This is the final of three posts referencing biblical material.
It’s the new year! For some of us, 2016 can only get better. Many people, not just beauty contestants, will be wishing for world peace this year.
I will not be one of them.
Instead, I will wish for world justice. Friends, that is more than a damn bit harder but more than a damn bit more important, too.
What looks like peace can sometimes be justice’s enemy: the quiet, undisturbed stagnant waters of the status quo where man’s wretched toxins and pollutants pool until nothing good can grow, and all who come there to drink just die.
And that kind of peace ain’t no peace at all.
That is the kind of peace we must fight, and we must fight for justice when we do. What do you think of when you hear the word “fight”? Violence, fisticuffs, war? Raised voices, shouted profanities? Forget all that.
Let’s talk about about endurance, determination, integrity, advocacy. Tenacity, stubbornness, solitude.
I am not talking about violence.
Let me repeat: I am not talking about violence. Violence is a waste of time, energy and the legal system. Someone you didn’t want to hurt always gets hurt. It destroys lives, property, psyches. Violence is bad.
I am talking about protest. I am talking about conviction. I am talking about raising hell.
And raising hell isn’t always the adrenalin-filled, good-for-TV monologue we think it is sometimes, either.
The past year my life has been defined by fighting: the slow, marathon fight in which lives are built, causes are won, justices (hopefully) achieved one small tidbit at a time. It is harder than anything I ever imagined. I’d always envisioned “standing up for myself” as the brief, transient thrill of giving a profanity-laden voice to my grievances, be they small or large, real or imagined.
I’ve learned that true raising hell has meant that I’ve had to write letters, maintain contacts, research issues, comb through documents thicker than my hips, understand thorny legal minutiae, hold my tongue (talk about researching the Bible verses on that), and wait it out.
It’s a tedious, slow, day-to-day grind of waking up, getting dressed, and digging in long after friends and family have tired of the cause and returned to their privileged suburban existences out of fear, embarrassment, cynicism or laziness. Make no mistake, that has pissed me off.
Unlike them, though, I can’t quit; I simply cannot.
I’m no longer a spectator in the arena of injustice. I’m in the arena, fighting the lions.
The fight for justice has defined me now; it has seeped into my skin and flows in my blood and mixes with the air I exhale every time I breathe. The call to fight wakes me up in the middle of the night and cries to me like a frightened child. For people to expect me to act as if nothing ever happened, and to pretend to be one more Stepford Wife in the throng of nothing-to-see-here suburbanites is to deny what I have become.
I can’t quit because I, and others, deserve better.
I can’t stop because I truly believe God tells me not to. I can’t stop because I truly believe that if I do, I’m basically giving a signed letter of permission to the corrupt and cruel people I’ve encountered, permission to do this to the next guy. And when they do, because if not stopped they most certainly will, it will be partly my fault. [i]
Somewhere in this house – the attic maybe, or the storage unit – is a little paperback on Existentialism by Sartre. He articulated what I’d always known: that in refusing to do anything about evil in this world, we are culpable for it, because we have allowed it to occur without any impediement on our part. Sartre didn’t need God to support his theory. However, down the road (meaning the blog) I will.
Where I get a little rattled though, is when we Christians go on and on about peace on one hand, and “pray” for the poor, the oppressed, the suffering on the other, but we don’t do anything about either. And sometimes, helping the afflicted and working for peace are mutually exclusive.
In my Christmas List post I wrote about Jesus’s work with the afflicted:
His response wasn’t a broadcast of platitudes – “a smile is a frown upside down,” or “don’t worry, be happy.” The call for faith was not a ploy to make people and their silly little problems go away. … He showed up, he stepped up and dealt with the overwhelming, unsolvable problems of people who were otherwise lost, alone and doomed.
Then on Christmas Day, I wrote:
Christ didn’t help people get used to being blind, or deaf or lame. He didn’t convince them it wasn’t that bad or offer coping strategies or motivational posters with cute kitten pics. He solved the flippin’ problems. … The miracle was not that the afflicted just stood up and said oh, well, you know, this isn’t so bad, I was just being a whiner. The miracle was that they weren’t afflicted anymore.
In my prayers, those I make beyond words or thoughts, those that are the deepest aches of my heart, I prayed about my frustration.
Then … something happened.
For your consideration (insert Rod Serling impersonation here), I was engaged in some random googling when I found a wonderful post at cracked.com. It is a snarky, profanity-laden, wonderful answer to my prayers straight from The Twilight Zone wherein Wong echoes my own sentiments, and postings: sometimes, at the end of the day, people need solutions. Not sympathy. Not a pat on the back.
David Wong begins his article with a scenario: your loved one is on the street riddled with bullet wounds, dying. Someone walks up and you want their help. Specifically, you want them to keep that person alive. You and said person begin an exchange whereby the person offers sympathy and a resume of his/her wonderful personality traits.
You, on the other hand, don’t give a flying rat’s rear end:
“In that panicked moment, you will take your bloody hands and shake him by the shoulders, screaming, “Yes, I’m saying that none of that other shit matters, because in this specific situation, I just need somebody who can stop the bleeding …”
That’s the thing.
By the way, remember the Good Samaritan? The guy stopped, he tended to the wounds, took the wounded guy to an inn and paid for his care. The parable is about providing solutions.
Even Wong sees the mandate for Christians to provide solutions.
Inside, you have great compassion for poor people. Great. Does that result in you doing anything about it? ~ David Wong, cracked.com
… I’m not even commenting on whether or not prayer works; it doesn’t change the fact that they chose the one type of help that doesn’t require them to get off the sofa. … what fruit grows from it? And they should know this better than anybody — I stole the fruit metaphor from the Bible. Jesus said something to the effect of “a tree is judged by its fruit” over and over and over. Granted, Jesus never said, “If you want to work here, close.” No, he said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Over and over is right. An online search of the NRSV Bible confirmms that the above quote can be found in three passages: Matthew 3:10, Matthew 7:19 and Luke 3:9.
The Gospel of John (6:43) elaborates:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. [ii] [iii]
We are what we do.
When it comes to injustice, those solutions aren’t always well received, and our illusion of peace (lack of tension) is sometimes the first casualty. According to the above Gospel (Matthew 10:16-17, 21), Christ was not the least bit naïve about this:
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you …
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death
The people in this world who are up to no good are not going to stop simply because someone asked nicely. They are only going to stop when there’s enough opposition to make doing wrong too much trouble.
In this same way, Christ does not ask us for peace: (Matthew 10:34):
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
In other words, essentially those disciples needed to do what John the Baptist did before (and took up a notch): toss a few people out of their comfort zones, dig a few heads out of the sand, replace the way things are with the way things should be.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not win civil rights for people of color with a polite, gold engraved invitation for the power structure to do the right thing. No, he and several thousand other people had to march their tired, oppressed, exploited asses up and down several cities – for days at a time — to get it. They had to endure violence and slander and things that would keep most of my friends and family up at night.
No matter what happened at Selma or Chicago or wherever else, and make no mistake the status quo got ugly about it, King kept it up. He raised hell.
For King, the Status Quo of the White, Middle class “peace” based on injustice and exploitation was no peace at all. (For people of color who were lynched, abused, exploited, there was no “peace,” so don’t kid yourself.)
Now we have a man of color in the White House. See what a little hell-raising can do?
Ghandi. Masih Alinejad’s My Stealthy Freedom project. I could go on. Oh why not? Think I will.
Do you know how AIDS ended up being a disease people can live with for decades, and not a death sentence? Don’t start patting the nearest old white guy in a lab coat for it, either. I’m dating myself here, but I can remember when AIDS was called GRID. I remember reading about it in Rolling Stone¸when Rolling Stone was printed on tabloid-sized newspaper stock.
The gay community (not then called LGBT) raised hell. They had to raise hell for medical treatment for a disease, something you and I take for granted. People want to cure cancer. People want to cure childhood diseases. Homosexuals (and their friends and families) had to raise hell to get people interested in treating a terrible, fatal, disease, and even then people were only fully invested once heterosexuals contracted it.
All these people have fought for justice non-violently, but they were not peaceful, in terms of compliance, obedience, conformity. When opposing forces reacted with violence, they did not give up for the sake of “peace.” They disrupted, argued, defied and, God love ‘em, were general pains in the ass. Some of them got killed for it, some of them died for it.
But then, they had a role model who was willing to get killed, too, right?
For those who think you already have justice this year, what would I want for you? Relax, it will probably not cost you your life. It may cost you some time.
Just do something. Like Wong said, get off your rear end and do something. Christ did.
Write your friggin’ senator when you see an injustice. Call the paper and raise hell about someone falsely imprisoned, a murder unsolved, a group exploited economically. They’re out there. Plenty to spare. You don’t have to worry about a shortage. First, get your facts straight, dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Maybe do a dry-run of what you have to say or write with a friend. But then get your ass out there and raise some hell.
If you’re really popular, get a flash mob going to do more than dance to Lady Gaga at the mall; dance to Lady Gaga on the State House steps to protest something: the war on women, economic disparity, government corruption. Dig up an old Helen Reddy tune and flash mob around a Planned Parenthood site for women’s civil rights, protect those women going in for pelvic exams, breast cancer screenings and prenatal exams. Flash mob to Moneygrabber at your local DCF office to protest false abuse allegations and knee-jerk child removals to bolster federal foster care funding. I’m gonna look stupid out there on my own.
Learn about the world around you. Stop listening to the fast-food media’s drivel and spin – spend some time at the computer or library or just your iPad and do some research and find out the facts behind the headlines.
Write a damn blog that hardly anybody reads, but hell, it’s something and one day the right person might click on it and hey, something gets done.
Do the Christian thing, bear some fruit and be part of someone’s solution.
Happy New Year
An interesting article on seeking economic justice:
For more on the Q source:
[iii] Passages confirmed using: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+6:43&version=NRSV; NSRV version