Should we shout for change or quietly be the change?
I could intentionally build friendships across race lines in a culture with overt and residual racism.
I could live out empathy in a church that is not as empathetic as I’d hoped.
I could listen and learn what it’s like to be queer in a straight society.
And none of this requires yelling or fighting the people and systems in power.
But don’t some things require trying to change others too? If we think the train is speeding toward injustice, should we only act justly toward other coach passengers, or use the fire axe to hack into the locomotive’s cockpit, so the whole train can be redirected?
What if Martin Luther King Jr. had simply and quietly loved his white neighbor, without also challenging the systems holding racism in place?
Instead of quenching thirst with cups of water from the river, what would it take to engineer a river branch that diverts water directly to the thirsty?
If justice requires working on behalf of those who may be marginalized or just plain hurting, in what ways do we work?
Even as we act in small ways, should we not also dream big?
“To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”¹
So lofty – “with your God” and yet so earthy – “walk humbly”.
This question came up in two separate conversations this week and spoiler alert, we did not solve the dilemma. We each find ourselves in different power grids, systems in place that seem impossible to change.
Someone in the medical field, with its for-profit bureaucracies, only wants to care for their patients face to face, but that often requires looking up and away, using a machete to cut through red tape (Yes, that is a Cake reference). Unfortunately, freedom fighter and compassionate caregiver are rarely on the same business card.
This could be one of those “use your strengths” things. If we are diverting the river, we might keep someone running cups between the river and the thirsty mouths, even while others architect and build the wooden trough down the hillside for direct delivery.
Nearly everywhere we find power systems – businesses, charities, churches, schools.
It’s a battle between doing what I can control – loving my neighbor – and fighting for change beyond my control – turning entire organizations or communities a new direction.
It’s a battle of voices: living between the whisper that says things will never change and the shouting that demands all things must change. Each voice has its dangers: the shout sets me up for disappointment in others (or offending others) and the whisper finds me sitting on the couch unmoved.
Somewhere in between is an active living that is at least walking forward. Loving mercy and therefore acting justly. Now to go find out what that means.
¹From the book of Micah 6:8