Foundry United Methodist Church

Youth Sunday Testimonies

Maggie Birkel




“Such a Time as This”

June 1, 2008





In my final semester of high school, I took a class titled “Good and Evil: Human Behavior and the Holocaust.” A cross between a history, psychology, and religion class it covered everything from the roots of religious tension in the gospels to “California Reich,” a recent documentary on a neo-Nazis group. It combined all my favorite subjects and just happened to also be taught by my favorite teacher. I knew that the class would go in depth into an important and timely subject. I knew that it would complement my European history class well. And I knew I would love the built in time it would create for me to spend with my beloved Mama Eliot. But I had no idea the questions it would raise in me or how it would come to impact me daily.


While procrastinating from doing some reading for the class, I turned to the person whose opinion I seek on nearly everything, Bob Dylan. During some web surfing I came across a song of his titled, “What Good am I?” This song quickly came to encapsulate the meaning of the entire class for me. In it Dylan sings, “what good am I if I know and don’t do, if I see and don’t say, if I look right through you, if I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky, what good am I?” This song addresses the power of the human spirit and its duty to the human race. Written in 1989, the year I was born, Dylan uses it to express anguish at the pain surrounding him but also hope in that he was put on this earth to do something about this pain. In other words, this is our time, everyone’s time.


For me, the message of this song became the message of this class and I came to see that one of the central reasons we study the Holocaust is to remind us that every action is significant. As the main character in Bread and Wine, a book by Ignazio Silone, an Italian resistance fighter in the 1930’s says, “It’s sufficient for one person to say no and the spell is broken…Under every dictatorship…one man, one perfectly ordinary little man (or woman) who goes on thinking with his own brain is a threat to public order.” Silone’s message and what I came to realize was the idea I was meant to gain from the class was that each committed action however small has the power to heal and make a difference.


I have seen this message played out most notably in my life through my work in New Orleans post-Katrina. During my trips to the Gulf Coast, I have done everything from nailing roofs to gutting houses and I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments I’ve felt disheartened. After ten hours of manual labor leaves a sidewalk piled high with the musty, ruined contents of a house which may never be rebuilt or when it took three whole days to repair one hole in a roof, it can seem that the actions of one person are relatively insignificant. But, it is the uncontrollable and nearly tangible joy of Miss Fay Wilson when I put her son’s christening bonnet into her hands and a daughter’s fully preserved sonogram peeled from a shoe-box which had sat under 9 feet of water that remind me that this momentary sensation could not be farther from the truth.


And this hope, this power we all possess is embodied by the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I was first shown this prayer by Matt Smith, shortly after Katrina hit in fact, and I have carried it with me ever since. Romero writes, “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.” He goes on to say, “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.” In such a time as this, we are all in positions to do something which will reach beyond us. Our ripple-effect capabilities are immense and our responsibility is even greater. If we take that step-back that Romero also references we can see the unique role we hold to do God’s work. Or as Dylan says, “What good am I then to others and me if I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see.” Though our opportunities and strengths are not always obvious, they are plentiful, it’s just a matter of seeing and using them.