The Will to Act
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
May 4, 2023
In the last few months, in response to gun violence, homelessness, climate change, youth delinquency and criminal behavior, and violence against transgender people, I have heard activists and advocates lament the seeming lack of will to address the suffering these issues cause. There is little disagreement that these problems cause so much pain and suffering for millions. And there is no shortage of well-researched and exhaustively studied proposals and policies to address these and many more severe problems. So, it does appear that the failure to respond to our many pressing national issues is less an issue of know-how or lack of answers than it is of will.
At a moment of deep frustration with the gridlock that often short-circuits effective political and legislative change, I came across Christina Sharpe’s exhortation, “Don’t be a tourist or participant in or indifferent to suffering.” It frightens me to consider we lack political will because too many of us have inadvertently become tourists, participants in, or indifferent to all that is happening around us. I used to think politics and competing ideologies prevented us from implementing policies to address suffering. But I’ve come to believe that political and ideological polarization is a symptom of the spiritual maladies of individualism, tribalism, and consumerism. They are the qualities of our lives that lead to the adjustments, equivocations, and compromises we make because the suffering is too endemic and too persistent, or we feel powerless to do something, or it will take too much time, effort, and money.
But our sacred texts recount examples of God’s people mustering the will to act against incredible odds. One example is the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus went to a deserted place to be alone, and the crowds followed. Jesus saw the desperate need of the crowds, had compassion, and “served their weak.” He did not send them away. In contrast, the disciples also saw the need of the crowds and had compassion. But their first thought was to send them away back into town so they could buy something to eat. When the disciples reminded Jesus that over five thousand people in a deserted place needed food, Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” With that charge, the disciples shared the little they had and fed all the people. This story reminds me that we do not have to stand on the sidelines or outsource our response to suffering. Our call is to keep giving, to keep showing up, to keep serving, and to keep demanding justice. A generous God has empowered us to take action—to use our time, talent, and treasure to serve the most vulnerable among us. I pray we never lose our will to act and never turn away from the suffering around us.
DeWayne L. Davis