I don’t know when it happened. I can’t get my head around why there are so many people who have so much energy to talk yet such an anemia of action. It is a very uncomfortable position to place oneself in what could bring opposition from a variety of persons.
Maybe its social media. Everything comes at us one hundred miles an hour. One moment a man is shot by a policewoman. In another moment a president with Nobel in hand drone strikes people. In another moment children are being escorted to centers apart from their parents. While another president drops a MOAB an already turbulent land. As soon as we get outraged about one event, here comes another. Dang it Nike! We return to business as usual.
Maybe we like our comforts. You know business as usual. Selfies. Trips to some resort getaway. Getting all emotional because Cardi-B and Nicki Minaj had blows. We swoon over a Kardashian’s lifestyle and our desire to be part of the rich and famous.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Maybe outrage is simply a cathartic opportunity to feel as if we care. I mean surely we don’t “want to be on the wrong side of history.” I can’t look like a bigot or a sympathetic nationalist. I pick up my phone. I get on my computer. With furor and anger. With some sense of moral standard and justice, I have to get my thought out there into the universe. I have to say something to show I care. It is the two-hundred and eighty characters who I will employ with my moral outrage to express my shock, put my opposition in a corner, and anxiously await the glorious sound of affirmation.
Now I can go back to my comfort because I have maintained my distance from the Jericho Road.
Looking back on the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, there were many well meaning Caucasian brothers and sisters who wanted to see changes in the society. In the North, there were well meaning persons who rejected segregation and racism. There were those, yes even in the South, who wanted to progress out of the dehumanizing posture towards Black Americans. Inspirational in words. They were outraged about the treatment of courageous young persons facing dogs, hoses, and Sunday school teaching resistance. Yet the level of activism resided in words and lacked any strength to be present, participate, and if needed, have their reputations perish for a greater cause, the cause of justice. Many simply did not want to give up a way of life which was normal. “Life seemed unrecognizable to many white Southerners. Confronted with a reality they had barely contemplated, some whites retaliated with any weapons at their disposal. Others attempted to avoid the upheaval; they tried to maintain cherished ways of life even as the ground shifted beneath their feet. In the end, evasion proved impossible” (Sokol, 64).
History illustrates a point. One can be outraged about the treatment of others or the trajectory of our country, yet in the same experience, we can choose not to act because of the implied changes which would happen to us, our context, and most importantly those we are advocating for in words.
Outrage and intellectual activism which remains in our social media silos or silently discussed around our white chocolate mochas and expensive MacBooks are ineffective knives to cut the chords of injustice.
James Brown opened a song with the following words:
Like a dull knife
Just ain't cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing
Don't tell me
How to do my thing
When you can't, can't
Can't do your own*
The Godfather of Soul has some good instruction for all of us. Outrage and intellectual activism without actions which puts us in the middle of the injustice are ineffective knives. The very design of a knife is have and maintain a sharpness which is then capable of cutting through some object. The knife for a period of time becomes part of the object until it separates the object from whatever it maybe attached. If we would be honest many of us are simply dull knives, creating a lot of noise, fostering incivility, and not willing to offer substantial change.
If you are not moved by James Brown, I would encourage you to hear the voice of a woman. Esther was a Queen who took outrage and words over the treatment of people she identified with, choosing to disrupt normalcy for the sake of justice. In her actions, she went unannounced into the throne room of the King.
Outraged about the impending injustice to kill Jewish people.
Intellectual activism in her discussion with her uncle Mordecai, “I will go to the the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Action knowing the threat of death, “And when the king say Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand” (Esther 5:2).
James Brown and Esther still speak today. We can be men and women who act justly. Yes it means being outraged and discussing the injustice. Yet these two must be accompanied by actions because injustice is tied to people. People whose lives, potentiality, and capability are interrupted by some form of individual or societal injustice. When outrage, intellectual thought, and loving action work together, the chords of injustice are severed and people can move freely.
“Words from James Brown’s Talking Loud and Saying Nothing”
Sokol, Jason, (2007). “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners In the Age of Civil Rights 1945-1975.” Vintage Press.
Martha Nussbaum who writes on the human experience and capabilities, states, “When comparing societies and assessing them for their basic decency or justice, we ask, “What is each person able to do and to be?” We are not means to an end, human beings are the end. There are a multitude of situations which function as barriers at the social, economic, and political level slowing or in some cases stopping human beings from seeing who they truly are and what they can truly accomplish.
Persons in a variety of societal environments play a critical role in either creating barriers or tearing down barriers for persons who are to be considered neighbors. In essence we have a responsibility to each other and we have been granted the opportunity to address life which Nussbaum describes as being “entrenched with social injustice and inequality.”
Engaging in the difficult work of identifying existing barriers requires persons with different perspectives to engage with one another. We can admittedly observe our current climate has produced situations in which people have chosen to assume tribal behaviors, boundaries marked by political ideology, national origins, ethnicities, and yes, even faith.
If our goals are to build an environment to improve the situations of other persons, relieve personal and systemic injustices, and create an environment for successive generations, we must have plans which begin with the end in mind. In other words, humanizing and just outcomes necessitate humanizing and just means.
In the words of Nussbaum, we are capable of such activity in the support of problem of solving many our societal concerns, if we choose to practice them on a daily basis.
Recently, on March 12, 2017 the Conway Police Department issued a statement on the increase of panhandlers in the city of Conway. Lieutenant Clay Smith offered a reasonable and clear explanation on the situation stating,
“…a fairly recent Court decision basically voided our city ordinance and made panhandling on street corners legal or within an individuals rights to do.”
The legality of such a decision is for the courts to decide obviously. Our law enforcement personnel who do a great job of serving and protecting our community are taking the right approach in pointing these men and women to the appropriate resources to assist in alleviating a specific need.
While the courts and Conway Police are upholding their responsibilities of determining constitutionality and enforcement respectively, the citizens of Conway have responsibilities as well.
Yes. We. Have. Responsibility.
When you drive down Oak Street and pass one of these panhandlers on the corner, who do you see?
One may say, “I see a hustler.”
Another may say, “I see a guy unwilling to get a job.”
Another may say, “I see a pothead.”
And another will say, “I see someone with a need.”
If I may, when you drive down Oak Street this weekend remember the person you see on the corner is a human being. A human being who is like you and I. What makes him or her a human being is their presence to occupy a space in time and by occupation of that space you recognize their existence. He is a human being because he has sensory perceptions as the cars drive past him and the wind brushes across his arms. She is a human being because she realizes the temperature changes on body. They are human beings because they along with us will at some point share in the transformative experience of death. If I may be so bold, you are standing out on that corner with cardboard in hand.
What responsibility does our city government have regarding the homeless and panhandlers? Our city government must create an environment which those who want to provide benevolence in the form of shelters and food can flourish. I am thankful for Mayor Bart Castleberry who is assembling a task force to address poverty which includes homelessness. Our city missed an opportunity two years ago to significantly address this concern. We have another opportunity which will require the strong participation of the mayor’s office, city councilmen and women, nonprofits, faith groups, and civic organizations. We laud our city being a compassionate and giving city. Such laurels must result in tangible and sustainable solutions which give panhandlers a way to prosper with dignity.
What responsibility do our faith groups have regarding the homeless and panhandlers? Can we complain about not having the resources to address homelessness while we possess the financial means to end homelessness? Speaking to my faith tradition, we have the immediate responsibility to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we have the equal need to care for the poor, widow, and orphaned.
I state it as an “equal need” because the two great commandments carry equal weight. We are our own worst enemy as we offer people an ethereal hope while not equally offering hope in the present. Have we become so insensitive we will invest millions of dollars to convince someone to believe in Jesus whom they have not seen while wrestling over $50.00 to help a homeless person whom we see?
We have a responsibility to meet the homeless man or woman on the street because in some powerful way Jesus Christ himself is standing on the street corner. Yes, I anticipate the usual cast of characters who will stand up and say the usual stereotypical statements about the poor. Yet the burden of proof is on each person who uses such stereotypes to justify why he or she does not want to experience the fullness of his or her humanity. On the street corner is your opportunity to meet and talk with Jesus Christ.
Finally, we have a responsibility as a city. Let us stop making excuses. With the level of financial power and influence we possess in this city homelessness and panhandling can be addressed. We lack the will to do so for the sake of others. If we can demonstrate through voting the construction of a new high school, Central Landing-which still is not finished, and road improvements, can we not do something powerfully for others?
The panhandlers are a judgement on our city. A visible presence to persons from all over Conway the homeless are here and God wants us to answer their call. These men and women are a visible presence that weakness is within the boundaries of our city. But this discipline can be responded to in a turning towards the homeless and panhandlers, embracing these men and women, and saying,
“Let’s walk together.”