By: Doug Bell
When I was a father of three young girls, they would ask me, “Daddy what is the purpose of life?” Why are we here on earth? I always said “we are here to love others and be loved. They accepted that, but I realized they wanted something more specific. As I pondered their questions, I thought what is my specific purpose of life?
I learned long ago that my purpose of life changes with every decade. At first, when I was a teenager, it wanted to be a football player. But that was all about me. It did not benefit anyone except me. So, I became a Boy Scout where we helped other people with various projects.
As I marched forward in my life, I married, and we had a family together. Then my purpose was to share a meaningful relationship with my wife, jointly raise our children, and put food on the table. Teaching the children to be loving and giving people was important, but that did not seem like enough. Thus, I became a youth advocate and helped young people find their purpose in life.
Eventually my children moved away and had their own families. My next purpose was to help homeless people that lived in downtown Austin. My wife and I rounded up some volunteers and started Trinity Center, a homeless day shelter, near St. David’s. So, my purpose became helping the homeless.
Why did I always need purpose in my life? I began to realize I needed to have purpose to make life better for others. We know (explore the Bible) that we are all put on this earth to live together in harmony and love our neighbors.
About 10 years ago my wife and I were asked to help St. James’ Episcopal Church set up their Welcome Table outreach programs. We opened a food pantry, rejuvenated a wellness clinic, and started a summer reading program for elementary kids. That experience changed my life because for the first time I was working together with people from more diverse backgrounds. It was a wonderful experience to be in a truly multi-cultural environment. We are, in fact, one human race working together.
A couple of years ago my wife died, and I was lost. I had no purpose in life. How could I go forward if I had no purpose? After a few months of mourning it dawned on me that I could still make a difference in my life while hopefully benefit others at the same time.
I thought how can we change the world around us for the better? Harking back to my enriching times at St. James’ I decided that it was time to help bring about racial healing in our society. It was long overdue. A small committee was formed at St. David’s called Becoming the Beloved Community. Our plan was to have programs that examined racism in its present form. It seemed like an uphill battle because many white people thought we could just declare we were not racist and move on, much as we had done for the many decades behind us.
Our African American friends did not view it in the same vein. They experienced discrimination every day in their lives–in their workplace, financial organizations, and in everyday life. By necessity they taught their children special tools for encounters with the police. They looked towards the white community to help overcome the sin of systematic racism prevalent for 400 years in America. In myriad ways, we had failed in that role for an awfully long time.
However, a more pressing challenge suddenly surfaced in Austin – the Coronavirus – now sweeping around the world. How can we focus more on racism when this plague was at our doorstep? We feared that we might have to shelve the Beloved Community, at least for the present.
Then dramatic events transpired. A black man named George Floyd was murdered by policemen in Minneapolis who held him down with a knee across George’s neck. He could not breathe, and he died in just 9 minutes. It was all captured on a cell phone, and the pictures went viral. Both blacks and whites were aghast at the video. Almost instantly multi-cultural protests erupted in over 100 cities in America, and even around the world. Widespread systemic racism was clearly recognized and now at the forefront. Ironically, then our project for racial healing rose to a much higher level in our communities.
Fortuitously, our Beloved Community committee was ready to move into action. We had been training to conduct racial reconciliation circles. The programs started in July with an awareness program about systemic racism in Austin. In August we will be forming our racial reconciliation circles where we can talk about our stories and our feelings in a quiet respectful atmosphere. The intention is that each person will face the truth in their heart and mind to begin contributing towards racial healing.
I urge you to join us in this journey, perhaps becoming your purpose as well. Let us examine together strategies to better desegregate churches in Austin, explore ways of collaborating together on common initiatives, and move toward becoming the Beloved Community we aspire to become. When we all work together for this common good, we believe that the Beloved Community can become a reality.