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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Willing to Be Uncomfortable - How to Change the World, pt. 4

Bryan Stevenson
I was so fortunate to get to hear Bryan Stevenson speak at Davidson College on January 28. Just the previous week Heather and I went to see Just Mercy (imdb), the movie based on Stevenson's life work through the Equal Justice Initiative to pursue social justice for falsely imprisoned and unfairly sentenced juveniles and people of color.

The event at Davidson filled up the original venue and then sold-out the basketball arena. He spoke to the gathered crowd on the topic: "How to Change the World." From what I've come to learn about his life, if anyone has the clout and experience to speak to such a lofty topic, Stevenson does. He shared four points, all after framing his work in his own faith and desire to "get to higher ground" with the people he works with. I'd like to look at each of his points in a series of posts and draw a connection with the work of the church, which is also in the business (under God's leadership) of changing the world. Here's a short (3 1/2 min.) video summary of his presentation (VIDEO).

How to Change the World, pt. 4: WILLING TO DO AND BE UNCOMFORTABLE

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash
Bryan Stevenson's fourth point is at once obvious and difficult. I don't know of anyone who actively dislikes 'comfort' - but it is often the enemy of godly change. Stevenson shared story after story of his choices to leave his comfort-zone and enter into the suffering and struggle of others. It is there - in that space - where such justice and life-change happened, both in his clients' lives and (often) in his own.

As I am writing this I am returning from a conference in a familiar setting: Providence Presbyterian on Hilton Head Island. My family would often vacation there when I was young and we would go to church at that church. If you know anything about Hilton Head, it is not a place you would associate with discomfort, at least not for those vacationing there. One of the distinct memories from my childhood attendance at that church, however, was the pastor's benediction. After proclaiming God's Word to a group of largely affluent parishioners he would pronounce these words as part of the benediction: "Remember, Jesus came to comfort the afflicted...and afflict the comfortable. Figure out which you are." (Or something like that... It's an old memory!) I was struck by the idea that Jesus would introduce or invite the comfortable to enter into affliction or discomfort. Bryan Stevenson's words reminded me of that benediction and challenged me freshly to be open to and willing to do and be uncomfortable.

Church can be a very comfortable place: familiar friends, encouraging messages, prayers for personal and others' needs. But that is falling short of Jesus' purpose of His Church. We need to be challenged, stirred up, sent out, and boldly entere into an uncomfortable world. That's what Jesus did, and it's what he called us to do (see John 17 again). He does not send us helpless or without resources; but he does send us. And to Stevenson's point, that's one way God changes the world.

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