Community Missionary Baptist Church, Elkhart, Indiana
Photography by D. Plasman
I’m a decent white guy. I saw the movie Selma a few weeks ago. This past Monday, I attended a Martin Luther King Day service at the Community Missionary Baptist Church in Elkhart, IN. Decent white guys were in the minority. Next month—Black History Month—I’ll probably re-read King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Maybe Oprah will have something for me, too.
For sure, I’m a decent white guy. I even care—somewhat—about the Super Bowl. Will the Seahawks repeat as champions? Back-to-back wins haven’t happened since the Patriots did it in ‘04 and ’05. (Why would I know that?) Will New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, in the twilight of his stunning career, finally receive his fourth, Super Bowl ring? I’m sure Gisele, his model wife, is cheering for him. (And why would I know that?)
Beneath this decent, white guy stuff, I wonder if I’m just another fool. Too easily distracted. Too slow to make lasting investments in people’s lives, especially those different from me.
In the book I’m working on: Jesus, a Life – Daily Meditations on the Gospel of Luke, I wrote the following reflection on the story of the rich man who builds bigger barns to store all his crops. “God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool!’” (Luke 12:20)
God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. Never once, apparently, has he overcharged customers for his crops, even though he could have gotten away with it. He’s not a sweatshop operator. He’s a decent guy.
God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. He’s a fool for placing too much weight on the wrong things; a fool for thinking security can be measured down to the square foot; a fool for imagining that his materialist insulation could keep him from death’s cold grip. His grave marker will say it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it.
The story begs a few questions. What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do?
If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks powerfully today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived? Who are the people—different from me—I need to get to know?