Letter to a divided nation

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As our nation segues from a rancorous election season to a day of thanksgiving, I wish to speak up for gratitude and optimism. And for a change agent exceedingly more influential than any politician who’s ever lived.

November 8th, the pundits keep telling us, was a “change election.” Yet despite the rhetoric of change from both political parties, the misdeeds of Man remain nearly identical to those we read about in the Old Testament.

Thankfully, however, authentic change is possible. I’ve witnessed it in myself and in others, and it oftentimes begins with a crisis.

Take my friend Melody Rossi. In the 1980s she was an award-winning professional singer who performed with opera companies and symphonies all over the country. But in 1994 a routine surgery went badly, leaving her bedridden for nearly a year. Worse, it ended Melody’s singing career and left her unable to have kids.

To earn a living, she began substitute teaching in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. Time and again, not because she wanted it, she was assigned to schools in high-crime neighborhoods. Eventually, she became a fulltime teacher at one of the most underprivileged of them all.

During her convalescence, Melody had begun a serious study of the Bible. Of special significance to her now as a teacher were the words attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

It broke Melody’s heart to watch decent, hard-working kids at her school being forced to join street gangs and use and deal drugs. Acting on her motto “If you don’t like it, change it!”, she started an after-school program at a local church, where students could get help with homework and socialize in a safe, wholesome environment.

Today, Melody’s after-school program is a thriving ministry called Cloud & Fire.  Every year, it helps more than 500 low-income, urban kids – including pregnant girls – graduate from high school. A few years ago I had the honor of being the Cloud & Fire commencement speaker; the experience remains one of the highlights of my life.

Melody explains that Cloud & Fire is changing lives because it gives young people three things, in this order: first, it helps them with their schoolwork and broken lives; second, it offers them a safe, authentic community; and lastly, it introduces them to Jesus and the Bible.

Melody recognizes that her medical crisis was the necessary antecedent to her miraculous transformation. But she credits her spiritual awakening for actually performing the change – and for another miracle as well.

As Cloud & Fire was taking shape, Melody and her husband took a special liking to one of the ministries’ young charges. After helping him graduate high school, they adopted him. Today, Melody reports, he is not only a wonderful son, but is committed to changing the lives of others as dramatically as his own was changed by Melody’s Christian love.

Our divided nation currently faces many crises, domestic and international, and both parties are championing change. It remains to be seen what the changes will entail, exactly, and whether they will improve or worsen our situation.

In the meantime I believe each of us can make a positive difference by seeking not just common political ground with one another, but a higher spiritual ground. A place where each of us, and our nation, can experience – as Melody and her hundreds of “spiritual kids” have done – a kind of change, a level of healing, that truly matters … and that doesn’t perish after an election cycle, but is passed on from one generation to another.