After six weeks of a cantankerous prophet blasting us for all the wrong we do individually and systemically it sure was good this week to sit down at the bar with Amos and Jesus and see some glimmer of hope shining in the window. It was beginning to feel like we would all end up just seeking to drown our sorrows, but if even Amos can envision a better day coming then we all can.
There was a great conversation between Frank and Eric this week in response to this very point. The answer to how we find our own prophetic voice was to take up the work of doing whatever we feel called to do that will make a difference. You want to do something about the systemic evil of our sinfully high incarceration rate? Then do something for a kid who is statistically at risk of being incarcerated. If enough people go about the work of salvaging folks from the damage that has happened to them not because of anything they have done, then the systems will begin to change. This was then perhaps the best explanation of what Eric calls “the sweet spot.” Find that place where you are most fully alive and dedicate that work to Christ and you will find the justice issues that are right for you.
I know from experience that the sweet spot is more fun than work. My wife and I are crazy for children, so we raised a bunch of them: birth, adopted and foster. We have no regrets. We have had our share of worry and heartbreak, but we have known far more love and fun than we bargained for. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that, my friends, is why you must find YOUR sweet spot. I hadn’t thought about how critical this individual effort is to effecting systemic change when doing it, but it is clear that bottom up is the only way to lasting systemic change. Perhaps you know the story of a man walking the beach at low tide tossing starfish, one by one, back into the water. Someone comes along and says “why do you bother, you can’t save them all, it doesn’t matter.” The man picked up one more starfish and tossing it in the water said “it mattered to that one.” There comes a tipping point where the bending of the arc of history swings over to the justice we seek one starfish at a time.
None of this will ever come to be unless we heed the prophet’s voice and understand the systemic sin that is more than individual. Paula Deen has been making the news lately for her racist language of years ago. The court of public opinion seems to be leaning toward leniency for her. I feel that the reason for that is that we are looking only at an outward action for which the punishment could be seen as “time served” since it happened years ago. But to argue that she is not a racist is to miss the nature of racism. The definition I choose for racism is a system that denies access to power based on the artificial construct of race. By this definition, inaction on the part of whites is racism. The way I see it, if I have the key to open the door to power and privilege and don’t use it for the benefit of those who don’t have a key then it is sinful. I think Amos would agree. But it is easy to say that there is no harm is enjoying the privilege available to you even if you did nothing to earn other than be born to it. When we take this position we ignore the fact that the evil of the system has infiltrated our hearts, hardening them to the truth that there is real suffering all around us.
The window of hope can only be opened by the inside by those of us whom the system deigns to be on the inside. May we find the wisdom of seeking our sweet spots that allow us to let in the fresh air and open us wide to one another that we may move fully into the great day that even grumpy Amos knew would some day come, that day that Jesus made possible.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com