow than today, someone who cared about my rights without even meeting me, someone who realized we truly can make life a little better for those around us.
“Her life calls us to tarry in the soul-changing work of making the dissenter’s hope a present reality.”
Our task now is to take up the prophetic call of RBG, to ensure that the “tomorrow” of another is one worth living. Her life calls us to tarry in the soul-changing work of making the dissenter’s hope a present reality.
That isn’t just the call of a well-known Supreme Court Justice; that is the call of Jesus.
So, my LGBTQ friends and allies, let us grieve for the loss we have experienced. But even as we mourn, let us work for the world Justice Ginsburg knew was around the bend; a world where justice is served for all, not reserved for the few. A world made up of people who are willing to make the “good trouble” necessary to make tomorrow better than today.
The Bible says that when Elijah was ushered up to heaven, Elisha took up his mantle. The Spirit of God that rested upon Elijah’s prophetic work fell upon Elisha. Let us take up the mantle Justice Ginsburg has left. May the Spirit of God rest upon us, as we attend to making tomorrow a little better for us all.
Jordan Conley hails from Eastern Kentucky and now lives in Louisville, where he’s a Baptist minister, member of Crescent Hill Baptist Church, a student at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and funeral director.