By: Rachel Lyons
“I explored power more than I would have any other day since it’s not something I tend to think about.”
This line was written on one of the evaluation forms following a Wednesday Workshop for our Season for Social Justice here at Old St. Pat’s. We talked about power in that first workshop because it is so central to being an Agent of Change and a disciple. Recognizing our power as individuals and as a collective makes us ready and willing to act. Power keeps our feet grounded when we want to shrink back in the face of violence and hate. Power connects us in the human struggle for freedom, housing, food, education, and healthcare. Power says that the way things are right now is NOT the way they have to be. We are given a choice each day, each moment as to how we want to use our power. Will we follow the example of Jesus, a leader who built power through relationships with his disciples, sent them forth to live the Good News, and spoke out continuously against the corrupted and violent rulers of his time? Do we actually believe we are that powerful? Sometimes I think we shrink back not because of fear of what is out there in society but because we doubt ourselves and our ability to make the real world an ideal world. It won’t happen all at once, not by a long shot. But we are waves in an ocean, steps on the journey, seeds that will one day bear fruit.
So perhaps you are thinking, “Rachel, I get it, I have power, we have power, but there is far too much to do! We can’t coordinate our efforts, things are too complex and intertwined, problems are just too big.” You are right. Problems are too big, as folks who were in our second workshop can tell you. Problems like racism, homelessness, and wage theft are too big to tackle — and we certainly cannot tackle all of them at once. I hear again and again from members here and friends from all over: we want to be a part of everything, every issue, they are all so important. And I agree. And I also know that if we want to make tangible, meaningful, true change in people’s lives who are directly targeted by injustices, then we need to listen to them and we need to choose. We need to cut an issue from a large problem and address a piece of the pie. We hear homelessness is a big problem for Chicago – let’s cut an issue around affordable housing or collaboration among churches to provide shelter. We hear gunshots and weekend death tolls – let’s cut an issue around employment for young people or restorative justice funding to shift away from mass incarceration. Let’s get real about what we can do in this era to make specific changes and address systemic injustices.
For all that we do to build up our power, we also know that we are not God. We cannot solve everything. We must build relationships, listen, and decide what we are capable of doing right now to make meaningful change in a life or death issue. Because folks are fighting for their lives each day. And we have the power to move in that fight and stick with it until we see victory.
May we take to heart the words of Bishop Ken Untener in this prayer as we go forth from the Season for Social Justice as Agents of Change.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
-Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
Rachel Lyons is an organizer for the Social Action Ministry at Old St. Patrick’s Church.