Critiqued as hopeless, many found Coates words untenable. But as I read him, I personally find a thread of hope that feels both authentic and comforting. When you tell me that my work is a verb and it involves struggle, that I can relate to. It gives me marching orders that not only makes sense but matches my experience.
In my work as a pastor of a recovery church, people are all the time telling me that they don’t know how I do it. I, frankly, do not understand why everyone else is not fully committed to this work – although I try not to judge!
When Jesus says the fields are ripe for the harvest and I stand up and peer around my community, the ripe fields that I see are those dying from the disease, the plague of addiction. I’m not just speaking of those who struggle with a Substance Use Disorder. Have you ever looked into the red-rimmed eyes of a mother of a son with SUDS? Have you ever watched a father age before your eyes? Have you seen the dashed hope from yet another rehab stint that ended in relapse? What about the sisters and brothers of these beloved sufferers? Have you listened to their stories of abandonment? They often are presented only with the leftovers (stale crumbs) of their parents’ time and attention, accompanied by a pat on the head and a murmured, “I am so glad you are a good kid.”
Jesus also says that the workers are few; truth in this field as well.
My friend Al Jackson, who is Program Director at The Healing Place in Richmond, VA often says to me, “We are only responsible for the effort, not the outcome.” I am grateful for his wisdom. But I want results, d*** it! These are my relatives, friends, and family members of those I love for whom we are hoping and praying for sustained recovery! Coates, like Al Jackson, provides me with some language to sustain and support my own struggle with the process of living, dying, and resurrecting that often appears on a wash-rinse-repeat cycle of sobriety-relapse-sobriety….
Our work is a verb. It requires that we DO.
In sharp contrast, there are plenty of people who think of themselves as workers simply because they tsk tsk tsk over policy decisions and the state of recovery and addiction in our world today. This is unhelpful and in case you haven’t noticed – isn’t really accomplishing anything. So to Ta-Nehisi Coates I say, “Amen” and “Let’s continue the good work set before us.”