While digging through some old files recently, I unearthed a file folder containing a handful of typewritten letters from the late theologian, Robert McAfee Brown, who died in 2001. As a senior in college I had stumbled across a few of Brown’s books, which challenged my assumptions and stretched my worldview. Brown had been a civil rights leader, an advocate for peace, and a liberation theologian. He wasn’t the most prolific theologian of his day, but he was one of the most practical. Brown “shucked it down to the corn,” so to speak, making big theological concepts seem down-to-earth. He once wrote, “We are here to share bread with one another, so that everyone has enough, and no one has too much.”
One of my college professors learned of my interest in Brown’s work and encouraged me to correspond with him. As an acquaintance of Brown, she even went so far as to give me his home address. “Write to him,” she advised me. “You’re asking questions that Brown can help you answer.”
Over the next several months, we exchanged more than a dozen letters. I was 21 years old; Brown, who had recently retired from teaching at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was 71. I inquired about the role of religion in politics, the Church’s obligation to serve the poor, the struggle for civil rights in the Third World, and the Christian resistance movement against apartheid in South Africa. To this day, I can remember coming home from school at the end of the day and racing to the mailbox, hoping to find another letter from Robert McAfee Brown.
Each of his letters to me had been pounded out on an old typewriter, on paper so thin you could nearly see straight through it. Some of his letters were three to four pages in length, single-spaced, with strikethroughs, blotches of whiteout, and margins just wide enough for him to scribble down further insights, in red ink. While I addressed each of my outgoing letters to “Dr. Brown,” he always signed his letters, “Bob.”
Nearly 25 years later, I still have those letters safely tucked away in a file box. While they may have little value to anyone else, they mean the world to me—even more now than they did so many years ago. Dr. Brown practiced what he preached: he “shared his bread.” It wasn’t simply what he wrote to me; it was that he even wrote at all.
“We are here to share bread with one another, so that everyone has enough, and no one has too much.” There are a million ways to share your bread with another. Take the time. Make space for the stranger. Offer your gifts. This is what my friend, Bob, taught me.