"we are one" & more ramblings about justice

well we’re back from our crazy rome trip. we were only there a little over 24 hours because that is what jose’s layover was (for those of you who don’t know he is a pilot for united airlines to pay our bills & a new lawyer for a legal aid clinic here in denver because that is what he has become really passionate about in the past few years.  yes, that is one of the reasons it’s so nutty around here).   we had a great time, though, and rome is an amazing city. so much history & culture & beauty.   we got a 1 day subway pass and just hoofed it all over the place–the vatican & the sistine chapel, the coliseum, forum, trevi fountain, spanish steps & anything we could see in between (plus a few gelato shops).  now i’m home and trying to get in the groove for a busy may.

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this past weekend at the refuge’s saturday eve gathering we kicked off a new series of conversations around the word “justice.”  i facilitated with my lovely & passionate-about-mercy-and-justice friend & teammate christa who is stepping into a bigger role of co-pastoring our crazy little community.   like every gathering at the refuge, you never know what you are going to get, and that is part of the wildness i love. we facilitated a panel of 5 different voices representing some form of injustice–a dad with a child with autism, another woman who has struggled with mental illness and has experienced the system first hand, another who was a domestic violence victim & lost all kinds of things in court, a latina who shared what it was like to be the only brown person in an all-white school, and another hispanic friend who was able to articulate beautifully what it was like to be both the perpetrator of racism and the victim.  a friend who is gay was unable to make it.   the kernels of beauty and wisdom and honesty can never be captured and we are low-tech so we never audio record any of these things, but i can safely say that–at least for me–it is better than a sermon anyday!

the topic of justice and inequality is such a tricky one because there are strong feelings in all kinds of ways.  the idea of “justice” by dictionary definitions is not very appealing.  but i view Jesus’ call to us to bring the kingdom of God here–now–as acting on the words of the prophet isaiah: “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (vs. 1:17). when Jesus was woe-ing the pharisees (re-read these if you haven’t in a while, wow), he made it pretty clear: you have done all these religious things, “but you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, faithfulness” (matthew 23: 23).    i think there is a stirring in so many right now toward social justice, a growing awareness that somehow the image of God for mercy & justice is deeply within us and is finding its way out.

this stirring for justice is being re-discovered individually and corporately after being covered up for many years (in some of the churches i have been connected to) by the personal-relationship-and-it’s-all-about-me-and-Jesus-movements, though i know many that have kept justice at their core and have been at it a long time.   what i love about the renewal i see in all kinds of places is that restoration & reconciliation & hope & action is happening in wild & wonderful ways.  and regardless of the overwhelming reality that this side of heaven we will always experience injustice, many are recognizing our responsibility as Christ-followers to participate in whatever small or big way we can to encourage the oppressed & stand up on behalf of the marginalized, use our voices on behalf of the voiceless.   not because we “have” to but because we “want” to, because the image of God in us is being fanned into flame & we can’t escape it.

our conversation at the refuge barely scratched the surface, but i believe that in order for us to really begin to understand injustice–what it feels like, looks like, is & what God might be calling us to consider–we need to:

start to listen to each other. that was the purpose of saturday’s discussion.  to listen to a very brief but powerful glimpse of some of their experiences.  in different ways they each articulated ways that people have treated, viewed, judged, and ignored them.   when the floor was opened one of our beautiful friends shared that restorative justice begins with relationship.  without knowing each other, without listening to each other, without hearing each other, we will be unable to really move toward any kind of restoration together.  this is why i believe strongly in cultivating diversity & learning to live with others who aren’t like us.  it’s why we need a crazy and wild mix of different people from all walks of life, experiences, theologies, socioeconomic backgrounds, political views, colors, and shapes and sizes all in the same room, all at the same table, listening to each other.

try to understand.   hearing and listening are two different things.  when i hear someone, i just sit and hear what they have to say. when i listen, it means that i enter into a deeper experience and understanding of where that person is coming from.  this is vital when it comes to issues of injustice.  it’s so easy for those of us who may not be from the same place or experience to say “what’s their problem?… it’s not like that…they need to not let it bother them so much.”  the truth is that unless we have walked in another man’s shoes, we will never know.  the only way we can develop a sense of what it might be like is to listen, really listen.  relationship transforms understanding,

gain courage to act. issues of injustice will require that we make different choices on behalf of each other.  i love these challenging words from dorothy day:  “i have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and  judge only their actions.”what small steps am i willing to take on behalf of this injustice?” there are many times when we know in our hearts something is wrong but we keep contributing to it.  when we are afraid to act even though our hearts want to.  when we turn the other way because we are too chicken to speak up.  i have done this more times than i can count, and every time i have felt a little sick to my stomach afterward and replayed in my mind all the ways i could have said something to stick up for my friends.   now i am getting much more brave and probably drive conflict-avoiders a little nuts, but i am trying to live with greater integrity.  i am definitely  finding it is much harder to do; the path of least resistance is always silence.  there are a million and one ways we can act on behalf of each other.  buying differently, advocating, marching, voting with our feet, speaking out, offering time and heart and all kinds of other sacrifices.  it looks different for everyone, but the question i believe is “how is God calling us to act on behalf of others?”

still i think the bigger picture goes beyond these steps.  for me,  that is embracing an important truth–there is no “us” and “them”.  we are all “us.”

there’s not “those poor people,” “those messed up people,” “those discriminated-against people” or even “those haters,” “those power-lovers”, “those people-who-are-mean-to-my-friends”, “those people who don’t seem to care.”  there’s just us–a bunch of simultaneously sinners & saints– in the same big ol’ pot God made together.  we all bleed red.  we sometime see, we’re sometimes blind.  we’re good & bad, right & wrong, judgers & lovers, the oppressed & the oppressors–all at the same time.  and when one of us hurts, we all hurt.  i point the finger so often, especially when it comes to all kinds of things that drive me crazy about injustice & church & the system.  very often i have not just a log in my eye but an entire forest.  that is what pricked my heart about saturday’s conversation; for some reason i was gently reminded how important it is to always be open to both sides of the story and to recognize God’s grace at work in all things, all sides, all ways. it doesn’t change how passionate i am about micah 6:8’s call to pursue justice & love mercy, but the last third of the passage–walk humbly–i definitely need to continually review…

anyway, our conversation ended with the poetic and powerful words of my dear friend sam trujillo who was part of the panel and stood & shared this poem he wrote, “they are one because we are one.” i can’t re-create the moment (but i can say it was amazing & unexpected & took all of our breath away), and i asked him to record a rough cut for me:

 

 

 

i’d love to hear some of your perspectives on what you are learning about justice.

here’s a short prayer for justice that i wrote to end saturday eve’s conversation (it turned out we went with the Spirit & never got to it so i thought i’d share it here instead):

God, may we be people of justice.

May we humble ourselves and be willing to learn from each other.

May we stand on the side of the oppressed.

May we not be silent.

May call out Your Image in others.

May we be brave on behalf of our friends.

May we bring your Kingdom to earth now.

May we be known as those-crazy-people-who-stick-up-for-the-underdog-even-when-people-think-we’ve-gone-off-the-deep-end.

May we let your Spirit compel us to act.

To love.

To learn.

To speak.

To move.

To sacrifice.

On behalf of our brothers and our sisters next to us today, on behalf of those who went before us,  and on behalf of those who will come after us.

On your behalf,  Jesus, as your ambassadors, with your humility, your courage, your  Spirit as our guide.

Amen.

ps:  i promise, i really am working on shorter posts & i stink at it!  sorry for the length!

 

 

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.

8 Comments

  • i so loved what sam said. “i am a victim of racism and also a perpetrator of racism”. aren’t we all both victims and perpetrators of some sort of prejudice? have we not all experienced the sting of prejudice because of race, mental illness, sexual orientation, domestic violence, religious beliefs, education, financial status etc……….? if we can remember the words of Jesus; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, maybe we can start looking at others thru the eyes of grace that we would want extended to ourselves.

    Reply
  • Shorter posts please don’t! This was powerful. I truly hope you are correct that it seems that Christ followers are once again beginning to the Spirits voice. The truth is I believe that this is not a message the spirit has been speaking in the “still small,” but for all time I believe this is a message the Spirit has been shouting from the mountain tops.

    I especially this “for me, that is embracing an important truth–there is no “us” and “them”. we are all “us.” If I have said those exact words once I have spoken them many times. Especially when I was leading out reach to the marginalized and disenfranchised.

    Kathy thank you for your love for those most often considered the least of these. However what we don’t get as when we diminish others by considering someone the least we diminish ourselves.

    Tom Wilson

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  • don’t worry about the length please.

    I hear you. I’ll think more on this & pray for God today to just open my eyes to those around me…. that’s about the best ‘next step’ I can think to do.

    🙂

    Reply
  • Kathy:

    I am hoping to respond to this in a little in-depth tomorrow but I do want to ask you to quit doing these posts 🙂

    I may just end up packing my bags and telling my wife and kids that we are moving.

    This post is very timely for me ( us: our community ) as we launch our ending poverty meetings on Thursday.

    We have 12 families who will begin their 15 weeks of training and then partnered with their allies to journey with them as they move out of poverty and this “post” will be a critical part of the allies to grasp.

    Jeff

    Reply
  • “i am definitely finding it is much harder to do; the path of least resistance is always silence. ”

    Hi Kathy,

    First time commenter on your blog, although I’ve been reading for a while. I think I found your blog through a link from Kingdom Grace’s blog which I arrived at through links from who knows where. I’ve been following the conversation on blogs of thoughtful Christian women trying to figure some things out for myself.

    But this isn’t about that, specifically. This is the comment of somebody who is stumbling along with baby steps in the area of learning to do things differently in being the body of Christ with those who are different from me. And here is the current tiny, stumbling baby step that I am pondering (don’t laugh). I hope this isn’t an inappropriate comment, but it seemed to fit in with you asking what we are currently learning about justice. And I suspect I’m not the only one to have to start really, really small.

    A diverse group of churches in my community (suburb) are involved in a stumbling, baby step effort to try to break out of old mindsets and learn to 1) be of service in the community and 2) do it together as partners rather than competitors. As a relatively non-controversial first step, this group of churches is trying to make sure that kids who need food during the summer when they aren’t in school (i.e. no access to the free/reduced-price lunch program) have access to a lunch free of charge. Last summer they called it the “summer lunch club.” Last year, despite efforts to avoid any stigma of “this is for needy kids,” it bothered me some that I got a sense of an “us non-needy church people providing food for you needy people” atmosphere. But, hey, it was new, and we were taking baby steps.

    This year, the last two Sundays, the announcement has been about the “summer feeding program.” I don’t know why the change in name. Maybe it is just something in the neurons of that individual announcer. Or, I suspect, they are trying to expand the project a bit and provide a bit of a food pantry as well, so maybe somebody thought “it isn’t just lunch anymore, so we can’t call it the summer lunch club.”

    Anyway. I know this is a tiny, nit-picky thing, but “Summer Feeding Program” just strikes me wrong. Maybe it is just me, but it sounds more like fattening livestock than coming alongside our neighbors. Definitely something one does “to” people and not “with” them.

    As I said, I’m just at the tiny, stumbling baby step stage, as are all the churches, I think.

    Am I being too sensitive about this to start with? (If I were the parent with the hungry kid, it seems like just the name would present a “humiliation factor” barrier.)

    If not, I’m well trained that if I don’t like something, the best way to change it is to suggest a better alternative. Any suggestions out there on a better alternative on what to call this type of effort that is more of a “with” type of wording rather than a “to” type of wording?

    Or is there just a whole bigger-picture attitude/structure issue here? If so, is there a better approach to take to the facts that there are kids who are hungry in the community and there is a group of churches willing to do something?

    Thanks,
    Becky

    Reply
  • Kathy–I’m glad you stink at it so well! I read your post out loud to my sons this morning and could not do so without tears. The older son said, “Wish we could just read that on Sunday morning” (or something to that effect). The younger son sniffed, got up and silently went to ready himself for “school”. I think he probably already had his biggest “lesson” for the day to chew on.
    Becky–How about “Let us eat!”

    Reply
  • Hmm…. lessons in justice lately. Is that it is slow. And that it favors the abuser… if he is charming and successful. Hmm…. and that it is not always available. Hmm… that is enough.

    Reply
  • sorry for the delay on responding, in my mind i did 🙂

    mike – i love what you said here….

    tom – yeah, the “us” and “them” thing really drives me nuts but is more prevalent in the fabric of our thinking, culture, churches, all kinds of things. the hope that is see is in small pockets of people who are passionate and crazy about living out equality and justice in really tangible ways. i have to keep my eyes on those kingdom glimpses, otherwise, i get so discouraged!

    randi – i do think noticing is always our first step, opening our hearts and eyes to see…peace to you on your new community, too!

    jeff – 🙂 i am really excited to see what happens over the course of the upcoming months. keep me posted!

    becky – thanks for taking the time to comment and to also share such a good story that causes us to think. the to, for or with thing is something that has really challenged me in these past few years. i will say that i really resonated with the train of thought you were sharing here. it is beautiful to hear that the needs of kids who are hungry are being addressed, and of course that is always what matters most, but the idea of “feeding program” really does set up a whole different feel. i liked summer lunch club and i wonder if a piece is communicating a bit of your heart and concern to the team involved & see if others feel the same way, etc.? no idea where you are in on the process together. to me a huge part of the with is relationship. it’s not always possible in every situation, but what bridges are getting built to know who the kids are, connect with their stories, listen, etc. a long time ago i was at a girls home where a bunch of wonderful suburban ladies brought food once a month. i can’t describe it, but there was just this odd feeling of how disconnnected everyone was. there was good food, there were desperate girls. there was a great chasm. oh that was all a lot of rambling. i like minnow’s idea “let’s eat!” would love to hear back on how it is going!

    minnow- oh i am always so happy to hear from you & i am glad this stirred up some good morning conversation at your house!

    katherine – yes, in worldly terms, no. it’s sometimes not. i always tell people “living with the injustice is one of the hardest parts of our healing…” i am so thankful that real justice supersedes the hear and now. but boy is it hard to see and experience, isnt’ it?

    Reply

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