Last week I said a little bit about my conferences keynote. This is my attempt to wrap my head around it. I'm taking a break from my regular posting of baked goods and pratfalls. This post is long and embarassingly sincere. You've been forewarned...
10 years ago I went to the Urbana Mission Conference as a college student. There were a lot of amazing speakers at the conference but by far the one that sticks with me was Gary Haugen who is the founder of the International Justice Mission(IJM). The IJM frees people from slavery. Literally. They find slaves and bring their captors to justice.
Gary spoke on what it means to be a Christian in world of suffering and I think that the questions he asked are the kind that all people ask irregardless of religious beliefs. How can it be so ugly? What can I do in the face of such inhumanity and suffering? If God is really good why is the world so ugly? Does God have a plan for justice? How could there be a God in such a messy world?
Gary's answer has always stayed with me. "We are the plan. You are God's plan to change the world."
I've thought about it a lot over the years. What does it mean to be part of the plan? What does it mean to fight for justice? How do I fit in?
Being a part of the plan is why I joined Americorps out of college and it's the reason I do my best to look homeless people in the eye and respect their humanity when they address me, even if I can only say "I'm sorry, not today sir." It's the reason Arnold and I financially support the IJM and the reason I love Public Health.
I truely believe that most of us in our heart of hearts are looking to be part of the plan. I think we all long for justice.
But we all know it's hard to keep caring: The suffering is overwhelming, our lives are busy. We have children and jobs and heartbreak and it's hard to know where to start. Over the years I find myself secretly thinking "Yeah, it's nice to be idealistic but..." Slowly practicality and bureacracy kills idealism. Over the years I started feeling... it doesn't matter what I do anyways. I can barely dress myself how can I worry about justice? And then I got the 1-2 punch of Cornel West & William Carter Jenkins last week. Cornel West is a well-known intellectual from Princeton and coincidentally a Sactown native. William Carter Jenkins is a public health hero.
If I could take away anything from their speeches it would be that "What you DO matters". The world has been changed by people who cared enough to speak out passionately for justice and love. Some of them dedicated their lives to the cause of justice, some of them sacrificed their lives. Most people though bring about change through small, simple actions everyday. Rosa Parks sparked a revolution by refusing to give up her seat.
We are always making choices. We choose to be merciful when someone makes a mistake. We choose not to take our bad day out on those around us. We choose to care for our co-workers more than our projects. We choose to do our very best for our children over and over again. We choose to be leaders who serve and support our contractors instead of merely controlling them. We choose to make our work matter rather than just getting things done for the sake of checking boxes. We choose to support public education for our children, public health for our society and public transportation for our cities. We are always choosing, choosing, choosing whether or not to be part of the plan. Or as Cornel said "I try my best to love my neighbor with my crooked heart."
Amen to that brother. My heart may be crooked but it does not get me off the hook for love.
I felt really convicted during their talks to not be complacent. I miss the young girl that I was in Urbana, Illinois ten years ago. I miss her passion and idealism. I miss her hope. I miss how excited she was to enter the world and try to make a difference. So these days I'm thinking a lot about the choices I make. Being older and wiser doesn't have to mean being jaded. Working in public service doesn't mean I have to give into the bitterness and resentment that creeps around like an infectious disease.
Everyday I have a million choices. It was good to remember that those choices make a difference.
Note: If you would like to hear Gary's speech you can click here. If you would like to see the keynote speeches that I heard last week you can find them on APHA's youtube channel by clicking here. Pt. 1 of Cornel's keynote is a little bit irrelevant if you weren't at the conference, I would probably start on Pt. 2