Recently I was at a gathering of social justice-minded folks, surrounded by people who are working to make our world more just, more compassionate, more livable for more people. The gathering was ending and it was time for announcements.
A gentleman stood, “There was an opportunity to go to a public meeting last week to advocate for the poorest of our community. I won’t embarrass you by asking you to raise your hand if you were there.” Having heard him make similar statements previously, my heart shrank as he went on, saying something like, “There will be another meeting this week. If you want to stand up for justice, come to the next meeting.”
The gentleman who made the announcement has been a strong advocate for justice over many decades. He has used his voice to amplify the voices of people who are marginalized, who have been ignored or silenced, both in our local community and in the world.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7
I was not at the meeting he spoke about. I never intended to go to the meeting. The issue he spoke of is important, but it has not been a focus of my own justice work.
Our world is suffering. Refugees – children – die at sea as they try to escape the horrors going on in their homeland. People go hungry in a world that has enough food to feed everyone. Homeless people suffer, particularly in the extremes of cold and heat. Human actions precipitate environmental devastation. Shootings, bombings, human trafficking, animals going extinct. The list goes on and on.
There is no shortage of work to be done. Trying to embrace the whole world’s brokenness is overwhelming, demoralizing, paralyzing.
Last year I took a walk with a wise woman. Distraught by the state of the world, I asked her a question: “How do I know if I’m doing enough?”
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times. – Thomas Merton
My friend answered that in her own life, that question has gotten her into trouble. It is the wrong question to ask, she said. The question she now asks herself instead is this: “What is mine to do?”
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. – 1 Corinthians 12: 8-11
What is mine to do? Currently, the Spirit manifests in me through human rights work in Palestine, racial justice work at home, as well as using my writing and speaking skills to shine a light on those places both where darkness appears to be winning and where hope shines strong.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13
When I think about the gentleman’s announcement, I know he made it from a place of deep care for our community. Given his tone and words, I imagine he made it with the frustration that can happen after decades of slow, hard work with few tangible results, the frustration of perceived inaction by others. Perhaps my own reaction of judgment came from the recognition that more than once I, too, have tried to urge people to action by voicing my despair and frustration over what I interpreted as their apathy.
And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? – 1 Corinthians 12: 16-19
In my finer moments I remember that we are all called differently and it is not my business to discern God’s call for anyone but myself – just doing that is hard enough! It is my business to be faithful to my call, to try to make my words and actions match.
As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” – 1 Corinthians 12: 20-21
It is my business to encourage others in their striving to live faithfully, and to forgive – myself and others – when we miss the mark. It is my business to assume that we are all doing the best we can in any given moment. It is my business to affirm the good I see people doing, with the aim of fortifying their resolve to continue serving in whatever way they are called. I have been the recipient of such support, embraced by love and care as I strive to do what is uniquely mine to do. I hope I share the love as generously as I’ve received it.
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. – 1 Corinthians 12: 24-26
In my finer moments, I know that what is most important, that what changes our world, is a solid foundation of relationships. This is not to say that advocacy is not important or that there are not many facets to transforming our world. What I am saying is that advocacy and other work are more potent when they are built on strong relationships of mutual care and respect. When we recognize that we are interconnected, we know that I can help you see and you can help me hear and someone else can help us walk. We will not expect anyone to be other than the divine creation God made us to be. We will rejoice and honor our unique and individual gifts.