Category: Justice

Two fears

I have two great fears. One is that I may succumb to a creeping sense of entitlement, that I deserve the freedoms I enjoy, that I’m entitled to fast service even when stores are short on staff. The other fear is that I may succumb to a dullness, or–even worse–an absence of gratitude.

I try to read several free sources via email each day to cultivate gratitude and to avoid entitlement. These sources keep me on my toes. Every day at least one of these sources speaks to my heart and mind. On Monday, all of them did. That’s always a home run. I’m passing Monday’s gems on to you.

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation “A Universal Connection” was one of his best. He puts the Big Picture into sharp focus in ways that inspire, illuminate and challenge.

Heather Cox Richardson’s October 2 installment of “Letters from an American” (emailed on October 3) put the daily mix of sublime and ridiculous news into a historical context that I can understand.

Robert B. Hubbell’s Today’s Edition Newsletter for October 3 was “Citizenship is an act.” He parses the legal and political issues with precision, clarity and a “can do” spirit of hope. He inspires me.

Joyce Vance, the latest addition to my daily inbox, writes Civil Discourse. Her October 3 communique’ was “The Week Ahead,” a synopsis of the critical legal issues in the news this week. She always ends her blog with, “We’re in this together.” And so we are!

We stayed, with gratitude, at three Harvest Host locations on this trip. One was Mohican Farms in New Jersey. That night, two camper guests stayed at the hillside edge of their cornfield with a beautiful view of the New Jersey countryside. We were in Big Al, the red and white camper on the left.

Warriors’ Path

The more I learn about American history, the more I realize that I dont know very much. Our next-to-last camping destination on this trip was the Warriors’ Path State Park near Kingsport, Tennessee. It’s named for a warrior and trading path that was in use for centuries by Native Americans in the Virginia and Tennessee region. It was a path used by wildlife and by Cherokee in the south and Shawnee in the north who were hunting wildlife for food.

The full scope of the The Great Warriors’ Path extended from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The path’s history reminds me of early European settlers and their descendants (such as Daniel Boone) who led the great European migration westward from Virginia, North Carolina and other eastern colonies. The history of interaction between Europeans and Native Americans includes periods of strife and periods of peaceful coexistence.

As we ponder the natural beauty of this region, I acknowledge the injustices visited upon the original inhabitants of his land by our European ancestors. On this day, I choose to focus on stories of gentleness and neighborliness. Our checkered history motivates me to work for justice and reconciliation. The need is pervasive. Every culture has its stories of virtue and less than virtue.

I’ve done a little reading about justice initiative related to the native people of Australia. I want to put my weight behind “the arc of the moral universe,” which is long, but “bends toward justice.”

From “Native American History on the Appalachian Trail: 9 Iconic Places,” by Kelly Floro, The Trek, October 12, 2020

The problem with secularism

The previous several posts may lead one to think that John Cobb favors secularism. While he believes the process of secularizing is a healthy and much-needed activity for (literally) the world’s survival, he sees dangers in secularism. This may be a subtle distinction, but I believe it is very important.

In Spiritual Bankruptcy, Cobb acknowledges that “the secularizers have kept the traditions fresh and alive. But as humankind faces the need to make dramatic changes, and seeks the wisdom to guide it, the dominance of secularism is today an even greater obstacle than religiousness.”

I invite you to think about politics in the US; the global rise of authoritarianism, tribalism, and various injustices; the climate crisis; and the role (or absence) of religious communities in these matters. Against this current backdrop, hear this paragraph from John Cobb:

Secularizers in any traditional Way seek to draw knowledge and understanding from the best thinkers of their day. Today experts in all fields are encouraged to be secularists. Secularism builds up its knowledge and understanding out of presently available sources rather than by critical appropriation of a tradition. The result in modern history has been the amassing of vast quantities of information, but in a way that is barren of wisdom.

What wisdom from your Way (Cobb’s term for a religious or non-religious tradition) helps you address one or more of the difficult problems now facing our world?

From “John Cobb on David Korten: An Appreciation of David Korten’s Change the Story, Change the Future,” April 12, 2018 (photo by Thomas Oord)

Russian moms

Today, the Sabbath in Jewish tradition, I’m reflecting with gratitude on the role of the Old Testament in my life. Like everyone in the Christian faith, I inherited the Jewish tradition, so I view it through a “Jesus lens.” However, the Jewish tradition belongs to every human being who welcomes its wisdom.

Judaism has a strong, though painful, history in Russia, powerfully revealed in the classic play/movie, Fiddler on the Roof. As the Russian czar cracked down on Jews, Tevye wryly asks/prays, “So we’re the chosen people? Once in a while, couldn’t you choose somebody else?”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and obscene at so many levels, including the division it has caused between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Orthodox, Jewish and secular moms, wives and girlfriends may be among Putin’s greatest problems now.

Russia is experiencing its most dramatic mobilization and forced military service since World War II. The Sabbath is a day to break away from worldly brokenness to experience (or imagine) harmony among persons, nations, and all creation. Today, I stand in harmony with the babuskas.

From “The Russian Orthodox Leader at the Core of Putin’s Ambitions,” by Jason Horowitz, New York Times, May 22, 2022

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

OT as resource

In 1991, I was part of a team that introduced Disciple Bible Study to a large suburban congregation. DBS is a small group, 34-week Bible study with reading assignments equivalent to a seminary class. Seventeen of the weeks were devoted to the Old Testament. The OT may seem long ago and far away, which it is, but that’s not all it is. The OT is a life resource for anyone, regardless of one’s faith tradition.

The next few posts will be about the Old Testament as resource. As one gets into this material, it becomes clear that OT stories form a significant part of the foundation of the western world. These stories are relevant for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, three monotheistic faiths that sprang from the OT, as well as other faiths and secular persons who identify with no particular tradition.

The OT drops a plumb line into our midst (an image used by the OT prophet Amos), an objective voice that calls for impartial justice and fair treatment of all persons, regardless of their status or wealth. In these times, when political ideology prioritizes the end (election victory) over means (or any ethical consideration), the OT is a much-needed resource to help society find its bearings.

The recent exercise of political power by a US governor to send immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard is the kind of thing that the OT plumb line exposes as abuse. In ancient days, poor people were considered pawns to be used at will by people, as in King Ahab’s seizure of Naboth’s vineyard. The OT says, “No.”

From “DeSantis criticized for sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard: ‘It’s un-American’,” by Richard Luscomb and Nina Lakhani, The Guardian, September 16, 2022

Sabbath justice

My friend Kathy asked about Friday’s post, “What do you mean by relational justice?” I replied that I see all justice as relational. I added the word “relational” because sometimes we think of a transgression as a violation of an arbitrary rule that has been established by a hierarchical power (civil or religious). Some religions believe in after-life punishment for violations of religious law or purity codes.

Many people carry a load of guilt around because they have internalized a parental voice, a teacher’s voice, or a “divine” voice that has accused them of having “gone wrong.” Many times it’s false guilt that we carry around needlessly. While some religions focus on individual transgressions or sins, with faith a matter of individual repentance, much of the focus of biblical faith is corporate, or social.

I see justice (regarding both individual and corporate wrongs) as the healing of brokenness. In the Jewish tradition, Sabbath is the weekly celebration of being one with all creation. It’s the one day when every beggar is royalty. It’s a recognition of how things ought to be and one day will be. Sabbath justice and all forms of healing restore and reconcile our brokenness. It’s the process of wholeness or salvation.

From “Sabbath Justice and Community: A Global Southern Perspective,” by Jonny Ramírez-Johnson, Fuller Theological Seminary

Eternal life

My early life was influenced by what Marcus Borg called an “earlier paradigm” of Christianity. I was not as focused on life after death as some folks, but Billy Graham (in the 1950s) and the dominant Protestant culture of my youth gave me a consciousness that included afterlife.

In my mid-20s, coincident with my time in seminary, I began to view life after death as “sheer bonus” (a Theodore Runyon phrase). I saw it not as an extension of earth-ways, but a cosmic, universal reality that is without beginning and without end. Eternity is now, and always.

A dear friend, shortly before his death at a relatively young age, told me that he had heard a definite though not audible Voice say, “You take care of things on your side of the river and I’ll take care of things on this side of the river.” The “river” became a comforting metaphor.

About a decade ago I studied with Richard Rohr for three days in Albuquerque with a peer group. I was helped by Rohr’s focus on a non-dual, unitive view of the Universe and on the generosity of a radical, grace-based, inclusive hospitality.

Add some Borg, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and others I’ve mentioned, and you get a Jesus-flavored universality that includes all creation, rests entirely on unmerited favor, or grace, and sees reconciliation, relational justice and healing as inherent to cosmic union and eternal life–a great celebration.

From Manna and Mercy: A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe, by Daniel Erlander

Tuning out the noise

Before mentioning more resources for life’s journey, hear this affirmation for print and online resources as an alternative to broadcast, cable or general social media resources. Here’s a personal example from spending two nights on the road this week.

Wednesday morning I woke up earlier than usual (4:00 am CT), alone in a motel room. No one would be bothered by turning on a light and/or the TV. I was curious about the much-anticipated response by the Department of Justice to Donald Trump’s request for a Special Master.

Sometimes I must suppress my urge to check cable news. I went to my email inbox to read Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. If I’m not careful, I can get sidetracked by a Twitter post, which can lead to a 20-minute detour down a rabbit trail. On Wednesday, I went first to Rohr.

Wednesday’s was exceptionally good: “Heaven is a Great Party” (not a courtroom). After that, I was ready for anything. Blog posts via Substack by Heather Cox Richardson, Robert Hubbell and Joyce Vance told me everything I needed to know about the DOJ story. In just a few minutes.

Via print or digital, I can re-read a critical section or skim over less critical sections. When I read, everyone uses their “inside voice.” No elevating the volume or media personalities talking over each other. I “processed” my readings in the shower and over breakfast, in solitude, quietly.

From a long essay by Don Murray, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” in Progressive Christianity, August 28, 2022. I read some resources rapidly, then return for a more leisurely stroll, perhaps in installments. This is one of those.

Staying grounded

The guys in my weekly “Fullness of Love” group kept quoting Heather Cox Richardson. I can be slow on the uptake, but when someone, or more than one, repeatedly suggests a resource, I eventually think, “I need to check out that person, website, blog, book, or periodical.”

Heather Cox Richardson writes a daily email “Letter from an American.” She reportedly has the largest number of Substack subscribers. She’s a professor of history at Boston College. She connects significant, though sometimes obscure, events in American history to what’s happening now.

After Richard Rohr, HCR is my second read of the day. She’s a resource that keeps me grounded in the best traditions of American democracy. Authoritarians, insurrections and wars don’t just happen. They have antecedents. Heather Cox Richardson helps me connect the dots.

Her August 27. 2022 letter began: In a speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden called out today’s MAGA Republicans for threatening “our personal rights and economic security…. They’re a threat to our very democracy.” Then, she provided a history lesson for context, a story I’d never heard, which began:

Biden’s calling out of today’s radical Republicans mirrors the moment on June 21, 1856, when Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts, a member of the newly formed Republican Party, stood up in Congress to announce that northerners were willing to take to the battlefield to defend their way of life against the southerners who were trying to destroy it.

Burlingame, ardent Methodist abolitionist and former member of Congress, was the US ambassador to China, then (uniquely) a representative from China to the US, from “Anson Burlingame, an American Diplomat,” by Stanton Jue, American Diplomacy, September 2011