what could be: justice pursued

“justice is what love looks like in public”

– from call+response (a must-see movie about modern day human slavery)

this is a picture of me in the third grade, 1976.  yeah, i know you love the princess leia buns, but check out what’s around my neck.  coolest crocheted peace sign choker, ever!  my dad was always a peace-lover, a berkeley guy, a hippie.  i even have letters from his friends in my scrapbook that say “peace, love, and vote for mcgovern”!   when this picture was taken i was in this artsy-fartsy progressive alternative class in northern california, and this was just one year before my mom got remarried, we moved to nevada & i accepted Jesus into my heart at vacation bible school.  i have no idea why it came to mind when i thought of this post, but it did, and i think the reason why is that it draws me back to a piece of me that has always been inside, got buried for a little while & is now getting uncovered again–my passion for justice.    when i was a senior in high school i wanted to go to cal berkeley and change the world but somehow gears shifted &  i ended up at a conservative christian school and some of that passion started to wane.  i loved college–such amazing friends & experiences–but i think it set me on a spiritual path that was focused way more on a personal spirituality than a corporate one.  i was into God for me, but i wasn’t really that concerned about God for the world (beyond just conversion). it’s all part of my journey, but i have to say in the past chunk of years, the justice spark got re-lit & now, there’s no putting it out.  to me, part of our responsibility as Christ-followers is to pursue justice on behalf of those who are being treated unjustly.  to risk our hearts, time, position, you name it, to stand up for the underdog in any way we can.

i believe part of our genesis 3 brokenness includes a corporate natural propsensity toward injustice.  it’s a piece of our humanity & has its deepest roots in power and control.   injustice always leans toward taking advantage of the poor, marginalized, oppressed,  less than’s, in some shape or form.   and because injustice is so intensely rooted into almost so many aspects of every culture it is quite easy to say “there’s not much we can do about it, it’s just part of the ways of the world.” but Jesus says the kingdom of God is available now.  that as Christ-followers it is our responsibility to do our part to model the image of God to the world.   in micah 6:8, God says this is what is required of us:  to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly. i love the words “seek” and “pursue” because they imply something very important:  they won’t come naturally.  we will have to work for it, fight for it, sacrifice for it.  so when it comes to thinking of what could be” related to us as “the church”, there’s absolutely no escaping the importance of being people, communities, who pursue justice on behalf of those being treated unjustly.

this can take so many different shapes & forms and i definitely don’t have a list of “sure ways to make sure that justice is pursued in faith communities”, but i do think that some of these values & practices probably ought to be more and more present individually & corporately in order to truly live out the kingdom principle of justice as followers of Christ:

learn to smell injustice. this is sometimes tricky when we live in worlds where on the whole, we have the power & life is pretty good.  we only really start to notice it when we either have experienced injustice ourselves or are somehow in relationship with people who are currently living that experience.  this means the underdog in any shape or form, people who do not have the power & voice that others have and are set up to get taken advantage of.   the poor, marginalized, physically disabled, mentally ill, underrepresented, undereducated tend to be the places where injustice preys.  hmm, no wonder why Jesus kept pointing to the margins. for the past few years i have been in contact with so much injustice that it sometimes seems that’s all i ever talk about.  jose, my amazing husband, is such a good listener and puts up with my swearing & screaming & yelling about how messed up the system & “the church’s” response can sometimes get.  now that he is a part-time practicing attorney at a legal aid clinic working with the poor & marginalized, he’s the one swearing and screaming and yelling and telling me the same stories, exclaiming “now i see what you were talking about!” before, he just wasn’t as aware. now, his nose can pick up the scent like that.  to pursue it, we’ve got to learn to smell it first.

use our voices on behalf of others. i always want every person to use their own voice & be able to take care of what they need to, but the truth is that is easier said than done.  injustice beats down people’s spirits and a variety of realities can make it nearly impossible for some to use their voice.  that is why we, as Christ-followers, must speak out on their behalf.  that is happening in so many amazing ways around the world right now when it comes to movements on human slavery & women’s rights & advocacy for the poor in third world countries. i am so excited about this groundswell & hope that more and more people will stand on behalf of those who can’t stand for themselves.   most of what i believe in this area is in the post make advocates not buildings but i will say that we don’t have to go out to participate in big movements to use our voice on others behalf.  it can come in small & subtle ways where we stick up for someone who is being taken advantage of, call out injustice instead of stand on the sidelines watching it happen and assume there’s nothing we can do about it.

be willing to take the hit individually, corporately. yeah, this is the tough part.  are we willing to lose our jobs for it?  are we willing to sacrifice positions in our church for it?  are we willing to lose face with groups of people we’ve been in relationship with for years and won’t be too happy about our “bleeding hearts”?  are we willing to actually have people leave our communities (especially the ones who give lots of money) when we make decisions on behalf of justice or fully welcome & love the world’s outcasts?  are we willing to roll up our sleeves and enter into the mess & muck of another person’s experience?  Jesus promised we’d be persecuted if we followed these kingdom principles here on earth.  there is a cost.  it looks different for each person, but i think when we advocate for justice we will absolutely take a hit personally, professionally, in all kinds of other ways.

recognize our limitations but never give up. for me, this is the hardest part.  living in the tension of continued injustice gets under my skin like none other. i think that’s why i’ve gone a little nutty when it comes to all these people who flock to churches who will never ever let marginalized or “perceived-as-less-than” folks into every aspect of their communities.  to me, it is a justice issue because it represents such a bigger picture of the kingdom-of-heaven-here-on-earth-now and it is hard for me to see us as Christ-followers being banner-raisers for justice in the world when we continue to knowingly (or unknowingly because we’re too distracted to care) breed injustice in our own systems.  but alas, i must remember, all my hopes & dreams for heaven-on-earth aren’t going to happen the way i want them to.  so do i give up & throw in the towel?  i don’t think so.  i think we just need to recognize our limitations– that we are not God, that it’s a messed up mixed up crazy world,  that ultimately all that is wrong will eventually be made right, and there’s only so much we can do.  but that “so much”, let’s be willing to do, even when it means we’ll never taste the full fruit of our labor.  because injustice is against the status-quo, if we take our hand off it, unhealthy, disparate systems will always go back to the path of least resistance.  that is why activists are so painfully aware of their need to keep injustice in the forefront of people’s minds because if they don’t, it’s too easy to forget.

in this wonderful renewal of missional-mindedness among churches, my hope is that we remember the difference between charity & justice.  bill moyers says “faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.”

so there it is, another attempt to scratch the surface on one of the deepest issues of humanity, but here’s my hope of what could be for us as people, as communities:

that we’d be relentless pursuers of justice on behalf of those being treated unjustly, whether it be in the circles we live in or around the world.  that we’d risk our reputations & use our voices, our time, our resources, our power to advocate for individuals & groups who can’t advocate for themselves & that we’d be unafraid to enter the fray on our brothers & sister’s behalf.

God, give us strength and courage to passionately  & actively pursue justice on behalf of others.

* * * * *

ps:  i’m not a big worship music person, but i love this micah 6:8 song “seek justice” from my friend tracy howe’s CD with brian mclaren for the everything must change tour.  we sing it sometimes at the refuge weekend gathering, and the chorus always gets stuck in my head all week.

ppss: merry christmas!  i am thankful for a God born from below.  may you feel Jesus’ peace & love & hope in all kinds of wonderful & unexpected ways this week…enjoy.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

17 Comments

  • Kathy,
    Excellent post! You have such an amazing heart. You truly, truly do.

    I love what you said here: “…that ultimately all that is wrong will eventually be made right, and there’s only so much we can do. but that “so much”, let’s be willing to do, even when it means we’ll never taste the full fruit of our labor.”

    Amen. We are wise to do that which Father places upon our hearts to do to help others. He does…with all of us. It’s my deepest desire to answer Him when He says to feed, encourage, love, give, provide, love, tend to, respond, love another.

    I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Kathy, to you and your family.

    P.S. You are a beautiful young girl — oh, and the necklace is very cool, too. Smiles 🙂

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • On ‘justice pursued’ I think you might be interested in a quote from the “Pastoral Rule” of Gregory the Great, written some 1,000 years ago: “For when we administer necessaries to the indigent, we do not bestow our own on them, but render to them what is theirs; we rather pay a debt of justice than accomplish works of mercy.”
    And Kathy, I had a bronze peace necklace on a rawhide tie in 1967, but sadly I wasn’t as cute as you 🙂
    Merry Christmas and God’s Peace

    Reply
  • Kathy, I love this quote “faith-based charity provides crumbs from the table; faith-based justice offers a place at the table.” Thanks for sharing/including that. When EmDes met last night, we talked about love. Somewhere alot of the conversation turned to how do we live with others and show them love and how difficult that is. Its easy for us to drop some crumbs on someone, it is so much more difficut to let yourself get wrapped up in their life. Doesn’t seem like it is ever easy or pretty. And, when some of us who have been married for years look at our relationships with our spouses, I think that’s how this love thing really looks. Its only after struggling, feeling pain, and suffering together that we really know someone and therefore able to really love them.
    Sorry, kind of rambling.

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  • Thank you my dear dear friend, it is so true do we realy want to lose our face, our job…POSITION IN CHURCH…..for the sake of others??Who don’t have a voice…..Thank God for someone like you who does…..I many times have those feelings your a discribing… and i also act on them…but yeah i risk so many things…I also came to the point that i don’t give a what so ever…a anymore…as long as i can share that those who have no voice can have a voice…Thanx again for putting them into words……It is with you always a dejavu thing……Thanxxx

    By the way i love your photo!! You look beautifull , you still look beautifull from the inside out!!! Brave strong woman Love Elsx

    Reply
  • that was a really awesome one. So many of us have those bleeding hearts in our youth don’t we? I was so compassionate and sensitive to suffering & injustice growing up… yet I did grow a bit hard during college…. for the exact opposite reason as you. You went to a christian conservative college — I went to a really secular liberal college yet we both become a bit hard/jaded and I know I lost a lot of my hope & faith in the power of the Spirit to make a difference.

    I’m definitely gonna print out this “series” to reflect on it more.

    Thanks Kathy. Thanks also to you and your readers for your mercy & patience with me & my comments. I know that I have absolutely been (am?) one of these ‘types’ that was just so overwhelmed with it all I had all but given up on the power available to us and because of my hit my hard was hardened and I do remember uttering numerous times things like you wrote… and “bleeding hearts” and such. In fact I definitely want to delete some blog posts from my old blog because I’ve just come so far in 2 years… but I think I will leave them to document the journey.

    but crazy enough – as I would say things like that “bleeding hearts” — I was always a bleeding heart myself underneath the hard shell. It was just much easier to turn away from suffering and put others down for looking — then to feel the pain of compassion and injustice especially when you’re such a sensitive/emotional person.

    I really believe it’s just a lack of maturity – that hardness. I really believe even looking back that I needed to become hard at that stage of my life because I wasn’t strong and faithful enough yet and it was breaking me down. I used to go home crying from school and have my mom come get me for the littlest injustices I saw. but now as I have grown more mature, I can look at injustice more and yes I am still so sensitive and it breaks my heart and it does bleed — but there is hope now. Which is why I can keep looking.

    I know that I must have mercy & patience with those who can’t look yet. They are just not at that point yet. You can’t look until you have at least some faith that something can be done.

    Merry Christmas!!! 🙂

    Reply
  • I love the everpresent 3rd grader part of you and Jose. Take more time for yourself and delegate more to others.
    A cup of coffee with one friend at a time is worth the price of the day!

    Reply
  • Kathy, beautiful post that stirred my heart. Just wanted to wish you and Jose and all the children a most wonderful Christmas!

    Reply
  • errr I have so many mistakes in my previous comment – sorry… but the weirdest one was:

    “given up on the power available to us and because of my hit my hard was hardened and I do remember uttering numerous times things like you wrote”

    was supposed to be:

    given up on the power available to us and because of my hurt.. my heart was hardened and I do remember…

    sorry I try to type while 2.5 year old raymond is on my lap playing with trucks trains and plains on the desk 🙂

    Reply
  • Boy – are your posts really convicting me lately, I think I might have to stop popping in!!!

    “that we’d be relentless pursuers of justice on behalf of those being treated unjustly, whether it be in the circles we live in or around the world,” -now there’s a clarion call!!!

    To you and your family may this be a holiday time of tresured memories.

    Hey – randi!!! – you enjoy Christmas too!!!! I love your comments.

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  • Randi, your reflections on the “bleeding heart” thing reminded me of a day in Minneapolis this time of year, when I took my kids to visit a woman at a homeless shelter who spent her days caring for the cold-blistered, frostbitten feet of those who had come in off of the street. After the excruciating thaw, she would wash the feet, bandage them, and send them away with thick socks and better shoes. She took time out to say a prayer for my kids and I, and gave us a little plastic keyfob with a picture of Jesus with the bleeding heart. I still have it to this day, not because I am Catholic or like cheap plastic keyfobs, but because of the living word of God I saw in her that day.
    Thanks Doug for that great quote. I will “de-ye” it into common language here;
    ” When we give necessary things to people who are without them, we do not give them “our” things, but instead give them what is theirs. In reality, we are paying a debit of justice, not performing an act of mercy. ”
    Gregory the Great

    Reply
  • Thanks Mark R for the shout out! 🙂 Merry Christmas to all of you carnival regulars hehe. I love each of ur comments & each of u here. I have really come to admire & respect you all a lot.

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  • Have a great Christmas, Kathy. I am just finishing up the book Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Yeah, that Carrie, of Star Wars fame. For the record, she regrets her hairstyle in the movie, big time. Read the book. Refreshingly authentic. Her brother is a Born Again, but she doesn’t hold it against him at all.

    Reply
  • Thanks for the post and the words that you have spoken in this post and this series.

    “Justice or InJustice” is HUGE on my heart and it is something that I am highly active in and use my voice to be an actovate.

    It amazes me how many people are offended by the work of justice. This week, I had some inflamatory words tossed my way because they were unhappy with the “sticker” that I had.

    “Want Justice? Work for Peace”

    I for one echo the following statement of yours and I am willing to do:

    to risk our hearts, time, position, you name it, to stand up for the underdog in any way we can.

    Reply
  • amy – thanks as always for sharing here…

    doug – i love that quote, oh so good! i wish you had a picture!

    jim – such good thoughts you share & yeah, that is the part that has really resonated with me in these past few years, too. there’s a huge difference. yeah, love, real love. uh oh. i’m pretty sure it’s not what a lot of us have been taught. love to all of you for christmas. enjoy. it’s cold up here!

    els – great to hear from you here 🙂 i like what you said about not caring what people think anymore, just doing it because it’s the right thing to do. it is a really freeing place, isn’t it? merry christmas across the world, i guess by now you all have already celebrated. xo

    randi – yeah, it’s weird how things shift and change, isn’t it. we are all in process, that’s for sure. thanks for your vulnerability here, too, it is fun to process so much of this stuff out loud together.

    keith – 🙂

    tracy – thanks and merry christmas to you and rich, too! i miss your voice out here!

    mark – yeah, me, too. maybe i should stop poppin’ by?? i’m like “damn, this is hard!the really living this out” but oh so good. thinking of you with everything going on there, too. know you are on my heart and sending lots of peace and hope to you from across the ocean!

    sage – beautiful story…

    laurie – oh that made me smile.

    jeff – so funny, the things that offend. aren’t ther bigger fish to fry than ragging on someone’s bumper sticker? anyway, so love your heart and let’s keep hacking at it!

    mimosa – thanks, i am so glad you are part of this conversation!

    merry christmas all, i am thankful for you & your voice here and your hearts shared and your lives lived! love kathy

    Reply
  • To take faith beyond the Me Me Me phase and channel that love and compassion into a life that reaches out is what it’s all about. It’s why I come here, and what I’m learning to do more and more . . . even as faith sneaks in the back door.

    Just wanted to tell you what an honor it has been getting to know you over the past year. You are a true friend, in an online sense of the word, and I hope that one day our paths will cross. May you and yours have a blessed holiday, and may the new year be brimming with many wondrous surprises . . .

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  • brian – oh i love this line “even as faith sneaks in the back door…” i, too, have been so thankful for our friendship out here. i have appreciated your support, your voice, your friendship, your heart, in so many ways over the course of this past year and i really look forward to staying in touch and sharing bits of this crazy journey over time. one day it will be really fun to get to have a real conversation. peace to you and your beautiful family in 2009!

    Reply

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