Gil’s Spirituality and Social Justice

This paper sums up my growth over the last semester and includes some poems that were posted on this blog already. Included is a bit of the thoughts that I have around the poems, so I hope that you enjoy learning a little bit more of what makes me tick.

Introduction

This semester was a significant time of reconnecting to the faith that my father taught me. I was raised in a family that was saw social justice action as a natural outworking of obedience to the teachings of Jesus. In my growing up I experienced poverty, wealth and the escapes from poverty that were available to me but not my friends. I am still amazed at people who don’t see a clear call to promote justice, in this world, in the bible. I am convinced that we have done an excellent job as a society of insulating ourselves from witnessing injustice, even when we experience it. The dominant culture of the United States remains blissfully unaware of the ramifications of its decisions because that is how we want to be. We never want to consider ourselves to be oppressors, and we spend a lot of time and money on avoiding the oppressed. William Kennedy points out that “The non-poor live in such isolation from the poor that they easily hide…and blame the victims because they neither know their hurts nor understand the causes of such hardships as layoffs and unemployment.”[1] During this class, I spent a lot of time in reflection on how I have been connected to oppressed peoples and how I may have contributed to or assuaged that oppression, with my goal being to recommit myself to the work of the kingdom in promoting justice. In this paper I will reflect on how I have grown academically and spiritually and reflect on ways I will be working on justice in my ministry.

 Growth

When I started this term I was running on empty, still a bit numb from the death of my friend on Christmas Eve. This class actually helped me come out of that numbness as I thought about the injustices that existed to put my friend in the position he was in. I grew in my ability to recognize the emotions that flowed from my experience with injustices. The downside to stepping out of the comfortable boxes we make for ourselves is that we witness and experience the pain that our neighbors live with every day. Jim Wallis reminds us that “Poverty is no longer just a social or economic problem when you have a personal friend who is poor.”[2] If our friends are poor then we have a much higher vested interest in changing things to benefit our friends. We also begin to see how little we really understand of what is needed to rectify the injustice. One thing that has been reaffirmed is the need for listening to the people who are experiencing injustice. The people experiencing injustice know what needs to be addressed and changed because they live in oppression every day. Wallis points out that “Many good and decent programs didn’t become highly successful until the poor themselves were given a real hearing and became involved in leadership. The presence of the poor in the discussion makes all the difference.[3] Without the poor/oppressed in leadership there is the serious risk (read near certainty) of being paternalistic.

One of the ways I have experienced spiritual growth in this class is in writing poetry that expresses my promptings from the Holy Spirit as I consider issues of social justice. I have written four poems over the course of this class, three of which I will share below followed by brief commentary on the poems.

Wanderers

Coming together, Closer to God

Further from our cultures, Closer to others’

We connect to a new life, A new family

We who were not a people, We who were disconnected

The wanderers continue, To wander searching

And working to make, Home come true

We wander in poverty, Among the rich

Knowing the wealth, Of poverty in the world

Blessing the poor, Loving the rich

We wander through

 

Wanderers chronicles my journey as I have interacted with people from many parts of our world. I have lived as a displaced person and lived with displaced persons. My experience of wandering has influenced how I interact with social justice issues, and this class helped me reconnect to my wanderings. I didn’t always love the rich, for a long time I hated them, but God really challenged me through calling me to befriend a wealthy person. This friendship taught me so much about my false presuppositions and how I was dehumanizing the wealthy through my attitudes. What I really needed to learn was how I couldn’t expect others to see the world through my eyes or understand my perspective and that I couldn’t assume that I understood others’ either; which leads to my next poem:

Other

Grace for and with

Other

Who am I

Other

Who am I with

Other

Am I really

Other

Can I really understand

Other

Can I really connect to

Other

Are you really

Other

Can I love

Other

Without going to

Other

Seeing that I am

Other

We as human beings tend to overestimate our knowledge of ourselves and others. If I were to be completely honest I would not be able to explain why I performed any given action during the day without serious thought, but somehow I think that I know why others perform certain actions. This condition is endemic to humanity and we devalue ourselves and each other on a regular basis when the reality is that we need to extend grace.

Extension

Reaching beyond self

To places I cannot reach

Hoping to grasp

But failing

Reaching out to you

Someone beyond my reach

Hoping to hold

But failing

Reaching for Christ

Impossible to reach

Hoping to control

But failing

Drawn out of myself

To places I couldn’t reach

No longer grasping

But releasing

Drawn to you

Someone beside me

No longer holding

But releasing

Drawn to Christ

Reaching for me

No longer controlling

But releasing

The essence of showing grace and ceasing to be oppressive is in letting go of our attempts to control others for our own benefit. I have tried in the past and present, but God always brings me to the point at which I must let go. The essence of grace for me is to love “as-is” rather than as I want things to be. By loving “as-is” the space is created in which God can transform me and those involved in the situation. When I attempt to control and direct God’s work I end up oppressing the people I think I am helping.

Application

As I minister among international students it will be important for me to remember that the students are the experts on their personal needs and I would best serve by letting them set the agenda for assistance they may need. I will continue to keep my ears open in any situation that may involve injustice and not dismiss out of hand any implications that I am participating in an unjust action or system. The need for me to be constantly self-examining as well as spending time in discerning prayer are also called for in response to injustice. I need to continue to wrestle with the hard place of being the beneficiary of an oppressive system and how best to disentangle myself from continuing to benefit from it, or at least use whatever benefit I get against the systems. Paulo Friere could very easily be describing me when he said “that people among the non-poor do not customarily want to be transformed or to give up the privileges which they have enjoyed, and they’re not ready to accept or engage in the kind of education which involves the giving up of those privileges.”[4] In my more honest moments I would have to say that my cynicism is a defense against recognizing my own complicity in injustice, may God have mercy.


[1] Alice Frazier Evans, Robert A. Evans, and William Bean Kennedy, eds., Pedagogies for the Non-Poor (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 240.

[2] Jim Wallis, Faith Works (Berkeley, CA: PageMill Press, 2001), 42.

[3] Ibid., 106. Emphasis mine.

[4] Alice Frazier Evans, Robert A. Evans, and William Bean Kennedy, eds., Pedagogies for the Non-</I><I>Poor (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 221.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Evans, Alice Frazier, Robert A. Evans, and William Bean Kennedy, eds. Pedagogies for the Non-Poor. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000.

Wallis, Jim. Faith Works. Berkeley, CA: PageMill Press, 2001.

Creative Commons License
Extension by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com.
Creative Commons License
Gil’s Spirituality and Social Justice by Gilbert George is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://extrovertedquaker.wordpress.com.

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