My talk was on The Great Debaters. Specifically, it was about our responsibility as followers of Jesus to work towards justice. And we started with that great debate where the character Samantha declares that the time for justice is always, always NOW!
I didn't grow up with blatant injustice in my face. It wasn't until my wife and I suffered the pain of infertility that we were introduced in a very personal way to injustice. Our journey took us to adopt a baby girl from Vietnam where we saw first-hand what real poverty looked like. We also learned about the potential path of girls in southeast Asia who are not adopted. And inside that hot and smelly orphanage a world away, my life was changed when they handed me my baby and told me her Vietnames name is Hoai which we were told means..."worth remembering."
I read recently that justice is much easier to demand than to define. I think the best definition that I could find was simply that justice is about righting wrongs.
The self-imposed wrongs of this world come in all shapes and sized. In fact, there are so many "wrongs" in the world, we sometimes get overwhelmed. We are reminded of them everyday on TV, the internet, the newspaper, magazines. They can begin to feel like wallpaper: we know they are there, but we just don't pay attention to them. A few years ago every Iraq war casualty made the front page. The same pain faces the families of the fallen and yet today we hardly hear -about them. Here are more unfortunate "wallpaper stats"-
- There are 143 million orphans worldwide
- 2/3 of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day
- The number one killer in Africa is polluted water.
- Every year 10 million children die before their fifth birthday from easily preventable problems (Bono calls it "stupid poverty").
There are a couple of things that I believe we can begin to develop within us.
Develop Compassion Permanence. This is from Gary Haugen's must-read book called The Good News About Injustice. It simply doing what you can to not forget something that stirred your heart with compassion. Journal, blog, pray, write, talk about it when your heart is tugged on. Put yourself in the place of the person who is suffering. And pay attention to your heart, it might be God wanting you to do something. Compassion (hearts that are softer) is the first place to start. Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw hurting people. Like a magnet to metal, he was attracted to those who were suffering. All of God's children are worth remembering.
Develop Contagious Courage. There will be times when we are asked to step outside of our comfort zones, outside of the safe shore, outside of even our natural abilities to stand against injustice. When someone steps out in courage, others around begin to feel it too. It puts courage into (or EN-courages) others. (side note - the prefix "en" means to put into)
Develop Creative Action. I love that we are living in a creative renaissance. Whether it is from culture's turn toward personal expression or from technology advances, we've never lived in a more creative time in history. We need to use our creative capital in our churches to find better solutions to right wrongs.
But if we simply stay overwhelmed, we will remain in justice paralysis and yet injustice never takes a holiday. That's why the time for justice is always now.
There is a parable that Stacey and I came to love after hearing that there are 143 million orphans worldwide. It's the parable of the starfish. We heard about it through the Starfish Foundation that financially assisted in our adoption. It says...
One day a man was walking along the shore. As he walked he saw that a young man who was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer he called out,"Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean." "I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?" "The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die." "But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!" The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."
Stacey and I had just adopted our second baby from Vietnam and we were walking on China Beach when I noticed a starfish. I handed Rowan over to Stacey and picked up a starfish and threw it in the ocean and we both said "we made a difference to that one." Then we continued to walk and noticed hundreds of starfish along the beach. Our hearts were torn between the sense that we made a difference to one and the realization that there is still more work to be done. I retell that story partly to keep compassion permanence in my heart and mind because injustice never takes a holiday. And the time for justice is always now.