Justice is our gift to the world, not something we extract from the world, demand of the world. To be offended because THEY aren’t treating someone justly is to miss the power of the cross, which is the power of the sheep being led to the slaughter, which is the power of compassion, and graciousness, and kindness, and gentleness, and mercy, and peace—the power of treating others justly—in a world of hostility, and greed, and belligerence, and intolerance. The call is to DO justice, not to demand that it be done. Solidarity with the victims of unjust requires us to take our place with them as they are herded onto the box cars and carried to the gas chambers, not to write letters to the editor or to plot the assignation of high government officials. The paradox here, of course, is that this is too much like a letter to the editor, and too little like joining the march of those to the death camps. It is too much talk, too little action.
How to act, where to act, is difficult to know, particularly when no one is actually being led to a death camp, but when they are just being ignored to death. Homeless people are being ignored to death. Poverty is killing millions of people every year. The poor are being ignored to death. Gay couples struggle with the complexity of life without health insurance for one of the partners because there is no Domestic Rights act that would allow them to be claimed on the insurance of the other partner. Gay people are being ignored to death. And, the list is long. What do we do? How do we become the voice of advocacy in behalf of those who have no voice, who are being slighted by systems that have no stake in their welfare, no interest in their wellbeing? How do we effect solidarity with those who are ignored, marginalized, unknown?
The systems survive by making it very difficult to change the system. We don’t know whom to call, and if we make a call, no one answers. Or calls back. Everything remains in place, allowing victims of injustice to die daily. So, we pick a place and get to work. We link up with people who are working on the same issue. We find somebody else who has a yen to “do something.” We conduct an internet search. We look for someone doing community organization around our concern. We call them and get through, or they call us back, and we know that we aren’t dealing with a system here. We look at what they are doing and how we can fit into that, and we plug away, without having to live to see the transformation we work to make happen.
The systems count on our losing heart and energy and giving up on anything that doesn’t have a measurable impact by the end of the week. The systems count on a short little attention span among those who rail against the system. The systems are in it for the long haul, and count on having the long haul all to themselves. It takes a community to beat a system. If you don’t have one, you have to find one, or create one—a community, that is, not a system.
Communities do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, and each other. Community creates solidarity, caring, involvement, investment. Systems just sit there, ignoring need, or seeing it as someone else’s responsibility. Systems have organizational charts and policy manuals. Systems have a maze of hierarchies, and procedures for navigating the maze. You can get lost in a system. In a community, everybody knows your name.
This is not to discount the systemic nature of communities. Patterns of protection and denial spring up everywhere. There is always the danger of “a dead horse in the middle of the dining room table” with everyone oblivious to the odor in the air. And so, the first order of business of a community is awareness, awareness, awareness. Communities have to be self-reflective, self-regulating, self-correcting mechanisms. “What are we thinking? What are we trying to do? How are we trying to do it? How well is it working? How is what we are doing achieving the end we have in mind? What do we need to do to do better what we are trying to do?” are some of the questions communities regularly ask, and answer, as they watch for ways systemic injustice and unconsciousness creep into the most well-intended group gathered to oppose those very things.
If you are ever going to give me anything, give me veto power. I promise to exercise it wisely. After about the first twenty years, I might rarely use it at all.
I cannot imagine how things get to be the way they are. “Whose idea was THAT?” I’m always asking, as I drive through my world. “Whose idea was THAT new traffic light?” Couldn’t they see the traffic snarl it would create? What were they thinking? The Department of Transportation is an easy target. Practically no thinking ever goes on in any Department of Transportation, on any level, local, state, or federal. They are always ripping up roads and moving them twenty feet in some direction. They never get it right. Just give me veto power. Make them ask me first.
Then we could move to hospitals. Or prisons. We have this society that is creating sick people and criminals past counting, and we just build bigger hospitals and prisons. What are WE thinking? Why aren’t we figuring out what needs to be changed, and changing it? Things aren’t working! What’s it going to take for us to realize that things aren’t working? We need to get rid of the things in our lives that are killing us, and we need to get into our lives the things that could give us life. Why aren’t we doing it? Why are we living in ways that are not good for us? Without even being conscious of what we are doing? Please, give me veto power. I’ll straighten us out in no time. And, you won’t even hate me for it. I promise. I would veto that.