A few months ago, I was at my brother’s house, scanning his bookshelves. (Warning: this is what I do when I visit people. I judge you by your bookshelves. Then I borrow one that looks good . . . with permission, of course.) I love my brother and sister-in-law’s shelves, as they tend to choose some excellent reads.
The last time I was there, I borrowed Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. He is a lawyer who is “dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system.” It’s a powerful book, challenging, and well-written. Even when describing these painful, hopeless stories, he draws the reader in for more.
This book also makes me deeply uncomfortable. Our justice system is so very complicated and so far from perfect. His stories aren’t to criticize the justice system, but to expose our biases as a nation–our bias against poor people, and people of color. As I mentioned in my last post, as a citizen of this country (and the dominant culture) I feel myself complicit in this bias. What on earth can I do to start to right so many wrongs?
Do what I can.
In one of the first chapters, Stevenson shares a story from an internship he had when in law school. He was sent to visit a prisoner on death row, simply to let that prisoner know that he would not be executed that year. Stevenson said he felt wholly inadequate to the task. He was armed with no other information about this man’s case. What use could he possibly be to this man and his case?
When Stevenson finally delivered his message, it was a blessed relief to his client. The client opened up, and they chatted for well over the allotted time. Stevenson walked in to the meeting, feeling completely useless, and walked out of it, knowing that he delivered this man a wee bit of hope.
He did what he could.
The other day, the gospel reading was from John 6:1-15, the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5000 people. This huge crowd was gathered. Everyone was hungry. That was a lot of mouths to feed!
One boy offered to share the five loaves of bread and two fish he had with him. Even this boy realized that his little bit of food wouldn’t go very far to feed so many.
But he did what he could.
By offering what he had, Jesus was able to turn it into much more. All five thousand people were fed–with some left over!
God isn’t asking us to perform the miracle.
He’s asking us to do what we can. God will take over from there.
Is It Enough?
In the face of so many problems, so much injustice, so much poverty, so many unmet needs, the little I can offer to any of these causes feels so inadequate. Why even try to help in the first place? It seems so futile.
When we only have a little bread and a few fish to feed 5000 people, that’s laughable.
Do what you can.
It is enough.
As Stevenson has found out–as plenty of his clients do get executed on death row–people often just want someone to hear their story. People want to be believed. There is tremendous power in knowing that someone out there believes you. Even if it doesn’t change anything concretely about a terrible situation, knowing that someone else out there knows your story and cares about your story is huge.
When enough people believe you–even within the court system–there is freedom.
Who are we going to stop judging and take the time to listen to today?
On one level or another, that small action–of taking the time to listen without judgement– could set us free.
Photo of Man Behind Bars by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash.
Photo of Sparkler on the Water by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.
Photo of Man Above the Clouds by Nghia Le on Unsplash.