Along the Way

These reflections illuminating areas of church, Christian and spiritual life are offered in each Friday email by our Plymouth clergy.

The Will to Act

Along the Way

“Don’t be a tourist or participant in or indifferent to suffering.”—Christina Sharpe, Ordinary Notes

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

When All Beauty is Gone


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

April 7, 2023

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”—Matt. 23:37

My heart breaks every time I think about how those who pour out their hearts in love, service, and commitment to the most vulnerable are often made victims of the inevitable backlash against the pursuit of justice. Even as Jesus confronts the truth about what awaits him during what would become his last visit to Jerusalem, he expresses his desire to care for the people. His response is a lament, not anger. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams points out that Jesus “consistently refuses the role of oppressor: he does no violence, he utters no condemnation, he has no will to exclude or diminish.” Given the powers Jesus challenged, the inevitability of his execution can never exclusively be theological. Jesus’ relentless, active opposition to the status quo of poverty, violence, and exclusion of “the least of these” threatened the political and economic powers. They had to stop him.

I have never been comfortable concluding that Jesus’ crucifixion was biblically and theologically necessary for humanity’s salvation. I have also been uncomfortable with the idea that we, all of humanity throughout all time, are responsible for Jesus’ death. But what overwhelms me, what draws me to Jesus, especially as we try to capture the theological import of the violence and sadness of Good Friday, is his faithful obedience to God’s call to love and serve until the very end. What strikes awe in me about Jesus is how he acted to make God’s heart and realm real for the world until the powers acted upon him to stop him. What ought we do in light of Jesus’ unwavering, unstoppable love, passion, and commitment? What does it mean to love so fully that the world wants to stop us?

On Good Friday, I confront how often I do not act. Whether out of fear, comfort, or cowardice, I wonder how often I have demurred in silence, compromise, or accommodation to injustice, violence, and dehumanizing disregard for the vulnerable. We are challenged every day at the feet of the cross to admit that, too often, in fear of death, we have been explicitly and inadvertently complicit in making victims, excluding and diminishing the vulnerable for whom Jesus advocated and on whose behalf he challenged the status quo. We have not acted as often as we should on behalf of the poor, the sick, the prisoner, or the homeless. But as the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion sets in, I am heartened by Henri Nouwen’s testimony: “Where all beauty is gone, all eloquence silenced, all splendor taken away, and all admiration withdrawn, there it is that God has chosen to manifest unconditional love to us.” What ought we do?

The Sufferings of the Present Time

by Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands—bell hooks

On a recent television program my family was watching, the show’s hero, who had helped a woman out of an abusive relationship, was attacked by the woman’s violent, spurned-partner. The attack was so brutal and gratuitous that I remarked to my spouse that many of the recent shows and movies we’ve been viewing allowed their heroes to undergo severe, debilitating violence before their inevitable victory. Do the writers believe overwhelming suffering makes victory sweeter? Is there something noble or heroic about suffering?

Every season of Lent, when I am preparing for the Holy Week liturgies and observances, I must confront the suffering of Jesus. In doing so, I also become increasingly sensitive to the news about suffering. Everywhere I turn, I see headlines and hear stories about people enduring unspeakable pain, violence, and suffering caused by nature or human hands. And I must prepare myself for the inevitable tendency to extrapolate from Jesus’ redemptive suffering that all suffering is redemptive, which is borne out by how people generally view suffering. A Pew Research Center poll from last year found that 68% of U.S. adults believe “everything in life happens for a reason,” and more than half (61%) believe that “suffering exists ‘to provide an opportunity for people to come out stronger.’” We know that people cope with suffering by intentional meaning-making to understand and explain the experience and regain some sense of orderliness in their world. I have benefitted personally from the testimonies of growth, overcoming, and deeper discipleship because of suffering.

I understand the desire for suffering to mean something, to see the ugliness and violence we experience transfigured in such a way that we can testify that it will always turn out alright. However, I worry that people misinterpret the Apostle Paul’s claim that he rejoices in his afflictions because suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope as an invitation to suffer (Rom 5:3-4). And unfortunately, overcoming violence, oppression, and discrimination is sometimes used as evidence that suffering is always redemptive or that there is no longer a need to hold anyone to account for it. In the effort to make suffering noble, we may inadvertently expect it, pursue it, or adjust ourselves to it. The social critic bell hooks invites us to be honest about the wounds of our suffering. But she also invites us to take control in reconstructing our lives in response to it. As we continue our journey to wholeness during this season of Lent, I pray that, even as we accept the inevitability of suffering, we remember that God does not require it, and we do not deserve it. Amen.

Previous Articles

The Will to Act

Can I See God?

Say Their Names

Open to All

Choosing Hope

Then What?

Fear Not

October 23, 2020 and Earlier

October 23, 2020 Plagues, Pandemics and Promises

October 16, 2020 The End of Times

October 9, 2020 Rebellion as Sacred Work

October 2, 2020 The Notorious RBG!

September 25, 2020 The Call

September 18, 2020 Dismantling the Silos

September 11, 2020 Revolutionary Love

September 4, 2020 Jesus Is the Answer

August 28, 2020 Worship: God Is the Audience

August 21, 2020 Our Knowledge of God Is Participatory

August 14, 2020 Frederick Douglass, Prophet

August 7, 2020 Do You Want to Be Healed?

July 31, 2020 Vulnerability

July 24, 2020 God’s Backside

July 17, 2020 A Sign of the Times

July 10, 2020 Desiderata

July 3, 2020 A Genius with a Thousand Helpers

June 19, 2020 Unsung Volunteers

June 12, 2020 Our Own Gardens

June 5, 2020 Church Update

May 29, 2020 The Call

May 22, 2020 Scroll Down

May 15, 2020 Don’t Push Send

May 8, 2020 Navigating Mistakes

May 1, 2020 Teach Us to Count Our Days

April 24, 2020 Sitting with Not Knowing

April 17, 2020 Feed My Sheep

April 10, 2020 Life’s Refrain

April 3, 2020 How Do We Show Our Love?

March 27, 2020 Moving through the Fog

March 20, 2020 To Love Kindness

March 13, 2020 The Virus

March 6, 2020  The Seth I Know

February 28, 2020 Triage

February 21, 2020 Impermanence

February 14, 2020 Pruning

February 7, 2020 Inner Life

January 31, 2020 Ask Not

January 24, 2020 Doing Right Things

January 17, 2020 Radical Acceptance

January 10, 2020 The New Year—20/20 Vision

December 27, 2019 Closing the door

December 20, 2019 Winter Solstice and Christmas Day

December 13, 2019 Sacred rest

December 6, 2019  Judge little, forgive much

November 29, 2019 My favorite holiday

November 22, 2019 Making space is spiritual work

November 15, 2019 Looking to the future

November 8, 2019 We stand at the crossroads

November 1, 2019 Ecumenical and Interfaith Connections

October 25, 2019 A Plea for Civility

October 18, 2019 Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

October 11, 2019 . . . to being still