So each year I’ve gone to The Justice Conference I have shared a few major ideas that I heard, learned, and have begun processing. So here’s a few of my reflections from Day 1 here in Los Angeles. This year my Dad came with me and it’s been a lot of fun talking and hanging out together.
1. Remove “they” from your vocabulary.
In many ministry contexts there is the differentiation between the “us” who are doing the ministry and “they/them” who we see as recipients of ministry. Often the “us” represents the people who are right or have the answers, while “they” represent the ones who need our solutions. When Jesus came to earth he was “us” (human) and he was regarded by many in his culture as “them” (the other). If we don’t hold the people we serve up as neighbors, partners, and human beings worthy of dignity that we come alongside of and occupy shared spaces with in order to build relationships then we won’t ever be able to empathize, move towards sustainable change, and enter suffering together. We need to suffer with and for each other. We will do that if we do share life with each other. When we change our language to “us” and “we” relationships and dialogue with people about how our faith shapes all areas of our lives then maybe we will see God change us together in our thoughts, actions, and beliefs to become more conformed into the image of his Son.
2. The church is needed and wanted to work in issues of educational inequality.
I did a project last year on the issue of educational inequality. I am very glad The Justice Conference had a main speaker, Nicole Baker Fulgham from The Expectations Project, talk about the fact that churches are needed to help spread awareness about inequality issues in their community, to take action for systemic change and helping aide teachers in classes or after-school programs, and to be advocates with people of influence to make the church seen as having a vested interest in the children of our nation (much like the Evangelical Immigration Table did last spring). Christians need to work on entering the engagement of educational reform with humility and a desire to learn more about practical applications and long-term solutions, to be civil to others who are also voicing opinions and concerns, and to be compassionate towards children, families, and even administrators that it might be easy to be frustrated with.
3. The core for sustaining energy to do justice work over a long period of time is God’s love.
Pastor Rick McKinley was the last speaker of the day and really just brought things back to the center because everything we do is based on God’s love for us. If kindness and compassion will still be seen in your work as you engage pain and suffering with others it can only be because of the fuel of God’s love as the Father, in the face of Christ, and poured out by the Spirit (his words not mine). Every time I hear Pastor Rick speak I just feel his energy, passion, and seriousness to have genuine care that is rooted in a Trinitarian framework for doing social justice with the vulnerable and oppressed. We have to be careful not to make social justice about the issue or particular vein of problem solving; the reason we want to do justice is because it is a core part of God’s character. This is what Pastor Rick said God’s love does to us: “God’s love moves us to love victims and enemies. If we have a dream of a just world the perpetrators will come under the influence of God’s love.” This is realized under the Golden Rule in that “Jesus did not tell you to fix your neighbor, he told you to love them.”
As it is very late I will continue sharing the conference and what God is teaching me through so many great leaders tomorrow. Hopefully I will have success at finding some wi-fi around the conference venue to do 1-2 brief updates from different sessions.