On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

March 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.

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defining social justice

April 27, 2010 at 7:21 am (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

I think this is a pretty good definition, or at least understanding of, social justice. It is by no means complete, but the next step in my struggle with what this all means and how it translates into how we live our lives.

LARRY BETHUNE, Senior Pastor, University Baptist Church, Austin

“The Jewish and the Christian scriptures repeatedly pair two inextricably interrelated qualities: “righteousness” (right relationship with God) and “justice” (right relationships among people). “Justice” is always focused on those who have been excluded from the advantages of economic and political power – the poor, the sick, the outsider, the despised and rejected. The prophets challenge the Kings and wealthy of Israel with neglecting their responsibility because they do not care for the poor. Jesus equates the way people treat “the least of these” with the way they treat him personally. He also calls equal the two greatest commandments – to love God wholly and to love your neighbor as yourself. The vertical relationship with God necessitates the horizontal relationship with humankind.

Christian spirituality is never just individual and personal; it is always also communal and collective. Centripetal faith always becomes centrifugal, and vice versa. A “spiritual” gospel which has no call to social responsibility is self-serving sentimental narcissism. A “social” gospel which has no reverence for the Divine is barren self-justification, prone to burnout.

Biblically speaking, a primary responsibility of the nation is to take care of its entire people. The responsibility of religion is pastorally to model this compassionate social justice and prophetically to call the whole nation to follow.

Social justice is not an occasional theme of Christian faith and scripture; it is the central theme. Though they may not agree on their definitions of righteousness or justice, both progressive and conservative churches believe in the responsibility of the state and the church to be socially engaged in making the world a better place for all people. Without it, the faith becomes a way for the powerful to feel good about themselves while ignoring the exploitation and suffering of the powerless – and their own participation in it.”

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stolen words

April 26, 2010 at 1:15 pm (Things I want to see changed) (, , , , , , )

This is cheating isn’t it? Not my own words, but there is something tearing at me, something that must start to be written and worked out and shared and grappled with. This is that start. I’ll be writing more on social justice and creativity and strategy in the next few weeks and sometimes I will repeat myself, because I’m working it all out too.

Quote from Jim Wallis’ response to Glenn Beck’s attack on social justice

“But we do say that while social justice begins with our own lives, choices, and sacrifices, it doesn’t end there. Those of us who have actually done this work for years all understand that you can’t just pull the bodies out of the river, and not send somebody upstream to see what or who is throwing them in. Serving the poor is a fundamental spiritual requirement of faith, but challenging the conditions that create poverty in the first place is also part of biblical social justice. In countering Beck’s misunderstanding of social justice on The Colbert Report, James Martin, an editor of the Jesuit America magazine, quoted a Catholic Archbishop as saying, “When I feed the poor they call me a saint; but when I ask why people are poor they call me a communist.” He suggested Beck has that problem.

Private charity, which Beck and I are both for, wasn’t enough to end the slave trade in Great Britain, end legal racial segregation in America, or end apartheid in South Africa. That took vital movements of faith which understood the connection between personal compassion and social justice. Those are the movements that have inspired me and shaped my life — not BIG GOVERNMENT. And my allies in faith-based social justice movements have wonderfully different views on the role of government — some bigger than mine and some smaller than mine — but we all believe social justice requires changing both personal choices and unjust structures. Apparently Beck thinks social justice ends with private charity, but very few churches in the nation would agree with him.

Listen to what we teach: you start by practicing social justice in your own life, then you act for social justice in your family, your congregation, your community, in the most local way possible. The Catholics call that “subsidiarity” — look it up. And you only work to change government when you can’t accomplish things on a smaller scale. Churches were the very best in responding to Katrina, for example, but churches can’t build levees. And Glenn, voluntary church action can’t provide health care for millions who don’t have it, or fix broken urban school systems, or provide jobs at fair wages, or protect our kids from toxic air, water, and toys, or fix a broken immigration system that is grinding up our vulnerable families, or keep banks from cheating our people. All that requires commitments to holding governments accountable to social justice, and advocating for better public policies.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/what-glenn-beck-doesnt-un_b_511362.html

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