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Start From Where We Are

Updated: 05/20/2014 @ 9:31am

On the way home church on Sunday, we were having a conversation.

It may have been more of a one-sided conversation than the usual definition of the word conversation.

OK, I may have been ranting a little bit.

I paused for breath and said, “I wonder if most people know that I’m often a seething, writhing nest of frustration.”

My wife said, “Well, I’m certainly aware of it.”

Fair point. Note to self . . . be nicer to wife.

What turned my crank that particular day was the announcement in church about a particular project the United Methodist Church supports. It funds advanced degrees in agriculture for young people from Africa, on the condition that they go back to their home country.

It’s a great idea; that’s not what was making me crazy. What set me off is that in Minnesota we’ve funded six students.


Africa is a big place. Six THOUSAND students with advanced degrees in agriculture would be a good start. Six is barely a token.

We’re so bad at doing good.

Years ago I was a member of a committee that planned short-term mission projects. At one of the meetings, a returning missionary from Liberia gently chastised the Liberian representative because a shipping container full of drugs, clothes, and textbooks had been opened and left to rot on the docks.

As it turned out, the drugs were long past their expiration date, the clothing was mostly for winter, given to the church in order to expedite closet cleaning, and two of the pallets of books were “The History of Michigan” – the 1987 edition.

Sadly, the Liberian students had not fully appreciated the importance of the Wolverine state.

“It’s not our fault,” you might say. “Those people need to help themselves.”

Another fair point. A lot of the screwed=up places in the world, including the U.S. on occasion, are screwed up because they keep putting the wrong people in power. Often that’s blamed on the residual effect of colonialism, or racism, or any number of other “isms.” And you know what? I don’t care.

That’s not true. I do care. It’s something I agonize over. But I can’t change what has happened. I can’t undo the past.

If I can’t even fix it so the Vikings actually won the ’69 Super Bowl, it’s clearly beyond my power to keep slavery from becoming established in America or keep my great-grandparents (who were starving in Norway) from climbing on a herring freighter and coming over to the Great Plains to settle on land that had just been taken from the Dakota. I can’t change how 75 years of American farm policy that everyone says was supposed to help the family farm has instead helped in the devastation of small-town economies and the depopulation of rural America.

None of us can change what has happened. No matter how unfair the past, no matter how difficult the present, we need to start from where we are today.

And the best way to start is to do big things. Big, hard-to-do, audacious things that require commitment and hard work from both the giver and the recipient. Things that require the blind optimism that allows people to work together to transcend history and the hard-headed reality that says trust your fellow man, but cut the cards.

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