There are varieties of gifts, services, and activities that are given to us and shown within us for the common good. To one is given the expression of wisdom – to another the expression of knowledge, to another confidence, to another gifts of healing, to another foresight, to another insight, to another discernment, to another the gift of language, and yet to another the ability to interpret language. Each of these gifts is especially essential in this time of brokenness and darkness in the lives of those around us, of those we know and love, and in the life of this nation.
I want to share a simple and true story with you about an encounter with a remarkable single parent named Roger – that led to a search for answers to difficult questions in our time.
Roger is particularly remarkable to me because any single parent raising three little ones deserves in my estimation, the moniker, remarkable. To complicate his life even more, the COVID pandemic has struck a particular blow to his little family, causing him the loss of his livelihood. He had never before been in a situation like this – living on the edge, wondering how he would shelter and feed his children. He was uncomfortable, embarrassed, stressed, and even fearful. Encouraged by friends, he sought out a local WIC office seeking help.
I learned through colleagues that the WIC staff person he encountered – Daisy – melted his discomfort, stress, and embarrassment away. You see, after his family had been certified to participate, he took the time to call Daisy’s supervisor to tell of his exceptional experience. Her supervisor, Kathy, then passed the praise along to her CEO, and one of her leadership team, in turn, wrote to me.
As you might imagine, Roger’s story and Daisy’s response was a ray of sunshine during these dark several weeks. And something moved me to write to Daisy, whom I’ve never met, to share my appreciation of her gift of outstanding service and the generous way she received and related to her client, Roger. I thanked her for helping dads feel as welcome at WIC as moms. And I thanked her for being a light for this man, his family, and the other hearts she touches with her affirming care.
The reality is that Roger’s story is not unusual during this time. And Daisy likely goes about her service every day in much the same way, receiving and treating the stranger in her presence with respect and affirmations. Daisy’s supervisor, her managers, and their CEO obviously care deeply for their staff.
But what is particularly astonishing in this story is that everyone acted from a place of grace and a generosity of spirit.
Everyone in this story represents the diversity of who we are as the American nation. They are brown and white and black, immigrant and citizen, from the four corners of this nation, indeed the world, and speaking different mother tongues. And yet, to each is given gifts that are manifested for the common good.
Yet, not all of this story is sweetness and light. Along with an exchange of notes from Daisy’s CEO came a series of questions that challenged me; that challenge all of us.
She wrote, "This is an awful time for this country and in this week, I am feeling the depth of gloom worse than before. In this bleak awful time where the racism virus is as awful as the Coronavirus, it is heartbreaking that the Black community and communities of color bear the disproportionate burden of both." She continued, "How will we heal? How will we recover? How will we reopen? And, how will we be able to move forward?" She concluded, "I dread November."
What follows is my meager attempt to respond to her heart-filled questions from the best place I know how – my faith, a faith that is often shaken and does not always stand on firm ground.
Like you, I wrote to her, I am in immense pain over what continues to be our great national stain, our great sins of omission and commission – the legacy of enslavement, the obliteration of the successes of Reconstruction, the tragedy of Jim Crow, and the perpetuation of disrespect, disdain, diminishment, and death that White America heaps upon Black bodies – either directly or by our silence – in our current era.
The sociologist, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his 1899 pioneering study, "The Philadelphia Negro," that "the most difficult social problem in the matter of Negro health" was to understand why so few White Americans were bothered by the disparities that existed for Black Americans. He could think of "few other cases in the history of civilized peoples where human suffering has been viewed with such peculiar indifference."
Fast forward to 2020 and couple Du Bois’ assessment with the extraordinary incidence of maternal mortality among African American mothers, the continued small and large slights and insults, and the deliberate threats to their lives – that Black people and Black men, in particular, most endure. Ponder the “Karen” video of the White Ms. Cooper profiling and threatening 911 consequences on the life of the unrelated Black Mr. Cooper. Think of the shocking video of the very public death of yet another Black man – George Floyd – at the knee of a White Minneapolis policeman, Dennis Chauvin, and his three silent police accomplices. Is it any wonder that American cities are on fire?
Yet, despite these endless tragedies, my friends, I am confident there is a reason for hope. The Spirit is among us, to be an advocate to and for justice. Her appearance is signaled by our ability to hear and understand one another, regardless of the language we speak. And that ability is said to be accompanied by a flame – a light if you will – that hovers over those willing to do the hard work of service and reconciliation and healing.
I cannot claim to discern her mind, yet I am certain that this advocate, is among us now. This Spirit is raising voices – some faint, some loud and shrill, some with clenched fists, and others with open hands – to facilitate a reckoning for the centuries of pain, discrimination, and hate perpetuated by a system created to dehumanize and diminish some and build up and sustain others.
That reckoning may bring painful and tragic consequences for some or even many, but I am convinced that the arc of Justice bends toward the reign of truth, salvation, reconciliation, charity, and love toward our neighbor.
Make no mistake, my friends. There are those among us – just like Daisy and her colleagues – who will be and are being raised up. Those who are willing to do the hard work of service and reconciliation and healing. Those who are empowered by a Spirit to listen and hear and understand, regardless of the language that is spoken. They are responsive to the pain that is poured out and understanding of the rage that is displayed. They are beacons of light in this broken world.
This is what gives me hope. This is what allows me to experience light amid such darkness. Truth, salvation, reconciliation, charity, and love of neighbor will not suddenly or miraculously prevail in September, or November, or even next January. But it will come. Why? Because those of us who hold fast to those principles – service, reconciliation, and healing – will be the Spirit’s agents in this broken world. And She will not allow the darkness to overcome us. Of this I am convinced – that to each is given gifts manifested for the common good.