Posts Tagged 'Social Justice'

So this is Christmas (War is Not Over)

Today is one of the days in the church calendar that I most appreciate – the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. During the 12 days of  Christmas, there is a day to remember that the birth of the Prince of Peace threatened the Roman Empire so much that it resorted immediately to the tool that marks every empire – violence. With a lust for power and control, King Herod ushered a decree that baby boys under the age of two be massacred, in hopes of killing the one who was deemed to be the true King. It was a state-sponsored infanticide, thousands were murdered, and the Holy Family fled as refugees.

As I’m writing this my nieces and nephews are squealing with delight as they run around and play with each other. The two youngest are under two years of age, and I cannot imagine the horror of an army coming around and murdering them in cold blood. (Later,  at the dinner table, I was discussing this article, and my dad asked why the “Holy Innocents” are so “Holy”. My 9 year old nephew wondered if it was because being holy is being set apart for God, and these infants died instead of Jesus, so they were set apart in heaven. Genius.)

My appreciation of this awful day might seem a little masochistic, but after the peace and beauty and joy that we’re all supposed to feel at Christmas (and I do often feel and love these things), I like being thrown back into the reality that for most people in the world, life is completely cruel and marked mostly by suffering. Because it’s authentic.

As I speak, violence is rising in the South Sudan and the newly formed country is quickly deteriorating – with hundreds of innocents slaughtered in the past two weeks and a friend of mine having to evacuate the country.

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers drive in a truck in Juba, Wouth Sudan, December 21, 2013.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army soldiers drive in a truck in Juba, Wouth Sudan, December 21, 2013.

The number of Syrian refugees continues to rise well over the million-mark.

Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border.

Syrian refugees cross into Iraq at the Peshkhabour border.

Disaster is still wide-spread in the Philippines after the horrendous typhoon.

Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway, after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in The Philippines

Children hold signs asking for help and food along the highway, after Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in The Philippines

The empire of globalized capitalism consumes its slave-labour victims year by year.

Clothing garment factory in Bangladesh deemed "slave labour" "Against God" by Pope Francis

Clothing garment factory in Bangladesh deemed “slave labour” “Against God” by Pope Francis

In my own country of Canada, First Nations people were ruthlessly slaughtered and are still being perpetually thrown aside on their own land, their “reserves” more like majority-world countries, and their commitment to stewarding their land well by resisting the oil pipeline pushed by the settler state is ignored.

Charles Heit, a Gitxsan First Nation member opposed to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat warms himself beside a fire at a camp outside the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, B.C., on Thursday January 12, 2012.

Charles Heit, a Gitxsan First Nation member opposed to the $5.5-billion Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat warms himself beside a fire at a camp outside the Gitxsan Treaty Office in Hazelton, B.C., on Thursday January 12, 2012.

This day provides the opportunity to cut out all of the bullshit that sometimes comes with Christmas – the other-worldly angelic joy, the commercialism of it all, the pretending that Christmas has saved us all – because it hasn’t…yet.

The Massacre was the introduction of what Christ was up against in his lifetime, and it is what we are up against in ours. For Christ there was a violent empire that when challenged, would not hesitate to kill and destroy all in its path, and the same is true for us. The penalty for following this Prince of Peace into the darkness and the suffering will ultimately threaten the empires that rule today (if we are doing it right), and hell hath no fury like a threatened empire.

So what to do?

As Anne Lamott says in her new book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, “we are not served by getting away from the grubbiness of suffering.” She continues,  “we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross [like Mary], and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us….To be honest, that sucks. It’s the worst, even if you are the mother of God.”

Presence and solidarity with those who are suffering, without any cute platitudes like “God’s plan is perfect” — which only makes things worse — is hard, but it’s so essential and a good place to start.

But then what? Lamott continues

Most of us have figured out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it. We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild towns after hurricanes and tornados. We return calls and library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. Every time we choose the good action or response, the decent, the valuable, it builds, incrementally, to renewal, resurrection, the place of newness, freedom, justice. The equation is: life, death, resurrection, hope. The horror is real, and so you make casseroles for your neighbour, organize an overseas clothing drive, and do your laundry…we live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky.

Or, we can do something equally dramatic, and go be present with those most suffering in our world, and work with and for them in whatever way you are gifted and able.

For as my seminary professor of Ethics of Wealth and Poverty once said, every act of social justice (or simple kindness, in my opinion) is a foretaste and foreshadowing of the coming Kingdom of justice, peace, and flourishing for all.

So today, we remember. We educate ourselves, and others. We lament. We are present with the suffering. We get stitchin’.

But first, we let go of all of our sadness and meager attempts to God. From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Amen.

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Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation: Why Christians Should Occupy

This article was originally written for the Et Cetera, the newspaper of the Christian graduate school I attend here in Vancouver, Regent College. I was responding to an article entitled “Why I Will Not Occupy Vancouver” written by a friend of mine, where her concerns about the movement were outlined: the protesters are costing taxpayers too much money, the movement is too complex and confusing, and those involved should do something more useful like “occupy a job” and/or volunteer at a soup kitchen or teach literacy to kids. This is my response.

I would like to begin by thanking my friend BJ Bruder for her article last week that outlined why she would not Occupy Vancouver. On one level, I can identify with her frustration that the movement seems to be so complex and confusing that it is hard to pinpoint the purpose and “effectiveness” of the protest. I can also understand her suspicion that some of the protesters seem to be members of a privileged class who have the luxury of not having to work in order to camp out downtown for days at a time. How would it be justifiable that a student of privilege would protest the economic system that benefited his or her own wealthy family? This is a good question worth considering.

Her article presents an opportunity to consider an answer to this and other good questions. What exactly is this movement about? What is the purpose of a protest? Should Christians protest? If so, why?  If not, is charity work a better use of one’s time? Why or why not? Could there be good reasons why “able-bodied” or “privileged” people would join the Occupy Movement other than that they nothing better to do?

Starting with the last question, I would like to answer yes. There are three reasons I can think of, and they happen to be the title of a Regent course I took last summer: “Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation: The Way of God in the World” taught by Dave Diewert in the Downtown Eastside.

First, Solidarity. As Christians we are called to not only think of ourselves, but to stand alongside those who are weak, suffering, and outcast. In the incarnation, God chose to leave behind his place of comfort and privilege and be born as a poor, homeless refugee in order to stand alongside those who were poor, broken, and oppressed. Moses chose to leave behind his life of luxury in Pharoah’s palace and act in solidarity with his people who were enslaved – though granted the violence was not the best means. Still, he chose not to ignore the Hebrew’s plight of slavery, and when God called him from the burning bush, he returned to his own people to liberate them from oppression in Egypt. Paul cast off his life of privilege–enjoying comfort as a Roman citizen–in order to suffer persecution with his fellow Christians. The Occupy Movement is a chance for all people–including those who are privileged–to stand alongside those who are the worst victims of economic and political policies that put the power in the hands of banks and multinational corporations while essentially eroding true democracy.

For BJ to suggest that the “privileged” protesters should “occupy a job” merely buys into the core problem that is being protested. The sentiment betrays the notion that “for a person to be of any value, they have to be economically productive citizens. They need to contribute to the economy, to the bottom line, to what makes our society tick” writes Andrew Stephens-Rennie on his blog Empire Remixed. He goes on, “And yet. And yet, isn’t this precisely the point? Isn’t it precisely the point of these protests that our government, banks and major corporations have crucified human dignity with their unwavering emphasis on an economic bottom line ignorant of human suffering?” God calls us to be more than economically productive, he calls us to love. My friends Dan and Trista, who both have jobs and are part of Occupy Vancouver, have chosen to work less and live in community, sharing many assets in common with others, so that they can spend more time and resources being active in their wider communities. They work in solidarity with those who are suffering in order to dream up and live into another way of being.

Second, Resistance. As evangelicals, it is easy for us to only think of resisting evil in terms of personal morality. We must resist the temptation to lie, gossip, judge others, and view pornography. All these things are necessary to do, for they can be destructive to both ourselves personally and to our communities. However, thinking of morality in these ways alone betrays a radical individualism that stems from a modernist way of being in the world, and is deeply unbiblical. In Scripture, we see the prophets repeatedly condemn Israel for structural evil and national immorality. Israel, as a nation, broke the covenant, oppressed the poor, and ignored the practices of jubilee. The Occupy Movement brings to our attention the structural sin of our global economy – a system that benefits the wealthy minority (the 1%), giving them power to make decisions that negatively affect the majority (the 99%). We must prophetically resist the systems and structures of power that dehumanize and oppress. God brought Israel out of Egypt, a economic powerhouse dependent on human slavery, and into a new way of being in the world, based on principles of equality, jubilee, and shalom for all people. We too are to resist Empires of injustice and live into another way of being, based on Kingdom principles of justice, compassion, and love.

BJ has argued that it might be more useful for people to volunteer, doing positive things like teaching literacy or working at a soup kitchen. While these are acts of mercy, they are only band-aid solutions and do not address the core issues that create illiteracy or homelessness. As Christians we are called act justly, which is about working for social change. It’s like coming across wounded people at the bottom of a cliff and working only to tend to their wounds, while more and more people are falling off the cliff. You can set up a hospital and bring in more doctors, which would be good acts of mercy. But eventually someone must go up to the top of the cliff and find out who or what is causing the people to fall off the cliff! This is the difference between charity and justice. Charity would be following BJ’s suggestion of working at a soup kitchen. But soup kitchens have been around for thousands of years, and nothing has changed. The Occupy Movement (along with community development-based initiatives like Jacob’s Well and Just Potters) –  is about addressing the core problems with our society that cause people to need soup hand-outs in the first place, and giving them some dignity by working together with them for lasting social change.

Which brings me to my third reason, Liberation. Brian Walsh, author of Colossians Remixed and Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in an Age of Displacement, said this weekend at the Beyond Homelessness: The Church and Affordable Housing Forum, that as a society, we need a better story that the one we have been living for the past couple hundred years. The story of neo-liberal capitalism is essentially mean-spirited, radically individualistic, and has obviously not worked to “lift all boats” as its proponents promised it would. We need a story that is centered around bringing all people home – that is, to a place of belonging, relationship with God and others, and access to the resources all need to be involved in home-making. Our society, centered around the idol of the American Dream, has essentially rendered many people homeless, and not only physically. Many who have physical houses to live in are homeless in the sense that they feel isolated, depressed, overworked, and feel no attachment or responsibility to the place they live in and the people who live there. They long for something more. They long for a sense of home.

As Christians, we are to live into a different story, a home-making story. The story that started with the great home-breaking of all time (Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden, and out of right relationship with God and each other), and ends with the greatest home-coming of all time (reconciliation with God, others, and all of creation). Through this story, we are called to be people who embody home-making, by building community with our neighbours, by caring for our creational home and a specific place within it, and by finding our true sense of belonging and home in God. This includes justice, for as Brian Walsh said, “justice is a society where home-making is possible for all.” This is true liberation, and this can be our reason, as Christians, for participating in the Occupy Movement. It is a chance for people to get together and dream, and talk, and believe that another world, another way of being, is possible.

Sound too idealistic? It can never happen? That’s what the cynics said about the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, or the Apartheid movement led by Desmond Tutu, or the Independence Movement in India led by Ghandi. I believe that we don’t have to settle for the ways things are. I believe in social change, and not only so that we can see God’s kingdom, as we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” but also as an act of eschatological hope. Every act of social justice is an anticipation, a foretaste, of the truly just future that is to come. A future in the New Heavens and New Earth where there will be no more tears, poverty, or oppression, but enough resources, community, and love for all.

I would like to extend an invitation to BJ and all others who would like to me to go down to the Occupy Vancouver site this weekend. Perhaps by actually meeting the people who are acting in solidarity and resistance for the purpose of liberation, we too will be inspired to dream up a new way of being in the world. Come with us, those who are curious, those who are cynical, those who are tired, those who long for another way. Come as an act of eschatological hope.


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