It is difficult for me to summarize my reflections as a Perkins Fellow and a member of the Perkins House as I enjoy allotting myself an ample amount of time to reflect, time I do not currently have. So much has happened this academic year and I know if I event attempt to list a few events that occurred within the past eight months, I would end up producing a 15-page report. It's best for me to allow two brief essays I recently wrote to speak to my experiences as a Fellow and member of the Perkins House. I was asked to describe my most meaningful leadership experience and my greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community in 250 words or less for each essay. Without a doubt, I wrote about my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member despite the word limit restricting the transformative events to which I could attest.
Essay 1: In 250 words or less, describe your most meaningful leadership experience.
"As a college student, it is difficult not to conflate leadership with the number of executive positions one holds throughout their years as an undergraduate student. Leadership, certainly, includes assuming a role within an organization or group that demonstrates one’s ability to guide individuals to the completion of a task. Yet, I believe that leaders are most impacted, cultivated, and strengthened through the act of service: whether that be through volunteering or simply being one who dedicates time to support and engage others.
My third year at the University of Virginia has been defined by collective and individual service to the Charlottesville community through two programs supported by Theological Horizons: The Perkins House (located in the Venable neighborhood on Grady Avenue), an intentional community of university students honoring civil rights activist John M. Perkins by building bridges between the UVa and Charlottesville community; and The Perkins Fellowship, a Fellows program centered on vocational discernment through community engagement and training by community service innovators in cross-cultural engagement and community development. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as an inaugural member of both The Perkins House and The Perkins Fellowship has proven to mark a transformative point in my personal growth.
Through my participation in these programs, I have a greater understanding about how to utilize the roles I assume during my time at the University to best contribute and pour into the communities I so dearly love and to which I belong. "
Essay 2: In 250 words or less, describe your greatest contribution to the Charlottesville community.
"Though I have spent most my time contributing to the establishment of The Perkins House, my most significant service to the Charlottesville community has been supporting and investing love and time into some of Charlottesville’s youth.
As a tutor and mentor at Friendship Court’s Community Center, I assist students with mathematics and language arts and also aid the Community Center’s Coordinator with the Girls’ Mentoring Program. One of my favorite memories as a tutor occurred last year when I helped Naylia, a kindergartener at the time, solve math problems from a deck of addition flash cards. She was, at first, unenthusiastic to solve the problems and became frustrated as she perceived them to be too difficult for her to solve. However, the more problems we worked on together, the greater her desire was to solve more equations. She even wanted to solve equations she previously thought were too hard for her! The moment I saw Naylia’s face beam with a beautiful smile after I told her she solved the equations correctly, I made a commitment to do whatever I could to help her, and her peers, excel in school.
Knowledge is power and we all are well aware of the power the youth yield in challenging and changing societal norms. I know these students will have a large impact in their communities and I will continue assisting them in their growth, one equation at a time, one conversation at a time, throughout the rest of my time here in Charlottesville."
There are a couple things I must add in addition to what I expressed in these essays. First, I felt quite indifferent when asked to write about "my greatest contribution" to the Charlottesville community. The language used in this prompt certainly implies that certain "contributions" are more valued and praised than others (but that is another conversation to be had). I decided to rather describe an activity, conducted outside the UVa bubble, that rejuvenates my spirit day-in and day-out: tutoring and mentoring the youngens at Friendship Court. Words cannot describe how much I LOVE the kids I spend time with throughout the week. I can wholeheartedly say that my experience as a Perkins Fellow and Perkins House member has given me a desire to incorporate the same intentionality we honor within theses programs to my time spent with the kids at Friendship Court.
I am excited to spend at least another year with them... If only they knew that they had me at hello.
“THE PROBLEM of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line…”
(W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903).
If you were to become a neonatologist, you would observe a strange phenomenon. As you would deliver babies, you would notice increasingly that babies of African American women would, on average, be born twice as likely premature or with a lower birth weight than those of white women (yes, this is a statistically significant study). Even if you were to control for socioeconomic status, you would find an even more harrowing statistic: African American women of higher socioeconomic status (those who have obtained bachelors and masters degrees, respectively) were three times as likely to have a baby born premature or with lower birth weight than their white counterparts. Further, this same group of African American women would still have a higher premature and lower birth weight rate than white women who have dropped out or never complete high school education. In a study by Collins and David, they point to racism and the stress it produces in African American women as the main factor that increases the rates of premature birth. But this would be hard to explain to many in our country, of which around 70% of white Americans believe racism to be a product of the past. It would even be more of a surprise to explain to the Charlottesville community, where our own University was one of the centers of the highly racialized eugenics movement in the early 1900s.
I came to the University of Virginia in 2014 from a relatively homogenous area in Virginia Beach. I remember reading “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. my junior year and feeling the searing conviction of his words addressed to the “white moderates”. “When you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’,” King writes, “—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait”. I remember sitting by my fireplace and feeling the burn upon my back of the relevancy of King’s words to our country, still. It wasn’t long before my veil was further torn away when one of our classmates, Martese Johnson, was unjustly aprehended at the Corner in Charlottesville, a block away from the edge of our campus. The boulder began to roll faster and faster as Theological Horizons brought John Perkins to U.Va. to speak, the shootings of the black men by police in the summer of 2015 (and on), and finally culminated with the election of Donald Trump where I found one of my black brothers crying in my room, and I held one of my black sisters as she wept in fear and pain. Tears, pain, heaviness – everywhere. And if that wasn’t enough of a burden to handle, the slave-built grounds churned as the white supremecists marched through the epicenter of the Rotunda. Everyday, I felt the weight of America upon my shoulders, and the sins of our country were still reverberating… loudly.
I was reminded of the story of Jesus. When Jesus had told his disciples he was going to suffer and die on the cross, Peter rebuked him saying he couldn’t possibly do that – we all know what Jesus said to Peter next: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 6:23, NIV). Why did Peter say this, and why did Jesus respond that way? Peter thought Jesus was going to be a political messiah; he thought Jesus was coming to overcome the Romans and become the new political leader. In reality, Jesus came to suffer and die because the Kingdom he was coming to build was not only physical, but it was spiritual, it was in our hearts – it was a war in the heavens. Jesus came to renew our country, yes, but not at the expense of renewing our hearts, minds and souls. Suffering was neccesary for the atonement.
But Jesus was clear, that the Kingdom he has brought to Earth is a spiritual reality. I began to stray away from prayer and devotion to God and replace it with my works. I began to tire myself out. Paul wrote it succinctly, which seems to be a thorn in the enlightened side of America:
For we do not wrestly against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).
How are we supposed to fight this force of racism, then, that has such real and dark physical manifestations? How do we fight a phenomenon that has plagued our country for years? We need to be renewed, and we need to cling to the cross. We need to humble ourselves and collectively repent. We desperately need to seek the face of God and not fall wayward to the dirty rags of works. Our turning from our sin and our selves towards the cross is what should inform our work.
In my time as a Perkins Fellow, I learned this. That if I am to do the work of the Kingdom, I need to have my heart right before God. And that is something I want to encourage you all in. It is obvious that our country has sins of racism still so evident, and we can see tangible manifestations of that nearly everyday. One response would be to just go out and start working to solve it. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but you will become tired and you will hit a wall. If you are working for God, stop. You are already justified before him, and I would encourage you to repent and get your heart before him. To others, they may interpret salvation as a reason to not do work in the community. Brothers and sisters, our eschatology has not yet been realized. The Kingdom of God is a dynamic and ever-present reality that needs to be brought about by us, the church. So to those who see the racial division in our country but fail to act, please get before God as well and ask Him what your role is in the beautiful, ever-unfolding picture. The reality of Jesus and his salvific power at the cross should always be what informs our lived theologies. As my dear friend Ross Byrd once told me, “Theology doesn’t neccessarily make good obedience, rather obedience makes for good theology”. I would encourage you to take a deep look at our country and ask God how it is he wants to use you to bring shalom to our country. Following Jesus is wildly fascinating, but it should also be restful. We need to rest before the cross. I will leave you with one verse to meditate upon. Our country is hurting, and we desperately need Jesus now more than ever.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).
Standing on the rooftop bar of Squarespace’s office building in NYC’s SoHo district, I looked out over the foggy scene of bustling traffic in the intersection below and felt, in a word, overwhelmed. The week leading up to that moment had been filled with many new people, intense full-stack development classes, and challenging conversations. I was in New York City for a program called The Impact Fellowship, an intense, two-week coding experience for “the next generation of social entrepreneurs.” I went, intending to engage with issues of injustice, meet similarly motivated peers/ mentors, and ascertain whether computer science could be a viable field for those seeking to “love God and love people” well. And yet, here I was, visiting the posh downtown office of a company with millions of users, nearly half a billion in net worth, and hundreds of employees earning six digits. Questions about the computer science industry dizzyingly crowded my mind: “Can ethics and industry intersect meaningfully, or is CS too obfuscated by desire for wealth, glory, and power?” “Am I competitive enough to be a software engineer? Powerful and faithful enough to do SWE for God’s glory?” “Is CS intrinsically too abstracted away from immediate aid and love for those who need it most?” My mental state was perfectly mirrored in the confused honking, peddling, and shouting below.
Overwhelming as the moment was, these sensations of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual dissonance in relation to my vocation and calling were not incongruent with prior experience. While it may be true that we often don’t understand God’s ways, we can sometimes [if we’re fortunate] begin to see patterns. One that’s repeated itself again and again in my life has been God’s calling to go and do in cities. In college alone, I’ve been called to Greensboro, NC for a service trip, Chicago for a spring break social justice plunge, Chicago [again] for a summer of urban ministry, the Perkins House Charlottesville, and New York City for a winter break spent learning about coding for social impact. Lord willing, I will spend this coming summer in Detroit, Michigan, working at the intersection of justice and SWE (e.g. teaching coding skills through a startup like Grand Circus to people who’d otherwise not have access to tech education). Each of these cities have taught me particular lessons; nonetheless, persistent threads have woven themselves throughout all of my experiences. Predominantly, I have been struck in each location by the confluence of human brokenness and excellence on all scales. The paradoxical coexistence of vibrancy and pain in the human experience are nowhere more evident than in the multitudes living in places such as Chicago and New York City; nowhere are the broken, hungry, and alone more visible.
It may not be immediately obvious how computer science, or the tech scene at large, plays into all of this. It is the case that NYC, perhaps more than any other city I have encountered, exhibits a bold demarcation between countably infinite numbers of exceptionally wealthy individuals and (seemingly) uncountably infinite numbers of needy individuals. Certain fields within computer science, such as financial and informational technology, play a significant role in this divide, as they contribute to ever-widening wealth and access gaps within the city. Now, more than ever, NYC’s Silicon Alley is burgeoning into a multi-billion value parallel to California’s Silicon Valley. Even impressive companies such as Squarespace are overshadowed by nearby Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft offices. To be sure, some of these tech companies are impacting the world positively through their products and research. Almost all, however, are explicitly negative in terms of their diversity, inclusion, and ethical resource acquisition (think: precious metals like Coltan, important for building hardware). Certainly, many are neutral. Regardless, it is inevitable that computer science is changing the world (and quickly); the only variable that remains to be defined is the moral and ethical direction in which it does so.
It is the multidimensionality of this problem, as well as the role that I [may or may not] play in it, that caused my overwhelmed and anxious state that afternoon in New York City. I know that God has given me a mind and desire for computer science. I believe that CS has the potential to change the world on a broad and powerful scale, but I personally possess a limited understanding about what that could look like and have no certainty whatsoever about what part I could play. I know that God tends to call me to go and do. I also know that God is training me to think about and engage with issues of injustice; He is ever-breaking my hubris, white privilege, and false self-sufficiency through prodding my heart to better love my neighbor. Finally, I know that God often asks more questions than He provides answers and am learning to be still in that discomfort. My mother, at the end of a long conversation discussing these themes, said to me: “Sarah, you are a warrior being trained for the forefront of some battle.” Ultimately, I can only pray that God will arm me well in preparation and that I will be able to discern His voice when He calls.
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”
Exodus 14:10-15 (ESV)
P.S. Have an interest in learning more about some cutting-edge tech projects that actually are promising vectors for change? Check out WePower’s decentralized energy network (built using blockchain technology), this research project on protecting victims of intimate partner violence from surveillance by abusers, or Bad Batch Alert. Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can chat!
A new year means new resolutions to do better, be better, and grow as person. It’s only the middle of January though and I am already failing at my new years resolution: to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve fallen back into the same routine of going to class, talking to the same people, eating the same food, and going to the same places for fun. I am addicted to comfort and security… and there’s a good chance you are too.
Being a Horizons Fellow has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, specifically, when it comes to racial justice. In one of our recent meetings, we were able to talk about how to approach racial reconciliation in Charlottesville with its history and current issue of gentrification. This meeting included the Perkins Fellows as well, and I was not the only minority speaking on this issue.
The discussion did not end with a singular action based resolution and it would be naive to think that a complex societal issue could be solved in one meeting. Nevertheless, that should not debilitate one to inaction. No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.
Start by listening to the people who are affected by this issue. This means going out of your way to meet people who are different from you. Go to culture shows, One Way IV/AIV/GCF large group, BSA/ISA/VSA meetings and listen! Let people talk about their experiences and validate them. Their experiences are real and may extend beyond just themselves. Be comfortable being uncomfortable not knowing everything about race and privilege. I myself am still learning from people who come from different backgrounds than my own and it can still feel uncomfortable at times! Don’t be afraid of feeling stupid asking questions. It is more stupid to accept living in ignorance. And if you’re someone who has never had to think about how race affects your day-to-day life, it is to be expected that some things need to be explained. And that is OK! It is a process and it takes humility to accept this.
Let's move towards looking more like Christ and be people who initiate these conversations. Jesus initiated conversation when it came to the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42) and the crippled beggar (John 5:1-15). And in both situations, he was met with pushback and awkwardness. But, Jesus proceeded to converse and interact anyway. He was not deterred from the responses because he loved each one deeply. Our love for comfort and routine should not supersede our love to know and understand brothers and sisters of a different race.
This year, I commit to being comfortable being uncomfortable, not only for the sake of my brothers and sisters, but for my own personal growth. I will be intentional in placing myself in communities that don’t look like me, and learning from them. Will you step out in faith and take up this challenge with me?
To learn more about the Horizons Fellows program, click here.
From sweat, dirt, and enduring swarms of mosquitoes comparable to the army of locusts depicted in the book of Joel, to traveling to Princeton Theological Seminary for a conference on race and food, my partnership with Bread & Roses through the Perkins Fellowship has been an adventure. Bread & Roses, a ministry of Trinity Episcopal Church, is a non-profit which focuses on nutritional outreach. Some of the ways this is accomplished is through the community garden and cooking clinics which are hosted at the church as well as collaboration with other organizations working toward food justice in Charlottesville. One of the reasons I was attracted to Bread & Roses at Trinity Episcopal is its rich heritage as an intentional multiracial community of reconciliation. The Church is located on Preston Avenue, a stone’s throw away from my home, the Perkins House. I am grateful to be partnering with a ministry that serves, and is situated within, my neighborhood.
My time at Bread & Roses has primarily been in the garden alongside the volunteers, most of whom are Trinity Episcopal members, who gather weekly to tend to the garden. Beginning in June, I started attending garden work days and quickly realized how little I knew and how much there was to learn! I was always asking questions, taking directions, attempting to soak up the extensive knowledge of the more seasoned garden workers, like Sally and Martha. I was shown so much patience and overtime, a vibrant little community had formed as we planted, weeded, and watered. We began to share meals on a monthly basis. After we completed the garden work, we’d gather over fresh food, often prepared using produce from the Bread & Roses garden or the personal gardens of the volunteers. These meals were never lacking in laughter and gradually, the various quirks and idiosyncrasies of each volunteer became remarkably endearing. It was, and continues to be, a dynamic group with a wide range of ages, occupations, ethnicities. Our once monthly meals transitioned into a biweekly event and suddenly, there was never a gathering without fresh food and a time of fellowship. I really cannot find the words to describe my gratitude for these relationships, none of which I would have had I remained within the narrow boundaries of the University community. Seeing these friends and working alongside one another in the heat and the dirt became a rhythmic occurrence each week, an essential piece of my lived liturgy.
Another component of my involvement with Bread & Roses has been thinking deeply about our food systems—the mechanisms by which we produce, acquire, and consume our food. Bread & Roses was generous enough to send me to Princeton Theological Seminary’s “Just Food” conference on race and food where I learned a tremendous amount about our centralized, mass-producing food industry known as the Food Regime. Some of the problems of the Food Regime include the exploitation of migrant and farm workers, the degradation of the land and natural resources, gentrification which displaces the poor, unequal access to healthy and affordable food options, and an increasingly centralized system which depletes local production and small-scale, sustainable farming. What’s more, these macro problems inordinately affect women and people of color, such as Latino/a migrant workers to inner-city African-Americans. While these problems are systemic and cannot be rectified with individual actions, confronting the reality of the situation certainly gave me pause and caused me to reflect upon my role within these systems. How am I to eat justly, sustainably, in a way that is honoring of my body, my neighbors, and the land? This is where “alternative food orders” become so vitally important. What’s an alternative food order? Think operations or organizations which connect people more closely with the production of their food—locally owned supermarkets like Reid’s, buying from local farms, community gardens and other forms of community supported agriculture (CSA) like farmers markets. These operations nurture local economies and social networks, thereby strengthening communities, in addition to reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. At first blush, a plot of land upon which neighbors get together and grow vegetables may not seem a revolutionary endeavor, but in fact, it is! Think of how countercultural this act is in light of the way most people obtain their food—purchasing foods that have traveled thousands of miles, grown in lands we have little connection to, by people we don’t know, who may or may not have been fairly compensated.
It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the time, money, or luxury to be so conscientious about the origins of their food. Particularly in the case of working class individuals and families, such concerns seem remote in the face of combatting hunger and food insecurity for oneself or their children. However, as a University student, I feel that I have a responsibility, in the wake of the privilege I have been afforded, to be thoughtful about where and how I consume. Another challenge to the work of food justice, and community development more broadly, is a lack of time. As University students are acutely aware, we operate under serious time constraints. Many people who would perhaps like to participate in one of the many community gardens Charlottesville has to offer, are simply unable to because of lack of time. I feel this challenge quite poignantly because in the garden, in my scholastic work, in the spheres of racial, economic, food, and housing justice—the work is never finished. I sympathize with the exasperation of the disciples commanded to feed five thousand men, “Well Jesus, that’s a really sweet sentiment but we only have a few loaves of bread and two fish!” (Matt 14:17, IZH translation). Seemingly, I do not have enough time or money or the social capital required to be impactful. At this point, I must reckon with my own insufficiency. My doing or being “enough” is not the point. Jesus is enough. Perhaps Jesus will multiple my time and efforts like the fishes and loaves, but even if he does not, I am intimately acquainted with the heart of God through pressing into these seemingly insurmountable issues. In fact, the reality of our individual limitations is an invitation into relationship with others. I recently attended the Christian Community Development Association annual conference and was struck by the following statement, “Kingdom sized vision requires Kingdom sized collaboration.” Rather than become exhausted and embittered by our finitude, might these limits instead remind us that we are members of a larger body, working together toward a Kingdom that is both now and not yet.
As we quickly move through the fall season and pull the last of the sweet potatoes out of their beds, my role at Bread & Roses has shifted, but the community has not. In fact, the garden crew has now entered into a book study together in which we read and discuss “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.” This book has yielded countless insights on what it means to live in community as well as what it means to monastically approach the daily grind. The author, Joan Chittister, writes, “The monastic looks for holiness in the here and now, unburdened by strange diets or esoteric devotions or damaging denials of self. The real monastic walks through life with a barefooted soul, alert, aware, grateful, and only partially at home” (10). Engaging with the practical wisdom of the Rule of St. Benedictine has been an invaluable resource for life as a resident within the Perkins House. As an eclectic Evangelical and a student of religion, I have really enjoyed exploring the Episcopal tradition, through Trinity Episcopal, and its unique expression of worship which is an integral piece of the body of Christ. As the winter season approaches, we turn toward grant writing, researching food policy, and the administrative tasks which make Bread & Roses possible.
Perhaps the greatest gift of my time at Bread & Roses, has been my relationship with Maria. Maria is the director of Bread & Roses, runs breakfast at the Haven a couple days a week, lives in Charis community, and shares my affinity for dark, caffeinated beverages. Her mentorship and friendship has been a tremendous blessing. Maria is a paragon of steadfastness and hopefulness, two virtues which are indispensable to the cause of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. My conversations with Maria remind me that it is Christ and not I who has been tasked with carrying the weight of humanity’s sin. Her very presence reminds me to be thankful and from here, I know more about what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
For more information about the Perkins Fellows program, click here.
“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” - Mark 10:51-52
Like many (all?) of the stories of Jesus, this one about Bartimaeus the blind beggar is remarkable. It is actually one of my favorite ones in the whole Bible. I think Bartimaeus has much to teach us about what faith is, what faith takes, and where faith leads, especially for college-aged Christians like myself. Asides from being a profound example of the kind of faith that Jesus loves and expects, this story speaks to a major theme of my coming to Christ my first year of college, and, by the grace of God, I hope it characterizes far more than just my experience in college and my experience putting my faith in Jesus for the first time. I hope that the example I find in Bartimaeus is the example I will make of myself and I pray that I would never falter in seeking new ways to carry my cross so that this hope may become reality. In a way, my work volunteering with Abundant Life through the Perkins Fellows program this year has been a means to that end and an extension of this greater theme in my life. So, without further adieu, let me explain what exactly I’m making this whole fuss about (feel free to read along in scripture as I go into further detail).
The story of Bartimaeus opens with him sitting by the roadside as the great crowd following Jesus passes by. Mark says that when Bartimaeus heard that is was Jesus who was going by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After which, many rebuked him and told him to be silent. Far from being discouraged, the text says that “...he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” I find this part of the story alone to be so incredible. Bartimaeus had never met Jesus, and being blind, he had no way of knowing that Jesus could even hear him or that it was really Jesus at all. Even though he was already an outcast and looked down upon, he fearlessly shouted out for the Son of David, the promised king, that he might look upon him and have mercy. Not only did he get no response from Jesus then, but those around him pressured him to stop asking and to just be silent and accept his lot in life. Showing incredible strength of faith and character, Bartimaeus cried out even more than he had before. I find this story to be so powerful because in my first year, I felt a hopelessness that I imagine is of a similar kind, if not degree, to what Bartimaeus must have felt at that point in his life. I felt utterly blind and lost about who I really was. I felt like everyone around me had a life they were truly living while I was just merely existing. I felt like a puppet dancing along the stage of my years but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to grab hold of my own strings. I wanted to have faith in God and I tried to believe, but my doubts rebuked me and told me to stop asking. With no small amount of stumbling along the way, I tried my best to cry out all the more for God to do something, anything, in me, despite what I saw to be slim odds of that really happening.
Jesus stopped. That's what the text says in Bartimaeus’ story. Jesus, the King of Kings, God of the universe, heard Bartimaeus’ plea and altogether stopped what he was doing. And then he called to him. And just as Jesus changed Bartimaeus’ life forever, he changed my life forever. He showed me that He is living water and the bread of life. He called to me that I might have life and have it to the fullest. He took my heart in his hands and taught me to cry at the beauty of who He is and how wonderfully, perfectly real life with Him really is. This is the first chapter of the story God started writing in me and for reasons I don’t fully understand, He has asked me to coauthor the whole thing with Him. I believe that God has reasons for writing our early chapters the way that He does. I think that He uses our experiences as young children in His eternal family, so to speak, to shape and set the stage for the spiritually mature adults He calls us to be. The lesson I began to learn as a new Christian and the one I saw reflected in Bartimaeus’ life two thousand years ago is one that I think will be an important motif throughout my life and I think it's one that Jesus is trying to teach me a little more about this year through my participation in the Perkins Fellow Program.
One part of the chapter I currently find myself in is my wrestling with empathy. Really, I think this is just picking up where my previous struggle left off. God has brought me so far in learning to love being alive with Him, but often times, I feel as though I have an impossible distance left to travel when it comes to loving that life in others. I have a hard time entering into the pain of others. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t think I do it particularly well when I try. Even when I am able to provide comfort to others, I fear that it is shallow, that I lack the ability for my comfort to come from a place of radical, selfless love. And then, for every time that I find my attempt at empathy lacking, there is a time when I reject the desire to empathize at all. I find myself making my own thoughts and my own experiences my god and resisting the call to humility. I commit the sin of partiality and become a judge with evil thoughts. I haven’t yet found the magic button for letting go of my pride, but too often I’d rather not let go of it at all. I see the degree to which I love my neighbor as a manifestation of how deeply I understand the steep price Jesus paid to win them for Himself and I don’t understand it even close to how much I wish to. As a Perkins Fellow, I have been provided an opportunity to cry out to Jesus to have mercy on me in this. If I’m being honest, I don't even know which direction to shout in, but I have to hope that Jesus hears me anyway. I have been given a chance to learn from Jesus how to love those who are growing up and have grown up as a minority, how to love those who are growing up poorer than I did, how to love kids whose childhoods have been more fraught with violence and evil than I can wrap my head around, and how to love fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold political ideas with which I fundamentally disagree. I hear the difficulty of all this (and it is hard) pressuring me to stay silent, to simply put in my required service hours and be done with it, but I pray for the strength and faith to cry out all the more.
“And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man,” reads Genesis 9:5b.
How responsible are we? How seriously do we need to take this? Pretty much so, I’d imagine.
I heard a quote recently and like many good things I read and hear, I am not able to attribute it accurately. If you know the source, please tell me, and I’ll update. I think it could have been Rob Bell or Francis Chan. I listened to books of each of theirs on the same day on a LONG road trip (my favorite kind). Anyway, the quote was something to the effect that “When we feed someone, it means that we want him to go on living another day.” It’s an investment in them, a statement of the value of their life.
Here in Big Mac Land, we aren’t talking about sustenance for living or life-and-death calorie counts. But it still applies in the sense of desiring to nourish someone, provide something “life-giving.”
So when Genesis admonishes that we are going to be held accountable for the “life” of fellow man, certainly it includes actual life. So why, when I see someone sprawled out on the sidewalk or on a staircase in the more visibly hurting parts of my city (there is as much pain of a different sort in homes with manicured lawns), looking as if they are dead, do I not go see if they are in fact dead — or living but desperate? I shudder to think why I don’t.
And C.S. Lewis famously talks about our encounters with each glorious person (full of the glory of being God’s image-bearers) that we meet, and how it is incumbent on each of us to treat the other that way.
Here is an excerpt from Lewis’ Weight of Glory:
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.
So when we read in Genesis, “And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man,” we know that beyond doing anything we can to insure that our fellow man lives bodily, we are also charged with the privilege of taking their dignity and spiritual destiny seriously. And held accountable for such.