We are living in times when every day is another story of violence and political unrest, not just in South Africa, but all over the world. People are sharing that it is hard to read the morning paper and live with hope. The leaders who used to be–the Nelson Mandela’s, the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Gandhi’s are sorely missed in the world today. Yet, if we want a better tomorrow, we can’t complain it into being. We must join in the work of building it. In the building of a better tomorrow, relationships matter.
Relationships across boundaries of division can be like the bell in Central Methodist Mission that rang years ago. It no longer rings today, because if it did it would shake the foundation underneath the buildings all around Greenmarket Square. Relationships across lines of division shake the foundations of the constructs in our minds. They allow for the texture of difference to be realized in ways that have potential to grow us in our ability to recognize our need of one another. An unnamed author penned these words “the best feeling in the world is that you actually mean something to someone.” “Yes!” We need to be engaging in relationships where we are saying with our commitment to be with, to work with, that “Yes!” you mean something to me and to the world and I am with you! I am with you in ear, in heart, in voice, and feet!
There is a story of a beautiful working relationship that was born in Durham, North Carolina, the city Alan Storey just happens to be teaching in right now, between a PhD level theologian the Rev. Canon Dr. Samuel Wells and a community activist Marcia Owens. Marcia represents an organization called the Religious Coalition for a non-violent Durham. She organizes vigils for homicide victims that die by gunshot wounds. Together they worked with one another to write a book called, living without enemies—Being present in the midst of violence. Their work is a beautiful gift to the world in that it illustrates commitment even beyond the penned word. They have stood together in the midst of the violence of the world—a symbol of light and hope to those who feel alone in their struggle for justice and forgotten in their pain and loss.
In their book, Sam Wells shares different ways of engaging with people across lines of division and in particular with those we perceive to be in need. One way is working for. This would be doing something on behalf of another like taking them to an appointment or serving them a meal. Another way would be to work with them. An example might be planning and implementing a community event alongside members of the community, this would be working with. The third way he mentions is simply being with members of your community you might not normally come across. The purpose would not be to serve, but to simply build relationships, to be with fellow pilgrims in the journey of life. The fourth way Sam lifts up is being for. We can learn through organizations like Marcia’s or Gun Free South Africa how to advocate for victims of violence. In our advocacy we use our voice in solidarity with movements that bring change.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi all were individuals who gave themselves to a particular way of living that they believed would bring change towards a good they might not ever see realized in their lifetime. Their vision of what they were living for must have been so real in their minds eye that the taste of it was the sustenance that sustained them on their journey. They gave their lives to the understanding that relationships matter. The nostalgia of longing for leadership does not give rise to leadership and so it is upon us all to live with greater discipline each day in the ways in which we follow Jesus and the way He marks out for us that leads to life. Jesus was a multiplier of leadership. Jesus invested in twos and threes and then twelve. Jesus teaches us what it means to be with—to work with. Jesus named for those who followed him that the greatest calling upon them was to live with love for God and love for others. Jesus lived, died, and breathes new every day the truth that relationships matter.
With you on the journey,