Create an outline of the following essay. Be especially attentive to note the specific examples.
Humility, Grace, and Hope
by Dr. Carolyn Dirksen
Dr. Conn asked me to speak in chapel several weeks ago, and whenever he asks me I always eagerly accept, and instantly get frantic about what I?m going to say. In fact, I think my family would say that I become obsessed. I think about topics, I pray about topics, I interview my family for topics, I read through the concordance to my Bible, I even eavesdrop on unsuspecting students in the dining hall trying to get ideas. You know that stage area near the ice cream where one table is raised above the one next to it, and they are separated by a low wall? If you ever see me sitting there?move away!
So after driving my family crazy and frightening a few students, I decided to speak about grace. I love the idea of the unmerited favor of God, and I have a wonderful story about grace?one God taught me one summer when I inadvertently found myself in the tambourine section of the Salvation Army Band giving my testimony at an upscale shopping mall in Toronto. I love telling that story, and I haven?t had a captive audience for it for awhile. I planned to go on to how important it is for us to show God?s grace to others, a topic I need to remind myself of on a regular basis, and one I thought you might need to hear as well. So it was decided, and I started working on my sermon on grace. It was light but with a serious overtone, and it was almost finished.
But then Katrina hit, and my mood changed entirely. I was riveted to the TV, at first horrified by the power of the storm, and then deeply disturbed by the images of the desperate survivors. In the frustration and hopelessness of those next few days, I tore up my notes on grace and started working on the topic of humility. I felt humbled by the power of nature and stunned by our arrogance in the face of what she can do. We think we have her tamed because we can drain the wetlands and change the course of rivers, but when her power is unleashed, we are truly helpless.
I was also humbled by looking into the faces of the poor as they cried out in anger over being abandoned in their doomed and ruined city. They are usually invisible to us because we keep them on their side of town and look away when we see them sleeping on park benches and in doorways, but for those few days we could not look away. They filled our TV screens, and we saw ?the least of these? not being fed, and not being sheltered, and not being clothed but dying of hunger and thirst and neglect before our stunned eyes. And I was humbled by the role my country suddenly played in the international community?not ?the most powerful nation in the world,? but the nation to whom Nigeria and Iran and Cuba offered aid. For several days humility was all I could think of, and all I wanted to talk about. So I wrote that sermon too. It was dark and mournful and full of loss.
But then on Friday, I got on a bus with Mike Hayes and seventeen students and headed for Mississippi on the first of the Lee University Katrina relief trips. I took a notepad along in case I learned anything to add to my sad, angry sermon on humility, but on the way home, I tore that sermon up too, and Monday night I started from scratch with a clean computer screen to prepare this talk on grace, humility and hope. I saw a lot of each last weekend, and I know I cannot talk about them without tears. The lessons are too fresh to have moved from my heart to my head?they are raw but real, and I give you this morning the relatively unedited version.
First is grace. Grace is God?s favor which we do not have to deserve. It is ours for the taking, and no matter who we are or what we have done, God?s grace pours down on us, as unquestioning as rain. God?s great hope for us is that, having received His grace, we will pour out our own grace on others?that not having been judged unworthy, we will not judge others unworthy; that having been loved despite our faults, we will in turn love?no questions asked. This so seldom happens that, when it does, it stops us in our tracks, but I saw it in great abundance this weekend.
Mike and the students and I went to Daphne, Alabama, where we stayed at the Bay Community Ministries, sleeping on mattresses in their Sunday school rooms. Daphne was on the outer edge of Katrina, and buildings in that community were not damaged either by rain or water. But neighboring Pascagoula, Mississippi, was hit hard. Pastor Jerry Taylor and his Bay Community church were the first of many people we met this weekend who are living out God?s grace full tilt. On the morning after Katrina, Pastor Taylor drove his Operation Compassion truck straight into the destruction to find where he could be of service. Every day since then, he and his members have poured out their grace on thousands and thousands of strangers, working fourteen- and fifteen-hour days to provide food, clothes, bedding, medical supplies, and help to people they have never met. They freely give their time, their energy, and their resources without ever asking who is worthy.
Less than two weeks after Katrina, Bay Community Ministries has set up an impressive base of operations at the Pascagoula Church of God. The pastor of that church is Eugene Eubanks. Where Pastor Taylor is commanding and ?in charge,? pastor Eubanks is mild and almost shy. He and his congregation were seriously affected by Katrina. His church and home were flooded, and most of his possessions are now a sodden mass. His church has no floor, no carpet, no pews, and the sheet rock has been cut off and removed at about the 4 foot level where the storm surge filled the structure. His office is crowded with rubble, and it?s hard to see where clean up might even begin. But Pastor Eubanks is also an instrument of grace.
The morning after Katrina, he got up thinking about how he could help others in his community who lived closer to the sea and lost more than he did, and every day since then he has also worked beyond the apparent limits of human endurance to feed, clothe and assist his neighbors while his own needs have gone largely un-mourned and unmet. On Sunday we attended service on his church lawn under the tent he uses to shelter people who are waiting in line for food. His pulpit was a cardboard box. He had to shout above the traffic because his sound system had been destroyed, and he was wearing glasses held together with tape and wire. But his prayer was not for his own very obvious needs. Instead, he gave thanks that he and his church had been useful in meeting the needs of others.
In the coalition between Pastor Eubanks and Pastor Taylor, here?s how it works: The hollowed out sanctuary serves as a warehouse for a seemingly endless supply of food, toiletries, diapers, and water. I worked in that room for hours arranging food into groups, and creating grocery-store-like sections before I looked up and realized this warehouse was only recently a place of worship. In a very profound sense, it still is, and it gives back the original meaning of the word sanctuary. One Sunday school room serves as a first aid station and a place to dispense batteries and medical supplies. A second is filled with sheets, towels, and pillows; a third dispenses cleaning supplies, mops, brooms, and bleach, and a fourth is stacked high with toys.
Perhaps the largest operation is on the church parking lot where volunteers prepare and serve more than 3,700 meals a day. It is a loaves and fishes operation that staggers the imagination. The meals are cooked in two gigantic wok-like cauldrons heated by butane. Meat is cooked on a commercial barbecue grill. There is no kitchen, and although electricity has returned to Pascagoula, there is none in the church parking lot?nor is there running water. A line of people serves the food into Styrofoam containers and a volunteer from Bay Community distributes the steaming boxes to cars that pull through the parking lot in such great numbers that someone has to stand in the road to direct traffic.
Early in the morning, the citizens of Pascagoula begin to gather on the church lawn where they can pick out clothing and incidentals while they wait for the food bank to open and for a meal to be served. They line up under the shade of an awning and are admitted to the sanctuary five at a time. Each person takes a box and has 5 minutes to collect needed items. They then go to the Sunday school classrooms while the next five are admitted to the sanctuary. It is orderly and gracious. On Saturday, Mike Hayes controlled traffic at the door, and all day there was never a line of fewer than fifty people. I?m sure not all of them were Christians or good citizens or careful stewards of what they received, but grace doesn?t ask and doesn?t judge. Human grace that reflects the grace of God only gives. That?s what makes it hard, but that?s what makes it grace.
It was also grace that distributed container after container after container of hot food without questioning where it was going or where the ingredients of the next meal would come from. The cars that drove through to pick it up ranged from dented, unpainted Pintos– lumpy with Bondo, and crowded with children– to sleek SUVs whose tinted windows revealed nothing of who was inside. The storm had made everyone equal in their need.
I worked in the sanctuary for the better part of Saturday, and I saw this human grace poured out on all kinds of people. There were the experienced food bank mothers?poor long before Katrina and unaccustomed to generosity. They were wary and wise, and they weren?t going to be tricked. They came in with a game plan and dashed around the sanctuary pushing stacks of goods into their boxes unexamined, looking furtively around to see whether they were getting away with it. They had the exhilarated, frightened look of looters, not fully realizing that you don?t have to steal what is freely given. Schooled in most of life?s hard lessons, they did not trust that the food bank would be there the next day, and they were fighting for their survival.
There were also many formerly middle class families, strangers to the food banks who were unsure about what to take. They were unfamiliar with Spam, Vienna sausages and potted meat, but seized the few cans of asparagus someone thought it appropriate to send. Accustomed to choices, they wanted Sure rather than Secret and searched through boxes for their preferred shampoo but were apologetic when they found it. Grace made no distinction.
Grace was also at work on the supply side of this operation where hundreds of Sunday school classes and youth groups were packing boxes and shipping them south. As the crowds came through and depleted our supplies, another semi would pull in and bless us with abundance. I asked again and again where the food came from for the 3,700 meals, and there was never really an answer. It was almost as if they set up the cauldrons and got the food containers ready and waited for grace to supply the food. It happened every day with the abundance that only God can provide?His grace enacted through the human hearts and human hands of people who would never see Pascagoula.
In my first chapel talk for today, I had a long section encouraging you to express God?s grace to others?to be as generous and non-judgmental as He was in blessing you. My impression was that we are greedy with God?s grace and select those whom we will bless with criteria we don?t want applied to ourselves. I was wrong. At least in Pascagoula, Mississippi, grace is alive and well.
Now humility. My first humility sermon was dominated by a kind of hopelessness?humility in the face of all that humankind cannot do?cannot fix. The kind of humility God intends is not the humility of despair. It is the gentle act of seeing the good in others without diminishing the sense of good in ourselves. Humility allows us to kneel before God, to bow our heads and not be arrogant?to prefer others to ourselves. It allows us to leave to God that which only He can do while having the confidence to be His hand extended. I learned new lessons about humility in Pascagoula. I experienced more than I have had time to process and learned more than I have time to share, so I want to concentrate on the story of two little girls.
One was a beautiful little blonde about 7 years old with a dress that looked like it came from Gap Kids. She was new to the food bank as was her shell shocked mother. They made their way gingerly through the crowded aisles, seemingly at a loss, but my offers of assistance only made them retreat further. For all her shyness, the little girl had a look of knowing self-confidence, and I could almost watch her recalibrate her sense of what life held for her. Unlike most of the children, she didn?t fill her box with candy and sugary cereal. She was quiet and purposeful, learning the ropes.
The experience appeared to be an ordeal for her, so I was very surprised to see her back that afternoon. But I soon understood that she had gone to get her grandmother and was guiding her through the maze to find toiletries. That little middle class girl in two weeks? time had become the cultural guide for her family?s entry into the world of the displaced. I was humbled by her resilience and by her ability to assume responsibility for the wounded adults in her world. She was taking care of her family, intentional and selfless at the age of 7, and I wondered whether I would ever have her strength.
The other child whose image will stay with me was a six year old African American girl with grave black eyes. She approached me with a sense of purpose uncommon in a child so young. ?Do you have any Infamil with iron?? she asked. I searched through the boxes and stacks of infant formula. ?I have Good Start with iron. Will that do?? She looked confused and stricken. ?Infamil,? she said. ?It has a gold lid.? Together we dug through a mound of formula cans where we found Isomil with iron and Infamil without iron, but she was focused on exactly what she wanted. ?It has a gold lid,? she repeated. Finally, I found a can and proudly handed it to her. ?Can I have two?? she asked. ?We got two babies, my baby sister and my Aunt Tisha baby, and they don?t have no food.? Her child?s voice was deep with concern. I knew two large cans of baby formula would be all she could carry?no room food of her own. ?Sure, and you come back when they need more.?
I was humbled by this beautiful, resourceful child who at age six had assumed responsibility for her sister and her cousin. She knew who was helpless and she was available to provide help. Her act of utter selflessness was a perfect, tiny example of Christ. What would Jesus do? Get Infamil with iron for the least of these.
And now is hope. On the way back from Pascagoula, Mike Hayes asked the students to reflect on their experience. They voiced the complex emotion I was struggling with?the idea that somehow, although we had seen the most depressing sight of our lives, although we had done more hard manual labor than we could even imagine, although we had seen people in distressing need, we had had a wonderful time. What we were feeling was a deep sense of joy and a deep sense of hope.
The aftermath of Katrina plunged me into a week of despair. It all seemed hopeless and even the billions of dollars from the federal government seemed snagged in a hopeless, uncaring bureaucracy. It seemed we had reached the nadir of our compassion as a people, and the destruction was too vast to contemplate. Pascagoula is one city?a city on the very edge of the disaster that covers an inconceivable 90,000 square miles. So I went to Pascagoula in a grim mood, but while dipping chili and unloading boxes, I learned so much about hope. Yes, there is grave destitution and destruction. Children are having to assume responsibilities too heavy for their years. Old people lack essential medication, and there is need everywhere. But there is also hope. As grace and humility do their work in human hearts, needs can be met, houses can be cleaned and rebuilt, and even national systems can be repaired.
Again I will distill the flood of images and emotions and lessons-in-the -making to a focused attention on you. As Paul says in Thessalonians, ?For what is our hope, our joy or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes. Is it not you??
I want to share a hokey poem I learned in high school. English majors, I know it?s not great literature, but its meaning moves me. It?s by Sara Teasdale, and it?s called ?Wisdom?:
WHEN I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I can look Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange — my youth.
I have great hope in you because you have not ceased to break your wings against the faultiness of things. More than 200 of you have signed up to go to Mississippi, and you all believe that broken things can be mended. I have to admit that, before the trip to Pascagoula, I was weary of disaster and very uncertain that anything could fix this. I was close to despair about the immensity of the situation, but my hope has been restored by your optimism and your cheerful willingness to do the hard work that brings about change. My generation is sick of the compromises, and we may in fact have exchanged our hope for a tired wisdom that sees the futility of trying to patch 90,000 miles of destruction and of trying to house 400,000 displaced people.
But you see possibility. You see that one dish of chili in the hand of one hungry person is a step toward healing. You see that removing the ruined furniture from one old woman?s home moves her closer to a normal life. Two cans of Infamil with iron move two babies closer to health and restoration. You don?t focus on the vastness of the problem. Like Jesus, you see the person in front of you who has a need your youthful energy can fulfill. I am in awe of your optimism and your enthusiasm and your energy for good, and I know that when your energetic goodness is unleashed against a problem?however vast it might be?the solution is at hand. God has always used willing people to bring about his greatest miracles.
Not everyone can or needs to go to the Gulf Coast to pass out food or tear out sheet rock. There will be thousands of displaced persons at our very doorstep, desperately in need of your grace. The Leonard Center can channel your enthusiasm toward causes that need it. Katrina opened our eyes to the suffering of our fellow human beings, but there has always been suffering and poverty at every hand. We tend not to see it if it isn?t on the nightly news, but I pray that God will keep my eyes open to all the poor and all those in need?whether or not they are victims of this particular storm?and that he will put my energies to work among the most desperate?the ?least of these? who represent Christ himself.
It sounds horrible and selfish and shallow to say we had a wonderful time in Pascagoula, but it was a powerful reminder of how the body of Christ is supposed to function, and doing what you were meant to do just feels good. We know we didn?t solve the problem; we didn?t even make a tiny dent, but we did what we could for the time we were there, and our hearts were flooded with the knowledge that God is greater than Katrina and that he uses human hands to do His best work.