The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has inspired many to pen thoughtful reflections on her judicial legacy. Her life and vocational commitments have inspired millions of people for decades. I watched the film “On the Basis of Sex” last spring and felt such gratitude for Justice Ginsberg’s fierce determination to oppose gender-based discrimination.

Soon after the announcement of her passing last Friday, the nation’s collective attention turned toward the timeline with which her replacement would be seated on the Supreme Court. As I’ve watched and listened over the past week, I’ve noticed significant deficits in my civic literacy. There’s a lot I don’t know and don’t understand.

Perhaps you, too, have forgotten some things about how the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) operate and relate to one another. Perhaps you, too, have read and watched the news (and your Facebook feed) over the past week and felt somewhat confused. Maybe it all sounds like a lot of noise in an already turbulent time.

A good friend recently said to me during a coffee date via Zoom, “Em, it’s all so frustrating. Does it even make a difference? I think I’m just not going to vote.”

My pal has a case of civic fatigue. It can manifest in lots of ways. Symptoms vary and may include:

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  • Walking away whenever you end up near a conversation about politics
  • Allowing spouses, friends, family and clergy to dictate your voting preferences
  • Believing its too late to relearn what you’ve forgotten since taking American Government in high school
  • Defaulting to an attitude of apathy and indifference as it relates to government happenings

If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms bubbling up, you’re not alone. My encouragement to you is this: Breathe and stay engaged. Your active presence is what makes this democracy work. You have questions and insights that matter. Your willingness to engage is so much more valuable than feigned expertise.

So what happens next for those of us who want to re-engage? How do we expand our civic literacy and fully participate even when we feel discouraged? The first step is to get started.

We can check out resources through our local library (and we can ask librarians for help). I suggest visiting the website for a helpful overview of the three federal branches. A helpful nine-part series on the Minnesota State Government is available at

We start wherever we are, with whatever knowledge we have; it’s never too late to begin.

Justice Ginsberg believed that a more just and equitable country was possible, and she lived her life fully engaged in the processes that would bring that vision into fruition. We, too, get to contribute to the forming and reforming of this nation through our civic engagement. What a tremendous privilege; what an incredible responsibility.

"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website