Archives for the month of: September, 2013

It is difficult to find anyone who is unconcerned with justice. The issue is, sometimes our sense of justice comes in conflict with someone else’s justice. The task of uncovering the assumed universal justice we all seek is the struggle of human existence, yet this universal justice slips through our fingers or remains out of reach. The attempt toward justice has a way of curving towards our sense of the world, our vantage point. This means our serious pursuit of justice puts us at odds with the other.

A quick look at your favorite social network or news program lets you in on the differing ideals of justice. Everything from the Syrian situation to health care, to minimum wage to taxation can lean towards a claim about justice. The perspective from either side of the issue is that the other side’s claim makes has no merit. The world seems obvious to us, the problem is it often does not bend completely as we would like.

In Exclusion and Embrace Volf argues, enmity or violence do not have to be the result of our differing views of justice. There is a project we can pursue that can give space for the other. This project he calls a will to embrace. At the heart of a will to embrace is something he calls double vision. It is the practice of learning to see everything both from your viewpoint and the viewpoint of the other. This practice demands a particular kind attentiveness, an attentiveness open to wisdom of the other.

Sociologist Clifford Geertz says,

“To discover who people think they are, what they think they are doing, and to what end they think they are doing it, it is necessary to gain a working familiarity with the frames of meaning within which they enact their lives. This does not involve feeling someone else’s feelings, or thinking anyone else’s thoughts, simple impossibilities. Nor does it involve going native, an impractical idea, inevitability bogus. It involves learning how, as being from elsewhere with a world of one’s own, to live with them.”

The last few words are huge. We have to “live with them.” The preposition “with” calls for a different posture than we often give neighbors and strangers. Our individuality has taught us to tolerate the other when necessary, but to live with another is to be attentive to the depth of their humanity. A “with” life forces our guard down and demands we are vulnerable. This is the kind of practice that can allow us to live in a world with conflicting justices. It does not mean we throw up our hands and give into everything, yet it does mean we hold our beliefs with humility.

The wisdom of the stranger invites us to a larger story, a communal consciousness where our horizon of understanding offered a new plain of understanding in the space where our horizons meet.

A little over a year ago, I met Ann Atwater. She lives in Durham, North Carolina where she continues to fight for the cause of others. Annie was a key leader in the movement to integrate the schools in the Raleigh/ Durham area. She set out to change the schools but was met with resistance from the Superintendent who was a white man. At first, her dislike and distrust for her counter-part ran deep, but over time they began to learn from each. These enemies turned partners and friends noticed if they expected their children to welcome the other they better do so as well. Their unlikely relationship created space for them to work for justice together. Together Ann and the superintendent, C.P. Ellis worked to lead a community to accept integrated schools during the height of the civil rights movement.

I sat in Ann’s living room a year and a half ago as she told her story. I got to witness her speak with such care about her one time rival. These are the stories that can happen when there is a will to embrace the other. Something happens when people interact with one another. When we are willing to begin to see the other as a co-journeyer.

The others in our lives, strangers and neighbors, offer us a great wisdom. Even though they might seem like the enemy or polar opposite, they might be your co-workers toward justice. Their experience or insight might change everything for you. Learning to live “with” others will open you up to a new world, a world where we are able to see far beyond the vista of individualism.

IMG_0160

Ok, moment of honesty here – prophetic worship music is hard for me to get into.  Singing and praying something over not only me but other people knowing that it’s not true in that moment is hard for me to buy into.  There’s a song called “The Healing is Here” and it’s a prophetic song.  The bridge says –

Sickness can’t stay any longer
Your perfect love is casting out fear.
You are the God of all power
And it is Your will that my life is healed.

Whether you buy into that last line fully, there is a powerful prophesy in it. There is a healing that comes. There’s always a healing, it just may not be how we envision it. I struggle with this. Being brutally honest – I struggle with the idea that anyone can actually be healed. I buy the lie that cancer is bigger than us. That AIDS is bigger than us. That leukemia is bigger than us. And not only that it’s bigger than us, but that it’s bigger than our God.

Shame on me.

How can I allow the curses of this world, the pains, the hurts, the brokenness of this world to reign over me? I’m like the Israelites seeing the power of Jehovah displayed in his full power then worrying about the manna. I don’t understand how all of this works. I don’t understand
why some are ‘healed’ according to man’s standard and why some aren’t. I know that the separation of life and death hurts. I know that in those moments we need more than a kind word. That sometimes the pain hurts too much. That sometimes the chasm is too wide. And in those moments we have two options – fear/anger or love. One leads to further pain. One leads to hope.

There are few men that have impacted me more than Hank Murphy. I don’t know if he ever knew that. His strength, his hope in the midst of cancer, was and is beyond anything I’ve seen. The hope he had did not come from within him. It came from outside of him, in a powerful way that only the Spirit can move. There are very few weeks that go by that I don’t think of Hank and his love for everyone up until the end. He showed grace and peace and love and every fruit of the Spirit one can show. His life was well lived. His life was impactful in spite of the pain. To quote him, he was “blessed and highly favored.”

So I have much to learn. I have to learn that just because something is not true in the moment doesn’t mean I cannot pray that it become true. Faith of a mustard seed. Faith of a child. Mountains moving. Lives changing. Hope marching on.

Til the end.