Any experienced public speaker will be familiar with the following: You stand to speak, and you are working with an outline that is in your head, but without notes. You say (approximately) what you want to say, and sit down. Then, at a later time (sometimes right away, sometimes the next day), you realize there was something that would have worked so well in terms of your talk. If only you had thought to add it!
But of course in the internet age, you can.
So it was that this past Friday night I spoke for a few minutes at our Shabbat evening service about being in our old neighborhood in NYC and running into a man who was begging on the street. Not, of course, unusual for New York, except that this very person had been begging on the streets 20 years ago when we lived there. The gist of the sermonette was that there is a problem in a culture/society where a person is still on the street begging after twenty years.
The problem with my words was that I offered no resolution, no glimmer of hope, no uplifting message. I essentially pointed out this disturbing situation, and left it hanging in the air. Afterwards a congregant nicely, but slightly sarcastically said to me ‘thanks for the cheerful message, Rabbi, a nice way to start Shabbat.’
Now sometimes the point of preaching is simply to call attention to something that is disturbing, that for whatever reason people don’t want to confront. As the old saying goes, the preacher should comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. That being said, point well taken. And below is a story which might make a nice addendum to my Friday night comments.
You have probably heard the name James Shaw Jr. He is the man who wrestled a rifle away from a gunman who was shooting people in a Waffle House Restaurant in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. He has vociferously protested to being called a hero, simply saying he did what he felt he had to do. As if his actions in the restaurant were not enough, after the tragedy he set up a GoFundMe account for those whose lives had been changed by the shooting. His initial goal was to raise $15,000 dollars. But two weeks after he set up the account, it already had $225,000 dollars, and was growing.
When asked to comment about the fund’s success, Mr. Shaw said this: “I am overwhelmed. This has been a heartwarming reminder of what is possible when we come together to care for one another.”
What is possible when we come together to care for one another? The short answer is quite a bit, and Mr. Shaw and the victims of the shooting in Nashville have seen that first hand. The never-ending challenge is reminding people of how much there is to do, and of how much of a difference one individual can make, and all the more so a community of people who come together, care for one another, and determine to make the world a better place. If anything can help to take a beggar off the streets after 20 years, it is that kind of thinking, that sense of community, and that feeling of hope.