As I sit here reflecting on my first day of The Justice Conference I have to begin by saying, I don’t even know how to bring what each of these speakers said in the workshops and main sessions to a satisfying summary. So I won’t try to, but I will share my highlights throughout the day and try to take specific points or quotes and explain my feelings and thoughts around them that are helping shape what a Trinitarian Christian theological and biblical perspective should be in this marathon of justice.
Common themes throughout the day consisted of faithfulness and perseverance for the long haul while pursuing issues of social justice, identifying the brokenness within ourselves as well as those we minister alongside, developing concern and passion for justice in a way that is sustainable by being based in relationships to God, other people, and the systems around us, and lamenting with the broken-hearted and oppressed.
Here are some snippets that I picked up along the way that exhibited those themes:
“Justice is not sexy, but it is beautiful.” Dr. Paul Metzger used the example of Dr. John M. Perkins (who will be speaking tomorrow) sharing his testimony at Reed College in Portland, OR. Dr. Perkins was beat within an inch of his life during the Civil Rights movement by white police officers, but the love of God within him sustained him to relocate, reconcile, and redistribute to the community around him. He is a shining example of what perseverance, integrity, and relationships should look like in the justice movement.
“Reconciliation to all things through Jesus Christ. He is not divorced from this world. He is connected. If poverty is rooted in broken relationships, then we must look to Jesus to reconcile those.” Brian Fikkert, director of the Chalmers Center, spoke these wise words at the end of his workshop on “When seeking justice Hurts: How to seek justice without hurting the poor…and yourself!” The whole focus was that we are all poor in some way: relationally, spiritually, materially, and economically. We are also having to work within the broken religious, social, economic, and political systems of the world. We must remember that Jesus is Lord of all those things (Col. 1:19-20)!
The church must get behind supporting families to train their children to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. The repetition that Linda VanVoorst from Justice Kids presented that went through my brain all day was, “Justice matters to God. Justice should matter to us.” Justice is a lifestyle that begins in the home and with the support and resources of a local church. We must also look for children whose parents are not spiritual leaders and take them in as orphans.
I am really looking forward to more of Eugene Cho speaking tomorrow. The seven principles he gave at his workshop “Putting Flesh To Your Vision” were very helpful and practical for me to step back and look at what I have done and might need to change in my own endevour of bringing social justice to the educational system and learning of kids in Portland.
Sojourners director of mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, lead what was probably my favorite workshop because of the spiritual formation aspects. We looked at the first chapter of Nehemiah (which I will need to read the whole book and take good notes on, as it will be spoken on more tomorrow) and how to analyze and discern community issues in a faith-rooted way. I came away with a sense that I need to think about the sin and needs of my own life and community in order to bring biblical truth and just application to the situation.
Ken Wytsma, founder of The Justice Conference spoke about some key needs to think about justice as a lifestyle, hearing the voices of others in our midst who are our brothers and sisters (such as Native People’s and African-American’s), and lamenting with them over injustice that has reached them and is still hurting them. He said “If I won’t lament I have no business jumping into the cause of changing the world.” I hope that in my own grief over losing my wife Jennica that I can be a listening ear to the hurting and lamenting in my own life and community.
Leroy Barber (President of Mission Year) and Noel Castellanos (CEO, CCDA) had a discussion about Richard Twiss’ passing and his impact that is still being felt at The Justice Conference. They showed a clip from last year’s conference where Twiss said, “400 years of discipling natives has gone to waste because we don’t want to become white people to become Christians.” The conversation Barber and Castellanos had was great because it highlighted that we need to see the poor as the center and the launching pad of our mission. Jesus was poor and called poor to spread the gospel. He is still doing that today!
The last person that spoke this evening was Brenda Salter McNeil. She was one of my favorites. She sprinkled the stage with trash and started telling the audience the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 in the Message version. That story is one of my favorites and now it is even more! She talked about how we as Evangelical Christians don’t have good answers or categories to deal with people who go through terrible events. She said we ignore the mess, then she identified four reasons that we justify our inaction. 1) The belief that people brought it upon themselves (like what Job’s friends said to him), 2) God moves in mysterious ways and we don’t understand that (it’s God’s fault), 3) We want to escape the world (hoping Jesus will come back so we can get away), and 4) the fear of not being good enough to do anything. Equality is an important biblical value in pursuing justice. “What God wants for me he wants for everyone else.” Her concluding words were very touching: “We can’t do everything, but we can do something”, as she began picking up trash she yelled “Pick it up!” It was a very inspiring speech. I am hoping to learn more from her in the future of seeing what work she has been a part of.
That was only day 1! I hope you enjoyed the tweets and blogs that I was able to send. I hope to do more tomorrow!