What Can I Do to Help?
Climb to safety, you and me and the baby
Send our thoughts and prayers to loved ones on the ground
And as the days went by we just stopped looking down, down, down
The world’s on fire and we just climb higher
’Til we’re no longer bothered by the smoke and sound
Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher
Nothing given, nothing found
What’ve I done to help?
- “What’ve I Done to Help?” — Jason Isbell
The famous Mr. Rogers quote about his mother saying “look for the helpers” when something bad happens is often used in tragic circumstances. It’s a nice sentiment and it’s something to think about, especially when you are disconnected from an event. If a school shooting happens on the other side of the country, or a terrorist attack on the other side of the world, we can’t do anything about it so it’s good to find something positive to focus on.
But in the end, it serves as a salve for those of us who aren’t actually wounded.
And then we click on another trending topic.
How often do I think, “How can I be that helper?” How often do I see an issue and think I can have an impact beyond a social media post?
My default reaction in any major news event, especially one that involves something I don’t understand, haven’t personally experienced, or am not qualified to speak on, is to step back and listen to others.
When it comes to situations like George Floyd and police brutality, this becomes especially true. I personally have no experience in this area and nothing to add that would not already be said better by someone I respect who has experienced these types of issues. Those like Lecrae, Tony Evans, and others.
I say this knocking on a huge piece of wood, but I haven’t even been pulled over by a cop since 2011. Yet, every time I see a police car I check everything and make sure I’m following the law 100%. My heart rate increases and I’m on edge. All of that because I might get a ticket that comes with a $100 fine and maybe a defensive driving class at a chain restaurant.
I can’t imagine the anxiety caused by seeing a police cruiser if I thought it might cost me my life. I also can’t imagine the frayed nerves of every police officer as they walk up to a car they’ve pulled over, not knowing what they might encounter. I get nervous at the possibility of having to spend eight hours in a Luby’s.
I don’t think that taking a step back in a situation where you aren’t an expert is a wrong reaction. I think that most people should listen first. James 1:19 tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. But, often I am more than slow to speak. I don’t speak at all.
When someone dies, they are spoken about in glowing terms by everyone who knew them. The focus is almost always on the things they did to help. Their friends and family rarely talk about how good they were at their job, or how athletic they were, or how nice their cars were. Volunteer activities, passions, and causes they cared about typically define someone.
What will you say about me? I have no idea, but I don’t intend to make it difficult. I have, and will continue, served at my church in many different capacities that hopefully have an impact on the city that I live in, but when I look at my activities outside the church, they are essentially nonexistent. I don’t serve anywhere in the community amongst both believers and non-believers.
Here are some ways that I plan to help and I hope you will consider doing them in some way as well. And if there are major blind spots in what I’m doing or saying, I’d love to have that conversation with you as well.
Nothing changes if we don’t speak up. And I don’t mean yelling at your opponents on social media. There is nothing courageous about doing that. It takes real courage to have a conversation with someone that you don’t agree with or to point out areas that may need improvement in someone’s life. Perhaps the only thing we can agree on as a society is that something is deeply wrong, even if the symptoms, diagnoses, and culprits vary greatly depending on who is talking. All of these are in addition to supporting organizations working to provide help and make changes.
I am always interested in hearing all viewpoints of any issue. Nothing offends me and I truly seek to find the truth before ever speaking publicly about something. This often means hearing viewpoints that run counter to my beliefs or that go against my preconceived notions. If something is true, it can withstand any amount of scrutiny. For example, that’s why, as a Christian, I can read or listen to viewpoints of those who don’t believe in God. These viewpoints sharpen and challenge me and drive me to find the truth.
So I’m reading books, watching documentaries, reading studies and articles, and seeking out all kinds of different viewpoints to get a full picture of issues of race, police brutality, and criminal justice.
Talking to those who hold an opposing view is a way to present your ideas and to hear from others so that you can move forward together. A functioning society is one where ideas can be heard and debated in the open without fear of repercussions.
An example of this happened the other day, when people that hold such extreme opposing viewpoints actually held a debate on the radio. Rush Limbaugh and The Breakfast Club (DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Charlamagne Tha God) had a thirty-minute discussion in which both sides were able to find some common ground when it came to the murder of George Floyd.
They also found tons of issues where they fundamentally disagreed, but at the end of the day, Limbaugh’s listeners heard, probably for the first time ever, from three very important voices in the black community and The Breakfast Club’s listeners heard from one of the most influential conservative voices ever. When ideas are exchanged, even from completely disparate points of view, common ground and progress can be found eventually.
If you understand what the other side believes and wants, you can work to figure out ways that common goals can be achieved, despite fundamental differences. I think their exchange had many flaws on both sides, but so does every discussion from such opposing viewpoints. A flawed yet respectful debate is always better than no debate at all. The fact that this interview was so controversial shows how rare it is that people from opposing sides actually talk. And no, I don’t consider cable news shows that pit two sides against each other and have them yell for five minutes a good example of this.
I’ll openly admit that prayer is an area where I struggle. Not only to find the time and the concentration necessary to pray for my family, my community, and myself, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I prayed for my country as a whole. Sometimes I will pray for our leaders, which is Biblical, but I don’t know if I’ve prayed for the country or if I’ve prayed for specific issues. I need to be praying that we’d find a solution to the myriad issues that plague us.
When you pray you align your heart to that of God’s and praying for solutions to issues like these will keep them top of mind for me and drive me to seek answers in my daily life.
So when it comes to the issue of racial justice and reconciliation, what can I really do? Frankly, I’m not 100% sure. I’m not a politician and I never want to be one. I can vote and perhaps promote candidates I believe in, but the real work that most of us can do happens between individuals. I’m looking to start volunteering a few hours a week as either a mentor or a tutor or something so I can use my time and energy to help the next generation of kids get out of cycles of poverty. And no, that isn’t necessarily race-related. Kids who need mentors and tutors are of all races and backgrounds, but in a city like Dallas that is fairly segregated along racial lines, the schools that often need more help are in predominantly minority areas. I’ve been researching, and will continue doing so, ways and organizations to get involved in.
In situations like this, I don’t like talking about what I want to do or what I plan to do. I would rather take action and not have anyone besides my close family and friends know. However, in this case I’m hoping my vulnerability encourages others.
I truly want help. Please tell me about places in Dallas where you have volunteered and felt like you were making a serious impact. Provide me resources for education. I am openly saying I don’t have the answers.
I’m tired of sending “thoughts and prayers to loved ones on the ground” as Isbell says. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, like the church is called to be. Join me in this journey and help me be better at it.