First, thank you for your fidelity to me and to this mission during these difficult and dark months. You’re simply amazing and yes, I brag about our donors and volunteers all the time!
Timothy Barr, a long time friend, mentor and board member of the Daniel Foundation, often comments, “There’s nothing more tragic than a public success and a private failure.’ Tim’s refrain has caused me to look afresh at reactions to recent events surrounding the abuse of power by law enforcement, race and, of course, your garden-variety anarchists who will seize on any opportunity to ‘burn the whole f***ing thing down,’
Thanks to cell phones, social media and 24/7 TV coverage we can go public immediately with all sorts of ‘words.’ We’re pretty good at it, wielding angry words, snarky words, other people’s words and cryptic words. In fact, wordism may be the only ‘ism’ that is still in vogue.
Corporations, schools, non profits and institutions issue carefully assembled words called ‘public statements.’ Keyboard crusaders flock to social media to tweet or post words of condemnation and outrage. Some attend public events in order to listen to a gifted wordist whose words are amplified via loud speaker while those present respond with their own words of approval. The more artistic may even make a placard upon which are inscribed words that draw the praise and nods of approval from other wordists who are present at the aforementioned wordist gathering. Words, Words, Words...everywhere, words.
Emerson’s assertion that, ‘What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say’ has been repurposed to read, ‘What you say speaks so loudly, that well....you don’t really need to do much.’
‘Michael, a wordist, publicly ‘speaks out’ against racial inequality because, he gets a lot of bang for his buck and, besides, it’s easy. What the public doesn’t know is that Michael’s private life is not nearly as impressive. Michael has not one single meaningful relationship with someone of a different race and even if he did, he’s not someone they’d speak honestly with, so good is he at using words as a weapon when anyone, black or white, dares to deviate from his preferred narrative. For his public words, Michael is, of course, lauded by friends and fellow travelers, being invited into all the right circles.
Conversely, ‘doist’ Marty doesn’t ‘speak out’ against racial inequality in public for the same reason Michael DOES: It’s easy. Besides, Marty has learned that group think creates mobs and mobs have a history of turning something good into something bad. What the public doesn’t know (and what Marty refuses to advertise) is that, as a small business owner, Marty has spent his life deliberately getting to know, training and hiring people who don’t look like him, whose stories differ from his. Yet, in a wordist world, it’s Marty that is viewed with suspicion, bordering on derision. Marty is whispered about, rather than invited into, all the right circles.
One of the first heresies that the church fathers encountered was called ‘gnosticism’ which asserted, among other things, that what people ‘did’ with their bodies, what actions people took, mattered little. What did matter, however, was the ‘higher realm,’ the realm of ideas, the realm of the mind and the tongue. Those who ‘mattered’ were those who possessed the right ideas and who had the oratory skill to express them. In the gospel according to the gnostics, one could preach like heaven and live like hell...and still be sainted.
For God so loved the world that he didn’t just send a ‘word.’ He sent a ‘word’ that ‘became flesh and lived among us.’ Isn’t it just like God to turn a noun into a living, breathing verb?’
If you want to be more than a gnostic, throwing words at the problem of racial distrust and alienation; if you believe that private habits do far more to solve public problems than public pontificating; consider this simple, realistic and practical idea:
1on1/Mo: Intentionally seek out (and for those of you who pray, ask God to connect you with) someone who doesn’t look like you and whose story is quite different than yours. Begin visiting, maybe on a monthly basis over breakfast, lunch or dinner. Ask, listen and build a level of good will and trust over time to the point that you can speak (and this is key) 'without fear' with one another (and, yes, even disagree) about, well, just about anything, race included. No small feat, that, but then again, the degree of difficulty makes it all the more unusual and therefore all the more lovely to behold. You will be surprised how that single relationship affects your vantage point, how it humanizes ‘the other’ and how it creates the fertile soil within which empathy can take root and grow.
Finally, I know my audience :-) and know that some of you are saying, ‘Interesting, Greg. You are aware, are you not, that you are using words to critique wordism?' Touche’! :-). In response I throw myself on the mercy of the court, entrusting my defense to St Frances whom, we are told, said this: ‘Preach gospel always, and ‘when necessary,’ use words.’