Wednesday, October 21, 2009

crazy justice

Crazy, but that's how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe, it's not to late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate

Mental wounds not healing
Life's a bitter shame
I'm going off the rails on a crazy train
- Ozzy Osbourne
I'm beginning to have some empathy for those U2 fans who love the music, but don't pay much attention to the lyrics. To explain, first I'm going to have to admit that I'm a 'Dancing with the Stars' fan. Not only that, but while I'm watching apparently I have this silly grin on my face - at least that what sources close to me say. Why am I such a fan? It could be my way of imagining my life as a dancer - this dream having been crushed at an early age. Maybe it's the morbid fascination of watching some of these famous people fail like plain, old regular people might fail when they start something new. But the real reason for me is that every season these stars step outside their comfort zone and I get to watch a transformation take place.

But I digress. Last night I saw Kelly Osbourne dance to her dad's song 'Crazy Train'. Now I know I rocked out to that song in my youth, but I'm pretty sure I didn't catch any significance to the lyrics. Without Ozzy and his crazy antics, I heard the lyrics for the first time. Who knew Ozzy Osbourne could sound a prophetic voice in my head? What do his words have to do with justice? Here's what I heard. We live in a conflicted world where suffering somehow coexists with joy. Greed and generosity, apathy and action, denial and forgiveness, despair and hope, addiction and wholeness, hate and love somehow live alongside each other in varying degrees and somewhere between these contradictions injustice is born. As you become aware of justice issues, you become more aware of these contradictions. As Brett Dennen sings, just thinking about this reality is "enough to make you go crazy". If you actually take on the work of doing justice, you are by definition living in the midst of the contradictions. No wonder one can become mentally wounded, fatigued, confused, even ashamed. No wonder others look at those doing justice and suspect they are about to go off the rails and ride the crazy train.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

normal justice

The authors of Justice in the Burbs advise that when you start getting involved with justice issues you can "kiss normal good-bye." What is normal anyway? Is it normal for 1 in 4 college aged women to experience an attempted or a completed rape? Is it normal for half the current homeless population to be made up of families with children? Is it normal for 1 in 5 people to be without health insurance? Is it normal for 1 in 10 people to go to bed hungry in the US. Unfortunately, these things are normal today - that's why they are justice issues. Changing these "norms" means altering the status quo and that's where doing justice meets passive, often active and sometimes angry resistance. With change, someone is going to have to give something up and even if it is for the greater good, that's not a normal human reaction.

Is it normal for Christians to feel passionately about issues of justice and speak out?
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. - Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963
I'm afraid Christianity in America has lost its passion. It’s become mainstream, selfish, narcissistic, bland, couch-potato, feel good fluff. Core values include promoting creationism, pro-life, heterosexuality and "saving souls." These are good things to promote and I respect those who strongly believe in them…but I don't fit in there. I don't see these as pressing issues in my faith. I need a gut-retching, enduring, bold challenge to seek justice, love, peace, understanding, and tolerance. I need a community where I can be held accountable, not only for my daily actions and prayer life, but for the greater ills of society. The pain and hurts I've caused by compliance, compliance with a world that is inherently broken with systemic injustice. I need something real and tangible. I've just spent three years of my life in a corrupt country with few resources to bring about lasting healing; I need to know it wasn't in vain. I need to know there's still a community willing to take me in and care for me as I rediscover this strange reality of America. - Carol in Philadelphia, 2009
I wish it were normal. I thank God for these voices of justice in my life urging me outward and onward, beyond normal!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Risky Living: The Good Life

I took the opportunity to write devotions for the first week of our new series Risky Living, which I think will be a very justice-oriented series.

This week we focus on the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31. Try reading from a variety of translations throughout the week. Many different translations are available at

Day 1: Read Mark 10:17-31
Consider who you identify with in the story and why. Is it the rich man, searching for something more? Is it the disciples, who are shocked and confused by Jesus’ statement about how hard it is to get into God's kingdom? Is it Peter, who wonders out loud that surely they have already done enough? Or maybe you identify with Jesus, because you have seen or experienced first-hand the iron grip that riches can have over someone's heart.

Day 2: Read Mark 10:17-31 & Matthew 7:7-12
Today; consider the rich man's quest for eternal life. Have you ever thought to yourself; if only I had "fill in the blank", my life would be good? What are you searching for in your life right now - a job, a life partner, a house, a college education, a vacation, a promotion, validation, security, spiritual growth, reconciliation, hope, love?

Day 3: Read Mark 10:17-31 & Genesis 3:9-11
Is there something missing in our make-up that we are looking for to make us whole? Donald Miller, author of Searching for God Knows What suggests that the missing element is our connection to God:
"Man is wired so he gets his glory (his security, his understanding of value, his feeling of purpose, his feeling of rightness with his Maker, his security for eternity) from God and this relationship is so strong, and God’s love so pure, that Adam and Eve felt no insecurity at all... But when that relationship was broken, they knew it instantly. All of their glory, the glory that came from God, was gone... All of the insecurity rises the instant you realize you are alone.
If man was wired so that something outside himself told him who he was, and if God’s presence was giving him a feeling of fulfillment, then when that relationship was broken, a man would be pining for other people to tell him that he was good, right, okay with the world, and eternally secure."

Day 4: Read Mark 10:17-31 & Mark 10:42-45
Is there an antidote for this missing element? Jesus told his disciples that there is, but it is a radical procedure: “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Glenn McDonald, author of The Disciple Making Church says, “We have managed to do something that the early Christians would not have thought possible. We have made Christianity safe, middle-class, comfortable. Even when we acknowledge the words of Jesus, we tame them.” Consider how you might be taming the words of Jesus.

Day 5: Read Mark 10:17-31 & Luke 14:25-33
In our culture, this message of servanthood almost always ends up sounding negative instead of positive: Give it up, lose your life, be a servant. We want to know why, what’s in it for me? There are not many things for which we humans are willing to make large sacrifices. Consider how being rich with stuff makes this sacrifice more difficult than for those without. Consider where the Holy Spirit is leading you and acknowledge what following this call will cost you.

liberal justice

"It's tragic, to see how we've built our country into the wealthiest country on the planet — there is so much abundance here — and yet we have such a disparity between the haves and have-nots in this society."
- Michael Moore, director of Captalism: A Love Story

I know he pisses off a lot of people, but how can anyone dispute this statement from Michael Moore? Why is it so hard to recognize or see the have-nots? Who or what is perpetrating this massive delusion that we're going to be fine, everything is okay? The story may be fed to us from other sources, but aren't we, the ones in the burbs, buying into it? As the authors point out in chapter 3 of Justice in the Burbs, it certainly feels safer living in the burbs where we can "avoid facing the bigger issues of life." Even when we are jolted awake by a justice issue that we can no longer ignore, it is so difficult to unravel ourselves, our stuff and our life in the burbs from the delusion.

I read following quote this week from Inward/Outward - maybe this defending against the Bible is part of the delusion?
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?
- Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, ed. Charles Moore

my Justice in the Burbs book study notes
chapter 3: justice in the burbs
- why did you choose to live where you do? beautiful, private, convenient & part of our American dream
- how does your view of America shape your understanding of what it means to live justly? living justly when we bought the house wasn't really on the radar, now that it is, I vacillate between guilt and gratitude.
- is it possible to have a government that is concerned with justice? it better be. the mission of the county where I live is "To enhance the well-being and quality of life for all citizens through the provision of the highest level of public service consistent with the prudent use of public funds." that sounds like being concerned with justice to me, but it is far from being pursued.
- what concerns, such as being labeled a "liberal", do you have when thinking about living justly? my main concern is that I don't do enough and that the liberal & conservative labels cause all sorts of translation issues

Friday, October 02, 2009

just play the f'ing music

so said the grumpy, middle-aged guy sitting in front of me when Archbishop Desmund Tutu came on the U2 360 screen to introduce the One Campaign. Talk about a groove stomper. I can't express the gratitude I felt when soon after Scott Stadium reverberated with Amazing Grace.

On the way out of the stadium, I heard someone else exclaim that they loved the music, but not all that other stuff. If by other stuff, they meant "the claw". Well I must admit that feat of engineering was strange and mystifying, and maybe I didn't love it, but it was something to behold. On the other hand, if they meant the references to social justice issues like voter protests in Iran, the Aids epidemic, the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, starving children and environmental concerns or highlighting groups like Amnesty International, the Red Campaign and the One Campaign, then I don't get it. How can you be a fan of the music, if you are not also a fan of the message? Do you hear the call to social justice when you listen to U2?
One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should.
One life with each other: sisters, brothers.
One life, but we're not the same.
We get to carry each other, carry each other.
Carry on U2 and keep singing those f-ing lyrics!

some days are better than others

. a good friend who said "hell yes" to a last minute plan
. husbands & kids who respond "why not" to a girls night out
. a beautiful moonlit evening
. great seats from which to ponder the minds responsible for "the claw"
. everyone belting out "i still haven't found what i'm looking for" & "amazing grace"
. no traffic issues

thanks be to God!