By Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
published July 28, 2023
This Week at Plymouth
“We have forgotten life-giving things that were once familiar and full of promise”
—Curtis White, “It’s Not About You”
In the last several years, our culture and politics have appeared overwhelmed by a wave of anger and dissatisfaction so acute and corrosive that many thinkers and scholars hypothesize about the scary possibility of national collapse into autocracy or civil war. Our frustrations about the inability or unwillingness of political and business leaders to provide constructive solutions to the world’s problems stoke mistrust and cynicism in them, in our institutions, and among ourselves. However, amid all the talk about how bad things are, people know and talk about those who remain undaunted in their pursuit of life-giving things, who combat cynicism and dissatisfaction with art, music, service, or neighborliness. What are the life-giving things we once did or believed that we have allowed to wither in the face of our discouraging reality?
The novelist and social critic Curtis White claims that we are suffering because we have forgotten life-giving things, chief among them our freedom. Not the corrupt, propagandistic notion of freedom that exacerbates poverty, inequality, and discrimination to the advantage of a select few. But a vision of freedom that is given meaning and purpose by our God-given capacity to love, treat our neighbor with dignity, and pursue the common good for all. White laments that we have forgotten the value of freedom in the American experiment, relinquishing our agency and imagination to orthodoxies and social fictions, like money, we hope will address suffering, dissatisfaction, and injustice. But we possess practices and principles we hold dear that model for a broken world, the life-giving things we hope to see in the world.
The practices and principles of the Jesus movement model a life-giving approach in our time. The world of the Gospels to which Jesus brought his ministry and service was violent, brutal, and oppressive. Yet, his every word, movement, and relationship brought life, connection, and healing. In the face of religious recalcitrance and imperial domination, he did not doubt the life-give power of love, neighborliness, and beloved community. He brought life, love, and community wherever he went. Perhaps that’s the power we inherited: remembering and embodying the life-giving things for our neighbors to see, embrace, and emulate. And when the world cannot satisfy, at least we won’t perpetuate its faults and failures. In urging his followers to “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus invites us to calibrate our expectations about the world’s ability to satisfy us in parch places. Of course, the world will disappoint us, and injustice will anger and frustrate us. But we possess great gifts of love, compassion, and discipleship that speak and forecast for the world what is life-giving and full of promise. Never forget it.
Please share it with the world.