God Doesn’t Have a Plan B

I received an e-mail from one of my former UST law students, a woman with a deep commitment to social justice, sharing some wonderful and challenging resources.

The title and description of the second is a good reminder for all of us who claim to take our faith seriously: We are God’s plan for justice, and he doesn’t have a Plan B.  We’re it.

With her permission, I share the contents of her e-mail with you.

(1) Re-Imagine the Law audio lecture with Q&A, Dr. Timothy Keller, Center for Faith & Work. He discusses:

  • Our call to “cultivate the garden,” i.e., using raw materials skillfully to bring about human flourishing
  • How obeying, applying, & producing the law leads to flourishing
  • Discerning and repenting of our own idols
  • Our need to understand the history of the secularization of the profession and the myth of “neutrality”
  • Several other good books/articles that Christian attorneys should read
  • His reflections on practical questions about living out our faith, such as in the realm of political activism

(2) “We are God’s plan for justice” audio lecture by Gary Haugen, International Justice Mission (IJM). He discusses:

  • How believers are God’s instruments for bringing justice, and he does not have a Plan B
  • The importance of obedience in giving our efforts and resources (small as they may seem) when faced with overwhelming tasks
  • The importance of exposing ourselves to suffering and connecting with people in need
  • Why a reasonably functioning public justice system is a great need in the developing world

(3) The Locust Effect  (book) by Gary Haugen, IJM, and Victor Boutros, DOJ. They discuss:

  • Why the world’s efforts to alleviate poverty are seriously undermined by our failure to address the global crisis of violence against the poor
  • Four major categories of pervasive violence against the poor, with many specific examples
  • How reasonably functioning justice systems were once highly unlikely everywhere, but now they exist for some people in the world–and how this should give us hope and a starting point toward strengthening the rule of law elsewhere

Hope’s Children

Robert Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission has a piece in the current issue of America Magazine on hope.

In it, he cites a quote attributable to Augustine of Hippo: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Expounding on the quote, Maloney writes

Anger, Hope’s first daughter, reacts spontaneously in the face of evil, refusing to accept unjust social and economic structures that deprive the poor of life: unjust laws, power-based economic relationships, inequitable treaties, artificial boundaries, oppressive or corrupt governments and numerous other subtle obstacles to harmonious societal relationships. Then Hope’s second daughter, Courage, standing at Anger’s side and singing out persistently, searches for ways “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” as Tennyson put it.

The union of the two is important. Too often, we see one daughter – Anger – unaccompanied by the second – Courage. After all, the anger part is a lot easier. It doesn’t take much effort to sit around and talk about how angry things make us. But anger without the courage (and energy) to act is unproductive.

By all means, be angry at the injustice in the world. But then ask yourself: what can I do to help address it?

Transformation, Not Information

I read in a book review in America recently that “the aim of a rigorous liberal arts education is to follow the classical Delphic maxim, know thyself. This goal concerns not merely information, but transformation. From Plato to Heisenberg and from Augustine to Mahler, we are seductively lured to conceptualize not in order to remain in the metaphysical clouds but to return to the concrete self more clarified. We are urged to analyze critically, question pointedly and weigh competing arguments to secure our own humble place with the history of ideas.”

That was certainly my experience as an undergraduate taking a liberal arts curriculum at Georgetown in the 1970s. I took courses in theology, philosophy, literature, psychology, very few of which I took with an eye toward preparing me for law school or a career as a lawyer. Instead, they helped me grow.

There seems to be increasing demands that college be about job training or about (as author of book review put it) “inflat[ion of] accomplishments to please future employers, placate parents and repair fragile egos.”

On the one hand, I understand concerns about the cost of higher education, and the difficulty of college graduates in finding jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, I think there is cause to be concerned by market research I recently read in Forbes finding that 88% of college-bound teens place career prep and future success “over more nebulous goals like personal growth and pursuing their passion.”

If because of financial inability to pay or concerns about securing employment, college is no longer about providing a broad liberal arts education to our young people (or providing it to a narrower and narrower population), we need to ask ourselves how are we replacing that loss. How are we helping our young people get what a liberal arts education has to offer? Helping are we teaching them to understand themselves and their place in the world?. How to understand what it means to live a meaningful life? What are we doing to help transform them from students into adults with an understanding of, and commitment to, what is right….what is just…what is good?

How to do that is our challenge, not theirs. And it is our responsibility.

A Child Is More Important Than Boots

In a reflection I read the other day on Jesus’ comment to his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, Peter Feldmeier, offered a challenge inspired by Peter Singer:

You just bought yourself a new pair os suede boots for $200 and you are walking by a pond where a toddler is drowning. You would not hesitate to dash into the water to save the child, even though this would ruin your boots. A child is more important than boots! Now consider the moment just before buying the boots, knowing that those $200 could feed a starving child. Do you buy the boots or do you give the money to a charity that feeds starving children?

The hypothetical raises a good question for our consideration. Why do we think differently about saving the drowning child than feeding starving children?

To be sure, the drowning child is right there in front of our face and the starving children are not. But we know they exist. We know that children die every day because they lack sufficient food or access to clean water or something as simple as a mosquito net.

There must be reasons we react differently to the two scenarios in the hypothetical. And some of those reasons may or may not be legitimate. But we won’t know that unless we ask ourselves the question. And I suspect we often fail to do even that.

Prophetic Voices

As described on their website, ISAIAH, a coalition of about 100 member congregations, “is a vehicle for congregations, clergy, and people of faith to act collectively and powerfully towards racial and economic equity in the state of Minnesota.”

The other day I attended the launch of ISAIAH’s Prophetic Voices movement, which aims at uniting clergy and their congregations “to create a more just and abundant Minnesota where everyone can thrive.” It is premised on the idea that the religious community has something to say about the economy, equality, racism, politics and power. That the religious community has something to say about suffering, joy, and what human life is meant for.

There were about 250 people, including over 200 clergy of various faiths – rabbis, priests, ministers, as well as lay ministers, in attendance for this day-long program. For me, the diversity of representation was powerful to witness and to be part of. When we look at social justice issues from our own individual standpoint, the problems seem so big that they seem insurmountable. For any one individual or even single parish or congregation, they are. But united, there is much power that can be wielded by people of faith in seeking a more just society. The emphasis was on the invitation into community – a multi-faith, multi-racial community.

It is not possible to give a good summary the day and all it gave me to think about, but one of the points that was made is a reminder of the need to think about the forest and not just the trees. That is, beyond individual issues, we are talking about a way of being in the world. And that requires that we ground our social justice efforts in a narrative – faith communities need to stand up and tell a story about who we are and what we can be.

Our work on behalf of social justice needs to be covey a narrative that explains how the “logic of God’s commonwealth” differs from the “logic of Pharaoh’s empire.” Creation in God’s image vs. the commodification of God’s creation…an ever expanding circle of human concern vs. partisan politics…and church as catalyst for freedom.

We have a story to tell. And we need to tell it – over and over again until it is heard. (As one minister observed, John the Baptist preached the same sermon for 40 years.)

Being Salt and Light

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is the salt and light passage. Jesus calls his disciples, and by extension all of us, to be the “salt of the eath” and the “light of the world.”

In 1996, the National Conference of American Bishops published a document titled Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish. In the introduction to the document, the Bishops write:

The Church teaches that social justice is an integral part of evangelization, a constitutive dimension of preaching the gospel, and an essential part of the Church’s mission. The links between justice and evangelization are strong and vital. We cannot proclaim a gospel we do not live, and we cannot carry out a real social ministry without knowing the Lord and hearing his call to justice and peace. Parish communities must show by their deeds of love and justice that the gospel they proclaim is fulfilled in their actions. This tradition is not empty theory; it challenges our priorities as a nation, our choices as a Church, our values as parishes. It has led the Church to stand with the poor and vulnerable against the strong and powerful. It brings occasional controversy and conflict, but it also brings life and vitality to the People of God. It is a sign of our faithfulness to the gospel.

The reminder of our responsibilities as disciples to be salt and light is an important one given the challenges of the world in which we live, a world that desperately needs the message of the the Gospel. Again, in the words of the Bishops, “At a time of rampant individualism, we stand for family and community. At a time of intense consumerism, we insist it is not what we have, but how we treat one another that counts. In an age that does not value permanence or hard work in relationships, we believe marriage is forever and children are a blessing, not a burden. At a time of growing isolation, we remind our nation of its responsibility to the broader world, to pursue peace, to welcome immigrants, to protect the lives of hurting children and refugees. At a time when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, we insist the moral test of our society is how we treat and care for the weakest among us.”

The charge to be salt and light is not a charge given to a select few. It is not just priests, nuns and a limited number of ministers of the Church who are invited to the task. The task is given to all and fulfilling it is an essential part of who we are as Christians.

World Day of Social Justice

Today the United Nations celebrates the first World Day of Social Justice, intended to become an annual event. The day offers all of us an opportunity to reflect on our role in promoting the social justice so necessary to secure a lasting peace. In the words of Pope Paul VI in Octogesiam Adveniens, “It is too easy to throw back on others responsibility for injustices, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.”

All of us who call ourselves Christians are called to share a transformation process with God – to be agents of social change. We can, by our individual actions, make a difference. We can contribute to peace and justice in the world. In the words of Dean Brackley: “Responding to massive injustice according to each one’s calling is the price of being human, and Christian, today. Those looking for a privatized spirituality to shelter them from a violent world have come to the wrong place.”

Today offers us an invitation to ask: how am I called to respond to injustice? How am I called to be an agent of social change?