I said back in November that I might do a series of posts about the things I learned or thoughts I had at the Reformation Project’s Reconcile and Reform conference. The main issue is that I am not a note-taker–in general but especially listening to non-school speakers. Which I recognize as a weakness but not one that I usually feel too terrible about.
So, in lieu of going through some of the specific speakers and take-aways, I thought I would have a little series that was inspired by one of the keynote addresses and which connects to a verse that has pursued me for several years. That would be Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse, in connection to a keynote address at the conference delivered by Justin Lee, whose ideas I may or may not be paraphrasing with greater or lesser accuracy at any given moment during the musings. Yay my memory.
Anyway. I thought I would, as Justin did, break this verse down into constituent parts and take them one at a time. Not in any kind of exhaustive sense, lest you think I have the time/energy/training for that, but in a sort of survey of meaning as well as some particular applications that are relevant to me, you, and the world today.
To start, I want to link this together with a couple previous posts that track a little bit of my history with Pride (the gay kind, not the cometh before the fall kind) here and here. Two reasons for this: first, this series was prompted by a queer Christian conference and second, I’ve been on a journey and as I continue, it’s good to look back. If pressed, I’m sure I could enumerate in relatively granular detail some areas of growth for me since those posts but the gist is: yes, I am learning and growing and I’m so happy for that.
On to the topic at hand. Not to be too punny, but I know I’ll never do this subject justice, simply because it’s a big deal and I am not equal to that task. But I shall try, and I shall be led for the time being by the speech previously mentioned. Which you should actually listen to for yourself. The Reformation Project has added several main speakers’ addresses to YouTube and I would highly recommend every one of them. But here’s the one we’re going to be talking about. So go ahead and give that a listen, if you have a sec, but if you have a little less than that, I’d maybe tune it around the 38 minute mark. Anyway, here goes for a quick moment on doing justice.
To begin with, I think it’s important to recognize that how we live matters. Not just as people of faith but as people who acknowledge that our lives have an impact on the people around us, and to see those people and impacts as important. But as someone who believes what Jesus said and did, I do find myself in the position of having freedom of action–no longer being under ancient, Jewish law–and also constrained in action by the love that I bear (in my best moments) toward all others.
So that’s my starting point. I believe that what I do with my life matters because I want to live in response to the love that God has shown and am therefore motivated to see my actions benefit others in recognition of their belovedness.
And now we come to Micah. To begin with, the instruction is to do justice. Starting at the beginning, then, we must see that doing is not simply refraining from acting unjustly, but an active pursuit of justice. It’s something that we should do (and be desirous of doing). In other words, leaning heavily on Justin Lee’s, we are called to put more justice out into the world than we found when we arrived.
We can’t each solve every problem but we can be equipped and prepared to face what we can, when and where we can. I was arrested by Justin’s assertion that we can all be an ally to someone. It is a weighty responsibility but it is as vital as it is life-giving. To give bread to one who has none–or to ask our neighbor to give bread to the stranger who is visiting.
As we’ll talk about more next week, justice without mercy is no justice at all. The aim, it is essential to remember, cannot be retribution or even just punishment. The model that we are shown is that the aim of justice is forgiveness. We cannot ignore the harms that are done–and we cannot simply allow them to continue–but we have to remain focused on seeing perpetrators as worthy of mercy, not caricaturish villains.
Healing is not light. You cannot move on without doing work–hard work. But we also can’t use that as an excuse to never forgive.
I’m not going to try to get any more direct about what ‘doing justice’ really looks like, because yikes. But I want to leave you with two thoughts, one inward and one outward. First, what burdens do you put on others that do not reflect the unconditional love of God for all people? Second, what burdens on others are you in a position to help alleviate–not just in the present moment but in a systematic way so that such an undue burden is not laid on anyone?