by Sharei Green
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” He was referring to a foreign policy method of pursuing peaceful negotiations with the backing of military might.
I wondered how I could apply this phrase to my own journey to be more like Jesus—to reflect his love in all that I do.
Pursuing peace through justice is what it means to follow Christ.
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In a Christian context, “speaking softly” means pursuing peace by being vulnerable with one another, building relationships and standing in the gap for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).
What is the stick?
That doesn’t always mean we will speak softly. On this journey, we may find ourselves crying out. Sometimes that cry is to God, as in the prophet Isaiah’s cry of, “How long, Oh Lord?” Sometimes that cry is to the harbingers of injustice, a plea for others to see people instead of profits.
We ground ourselves in Jesus and the gospel, as the foundation on which we stand. Jesus and the gospel are why we pick up our sticks. So what then, is the stick? Something that motivates you. It’s that deep place from which you draw energy—a core principle on which you will not bend.
My stick is compassion. I feel other people’s feelings. The Bible uses a Greek word for compassion that means to “feel it in your bowels.” Compassion is a deep understanding of other people’s feelings.
Being able to identify my stick allows me to engage with people from all walks of life in a meaningful way. Being grounded in that deep place frees me to be open with people who are different from me: culturally, politically, socioeconomically.
My joy is boundless
The joy I get from being who God has called me to be is boundless. Because of that, I want others to feel that joy. I try to meet people where they are so that they may live into their truths untainted by judgment or emotion on my part. Because of this, I’m able to build authentic, lasting relationships with others.
In my role as a storyteller for Lutheran Disaster Response, I find common ground with people I meet. I listen to them with my whole heart so I can share their sacred gift of story.
Months ago, during a visit to Lafayette, Louisiana, which experienced flooding in August 2016, I met with a Lutheran Disaster Response workers.
Debbie, a retired nurse, said she began working in disaster case management after the death of her 10-year-old daughter, who had been living with Muscular Dystrophy. Debbie shared her hurt and pain and the fact that she felt she no longer had a purpose. The opportunity to work in disaster case management restored her sense of purpose. She redirected the love and care she poured into her daughter to the most vulnerable survivors of the disaster.
I never got around to asking, but I suspect that Debbie might say her stick is nurturing. What’s your stick?
Sharei Green, a native of Chicago, is a leader in her congregation, exploring the unique dynamics of being Black, woman and Lutheran. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and today serves as program communicator for Lutheran Disaster Response. This article first ran in the March 2017 issue of Gather magazine. Subscribe now. Don’t miss an issue.