Trust – Community

“Trust in the Community,” Bob Ryder

Lately I find myself fascinated with the story of Billy Beane, General Manager and Vice President of the Oakland Athletics.  His career is recounted in the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, as well as in the motion picture by the same name. The hook of the story is Billy’s ahead-of-the-curve, game-changing insight for recognizing overlooked/undervalued talent in baseball players, and assembling winning teams for a small fraction of the enormous salary deployed by big-money dynasties such as Boston and New York to entice superstars.

Being an early adopter of a vision that flew in the face of baseball’s conventional wisdom, Billy faced withering derision and resistance that would have discouraged most.  Among many aspects of his story, I admire Billy’s devotion to changing for the better a sport that had not been especially good to him up to that point.  In one conversation portrayed in the movie, Billy reassures the team owner during a terrible losing streak of his confidence in the unusual approach he’s developing.  Speaking for himself and his assistant general manager, Billy says, “Steve, this is all we do.  This is why we get up in the morning.”

Do you have something like that?  What gives you a sense of purpose?  What gives you a sense of accomplishment?  What gives you the motivation to keep trying when the odds are obviously stacked against you and the task seems overwhelming to the point of futility?

As you know if you’ve been attending NCC for any length of time, for me one of the things that gets me out of bed in the morning is helping improve the lives of dogs and their families by teaching behavior science and gentle training techniques. I’ve seen relationships between dogs and human family members go from chaotic and perplexing and miserable – sometimes even dangerous – to cooperative and trusting and affectionate.  That keeps me going.  There are enough cases where I can alleviate suffering – sometimes even heal abject misery – and get dogs and their humans back to good quality of life that it sustains me when things aren’t going as well. And I’ll tell you, there are frustrations and heartaches when that sustenance is sorely needed.

You know that parable that gets told sometimes about the kid on the beach with the starfish?  There’s been a storm and the surge has washed up thousands of starfish now stranded on the sand, certain to die if exposed for more than a short time.  A little girl makes her way along tossing one starfish after another back into the water to save them.  An adult shows up and says there’s no point trying because there are so many starfish, she’ll never get to most of them before they dry up, so the effort won’t really make any difference.  The girl picks up another starfish, puts it in the water, and says, “It made a difference to that one.”  It’s like that.  When things seem too difficult, when I come up against suffering that’s too severe to heal, up against stubbornness or indifference from family members, up against behavior problems too entrenched or complicated, or just up against more cases than I can keep up with, I trust that the difference I’ve made for some is worth the effort to keep going.  I can’t help everyone, but I can help some.  I trust that’s worthwhile.

We’re talking about trust this past month or so. “What does it mean to be a people of trust?” is the title for this series selected by our worship planning team, and the specific idea for today is about the necessity of “trusting in others to pick up where we leave off.”  That’s another piece of it that really helps me keep going when things look bleak.

As an alternative to watching so much news all the time (it can become depressing if you let it), Susan has taken the lead for our family having us watch some programs with a more hopeful bent.  Animal Planet has a good variety of shows highlighting the work of veterinarians and law enforcement officers, rescue and shelter workers, behavior specialists with zoo animals and conservation organizations that do inspiring work promoting animal welfare.  Often, one of the subplots for these kinds of shows is precisely about how people keep at it, showing up day after day in the face of more need than they can possibly address.  The implied message – sometimes even the explicit message – being that their efforts make a life-changing difference to one particular animal or group of animals even when they can’t help them all.  It’s the parable of the starfish.  But another part of the inspiration for me has started to be just knowing there are others out there – plenty of others – dedicating themselves to making the world a better place bit by bit at the same time as I am.  When I feel like I’m up against it, that there’s just too much suffering or that I’m outmatched by the opposition, I find myself calling to mind the others, a substantial community of decent people who continue throwing starfish back into the water.  It helps me a lot to realize I’m not alone, that the fate of the world isn’t all on me.  It seems like one of the easy delusions we can slip into is thinking it’s all up to us.  That’s obviously not true – and to keep going in the world trying to make whatever small contribution we’re called to make, it’s necessary to understand we’re part of a community, that there are others fighting the good fight with us.

In recent years I’ve taken more inspiration than I can describe thinking about members of NCC who’ve partnered with another congregation in town to support a Congolese refugee family, just as Mark Wyman took the initiative to work with other Congolese immigrants in recent years, helping them find work and friendship here in Bloomington/Normal.  As the news of suffering at the US border dominates the news, it helps me to know I’m connected to people trying to make whatever difference they can.  Susan and I recently reconnected with a seminary friend who pastors a congregation in Tucson, where members of Christ Presbyterian Church are working with other local faith communities to assist asylum seekers.  Acknowledging those points of connection helps me keep going to do what I can, even when I know I can never do it all.

It gives me the same kind of inspiration to think about Susie Hutton working on anti-bulling education programs in District 87, Caroline Fox-Anvick helping LGBT students have a sense of community and acceptance in Unit 5, Dave Hirst helping organize legal services here in central Illinois for undocumented immigrants seeking legal status to remain in the country.

Researching for this reflection, I came across this story in Yahoo News (about an episode that took place just a couple of days ago…


Police officers’ kind act for woman who couldn’t pay for groceries goes viral

Mahira Dayal

Three New York City police officers are being lauded for their compassion after they bought food for a woman accused of stealing at a grocery store on Thursday.

New York City Police Department Lieutenant Louis Sojo, Officer Esnaidy Cuevas and Officer Michael Rivera were working in Manhattan on Friday and walked into the Whole Foods store at Union Square to pick up something to eat. While inside, they were stopped by security guards who said a woman was stealing.

The officers saw that the woman had taken 2 or 3 containers of hot food from the Whole Foods buffet, which cost about $35.

“She told me she was hungry,” Sojo said in a news conference on Friday. “We decided to say we’ll pay for her food.”

Sojo said the security guard was “completely shocked.” The woman, while thankful, was also shaken and didn’t have words to express herself in the moment.

“At that moment, she was extremely emotional,” Sojo added. “She did thank us, but she was pretty much speechless.”

A customer at the Whole Foods took to Twitter to share the officers’ good deed and shared an image of them standing next to the woman, who is visibly moved.


We can easily fall into despair if we suppose suffering and injustice is the whole story and that we’re the only one who can fix it.  Neither of those things is true. One aspect of our spirituality needs to be trusting that trust that we’re part of a community, making whatever contribution we might while relying on others to do some of the things we can’t do ourselves.

What is your contribution?  What is your version of the starfish on the beach?  What inspires you to keep going where there are too many?  Take a moment to find a thought you’d like to share, and we’ll pass the microphone for a few minutes.