Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“They passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far . . .
That’s just the way it is
And some things will never change”
—Bruce Hornsby and the Range, “That’s Just the Way it Is”
The singer Bruce Hornsby recorded a song in the 1980s about poverty and racial segregation, lamenting, “that’s just the way it is, and some things will never change.” I hear that phrase when people feel that a situation is hopeless or when they are unwilling to change something they know is not right. Even when people don’t use those exact words, I have detected a familiar “that’s just the way it is” tone of resignation when we aspire to address the scourges of poverty, racism, racist policing, and community violence. More recently, it has been the swirling subtext in the discussions about whether the most recent mass shooting of small children in Uvalde, Texas, may finally lead to a federal legislative response to gun violence. As people plan and hope for the possibilities of actually doing something about the easy availability of guns, the persistence of a “that’s just the way it is” status quo lurks in the background.
As a person of faith, the most potent antidote I possess to the “that’s just the way it is” attitude is the gospel, the good news of God’s love and liberation for all. In Jesus’ ministry to marginalized people in occupied territory, he never accepted that the poverty, oppression, captivity, and exploitation imposed on vulnerable people by empire was just the way it was. His prophetic imagination inspired belief in not only God’s promise to make things right but also in the power of bearing witness to faith, hope, and love that could be the catalyst for fundamental change amid violence, persecution, and oppression.
As a community of faith, we give voice to faith, hope, and love in songs, prayers, and liturgies. We declare our intentions to do social justice, speaking loudly about racial injustice, ending poverty and homelessness, and addressing state and community violence. But even as we do, we are haunted by the fear that “that’s just the way it is.” Resist it with all your might. As another artist sang, “don’t accept that what is happening is just a case of others’ suffering.” Until we are willing to see that the injustices of our time don’t have to be just the way it is and manifest in our own lives and actions the profound acts of grace and reconciliation that God shows creation, then our claims about racial justice or social justice are nothing more than what the theologian Willie James Jennings describes as “socially exhausted idealist claims masquerading as serious theological accounts.” We cannot become what people have in mind when they conclude in pessimism and resignation, “that’s just the way it is.” Things can change.