Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Justice before our eyes

On this most important day in our common life together, when we have been called to a new era of personal responsibility by our new President, I offer this essay along the same lines, which was recently published. Here goes,

Perhaps my ponderings on this subject should be far more global and all encompassing. I suspect this is what is expected when one is asked to muse on what it means to be a Christian seeking justice. Actually, I am in total agreement that it is a big thing, crucial for the world, for all of us, even those who don't particularly feel that injustice is a regular part of their lives. In fact, it may be even more important for those of us in which this is true.


No, my thought on this is really a very small thing. Some will even dismiss it as too small and perhaps even irrelevant but I am going to persist nonetheless. I have three major ministry initiatives I have vowed to work on as I begin my new episcopate. The first of these three is work and focus on those 35 years of age and under. To this group, the church seems ever more irrelevant because the Church, to them, seems to be irrelevant to the world. This is not actually new. In some ways every new generation has had its "issues" with the Church. However, even when viewed historically, we seem to be witnessing as stark a denial as we have ever seen. The denial comes with a wish, at least from what I hear from these generations, that it might be different, which is hopeful.


When I meet with the mostly older generations that occupy the pews in our churches, I hear, eventually, some notion, and even accusation, that the younger generations seem to be uncommitted and self indulged. I listen for a while and then I have to ask, "Who raised them?" Somewhere, from someone, these young people learned to be uncommitted and self indulgent, if that be the truth. In reality, the entirety of the former generations raised them, corporately, as well as individually. I have to wonder if, in fact, they are not uncommitted and self indulgent at all. This is not what I sense when I engage them. Instead they are wise enough to sense, in the Church, an often inauthentic loyalty and some suspicion that our words and proclamations don't match our intentions or actions.


This is my small thing. Though I have not been one to jump on the family values bandwagon as the solution to all things, I am coming around to the notion that it makes a difference, perhaps a more profound one than many of us want to imagine. Instead of biting off the major social issues of our day, some of which are truly more than one has time to spend any time on, perhaps it would do well for us to calculate how we can make a difference within the moments in our lives which we cannot avoid, working in our jobs, making our way to those jobs, living with our families and others we live with each day. How can we live justice in those relationships so that justice becomes a way of life?


I think of my twelve year old son. Several years ago, I took him to Disney World. We lived in one of the perimeter hotels which require that you board buses, mostly packed unsafely to the gills with humans, so that you might make it to the various parks. I witnessed old women and men having to stand up, holding on for dear life, as we whipped through the park, while strapping young men sat inches away safely in a seat. It was clear that the thought had never crossed their mind to get up and offer their seat.

I became rather obsessed from then on to teach my son, making him get up, as I did on many occasions to allow others to sit. You will never know the great conversations that started as we offered this kindness. Sadly, it was so unusual as to be novel. My son began to actually look forward to doing it.


Lest you think I am taking it to the younger generation, you can witness the same from everyone. We are a pampered nation, a people blinded by our wealth, and so this type of entitlement living is all around us. I succumb to it too, I am not excluding myself. We, here, have to work hard to see beyond it. On a small ferry ride recently I watched an older woman plop herself down in a chair, prop her leg up on the one next to her, and proclaim loudly, "Just let someone try to take this seat away from me!"; all the while, all around her, the same scene; men and women bouncing around in the waves trying their best to stand.


I know, I told you these were small things, you might even be saying petty. But, like the ripples of waves that come from the stone thrown upon the water, or the old adage that the flap of butterflies' wings in Japan is connected to the tornado in Texas, I think this may actually be the world when we consider how a Christian seeks justice.


I think this same mentality keeps us from having real conversations, something also quite wanted by the younger generations and something they see quite missing from our midst. A friend of mine recently bore her soul regarding her experience with racism, only to have those very ones who should have praised her venture, eat her alive. It is so much easier to stay on the surface, to keep the veneer of care and concern alive rather than really delve into our demons; so much easier to look across an ocean than to see the injustice in our homes, schools, or churches. We have seen this played out on the national scene as well.


Thich Nhat Hahn once reminded us that peace is every step. I believe Jesus walked, with every step, purposeful and centered on justice and peace, for every person he encountered.


The call or need for justice is not far away, in some other place. The root of our response, the place we learn, is right before us every day. May we teach our children consideration, hospitality, and justice. Have them watch us do the same, and I think we will change the world. A Christian seeking justice, is a Christian doing justice with every step.

1 comment:

  1. Greg, I don't think your thought on justice is a very small thing. In the movie, Pass It Forward, (I think that was the title) and later a TV commercial, we see people doing small things that matter to another person. The receiver notices and passes on in some form to another person.

    I am almost 30 years past the 35 year-old group on which you plan to focus, but we all can learn by observing. I have no children and sometimes think maybe it's a good thing I didn't have any. I even worry about what kind of parent I would have been if I'd had the chance and that even scares me. Would I have reared a caring, thoughtful individual? Would he/she have been attune to the injustices of the world? I would like to think those would have been important goals for me to address.

    Giving up ones seat to someone in need, just being kind or befriending someone different than us, and showing tolerance for those different from us are a form of justice. There are likely some things wrong with St. James Church, but acceptance (for the most part) is not one of those. Inclusion and friendship are the two things that meant/mean the most to me about that church. It is difficult to find a similar Episcopal Church. It, under your & Fr. Miller's guidance (and Bill & Amy), exuded acceptance, tolerance, and friendship...and justice.

    Thanks for your essay.