December 8, 2021
During my college years (25+ years ago), I did a semester of study in Chicago along with my internship at Voice of America Radio. For the class, we did all sorts of tours and visits to different communities and organizations. We spoke with people from many different segments of society with different backgrounds. One of the panel discussions that had the biggest impact on my view of the world happened in a housing project. The projects in Chicago are very poor and crime-ridden. At the time, there was one exception. One of the housing projects, despite being just as financially disadvantaged as all the others, had managed to rid itself almost entirely of gang activity and crime. The seemingly miraculous turn of events happened when the folks living in the community banded together to solve the problem themselves. They patrolled their own buildings, cleaned up gang tags, and drove out the criminal element. It was not an easy undertaking, but the final result was a home that was safe for the people who lived there. The lesson I took away from the experience was simple: if something is wrong with the place you live, the best way to deal with it is to make changes that are within your power to make. In that poor inner city housing project, it was just that approach that solved the problems they were facing. The truth was that people in local government did not have as much investment in solving the problem as the folks who lived there did. The best solution, therefore, came out of the people directly affected by the situation. This is the truth for everywhere we go and everything we do in life. Complaining about how families struggle to feed themselves and campaigning for the government to change things will have less impact than helping the local food bank feed them. Facebook posts and political bumper stickers rarely put loaves of bread into other people’s pantries. Complaining about the moral decline of our culture is less effective than mentoring folks around you or getting involved in a church. Sadly, we live in a time where changing your Facebook profile picture to show support for some cause or ranting that someone should do something about “it” have replaced getting your hands dirty serving folks. I suspect that the way God often speaks to us about what we are supposed to do with our time and energy is by giving us compassion or passion for a cause or problem. In my Facebook feed, I often see folks decry educational decline in our country (though not in our schools, which are amazing), though I rarely see those same folks volunteering to tutor kids or help with after school programs. Perhaps James put it best in his letter to the early church: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” Perhaps if he was writing today, James would have said: “You have words, votes, and Facebook posts. I have deeds.” The best thing any of us can do with our convictions regarding our world is to go out and act on them. This needn’t involve going to India and living like Mother Theresa. Sometimes it’s as simple as participating in the community theater so you can encourage the folks around you or shoveling snow for seniors who can’t do it themselves.