by Phil Miller–
A man came to our church building while Board members were meeting in a Discovery Focus Group. A few of our leaders listened to his laments for a long time before arranging transportation to a motel. The next morning, our staff recognized that this person had probably visited us on previous occasions with a similar heart-rending story. Then the same man telephoned our office insisting that we should do more and became belligerent.
As we pondered the dilemma of responding case-by-case to desperate individuals, we realized the futility of pouring a cup of water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom. The cup of water is a single act of mercy. Pouring cup after cup into the bucket for the same person uses up resources intended for wider distribution. And it’s the hole in the bottom that’s the real problem. The hole in the bottom is wrecking the system.
The cup of water is charity; patching the hole is justice. Charity isn’t bad; it helps individuals, at least for a matter of hours. It helps us feel better about ourselves—less guilty, somehow, for being the “haves” rather than the “have-nots.” But justice is better; it helps all of us together, rich and poor alike.
This is why I believe we should devote more thought, planning, and action to systemic solutions to the big moral issues today, such as the ever-widening gap between the very rich and the poor, and the belief in the concept of race. And any workable systemic solution must include representation of all who might be affected by changes. It should be a grassroots effort, not something dreamed up in an ivory tower.
To get more insight into what I mean by “the concept of race,” I invite you to join Mike Wildman, Emily Viverette, and others who will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Sundays, October 20, November 3, and November 17, to view and discuss a 3-part PBS documentary called, “Race: The Power of an Illusion.”