American rocker Dave Mathews has a song that goes:
|Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Hotel, Memphis|
Could I have been… a parking lot attendant,
Could I have been… a millionaire in Bel Air,
Could I have been… lost somewhere in Paris,
Could I have been… your little brother,
Could I have been… anyone other than me,...
Could I have been…anyone?
Every so often, when I come across someone in dire straits – say someone begging at an intersection or a homeless person or someone screaming at no one – I wonder: why you and not me? And I think: It could’ve been me. I could’ve been born into abject and viciously cyclical poverty. I could’ve had horrible parents. I could’ve had few opportunities, little access to good education and employment. I didn’t, but there are those who do, and none of us chose our starting point.
Inevitably when I go down that road of questioning, this one eventually comes up: how does the reality of the situation of radically unequal opportunities comport with my experience of a loving and just God? The question makes me uncomfortable. I ponder it for a little bit, then I give up. But I gained a new awareness in this regard just last week in New Orleans, when we helped rebuild Ms. Vera’s house, which had been destroyed by Katrina; and in Memphis at the Civil Rights Museum, when I listened to the subhuman working conditions of Black sanitation workers against which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke – this kind of suffering is not necessary. We can do something about it; that was MLK’s point. Jesus’ too. All the way back to Moses, in fact.
My new understanding helped me to reframe my question. The point isn’t about understanding why them and not me. There shouldn’t be awful starting points - for anyone. It doesn’t have to be that way. Therein lie the dream and the mission.