Roots of Love and Fruits of Imagination: Three Examples for our Time

As I write this, protests rock the U.S. and protesters call for justice. The protests rightly draw our attention to the more than 400 years of racism and white supremacy, and the vast majority of protesters are peaceful. Violence and looting have also erupted, and the media often gives far more attention to such cases than to the peaceful protests.

In the midst of this crisis, I long for wise and compassionate leadership in this country— leadership that will bring us together to talk about our brokenness, to listen deeply to pain caused by the sin of racism, to pray together, to begin the long journey toward healing, reparations and reconciliation. Such leadership needs to go deep, to be rooted and grounded in love. It needs deep roots so that it can grow flourishing fruits. It needs roots of love and fruits of broad imagination and resilient action. It needs perseverance in hope.

Three examples stand out to me in these times, examples of leaders who offer important wisdom rooted and grounded in love and a way forward at this time of crisis: Phillipe Cunningham, Mariann Budde, and Barack Obama.

Phillipe Cunningham, city council member in Minneapolis, lifts up a big vision. He wants to re- imagine public safety, divesting from traditional policing. While he supports the eight common- sense limits advocated by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s Police Use of Force Project, he also carries a bigger vision, calling Minneapolis to imagine how it might ensure public safety without the kind of corrupt policing under which the city has suffered for decades. Cunningham builds community, engaging people to re-imagine public safety, organizing communities of color to advance reforms. Combining the idealism of youth with a willingness to work with others, Cunningham perseveres in holding up his big vision while working step by step for reform.

Mariann Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington, DC, deeply rooted in in her faith, issues prophetic calls for justice. When the president stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible for a photo op, Budde expressed immediately her outrage about the misuse of religious symbols. At the same time, not wanting that incident to become a distraction, and knowing that this moment is not about her or her church, she continues to call her flock back to the most important message of the moment: the message that, rooted and grounded in love, we must oppose racism and white supremacy. She calls this “A crucible moment, when the soul of our nation is at stake…. We need and must insist upon moral character, a commitment to justice, and effective governance from our elected leaders.”

Barack Obama held a virtual town hall Wednesday, sponsored by the Obama Foundation. He lifted up young idealistic voices as well as older wise voices. He highlighted the vision of justice for all, calling people to become My Brother’s Keeper communities, closing the opportunity gap for boys and young men of color. He called on mayors to sign the pledge to review police use of force in their cities, reminding them that 90 days from now a list of mayors who have signed it will be released. He expressed hope in the number of young people working for change, and in the number of peaceful protests with wide community support.

All three of these leaders while validating anger, call for action based in love. All three of these leaders also know that, in a crisis, “Without a vision, the people perish.” They know that they must both paint the vision in broad strokes and translate the vision into actionable steps. They know that they must speak truth even when it might be unpopular, and keep holding the feet of those in power to the fire in this moment of spotlighting racism and white supremacy.

May we learn from these leaders and be inspired to offer wise and compassionate leadership in our own spheres in this moment of crisis. May we articulate the vision, speak truth, provide actionable steps, and stay deeply rooted and grounded in love.

June 06, 2020 by Margaret Benefiel
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