Tag Archives: justice

What about justice? A few answers and one-liners.

When we met to do some theology at the end of last month, The U.S. Social Forum was still winding down. It calls itself a “convergence driven by the understanding that people’s movements are what create social change….The goal is to map out action plans for a cohesive movement and organize to be on the offense against all forms of oppression.” We felt some solidarity, since our “doing theology” time  had the feeling of convergence, too; and being on the offense against oppression sounds like Jesus.

us social forum

What’s more, we have been reignited, since last August, about the racism in the country and the ongoing injustice it causes. The Black Lives Matter movement has energized a lot of us. Several of us have been involved with the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice (racial, economic and legal) who demand justice through “policy work, direct action and community education.” It feels like a new environment these days and we want to think about it with Jesus. What about justice? What does God think about it and are we practically following the Lord’s lead?

Continue reading What about justice? A few answers and one-liners.

Romans Bible study on JUSTICE from Doing Theology

A month ago we had a “Doing Theology” time on JUSTICE. We had to think things over after being moved all year by the heartache and turmoil caused by police brutality and the protests about  systemic injustice that is poured out on African Americans, especially. This is one of two posts that attempt to sum up what we heard when we gathered to listen to God about justice. Hopefully, they will contribute to our ongoing dialogue.

To begin with, there is no justice without Jesus. We are all wrong. God graces us with “right” and the ability to bring things to right. We exercise His grace by the power of the Holy Spirit and it leads to justice. We demand justice from the powers-that-be from our place of safety in Christ, we don’t beg the powers to give us what is right as if they create it.

Jesus’ mission is to restore humanity and the whole creation. He envisions well‐being for people who are spiritually poor and people who are socially poor. As he walks among us, righteousness and justice mark the events of his days and nights. Jesus lives right and makes life right with and for others. If Jesus had offered a justice code (and it is dangerous to think he might have done this) it might have been centered around this idea: to love is to be just; to be just is to love. When we claim to follow Jesus, we are disciplined by the call to love like Jesus.

Continue reading Romans Bible study on JUSTICE from Doing Theology

Lent Did It’s Job

risen sunIt has been a wonderful Lent.

At times, I felt a little guilty, because my self-imposed suffering was bearing delectable fruit: some of it tasted new and some of it tasted of well-loved flavors I had been missing. Meanwhile, some people were blowing off the discipline…for what? At times I felt like I was having a feast while strangely invisible to starving people.

I hope you find it acceptable for me to tell you a little about my Lent. One thing I experienced during the season is this reality: any number of my comrades feel that saying anything about ourselves is proud or self-referencing or coercive, so they never give a testimony of God’s work and , as a result, no one gets to know Jesus. Waking up to that shocked me and reformed me, so I am giving my testimony. Lent helped me realize how they had somewhat squeezed me into their tiny, dishonorable mold. They made me afraid.

I’ll be brief, though. I’ll organize my thoughts around the PM Plan, where it quotes Jesus calling us, in Mark 12, to “surrender to loving God with our entire beings.”  Jesus speaks of a whole being as four parts: heart, soul, mind and strength. A whole being can never actually be separated into parts, of course. But these are good categories to help us mentalize: think and feel about what we  think and feel — a basic Christian skill for which Lent was priceless.

We say in the PM Plan that the “heart” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. The center of our ego, our sense of being a person. Feelings, desires, passions, reflection, moral conviction.

During the Patrick Day Retreat I encouraged us to note our three levels of awareness: ordinary, spiritual and Holy Spirit. It helped me take note.

That retreat was symbolic of my reorientation. I’ve been discouraged, on and off, for a while. The congregation and the whole network have been missionally stalled, in some ways, and I am a missionary. Lent rekindled my fire, got me excited, helped me let go and change. Our focus on the Jesus Prayer spurred my contemplation, so I was hearing the inner voice. And, as you can probably tell, I felt convictions that I, and we, have an important outer voice.

We say that the “mind” is: Our ordinary awareness, primarily. Where we are conscious. Our understanding, ethical awareness, inclinations, attitudes.

During the Justice Conference I was stricken by what caring people can do. And I was also stricken by what Circle of Hope, as caring people, has done. We are the lost poster child church of the Justice Conference. I felt the same way when we were speaking to the Atlantic Conference of the BIC about our Compassion Teams. We demonstrate remarkable, authentic passion. I love who God has made us!

But sometimes I have felt concerned because it seems like our radicality, our incarnational mentality, and our covenant intensity, just wear people out. I get afraid that people might lazily let it all go. But when I saw “pop” church popping up in our region I got competitive for reality. What’s more, my trauma study helped me see that learned helplessness is a constant threat when people are oppressed; you might have heard about that in this blog post. The church is floundering and pandering; the world is demanding and deceiving. I feel called to be an antidote, if I can.

We say what Jesus means by “strength” is: Not only bodily strength, but primarily. Our ability, capacity, potency. The power we are given to exercise.

I feel better when my Lenten fast has the corollary benefit of reducing my weight and making me aware of my body. When I am feeding myself in a healthy way and requiring my body to match my morals, I feel better and act with more freedom, I am more open.

I forced a personal retreat into my busy schedule at one point during Lent just because it needed to be done. I damned the consequences. The fact that I did that made me stronger. And the consequences weren’t that big a deal anyway. I also regularly force spiritual direction into my schedule and it makes me a stronger counselor and director myself. My doctoral studies are also way too much to do, but have also proven to be too strengthening not to do.

We say that the “soul” is: Our spiritual awareness. Where we most deeply connect with God. The life in us that transcends time. The place of accountability. The seat of sorrow, joy, suffering.

This is where Lent was most valuable, as you might expect. I am desperate for hours in “Holy Spirit awareness.” And although my heart, mind and strength propel me there, it is in my soul that I am most allured. During Lent, I felt remarkably, consciously relieved of lazy habits of self-protection and self-soothing. I think a lot of that was due to my study in trauma and revisiting my psychological character style. For instance, at one of the Holy Week observances I described my childhood home as “unsafe” — an admission I don’t usually allow. My friend’s response was so kind that a flood of emotions surged up. I was getting healed some more. During the Way of the Cross walk and during the vigil I realized the erosive benefits of Lent. I might long for something to knock me “off my horse” all the time, but the regular disciplines of exercising my spiritual awareness form me as they save me. The fact that I went on the walk helped me become aware of Jesus and walk with Him.

As I decided what to put into this testimony it was such a joy to realize that there is so much more to tell! It was a rich season in a rich life. God was with me and I was with God. I was in a body that is a real church and God was with us. I had put my hand to the plow and the way forward was challenging, but exciting — and I did not want to look back or elsewhere. One the main convictions I received was that I needed to talk about all that. So I have begun. Thanks for walking with me.

I’m sure you have a lot to tell, yourself. Right now at Circle of Hope Daily Prayer we are having the first of our quarterly times to talk back, reveal ourselves, and tell each other what God has been doing from January through March. That is hardly the only place you could give witness to God’s work in your life through Jesus, but it is a good one.

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No incarnation, no justice

justice conf logoYou may experience the same theological divide I felt at the Justice Conference last week. Whenever one is listening to a parade of speakers there is not a lot to do but compare and contrast. So I did. And I felt an interesting contest going on. It was a fascinating smorgasbord of evangelical do-gooders and I enjoyed snacking on various goodies.

Strangely enough, I think my most long-lasting good impression has less to do the the speakers and more to do with the wonderful notebook the organizers made for each participant. Across from a nice bio of each speaker they had a page for “notes,” the “key quote” and the “key take away.” I am so unused to going to conferences that I forgot that we are often encouraged to get a takeaway from a speech. We are not supposed to immerse ourselves, relate, understand or resonate, necessarily; we are to sift the data for something that moves us, or is useful to us.

Well, I think I learned to do that a bit.

Evangelical justice

We were talking about justice at the conference and one of the scriptures used was I John 4. One interpretation dissected my understanding of that chapter more clearly than I can remember. I had forgotten how it could be divided up.

In his letter, John is defending the incarnation. Most commentators think he has some opponents in his congregations that are tilting the gospel toward Greek, “gnostic” thoughts that would not tolerate a God in the flesh or tolerate relating to God in a personal way. So it was surprising to see that even while thinking about John’s letter it is possible to divide up John’s thoughts in such a way that one can strain out the personal and end up with principles. One of the speakers seemed so steeped in his principles and committed to a sovereign God who was so “other,” that he had a difficult time figuring out how to argue for doing justice, which is so incarnational.

But he gave it a noble try. This Bible study is my takeaway.

1 John 4:9-11 — This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Why do justice? Here is what I stereotype as an Evangelical way to look at it, according to the passage above.

  • You should do justice by applying the principle: God loved us so we should love others.
  • Then, moving along with what John says, you could add the principle that: Our love means nothing; it’s all God’s love that changes the world.
  • If you are really going for it you could add: We should show love like God showed it in Jesus by being sent into the world so others might live through Jesus.

I don’t think those thoughts are all wrong. But I don’t think it is all John is trying to say, or that he would ever say it. Especially since he immediately says.

1 John 4:12 — No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

John is not merely applying principles, he is explaining the reality of God’s love living in him and God’s love being made complete in the body of Christ as they love one another and show his love to the world.

The incarnation of justice

I never would have become a Christian in the first place, had I just been signing up for the impossible task of applying biblical principles. I had enough guilt motivating me already. To be honest, the arguments that well-meaning Christians presented to me were not that convincing until I met God personally, which happened in spite of their arguments.

They were doing things like making principles out of the following nuggets from 1 John.

1 John 4: 16-17 — God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

One could read 1 John 4 like it was a very good argument for what a Christian ought to do. One can take the sentences above and focus on the last clause: “In this world we are like Jesus.” The principle could be:

  • Jesus cares about people so you should care.
  • Jesus desires justice, so do it.
  • Obeying the principles is the only way to have confidence on the day of judgment because you can demonstrate that you actually followed the commands of your teacher.
  • Doing what is written is the way that love can be complete and not flawed under God’s scrupulous eye.
  • God is love. If you say you are saved, you’d better be loving.

I don’t think those ideas are all wrong, but they might be missing the main thing John is talking about.

1 John 4:18 — There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

It is only the love of Jesus at work in our hearts that can transform us into lovers. No amount of proper principle-applying will do it – especially when we apply the principles because we are afraid we will be disobedient and possibly judged if we don’t! Doing the work of justice no longer has to do with punishment, either; it is mainly about fearless lovers bringing the presence of Jesus with them as they dive into tangled-up humanity.

Nevertheless, one could reduce 1 John 4 down to one verse:

1 John 4:19 — We love because he first loved us.

That was a key verse the Baptists gave to me as a child. It was so short almost anyone could memorize it and get a prize! And even a child can get the point:

  • Jesus loves me.
  • And because Jesus loves me, I should love.

Only that is not all that John is saying. I’d say that sentence does not mean that at all, all due respect to Mrs. Roadhouse, my second grade Sunday school teacher. He means: Our capacity to love is set on fire by God’s love for us. We are rebooted for love by his love alive in us. Without God in us, we won’t be loving like God. John is experiencing an ongoing incarnation and he does not want it stolen by people who do not have God in the world, just a set of religious principles. I think he, again, quickly says just that:

1 John 4:20 — Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

It is not so much what you say, it is whether the love of the living God is in you.

It’s not that John is not making an argument. It’s that he is making an argument for incarnation. His God is not “up there” and we worship this remote God by effecting empathy — like Jesus demonstrated, and like he left us word about in the Bible before he returned “up there.” To the contrary, John’s God has entered into our experience and into our lives. We enter into the difficult tasks of love, like loving people we can actually see today, because the Spirit has entered into us and Jesus is entering into our situation with us.

What should be your takeaway from my Bible study? I don’t know. Did Jesus tell you anything? Did God’s love move you? If nothing personal happened between you and God, then there wasn’t much point in writing anyway. Especially when it comes to making an impact for justice in the name of Jesus, we’ll just be arguing if Jesus is not in us causing love to break out.

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