Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Justice and Mercy

There has been much much talk lately about the
Kony 2012 campaign launched by Invisible Children. There have been many thoughtful responses and criticisms raised about this and some that perhaps have come about and felt not so thoughtful...

Rachel Held Evans summarized a lot of great resources here.
I really enjoyed reading this post too.
There are so many posts and articles going on about this right now, another blogger (and I am in no means a "professional blogger") do not really need to throw another one out there.

But a lot of this brings to mind a theology of justice AND mercy.

When Kevin was a youth director in the suburbs of Detroit we took a group of privileged youth from the suburbs of Detroit to Appalachia for a mission trip back in 2002. We had about 10 ish kids go on this trip.

Kevin and I were very clear that when we took these (fairly wealthy) kids to a very poor place we did not want them all coming back and saying,
"I learned on the mission trip that I am SOOOO blessed with all I have because they have nothing."

Mission isn't about patting yourself on the back and saying-
"Wow, I'm glad I'm not as bad off as those people."
Mission is not about comparison.
Mission isn't about going to teach people how they should do things.
Mission isn't you bringing Jesus to people-- because (wake up call) Jesus is already there!

Doing mission is about learning, connecting, sharing, loving.
It's about meeting people and being present with them.
It's about learning more than it is about teaching.
It's seeing that God was at work before you came, and God will be at work after you leave.
It's knowing that you don't bring the kingdom. Jesus does.
You get to be a part of the kingdom-- you get to live in and into the kingdom.

You do not bring the kingdom.
Mission is not about you.
Mission is not about fixing anyone.
Mission is seeing Christ at work.
Mission is creating relationships with sisters and brothers in Christ.
Mission is mission whether you even speak the words of Christ to those you are serving with.
Sometimes you preach the Gospel without words.

The kids on that mission learned a lot- Kevin and I did a lot of teaching with them about justice AND mercy and the power of both.

SO what do I mean when I say justice and mercy?

Often Mercy Ministries come in the form of feeding hungry mouths, clothing the naked, giving handing out bus tokens/tickets, paying for prescriptions, keeping people from being evicted by paying their rent, keeping the lights, heat, etc. on, etc. You get it.

Mercy Ministry is important.
Mercy Ministry comes in the day to day survival.
Mercy Ministry is the what (what needs to be done).

Justice Ministry is the why.
Why does this happen? What causes this?

Justice ministry works to end the what of the mercy ministry.

For instance: Why do we have homelessness?
Well-- there are lot of reasons: mental health, health care, job loss, drug issues, domestic violence, Abuse, lack of affordable housing, war, etc. LOTS and LOTS of reasons.

In Detroit - we often had a problem with people having their Landlords raise the rent every month on them- and they lived in horrible conditions with no accountability. Our church and others had asked why? Why were so many people unable to stay in their homes? What was happening to cause this? When we asked- we found out. Then what? Many people advocated for better laws to keep this for happening. Several organizations working for housing reform helped lead this effort including our church.

Mercy Ministries are Needed
Justice Ministries are Needed.

Depending on who we are, we may tend to favor one or the other.
Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara
was a Roman Catholic Archbishop is famous for stating:
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.
When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

I remember when Kevin and I went to seminary. We were in Atlanta on the campus of Emory University and every once in awhile someone who scoff and say, "What! You're drinking a Coke-Cola! They are such a horrible company...yada yada..."

We were like- uh-- look around- we are in Atlanta- we're on the campus of Emory! Really? Really? That's your thing?

I've also known folks who have said- "Building a house is the real work, feeding folks is real... letter writing isn't." Or people who say, "Walking in protest is just hippie stuff that doesn't do anything."

Letter writing, protest- can do a lot of good.
Talking to our legislators can do a lot of good.
And it isn't just something that helped people in 60's.
It changes things that often may need change.

Drinking that coca-cola may not help anything but my caffeine in-take-- but shaming someone? not sure if that's a great thing.
Every day we are participating in a global system. Every day we are voting with our dollars. Sometimes we are really aware of a particular company or corporation and we choose not to patronize them because of their polices. We want them to change their policy because they experience a lack of profits which force them to address it.
I have an Iphone- which I am sure has been made by people who do not make a living wage and they are likely working in poor conditions. What do I do about that? Where do I start?
Every day we are surrounded with these choices- and often it can feel overwhelming and paralyzing...

But I do not think shaming someone is helpful.

Judging, shaming someone because they do mercy work.
you think they should do justice work.
Judging and shaming someone because they do justice work.
And you favor mercy work.

Well, that just doesn't work.

Shaming someone because they aren't like you or don't think or do things like you- not a such good thing. (see Matthew 7:5)

I think critique is good. Asking questions is good. Challenge is good.

I actually thought this was a good piece offering challenge about all of this recent controversy.

However- I do feel like he's a little rough on folks.

How does he know folks haven't thought about the things he is raising up?
Can he invite dialogue and conversation without shaming the work they are actually doing?
Can respect be more a part of the conversation?

I think criticism about this can be tough for well meaning privileged Caucasians.

It's important to have an awareness of yourself and ask: Who am I do go and do this?

I am a white girl from Virginia-- and here I am in downtown Birmingham, San Francisco, Puerto Rico, Mozambique, Detroit, etc. (some of the places I have served)

You ask the "Who AM I?" question- you deal with your own privilege.
You really do need to deal with it- and wonder what expectations, presumptions, judgments you come in with.
If you come with a "pull yourself up from the bootstraps" theology --its time to evaluate that. (Some people truly have no boots, no straps, nothing to pull them up-- and frankly, anyone who says this, anyone who thinks they did it all on their own are sadly mistaken-- they had a community, family, teachers, resources, support, etc--they may not see it- but none of us do it alone. Even if we feel forsaken by others-- God is present- we are never alone.)

After we deal with our own biases, think of our own context, etc- I believe we can assert:
Who am I NOT to go?

But you go with the right intentions.

Before every Service Learning Trip at Birmingham-Southern College we met for months to discover and work to understand what service truly meant and how to connect without cultural paternalism where and to whom we were going.

In training to be a US-2 Missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries I experienced training that forced me to confront my own privilege, racism, cultural biases, etc.

I had classes in seminary- that pushed this awareness in my face.

My classmates and I signed up for a class called RE-501 (where we all thought we'd learn how to write bible studies) instead we learned how to deconstruct and deconstruct and deconstruct....
Instead we read books like "Learning to Be White" and read books by bell hooks and worked on Linkunderstanding our own cultural, racial, and teaching biases.
Some folks felt like that was a waste of time-- yet,
it really did a lot to help many of us - get outside ourselves.

And see. And ask questions. And work on not presuming.

SO much that has been wrong in ministry and missions is that people have gone to fix, presuming they understand what was needed better than the people who were indigenous to the situation.
So much of mission has been and can be paternalistic.

What's it like to be homeless? How should we end homelessness? Ask a homeless person.
Sure, ask experts too- but go and be with the people and love them.
Don't think you can spend a week "being homeless" and know what its like.
(When people go and do this for a week or month, or whatever it seems blind to me)
Don't think you can go to Africa and work on a building a school and speak with authority about Africans.
When we went to Mozambique, the people of Cambine taught us how to build the foundation of the school there, they taught us about their life. They taught us. We shared love and compassion, and a willingness to be in relationship. I visited hospitals - both run by the government alone and funded by the United Methodist Church-- There is a big difference.
I saw the church making a difference. And that was a good thing. It was done not to say "look! we're making a difference!" It was done because it was what was needed. And it was not run by outsiders, it was led by people who lived there and new the people.

I don't think you can ever leave your own privilege-- you can not abdicate your own power.

But you can use it.

I really have always hated the phrase that good, well meaning people say:

"I want to be a voice for the voiceless."

Really? If you do that- you keep oppressing their voice..

Don't try to be their voice-- lift up their own voice!

Talk with them, ask them, know them, care for them, be in relationship with them, encourage them.

But know that you cannot be their voice for them. You can be a voice with them.

I'll never forget working with my homeless sisters and brothers in the Creative Arts Program offered through the N.O.A.H. Project and sitting with them and saying- "Let's write a poem together." And seeing them go from saying, "I can't" to saying "Look what I just wrote" and seeing it published in our own N.O.A.H. Newsletter and then seeing them awaken to their gifts that were there all the time. Awaken to finally seeing their own worth!

One of my favorite quotes about leadership was introduced to me in a Leadership Class in college- by one of my all time favorite professors Dr. Rog- it goes something like this (I've seen it quoted different ways).
“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, Not so good when people acclaim him, Worst when they despise him. ‘Fail to honor people, They fail to honor you;’ But of a good leader, who talks little, When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, They will all say, ‘we did this ourselves.”
- Lao Tzu

I always thought that was a pretty awesome quote. Jesus never said, "Hey look at me! I am awesome!" He gave credit and glory to God.

See the glory wherever you go-- don't assume you bring it with you.

God's glory is everywhere.

There is so much here-- the thoughts I have on this topic could be a book- and I'm sure many people have written books on this.

I think we are so quick to judge and criticize.
Just because someone makes a video about a topic doesn't mean they don't also see the fuller picture.
But also just because you post something on your Facebook page- doesn't mean you are an activist - doesn't mean you've "done it."
It may mean you are sharing good news- and important needs for justice.

But don't stop there.
Keep learning.
Keep doing justice and mercy.
Research, Learn, Explore.
Learn, Connect, Serve.
We're never done. Never.
There is much to do.

Justice and Mercy are not an Either/Or
They are a Both/And

Resources on Justice And Mercy
Great Sermon from Rev. Dean Synder
Mission and Ministry: What does it mean to be in ministry with?
What does it mean to be a missionary today?
What does mission mean and look like?
Go Here
Justice and Advocacy
LinkWhy is Justice Ministry Important? What does it matter?
The United Methodist Social Principles

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