Think on these thingsâ€Ś James Read & Don Posterski
An International Social Justice Commission teaching resource
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8 NRSV)
At the International Social Justice Commission, we think about these things and try to do something about them. What do you think?"
First impressions: Destined for discrimination…..1 Kingdom tug- of- wars………………………......7 It’s not fair……………………………………….12 Harnessing the wind…………………………..…16 Government and the common good………….…..20 Global citizenship: Why bother?.........................24
First impressions: Destined for discrimination
First impressions are consequential. They can open doors or slam them shut. Some of us see a person begging on the street and think, “You can’t judge a book by its cover. There’s a story here. I wonder what happened?”
Others see the same person in the same situation and conclude, “What you see is what you get. I’m glad that’s not me.” For them, the story is over. People who are marginalized suffer the consequences of first impressions. So often, like people with disabilities, they have doors slammed in their faces before they have a chance to tell their stories. They are destined for discrimination. Who are these people? What is it about them that triggers discrimination? The list is long. People who are chronically unemployed and long term welfare recipients Sidewalk panhandlers and transient street people Addicts and drunkards Prostitutes, adulterers and HIV carriers Pregnant teenagers LGBT advocates Widows and orphans Unemployed youth People of color Indigenous people Religious zealots Foreign language speakers Mentally ill persons
Obese people and others with distorted physical appearances Social misfits Minorities Recent immigrants Released criminals The poor in the eyes of the rich
Let’s face it. Encountering people who are vulnerable to discrimination often catches us off guard. We are on the way to somewhere else. We suddenly encounter them. They invade our comfort zones. Sometimes we feel like they are a nuisance. Still, we do not want to embarrass them or ourselves. Too often, as we walk away, we don’t feel that we have been our best selves. What do we think? Do we plan ahead? The intent of this article is not to set up a framework for social planning and policy development. Rather, the aspiration is to probe how we can personally respond to people who often experience marginalization and discrimination. What we believe about people can help us. Followers of Jesus believe that the image of God is in everyone. Capacities to think and love, abilities to make positive decisions, and resourcefulness to express goodness are all human beauty marks that
reflect God’s image. Because people have made bad decisions does not make them bad people. Because people are different from you and me or because their lives are off track doesn’t diminish their human worth. Before walking out the door in the morning we can remind ourselves that whoever we encounter today, we can begin with, “I see God in you.” Another pre-commitment we can make is to humanize our interaction. Whether individuals have disgraced themselves or they find themselves to be outsiders for no fault of their own, we can send signals of acceptance to them. In our minds, we can pre-schedule an interruption. We can stop, look people in the eye, greet them and break the awkward silence. Instead of being befuddled by the encounter with an unexpected panhandler, we can graciously put our hand into our pocket for the coins that were put there precisely for this anticipated moment. Encouraging them to “have a good day” as we walk away lifts life. Living with foresight we reduce stigmatization and counter discrimination. In his award winning book, Tattoos on the Heart, priest and social worker Gregory Boyle tells the story of taking his shaved head, body tattooed,
baggy-clothed gang buddies to a restaurant. Overcoming the host’s resistance to seating them, the three are ushered through the maze of other customers to a back corner table. In Boyle’s description, “all the diners stop what they’re doing, silverware suspended in midair, and a disquieting silence descends on the place.” This is Richie and Chepe’s first time in a restaurant. Richie speaks first. “Everyone is looking at us. We don’t belong here.” Chepe chimes in, “There’s just pure, rich white people here.” Then it happens. The waitress comes toward them. Instead of the earlier frozen and awkward reception, she verbally puts her arms around them, “Hey, fellas, what can I get you?” Looking at Chepe, “How about you sweetie?” And then Richie, “Well honey, what do you want?” After cleaning their plates and being served refills they didn’t even ask for, they make their exit. On the way to the car, the talk was about the waitress. Chepe said what was important: “Yeah, she treated us like we were somebody.” ”What you see is what you get” people have had their imaginations crushed. They slam doors shut.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover” people inherently believe there are more chapters to be written. They open doors. We can choose to treat people as assets rather than liabilities.
A lot of life is like a tug-of-war. Family quarrels create their strain. Gender debates resist resolution. Workplace disagreements trigger sleepless nights. Church infighting damages friendships. Political power brokers attack when they should negotiate. And then there is my conscience. The disparity between what I am and what I ought to be leaves me in a restless state of mind. Why isn’t life more serene? Why is there so much push and pull–so many loose ends–so much unresolved tension? Was it ever simpler, ever different?
When Jesus was making his mark, establishing his identity and framing his mission, was life simpler with fewer ragged edges? Were the pathways straighter? The tensions fewer? Were political power brokers more inclined to negotiate fairly? A careful look at the tug-of-war events that surrounded Jesus during his last week on earth address the debate. Letâ€™s begin by focusing on the first day of Holy Week â€“Palm Sunday. There were two processions that entered Jerusalem. Jesus and his common-folk followers came from the west, Jesus on his donkey being cheered as he arrived from Galilee and journeyed down the Mount of Olives. His message was about the kingdom of God. His agenda was about peace and justice with a vision of bringing heaven to earth. From the west, the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of soldiers and the imperial cavalry. His political power was on parade. The agenda of the empire was to exercise control. His mandate was to keep the people in their place. A tug-of-war was pending.
The prominence of the temple in the life of Jerusalem added another dynamic that played into the events. The confrontational exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees had already set the tone with the religious authorities. Jesus’ earlier “cleansing” encounter in the temple meant that there was another faction that was ready to pounce. So, rather than allies, the religious leaders were Jesus’ adversaries. In Jesus’ cultural context, “the high priest and the temple authorities were in effect the rulers of the Jewish people, though of course they owed allegiance and tribute to their imperial overlords.” The balancing act was tenuous. “They needed to collaborate enough with Rome to keep Rome happy, but not so much as to anger their Jewish subjects.” (Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp.12, 19) Think of the events that followed. The chief priest developed a plot to have Jesus crucified. Judas sold his soul for a few coins. Peter denied he even knew his Lord. Jesus’ inner circle went to sleep during his darkest hour in Gethsemane. And then there was the anquished tug-of-war of all tug-of-wars: Jesus pleaded with his Father, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but want you want.”
In the end, Governor Pilate decreed the verdict: Death! Earlier, we asked the question: When Jesus was making his mark, establishing his identity and framing his mission, was life simpler? Were political power brokers more inclined to negotiate in good faith? Were the pathways straighter? The answer is obvious. So what can we anticipate in the future? Will the kingdom of God agenda find universal favour? Will the heaven on earth agenda of peace and justice be embraced without more tug-of-wars? In a tug-of-war world part of the way forward is to embrace the strategy of â€œproximate justice.â€? Proximate justice is grounded in realism: Some justice is better than no justice More justice is better than less justice True justice is marked by sustainable justice In these times, a strategy of settling for nothing less than the best may not only be impractical, it may be a barrier to justice. In tug-of-war times it is sometimes the route of real justice to give some in order to get part of what is needed.
One of the current issues justice advocates and some politicians are pursuing is to increase the minimum wage for the working poor. Some enthusiasts are lobbying for an immediate $3.00 per hour increase. The proximate justice matrix would negotiate believing that $3.00 is whatâ€™s needed, but still, $2.00 per hour is better than $1.00 and $1.00 per hour is better than nothing. When we have issues like climate change, gender equality, sustainable peaceable relationships between Israel and Palestine, and religious freedom on the agenda, a proximate justice approach is more feasible than the â€œwinner take allâ€? strategy. Tug-of-wars will continue to be part of the way forward. God give us discernment, courage, and boldness to know when to pull hard and when to say the ground we have gained is enough for now.
It’s not fair
Every parent alive has heard the retort: “It’s not fair!” A hint of favoritism is all that is needed: “His piece of cake is bigger than mine.” There is an injustice radar device in children that instinctively strikes out-- “it’s not fair.” “It’s not fair” injustice is flagrant in the sports world. The steroid cheaters stain their achievements, damage their sport and disrespect their competitors. Whatever the level, amateurs, professionals or Olympians, some athletes are ready to sacrifice the integrity of their souls for a chance to win. Still, there is another “it’s not fair” domain that is much more devastating. This domain is wrapped in the oppression of the world’s poverty. People who are uneducated, unemployed, frequently unhealthy and often hungry are the victims. Families whose children die unnecessarily of preventable deaths are the victims. Mothers who birth HIV+ babies and are
caught in the poverty web are the victims. Young girls with no choice of their own who are abused as sexual toys are victims too. One of the inescapable dilemmas in life, over which we have no control, is where we are born. We simply arrive -- somewhere. In most cases, people in the poverty domain inherit their plight. They are born into an “it’s not fair” existence. All countries on planet earth are not created equal. Some have more natural resources. Land in some countries is highly productive compared to others. Fresh clean water is abundantly accessible for the favored; the unfavored dig wells with their fingers crossed. Some governing authorities create opportunities, while others stifle initiatives. Economically, there are Bread Countries and Cake Countries. Bread Countries are marked with few choices and limited opportunities. Education is not a human right, especially if you are a girl. Safe water may require a trek that takes most of the day. In the Bread Countries, healthcare is meager; the national average spent on it amounts to less than $20. per person per year. Unless you are connected to the ruling class, employment opportunities are dependent on self-created initiatives. The idea of a “social safety net” is not a part of your vocabulary. You may not really have the freedom to choose
where you worship. And if you are born poor, with only a few exceptions, you live poor and you die poor. Tragically, Bread Country people are too frequently robbed from living productive lives. Cake Countries are marked with choices galore and abundant opportunities. Social stability gifts Cake Countries with predictability. Going to school is the law. You turn a tap to access safe water and flip a switch for electricity. Healthcare may be expensive but you choose which doctor you desire to see. In Cake Countries it is not unusual for the national average spent on healthcare to exceed $3500. per person per year. Government programs subsidize vocational training. If you are laid off from your job, you qualify for unemployment benefits. Not everyone is employed or employable, but if you must receive welfare, you do. Freedom to worship where and when you want—or not to worship at all—is your choice. If you are born into the bottom end of the economic scale in Cake Countries, there are still opportunities to climb the ladder. It is no wonder that people look at disparity in the world and conclude “it’s not fair.” So what’s the point? Serious followers of Jesus conclude that seeking justice for others is part of the Christian way. They
reject the idea that you can close your eyes. At a minimum, they cannot rest until those who are grappling with “not fair” circumstances begin to live a “more fair” existence. People who embrace the spirit of justice push back against “it’s not fair” circumstances. Their justice disposition has a radar device that flashes “it’s not fair” messages on the screens of their minds. A justice disposition is not inherited. It is acquired. Those on the journey pay the price of becoming informed, pondering the complexities, naming injustices, thinking and praying beyond selfinterest, advocating for the marginalized, giving strategically, collaborating with the like-minded and loving their neighbor as themselves.
Harnessing the wind As the 14 year old son of a farmer in Malawi, William Kamkwamba harnessed the wind. In 2001, famine had left his family eating only one meal a day and without money to send William to school. Instead he went to the meager local library. He found books on science, and used a dictionary to understand the English words that explained the illustrations. One of the pictures that intrigued him was of a windmill. The words said that windmills could create electricity and pump water. With fortitude and ingenuity, William scrounged materials from the junkyard. He cobbled together a discarded tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, shock absorber, melted plastic pipe and a used dynamo. Eventually, his family extended their days with four small lights powered by the windmill-generator his labors created.
A few years later he built a second windmill that pulled water from a small well near his home to irrigate his familyâ€™s farm. As a result, they began growing two crops of maize a year. In 2007, William was discovered by some journalists and invited to give one TED Talk in Tanzania, and then another in Oxford. To listen to him in his own words, go to http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_ho w_i_harnessed_the_wind.html. Today, he is studying to be an engineer at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The Williams in this world give us reasons to celebrate. They represent the best of life â€“ optimism, creativity, intelligence and the imagination to problem solve. We also celebrate the social, healthcare, and economic global progress that is being achieved. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the big global player here. They have orchestrated a strategic attack on the afflictions of poverty and used measurement indicators to assess progress. And there is good news on the global poverty front. The following facts can be found at http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Prod ucts/Progress2013/English2013.pdf.
In the last 20 years, the mortality rate for children has dropped 41%. A staggering 7256 young lives are being saved every day In the same time frame, 700 million fewer people who were living on less than $1.25 per day (from 47% to 22%) are being lifted out of extreme back-breaking poverty Safer sources of water have been accessed for 2.1 billion people in the past 21 years. The MDG target was reached 5 years ahead of time Remarkable gains have been made in the fight against malaria. Mosquito nets and other interventions have averted an estimated 1.1 million malaria deaths 8 million people are receiving medical treatment for HIV/AIDS and the Global Fund is funding the treatment and prevention of mother to child transmissions of the dreaded disease The proportion of people undernourished has decreased from 23% to 15%.
The struggle out of inequity into hope is happening for many. The slow journey to justice is within reach for many more. We shout out “Thanks be to God” for the orchestration being expressed and the resources being raised and allocated. But still there is enormous life-denying disparity. A new report from Oxfam, a global anti-poverty
group, finds that the world’s 85 wealthiest people hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion – or half of the world’s population (http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/b p-working-for-few-political-capture-economicinequality-200114-summ-en.pdf). Our world is skewed in favour of the rich. William Kamkwamba’s first experience in New York City calls us to pursue more fairness – more equity in our world. Standing at a construction site, William lamented: “I watched giant cranes lift enormous pieces of steel into the sky, and it made me wonder how America could build these skyscrapers in a year, but in four decades of independence, Malawi can’t even pipe clean water to a village… or keep electricity in our homes. We always seem to be struggling to catch up. Even with so many smart and hardworking people, we are still living and dying like our ancestors.” (William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Harper Collins, 2009, p.262) The chasm is too wide. The inequality is immoral. Even with the advances, the disparity is still unjust. The distance between the more developed and the less developed dishonors God’s equal love for all humanity.
Government and the common good
Why are we so ready to criticize and complain about governments and their leaders? Broken promises? Vote buying? Waste? Incompetence? Cronyism? Corruption? Abuse of power? There are lots of reasons for dissent. Maybe even disillusionment. Fussing and fuming about governments may be fashionable, but like it or not, governments are indispensible in creating societies that provide
opportunities for measures of equity and fairness. Stated candidly, unless political decision makers are guided by social justice consciences, prospects for developing more just societies are impossible. Consider the importance of the work of our governments. Our “social contract” includes: Provision: Education, healthcare, transportation Protection: Police and courts, fire, safety standards, social security Policy: Immigration, employment, taxation, economic development Every society has some kind of governance structure. Leadership may be vested in dictators, monarchs, theocrats, democratically elected representatives or marxist ideologues. Some lean to the right and others bend left. The pendulum can swing between too much government and too little. But wherever there is a country or a collective social structure, political leaders wield their power. So, what are our choices? More criticism? Fatalistic compliance? Or – is it possible to envision governments and their power as allies to achieve God’s vision for creation? Can The Salvation Army find points of connection and use its organizational
collateral to influence government leaders to adopt policies that lead to the common good Salvation Army leaders in New Zealand have acted on the challenge. They have a track record of advocating with their government to achieve a shared vision. Over his 30-plus years of ministry, Major Campbell Roberts has had a vision for finding effective ways of engaging the gospel while shaping the social and economic direction impacting the lives of New Zealandâ€™s most vulnerable people. In 2003, the dream became reality with his appointment to establish a unit to engage public policy. Over the past 10 years, the Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit housed in New Zealandâ€™s most deprived neighbourhood has engaged influential leaders and organizations in changing the social and economic agenda of the nation A key publication of the unit is the annual Salvation Army State of the Nation. The report examines crucial areas of public policy: the state of New Zealandâ€™s children, the fairness of work and incomes policies, the adequate provision of housing, improving criminal justice policies and national progress in reducing social hazards. State of the Nation has become a cornerstone document in New Zealand. Influential with political leaders and parties, the analysis is widely reported
in the media and disseminated to decision makers. In a number of instances issues raised in the report have resulted in effective government action. The changed policies have resulted in improvements for the poorest and most vulnerable across the nation. The New Zealand experience shows us there can be alignment between the vision of a Christian church and social service agency and the responsibility of the State. The resolve here is not to be naïve. There are times to dissent a government’s policies and practices. However, there are also times when the well being of a society and its citizens can be best served when the affairs of the state and the affairs of faith intersect. Everyone benefits when they augment each other for the sake of the common good. There is more collaboration to pursue. Consider the massive realm of climate change and concern for the environment. God’s first creation command was to be stewards of the environment. The moral responsibilities of governments include passing on a sustainable world to future generations. Here’s a case where religious questions can lead to political answers and political questions can lead to religious answers. Across the globe, we have work to do together that is still unfinished.
Global Citizenship: Why Bother?
Around the world millions of people live without citizenship. They are “stateless.” If you are a Rohingya Muslim living in Myanmar, you can’t become a citizen anywhere. Even though your family has lived there for centuries your citizenship is denied. The doors to immigration to any other country are also closed. Russians in Latvia suddenly lost citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed. Their passports were invalid. No country offered them entry. In 1999, there were, 120,000 Ethiopians “denationalized.” Their Eritrean heritage meant they were stripped of their citizenship and subject to deportation. No other nation said “you can be one of us.”
Citizenship is about identity, belonging and obligation. It involves one of those “I am” claims. “I am a ????. [attention editors: fill in the blank with your country]” Your citizenship claim is probably one of the first things you say about yourself. Our country establishes our nationality and touches our hearts. Citizenship is also about place. It is where we are born, where we live and where we belong. Citizenship is more than just cheering for our home country during the Olympics or the World Cup. Embracing the obligations of citizenship is what authenticates our country relationship. Voting, paying taxes, hiring people, running for political office, living within cultural and criminal codes, volunteering and maybe even fighting for one’s country are all part of the citizenship package. Our instant WEB access to the daily affairs of the wider world can expand our national borders. In these times, like never before, we are positioned to become “global” citizens? Global citizenship is also belonging and obligation.
Choosing to embrace the claim that “I am a global citizen” is a beginning. But there is more to pursue. Global citizens take steps to be intentionally informed. Buying a new globe as a family Christmas present can be a symbol of taking our
world more seriously. If children share the home, creating a “find the country” game would have more benefits than just doing well in geography at school. Global citizens are also second-choice people. They keep in touch with local issues but they consistently check the worldwide web and other sources to monitor news beyond their own country’s borders. When they pray, their reach extends to Nigeria when young girls have been kidnapped and to Syria where guns are still firing and displaced people are fleeing their homes. They ponder why the citizens in Iraq have to endure so much horror. Global citizens lament the circumstances of life that ought not to be. The emotions that ignite lament are rooted in a spirit that resists indifference toward the pain of others. It doesn’t mean that global citizens are burdened with perpetual sadness. But they do live with a sense of belonging to God’s bigger family. They are empathic people. Whether you meet them at home or away, you will notice their compassion. Global citizens live with a mental image that they carry two passports. In one pocket they carry their national passport and in the other their global credentials. They belong in both worlds. And they are ready to meet the obligations of their twin citizenship.
Because they are informed, global citizens give insightfully. They know they cannot alter the course of history on their own but they take time to let their hearts and minds be captured by an unjust cause of what ought not to be. Then, they align with an organization that shares their priority to do something about it. Christian global citizens, pray intelligently. In private and public, they reject sentimental phrases to simply â€œcare for the poorâ€? with appeals that name the evil and implore people with power to address specific situations. Global citizens advocate strategically. They engage politicians on their readiness to honour and increase their global relief and development commitments. They pressure them to give human rights more than just lip service. They name their causes and call for action. You may be thinking global citizenship sounds like a lot of work. You may feel like you are already stretched. So, why bother with global citizenship? We bother because God created and loves the whole world. When we are at our best, we love what God loves. Where there is pain, lovers feel the pain and act to reduce the impact. Where there is war, we weep. Where there is inequity, we strive for
more fairness. Where there is exclusion we see the face of injustice. Where there are preventable deaths we cry out to the decision makers in this world to make life better for the vulnerable. We remember that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reaches out to the citizens of every nation, and also to those who have no citizenship. We genuinely believe that the Great Command to “love our neighbours as ourselves” includes our global neighbours. And the better we know them the better we can love them.
The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission 221 East 52nd Street New York, New York 10022, USA Telephone: 1-212-758-0763 Email: IHQ-ISJC@salvationarmy.org
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendabl...