Noble intentions often fall victim to comfort and security . . . If there had been an easier way, I would have likely taken it. Sometimes God uses forcing moves to get us to where we need to be.
In 2005, I thought I knew all about poverty, despite not knowing one single poor person. I viewed myself as a River Baby expert, despite not having dipped one toe in the water. My conclusions were based on a deadly combination of context-less theories and unconscious biases. Unbeknownst to me, this would soon change.
The River Babies Journey isn’t merely about discovering the source of the river rabies. It’s also about finding our true selves. That’s because it is a journey, not a destination. This journey is nothing if it is not a spiritual one. The main goal of everyone’s life journey is to become a better human. For Christians, this means being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). In our divine moment, God brings us to the place where we impact the world, while at the same time, we ourselves are transformed.
At that moment, it began to dawn on me that my political attitudes were poisoning my very soul. What I was reading and what I was listening to produced bitterness and anger. It hindered my ability to love and blinded me to the truth. Instead, I needed to focus on the one who came to “Preach the Good News to the poor.” I needed more understanding, more empathy, and more curiosity. I needed to learn to love the way Jesus loved and I needed to see the world the way He sees it. On July 4th, 1997, I stood alone as a man in need of God’s transforming love.
We can learn a lot by reflecting on the patterns that have emerged in our lives. They can reveal our penchants, our likes and dislikes, as well as our strengths and weaknesses. Or, as in my case, they may indicate lessons that we still need to learn.
The initial reason we journey upstream is to get a better understanding of our world. The main benefit, however, is that we gain a better understanding of ourselves.
As we journey upstream, we must remember that everyone is captive to their own experiences. We can only truly know our own world: we merely believe that we understand the experiences of others. Our experiences, in turn, influence our perspectives.
Yes, like all American cities, Rochester had an exceptional past, but it also has some truly ugly stories that have remained carefully untold. Stories that those neighbors and my own dad had never heard. The racial conflicts which spawned “white flight” were symptoms of deeper problems. As a Rochester citizen, Frederick Douglass, once said, “The thing that is worse than the rebellion is the thing that caused the rebellion.”