Perhaps you were there at the Crystal Bridges Distinguished Lecture Series in December when attorney, author of Just Mercy and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson delivered his powerful message in favor of finding solutions rather than dwelling on all the problems in our society. The event sold out in advance. Nearly every day since, I think about the four call-to-action items he laid out for us. I took notes and give him full credit for this list:
• Be in proximity to those who are marginalized.
• Change the narratives that are out there.
• Stay hopeful.
• Do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient.
Stevenson elaborated on each point, of course, giving vivid examples on why these are necessary actions. How else will we know what the real problems are if we don't wade into the midst of them? How can we change our course if we don't change the stories we tell and the ideologies they convey? What will happen if we give over to despair? Do we expect true, meaningful change to be easy and pleasing to everyone?
As Stevenson shared with passion how and why he beats his drum for justice, the people in the room -- myself included -- hung on his every word. We erupted in a standing ovation, enthusiastically clapping as if to affirm and emphasize every point he made.
When I sat down, however, I scanned the room, looking at all the people, and I wondered what they were doing for social justice -- because I hadn't seen most of them around. This is very human of me, right? To think that I know what their stories are, to think that I can judge people from a glance or know what they're doing when I'm not there to see. There could have been someone across the hall thinking disparagingly of me. It's exactly this kind of misguided judgment and potential anger or resentment that can break down communities. It's best to leave judgment to God and do the work I'm given to do, praying that others are doing the same.
It's best to get close to those who know the trials and tribulations of poverty, homelessness and immigration if I want to even understand what a day is like with their fears and insecurities. Jesus certainly didn't spend his days speaking with authority from the synagogue; he was always going where he wasn't expected to go, talking with those with whom he wasn't supposed to speak. It's best to keep perspective of what is really real and call out those who craft a perspective of reality that sees everything through a lens of fear or anger. There's that oft-repeated phrase in Scripture: "Do not be afraid."
Even among those who are marginalized as we advocate for what is real and true, we have the ability to stay hopeful. We have a choice. Bryan Stevenson said we can "either be hopeful or part of the problem." And if we stay hopeful as we advocate for justice for all, it's going to take us into situations, places and times that are trying. Maybe our hometown folks won't try to hurl us off a cliff -- as they wanted to do to Jesus in Nazareth -- but we will be challenged any time we put others -- and especially when we put God -- above all else. No one said that the work of justice, acts of mercy and way of humility are easy. The best solutions are worth our blood, sweat and tears.
The Rev. Sara Milford serves as vicar of All Saint's Episcopal Church in Bentonville. She can be reached at email@example.com.General News on 02/13/2019
Print Headline: Seeking solutions everywhere