Forty Days Revisited, Day 9–Making a Difference Where We Can

Tonight I’m sharing a post I wrote two years ago as part of my “Another Forty Days” blog. It feels particularly relevant today as we continue to see around us a nation and planet that seems as mired in drama and trauma as it was two years ago, and even longer ago than that. It can be overwhelming, to be sure. It’s a good thing we can take turns diving in to help, or sitting back taking a breather. No one person can fix all that’s wrong with the world, but one person can work on what’s wrong in their world. At the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do, unless you’re Jesus. And so, please read and enjoy this post.

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Another Forty Days, Day 12–That’s All Well and Good, But I’m Not Jesus

Sometimes when I look at the magnitude of the problems that our society faces, I am overwhelmed. Today I was listening to a panel of professionals talking about the work they’re doing to address poverty, homelessness, hunger, and other challenges confronting a significant portion of the population in the city where I work. When we began talking about what it would take to truly eradicate poverty, I found myself shaking my head at the many, many things that would have to be put in place to truly take on the issue.

At the end of the day, how is it that we live in one of the wealthier countries in the world and yet we allow millions of people to live in substandard or no housing, experience hunger on a regular basis, have limited or no access to adequate health care, and work but cannot earn a living wage? And in the current political climate in this country, those working to address these social issues are even further constrained by budget cuts proposed by elected officials, many of whom are far removed from the struggles of every day people, let alone those who are most vulnerable. As I listened, I found myself feeling angry, frustrated, and helpless, as I pondered the immensity of the systemic issues that have created the conditions that allow poverty to thrive, and the political will and social pressures that would have to be brought to bear to change it.

As I continue to consider it, particularly in light of this Lenten theme, I find myself thinking about Jesus. He took on the establishment in so many different areas. He constantly ruffled political and theological feathers, while healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and encouraging and empowering the people around him to do the same. Throngs of people heard his message, followed him, told their friends, who also followed him. He did all this without the internet. The ripple effect of who he was and what he did still touches people today thousands of years later. It begs the question, as has often been posed over the years, “What would Jesus do?” if he saw the conditions of things in this country and around the world? How would he respond the the myriad social ills that plague this country alone, let alone the rest of the globe?

Then I think again about what I can do as an individual to take on these challenges, and I feel relatively powerless. Yes, I do believe in the ability of individuals to make a difference for and in the lives of people in need; I saw examples of it on the panel today, and see it all around me. But it’s difficult to apply individual solutions to systemic problems. And while a whole lot of individuals working on the problems faced by many of our most vulnerable citizens improves the quality of life for the people they serve, it does very little to change the systems that make these ills possible in the first place. The time I spent volunteering that a food pantry a number of years ago made a difference for those people I served, but did nothing to solve the problem of hunger in that community or anyplace else.

What would Jesus do? I mean, he was raising people from the dead and doing all kinds of wild stuff. How would he approach this problem, and what, if anything, could I learn from his approach? I’m a good human being (mostly) and I work hard to make a difference where I am. But I’m not Jesus. I often remind myself that I can do what I do where I am, and invite, allow, empower others to do the same. If we all play our collective roles, maybe we take down the system that allows some to have access to “basic” needs like food and water, shelter, and access to economic opportunity while others do not. “Get in where you fit in,” do your thing to help save the world.

Over these 40 days, what can I give? What kind of initiatives can I start or contribute to? How do I work to dismantle the system that keeps things the way they are, advantaging and privileging some, while harming and disadvantaging others? Yes, these things look overwhelming when viewed through the lens of my own small footprint, but I can’t allow that reality to keep me from trying. And so I go on. Who’s with me?

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