“we are one” & more ramblings about justice

kathyescobar church stuff, equality, incarnational, injustice, spiritual formation, the refuge 8 Comments

well we’re back from our crazy rome trip. we were only there a little over 24 hours because that is what jose’s layover was (for those of you who don’t know he is a pilot for united airlines to pay our bills & a new lawyer for a legal aid clinic here in denver because that is what he has become really passionate about in the past few years.  yes, that is one of the reasons it’s so nutty around here).   we had a great time, though, and rome is an amazing city. so much history & culture & beauty.   we got a 1 day subway pass and just hoofed it all over the place–the vatican & the sistine chapel, the coliseum, forum, trevi fountain, spanish steps & anything we could see in between (plus a few gelato shops).  now i’m home and trying to get in the groove for a busy may.

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this past weekend at the refuge’s saturday eve gathering we kicked off a new series of conversations around the word “justice.”  i facilitated with my lovely & passionate-about-mercy-and-justice friend & teammate christa who is stepping into a bigger role of co-pastoring our crazy little community.   like every gathering at the refuge, you never know what you are going to get, and that is part of the wildness i love. we facilitated a panel of 5 different voices representing some form of injustice–a dad with a child with autism, another woman who has struggled with mental illness and has experienced the system first hand, another who was a domestic violence victim & lost all kinds of things in court, a latina who shared what it was like to be the only brown person in an all-white school, and another hispanic friend who was able to articulate beautifully what it was like to be both the perpetrator of racism and the victim.  a friend who is gay was unable to make it.   the kernels of beauty and wisdom and honesty can never be captured and we are low-tech so we never audio record any of these things, but i can safely say that–at least for me–it is better than a sermon anyday!

the topic of justice and inequality is such a tricky one because there are strong feelings in all kinds of ways.  the idea of “justice” by dictionary definitions is not very appealing.  but i view Jesus’ call to us to bring the kingdom of God here–now–as acting on the words of the prophet isaiah: “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (vs. 1:17). when Jesus was woe-ing the pharisees (re-read these if you haven’t in a while, wow), he made it pretty clear: you have done all these religious things, “but you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, faithfulness” (matthew 23: 23).    i think there is a stirring in so many right now toward social justice, a growing awareness that somehow the image of God for mercy & justice is deeply within us and is finding its way out.

this stirring for justice is being re-discovered individually and corporately after being covered up for many years (in some of the churches i have been connected to) by the personal-relationship-and-it’s-all-about-me-and-Jesus-movements, though i know many that have kept justice at their core and have been at it a long time.   what i love about the renewal i see in all kinds of places is that restoration & reconciliation & hope & action is happening in wild & wonderful ways.  and regardless of the overwhelming reality that this side of heaven we will always experience injustice, many are recognizing our responsibility as Christ-followers to participate in whatever small or big way we can to encourage the oppressed & stand up on behalf of the marginalized, use our voices on behalf of the voiceless.   not because we “have” to but because we “want” to, because the image of God in us is being fanned into flame & we can’t escape it.

our conversation at the refuge barely scratched the surface, but i believe that in order for us to really begin to understand injustice–what it feels like, looks like, is & what God might be calling us to consider–we need to:

start to listen to each other. that was the purpose of saturday’s discussion.  to listen to a very brief but powerful glimpse of some of their experiences.  in different ways they each articulated ways that people have treated, viewed, judged, and ignored them.   when the floor was opened one of our beautiful friends shared that restorative justice begins with relationship.  without knowing each other, without listening to each other, without hearing each other, we will be unable to really move toward any kind of restoration together.  this is why i believe strongly in cultivating diversity & learning to live with others who aren’t like us.  it’s why we need a crazy and wild mix of different people from all walks of life, experiences, theologies, socioeconomic backgrounds, political views, colors, and shapes and sizes all in the same room, all at the same table, listening to each other.

try to understand.   hearing and listening are two different things.  when i hear someone, i just sit and hear what they have to say. when i listen, it means that i enter into a deeper experience and understanding of where that person is coming from.  this is vital when it comes to issues of injustice.  it’s so easy for those of us who may not be from the same place or experience to say “what’s their problem?… it’s not like that…they need to not let it bother them so much.”  the truth is that unless we have walked in another man’s shoes, we will never know.  the only way we can develop a sense of what it might be like is to listen, really listen.  relationship transforms understanding,

gain courage to act. issues of injustice will require that we make different choices on behalf of each other.  i love these challenging words from dorothy day:  “i have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and  judge only their actions.”what small steps am i willing to take on behalf of this injustice?” there are many times when we know in our hearts something is wrong but we keep contributing to it.  when we are afraid to act even though our hearts want to.  when we turn the other way because we are too chicken to speak up.  i have done this more times than i can count, and every time i have felt a little sick to my stomach afterward and replayed in my mind all the ways i could have said something to stick up for my friends.   now i am getting much more brave and probably drive conflict-avoiders a little nuts, but i am trying to live with greater integrity.  i am definitely  finding it is much harder to do; the path of least resistance is always silence.  there are a million and one ways we can act on behalf of each other.  buying differently, advocating, marching, voting with our feet, speaking out, offering time and heart and all kinds of other sacrifices.  it looks different for everyone, but the question i believe is “how is God calling us to act on behalf of others?”

still i think the bigger picture goes beyond these steps.  for me,  that is embracing an important truth–there is no “us” and “them”.  we are all “us.”

there’s not “those poor people,” “those messed up people,” “those discriminated-against people” or even “those haters,” “those power-lovers”, “those people-who-are-mean-to-my-friends”, “those people who don’t seem to care.”  there’s just us–a bunch of simultaneously sinners & saints– in the same big ol’ pot God made together.  we all bleed red.  we sometime see, we’re sometimes blind.  we’re good & bad, right & wrong, judgers & lovers, the oppressed & the oppressors–all at the same time.  and when one of us hurts, we all hurt.  i point the finger so often, especially when it comes to all kinds of things that drive me crazy about injustice & church & the system.  very often i have not just a log in my eye but an entire forest.  that is what pricked my heart about saturday’s conversation; for some reason i was gently reminded how important it is to always be open to both sides of the story and to recognize God’s grace at work in all things, all sides, all ways. it doesn’t change how passionate i am about micah 6:8’s call to pursue justice & love mercy, but the last third of the passage–walk humbly–i definitely need to continually review…

anyway, our conversation ended with the poetic and powerful words of my dear friend sam trujillo who was part of the panel and stood & shared this poem he wrote, “they are one because we are one.” i can’t re-create the moment (but i can say it was amazing & unexpected & took all of our breath away), and i asked him to record a rough cut for me:




i’d love to hear some of your perspectives on what you are learning about justice.

here’s a short prayer for justice that i wrote to end saturday eve’s conversation (it turned out we went with the Spirit & never got to it so i thought i’d share it here instead):

God, may we be people of justice.

May we humble ourselves and be willing to learn from each other.

May we stand on the side of the oppressed.

May we not be silent.

May call out Your Image in others.

May we be brave on behalf of our friends.

May we bring your Kingdom to earth now.

May we be known as those-crazy-people-who-stick-up-for-the-underdog-even-when-people-think-we’ve-gone-off-the-deep-end.

May we let your Spirit compel us to act.

To love.

To learn.

To speak.

To move.

To sacrifice.

On behalf of our brothers and our sisters next to us today, on behalf of those who went before us,  and on behalf of those who will come after us.

On your behalf,  Jesus, as your ambassadors, with your humility, your courage, your  Spirit as our guide.


ps:  i promise, i really am working on shorter posts & i stink at it!  sorry for the length!