Do the Right Thing

I agree with Spike Lee that among life’s most challenging questions is “what is the right thing to do now?” Furthermore, whether you’re in Brooklyn, Berlin, or Bermuda there’s a difference between doing right and being right. Spiritual and emotional maturity turn on understanding and living out this distinction. Scripture tells me, “speak the truth in love”—one without the other misses the mark. But like Radio Rahim in “Do the Right Thing,” I want to blast from my boom box “Fight the power!”

My tendency is to focus on truth. It’s not that I don’t love. But I often err by saying what I believe important at the expense of doing what a person needs most in a given moment. In many situations, kindness may be more critical than hearing truth. RC Bingham, another contributor to this blog, says “people only hear you when they’re moving toward you.” Emotional connection opens people’s hearts and minds to the truth. Knowledge alone is insufficient.

While the reasons we suffer are many, much of our anguish is not for lack of information about what ails society. For instance, the average city dweller, and increasingly those in suburbs too, are quite familiar with people living on the streets. We pass unhoused persons daily, sometimes acknowledging their presence, sometimes not. A social scientist like myself can help explain the social processes leading to homelessness and why certain groups are more likely to experience it. But analysis rarely promotes consistent action to ensure all people have shelter.

a more inclusive social world benefits all, even those with disproportionate power and status.

Learning how to do the right thing involves remembering that my inward journey prepares me for my outward expression, and God wants my commitment to both. My inward trek involves bringing to God my sins, weaknesses, wounds, fears, and longings, and recognizing that these things inform my sense of who God is and who I am in Christ. Only then can I enact authentic love toward myself, God, and others—and embody The Great Commandment.

As a Black woman, I seek so much that the world refuses to offer; because to meet my needs would mean upending centuries-old social systems. The Lord holds my hand and comforts me when I feel sad, afraid, rejected, and alone, reminding me I’m his daughter he loves and that he’ll never leave or forsake me—that I’m a vital part of his wondrous creation. God tells me to grieve well—that His will is not that I experience racism and sexism—but that nevertheless they are something he allows as we move toward the fulfillment of His kingdom purpose. And, as painful as it is, He uses these very social evils to grow my character and capacity. God also invites me to use my platforms to create more space for Black women, and others are who marginalized, to live out their God-given splendor. In doing so, I relieve suffering and demonstrate that a more inclusive social world benefits all, even those with disproportionate power and status. Yet my inward healing and the outworking of my purpose do not perfectly overlap. Jesus wants my renewal and my maturity—He wants those things for all people. Only divine wisdom and mediation can determine the interactions between me and others that will maximally open new vistas for everyone’s flourishing.

God’s character encompasses justice and mercy in perfect harmony and pursues our total wellbeing—spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental. The indwelling Holy Spirit enables me to embody this constructive tension, just as Christ did over 2,000 years ago. But the process for getting there—for me and the world writ large—is long and complicated. There’s a wilderness before The Promised Land. The Good Shepherd’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, as high as the heavens are above the earth. How can we finite creatures comprehend the will of the Infinite Triune God as we engage ourselves, God, and other humans? Alignment only comes as we actively attune ourselves to God’s will, praying unceasingly, each moment surrendering to the lover and anchor of our soul, the source of our salvation.

As I embrace the beauty of how God operates, I realize that truth is not always God’s best solution—or at least not as much of it as I want to share. Yet feeling the social constraints of anti-Blackness and misogyny, I cry with the psalmists “How long, Lord, how long? Let me say my piece!” But, as Corey Barnes, another contributor to The Gathering asked me: “Do you just want to say a thing or make a difference? What is your ‘why’?” If I trust the Lord, and know He’s sovereign, loving, and sees and holds the beginning and the end, then I must say “nevertheless, Lord, not my will, but yours.” And then, in those times when the Lord says “speak” and gives me access to the same righteous energy Jesus employed when he turned tables in the Temple and told the Pharisees of their hypocrisy—I praise Him for giving me language and opportunity to speak life! May we have life and life abundantly!

I still want to blast my boom box as I fight the good fight. But my growth edge is discerning the Holy Spirit’s will…even when I’m well stocked with stats, social theory, and visions of how we can make our world one where all of us thrive. I have no doubt the Lord will channel the dimensions of my desires for justice that comport with his will. After all, Christ declared His job description to be to set the oppressed free. I also remind myself that the peace that surpasses understanding in my heart is fundamentally connected to the collective peace of “shalom,” where nothing is broken and nothing is missing, the Beloved Community of sisters and brothers.

I pray that the Lord would make his face shine upon each of us individually and as a human family that we may know the height and breadth of God’s love for us and his steadfast pursuit of us, so that we can wholeheartedly welcome his glory, singing in unending praise—alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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