I woke up on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, as stunned as the rest of the world by the election results from the previous evening. Even those pleased with the outcome were doing double takes. All of us were left with the question, “What now?”
After reflecting on this question, I took to the keyboard. I posted thoughts on social media that amounted to “I’m going to retreat from politics and current events and return to reading good books. I’m going to invite my neighbors over for picnics and beer. I’m going think good thoughts and not be obsessed with the news.”
The implication was, of course, that everyone else should follow my lead. I was a sage for our times, dripping with wisdom. But my friend Natalie Webb, a minister in the trenches of grief with so many facing uncertain futures, replied with an admonishment.
She reminded me that none of the promises the winning candidate made in the election were things that would affect me. She asked me to consider the plight of my neighbors, many of whom are immigrants.
Natalie reminded me that many abuse victims had just watched someone ascend to the highest office who had bragged about doing to others the things that had been done to them.
Before that moment, I had probably heard some version of this message hundreds of times from friends with far fewer layers of privilege than I possess. But for some reason, this time, it began to stick.
My friend helped me see that while power-wielding people and institutions can be amusing, their power-wielding activities aren’t games meant for our entertainment. They are consequential and can cause harm or flourishing.
This interaction began to inform and animate my work, which was organizing communities in central Texas to increase food security for those who had been pushed to the margins by power-wielding people, institutions and systems.
It compelled me to rethink my Christian faith and the religious communities and institutions to which I belonged. Long before this, I had professed the belief that faith isn’t solely a personal endeavor and, in the wisdom from James 2:26, that “faith without works is dead.”
But professing that belief is “seeing through a glass darkly.” Walking in it gives clarity. I have found that clarity doesn’t come all at once but over time and with varying degrees of acceleration. I began seeing more clearly in the spring and summer of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic often brought to mind this social media interaction with Natalie. Never more so than when I heard or read some version of comments that began with, “If you don’t count the elderly and those with preexisting conditions…”
The sentiment was virtually indistinguishable from my post-2016 election kumbaya comments. If it does not affect me, why should anything about my world change?
As someone who tries to follow Jesus, the answer to that question for me came from the work of Dr. Emily Smith. Currently serving as Assistant Research Professor of Global Health at Duke, in 2020, Dr. Smith provided vital information about and demystified the complexities of the pandemic through her social media presence as the “Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist.”
Dr. Smith’s work as the Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist centered around Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story.
Someone was in a dire situation. Two people saw it and walked on by. One didn’t.
People of faith often think about this story when we see an individual who needs our care. We don’t want to pass by. But the questions Dr. Smith asked people of faith involved broader issues than one person in a ditch.
What does it mean on a larger scale to not be the ones who pass by? How should we use the best information available to us to inform our beliefs, attitudes and behaviors so that we aren’t passing by someone in need? But more importantly, in a world where our personal and corporate actions can be the very things that land people and entire groups in the ditch, how can we be good neighbors on a global scale?
The mission of Good Faith Media is to “provide reflection and resources at the intersection of faith and culture through an inclusive Christian lens.” I am honored to join its team of brilliant and faithful thinkers, writers and storytellers.
In my role as senior editor for daily online content and the Nurturing Faith Journal, my guiding conviction will be to curate stories that inform and nudge people of faith to think and act beyond ourselves, that elevate and center voices that have been pushed to the margins, and that lead us all to be good neighbors.
I consider it a sacred duty and look forward to walking with you on this journey.
Senior editor at Good Faith Media.