Here is my friend, Leroy Barber, discussing how Christians can avoid a savior complex via AskQuestions.tv
Guest Blog by Melissa McCreery
I recently read New York Time’s bestseller An Invisible Thread — the true story of ad executive Laura Schroff and her unlikely friendship with Maurice, an 11-year-old homeless boy panhandling the streets of Manhattan. I was on one of my frequent excursions into the Barnes & Noble labyrinth of shelves when I stumbled upon Schroff’s book. The title caught my attention as it reminded me of the 2012 Justice Conference theme, Love is a Thread.
We’re here for a common purpose,
United by a common cause.
Artists, scholars, activists, writers, musicians.
Everyday folks who are making justice a priority.
Feed your soul. Grow your mind. Share your heart.
Raise your hand. Ask the question. Introduce yourself and join the conversation.
The stage is set. It’s time to begin.
Justice is a garment.
Love is a thread.
- The 2012 Justice Conference Program
Indeed, justice was the garment and love was the thread that drew Schroff to Maurice after initially passing him on a busy Manhattan street corner in 1986. While Maurice had been utterly invisible to thousands of passersby that day, he was not invisible to Schroff.
As I’ve read and Schroff and Maurice’s story unfolds, and their unique friendship develops, I couldn’t help but think about the hundreds of people like Maurice I’ve passed in my life — in Los Angeles, in Boston, and right here in Bend. I had to ask myself, “How many people have I made invisible outside the local Starbucks? How often have I walked past a person (maybe even a child like Maurice) in need, not even seeing them?” It’s not an ill-intentioned or malicious decision as much as it’s neglect. Pure and simple. Neglect to take notice of the vulnerable and the hurting. As An Invisible Thread points out, when poverty and the degradation of human life become visible, we typically don’t wish to think about it so we ignore it.
I’ve challenged myself to walk through life with my eyes (and my heart) wide open. To never lessen the hurting of others by making them invisible.
As much as An Invisible Thread is a story about Schroff, about Maurice, about poverty and the drug epidemic plaguing this country, it’s also about everyday people and everyday experiences. At its core, it’s a book that heralds the beauty of the human spirit; the significance of intentionality; the transcending power of hope.
Justice is very fashionable in our society – a buzzword for both secular and church culture.
When we talk about justice, our focus can often be exclusively on action. Justice becomes about doing stuff, fixing problems and taking a stand. A word that can lead us to a “checkbox” approach to the just life the Bible commands and our peers applaud. We simply have to make a list.
Give money to a nonprofit? Check.
Choose a favorite cause to follow? Check.
Post a provocative video on Facebook? Check.
We can resolve to embrace justice, and then busy ourselves checking boxes toward a better world and a better “me”.
But there is another facet of justice that often gets missed in the wake of our motivational, heroic and impassioned calls to action.
Whereas justice is about standing up, humility is about sitting down. Justice is about doing, but humility often takes the form of listening. Justice seeks to fix. Humility seeks to understand, see the other, and know its own weaknesses.
Humility is aware of our ongoing injustice despite all our good deeds. Simply resolving to do more just actions doesn’t lead to lasting, holistic change—the kind of change that transforms us into just people who God can use in His kingdom. Becoming just is first about heart change and character before it is about action and behavior.
C. S. Lewis once said, “everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him [or her] at the moment.” But what happens when doing justly is harder than we expected, when our resolution fades and our old habits reassert themselves? Truly changing our lives requires us to step back and allow God to change our hearts first—sustainable action can only grow out of a changed heart.
To that end, here are three essential steps in the journey of becoming more just.
Relearn a Theology of Justice
Justice is rooted in the character of God and flows from the heart of God. A theology of justice starts with what God says about justice
The potential for justice and injustice is latent in every person, every interaction and relationship, every job, every system, and every institution. Only God’s plan for justice, and remedy for injustice, is wide and deep enough to cover the human experience. The pages of Scripture, from Genesis to the Psalms to the Prophets to the Gospels to the Epistles, tell the story of God’s desire for justice.
Relearning a theology of justice is why we started The Justice Conference. Our goal was to help people move beyond causes and fashions and connect them to the big idea of biblical justice.
Justice isn’t a nice addition we tack on to our lives or our faith—it’s a necessary part of both. Justice is at the heart of the gospel and is synonymous with biblical righteousness. Being just, or pursuing a right relationship with God and others, can never be peripheral. Justice is central to life and faith.
See What You Don’t See
Just like drivers have blind spots, we live unaware of many of the most pressing issues in our communities and across the world. Becoming more just often begins with learning what we don’t know. Injustice can often lurk in our own traditions, families, and even in our own hearts. Awareness of a particular type of injustice, such as international human trafficking, is no guarantee that we will recognize an injustice happening in our own communities, such as gender inequality, or other global injustices such as economic exploitation.
Being humble opens our eyes to seeing the injustices we’re missing and prepares the soil for us to broaden our understanding of and response to the human experience of others.
Do the complexity of justice and the seeming intractability of injustice sometimes overwhelm us?
Being aware of our own inability to be just surfaces our need for God’s grace and strength. If issues like global poverty or immigration seem simple and straightforward, it probably indicates we aren’t casting a wide enough net in our pursuit of understanding biblical justice or empathizing with the plight of others.
So cultivate a teachable heart. Find the experts and the first-person accounts. Read books and watch videos. Study the story of justice in the scriptures. Refuse to reduce complex issues into either/or equations. Search for the voices that are crying out for justice and commit to being one of the few who are actually listening. Pray.
In the end, no matter how popular justice becomes, it isn’t a series of boxes to check off—it’s a resolution to ask God about His heart for the world, and a willingness to listen and obey when He answers.
As we learn to stand up and fight for the vulnerable and oppressed, let us also learn to sit down and make sure our just actions are less about being heroic, than being faithful.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 49.
[This piece first appeared on ChurchLeaders.com]
In Pursuing Justice, I write about the motto of Kilns College: Learn to Change the World.
A friend recently admitted that he was skeptical of my claim. He wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world. Doesn’t history show that injustice and sin are intractable and constant?
I’ve faced this question many times. Many people believe that the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.
The truth is, those who believe that we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality. One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small, yet significant ways, and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters. How are we to understand these two realities?
Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction – separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.
The distinction here is: although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.
My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said that we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, that one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.
Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town. In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips and sometimes he literally saves a life. Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town. He knows that even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing that, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.
Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially. This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.
We don’t have to remake the world. Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure that the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean that we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world. Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve. Changing the world doesn’t guarantee that our victories will be permanent. And that’s okay.
There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.
We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.
Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world we become a very real part of changing it.
My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.
Dave was on the treadmill and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.
“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”
The man responded, “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”
Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”
The man looked confused.
Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference, you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”
The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing that changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.
The distinction is necessary: just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t – and don’t – change the world every day in significant ways.
Click here for the book resource page to check out and download the discipleship and activity lessons for parents to use in conjunction with the book.
Below is the final panel discussion from this year’s conference in Philly.
It is an intriguing question we thought would be aptly answered by John Perkins, the storied civil right leader and founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), Stephan Bauman of World Relief and Lisa Sharon Harper at Sojourners.
It is worth it alone for the exhortation and prayer at the end by Dr. Perkins.
Check it out!
Call me crazy or call me a nerd, but Dr. Wolterstorff’s twenty minute philosophical explanation on the synonymous nature of justice and love was the highlight of #justice2013 for me.
Go ahead, channel your inner nerd and watch the magic below!!
I’ve been off the grid recently for as long as I’ve ever been since I started blogging.
The reason for the absence was to focus on and finish my first book manuscript called, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things, which comes out this February with Thomas Nelson Publishers.
I’m excited to have the manuscript finished and to be able to focus on getting back to writing and interacting a the blog level (short pieces and paragraphs are easier than 70k word books!)
Click here to see the book for advance order.