Sunday, August 24, 2014

We Don't Know What to Do

When I'm not sure what to do, I sometimes look back on one of my favorite Old Testament accounts, the story of King Jehosophat, in 2 Chronicles 20.

Warned of a vast army gathering on the other side of the sea, Jeshosophat gathered his people to join him in asking God what to do. He described the ways God had led in the past, described the current overwhelming need, then confessed his own inadequacy, and willingness to do what God instructed: 
“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12) 
In my years of full-time youth ministry, I led a mission trip every summer to an inner city neighborhood where our task was to share the hope of God’s love in a community with the lowest per capita income and highest density of children in the state of Pennsylvania. Early in our week together we would read King Jehosophat’s prayer and talk together about our own inadequacy in the face of poverty, addiction, racial unrest.

I’d point out the way the people of Judah “stood there before the Lord,” and read this: 
“Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.
 He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
  (2 Chronicle 20:14-15)
My goal was to have us look, not at what we were going to do, but at what God was going to do, while we were invited to watch. We were not bringing God to Kensington: he was there, already, inviting us to join him.

And we were not going to solve the problems we encountered: we were going to spread them out, together, in prayer, and watch for God to move.

And solutions, direction, answers, vision, were not my responsbilitiy alone, as the leader of our little group. Just as God spoke through Jahaziel, never mentioned before or after, he could, and did, speak through any member of our team.

Every evening, after our two hour program with the kids of the neighborhood, we’d gather to debrief. We’d write accomplishments and challenges on the big whiteboard in the room that served as meeting space, practice hall, women and girls’ sleep space, then we’d spend time in prayer, inviting God to show us his love for the kids who showed up at our gate: eager, disruptive, hostile, hungry.

The next morning, after the leaders had gathered again in prayer, after we’d read through a chapter of the gospels together, we’d listen for ideas for the day ahead.
 “Do the music and drama in the courtyard, with the building as a backdrop."
“Let’s go over early and worship and pray in every space.”
 “Let’s use tickets for face painting, so we know who’s next, and it feels like something special.”
 “Let’s move the big kids to the parish house, so they get used to coming inside here, and have somewhere comfortable to sit.”
“Serve snacks right from the start, so hungry kids can eat before they play. And snacks again for the big kids during small group time, so they can eat and talk. They’ll talk more.” 
I loved seeing our time together take shape in a way that made clear that God’s vision was greater than ours, his love deeper and wider than ours. That vision and love spoke to all of us, in little details that made our time smoother, and in larger ways that brought lasting fruit.

I thought of that time, and that passage, as I read Bethany Hoang’s Deepening the Soul for Justice. She describes a similar passage, a similar threat.

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked and captured the fortified cities of Judah, then marched toward Jerusalem, where he hurled threats at King Hezekiah, and laughed at the idea that God would intervene: 
Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? (Isaiah 37:11-13)
Hoang, as member of the staff of International JusticeMission, describes her own experience of the taunting threats that oppose the vision of justice and peace: 
When I hear the king of Assyria threaten violence with laughing hubris, I can’t help but see the face of a rice mill owner in south Asia, throwing his head back and smiling as he bragged in sinister delight about how he violently prevents his slaves from leaving the compound.
I see the faces of government officials who coldly considered a mother’s testimony, who unflinchingly skimmed over the crime scene photographs of her little daughter’s rape and murder. I can eel their limp hands, hands which had accepted bribes from the defendant, shaking my and my colleagues hands and glibly insisting that justice was likely impossible in this case.
I hear the words of officials throughout the world telling my colleagues that justice for the poor is not possible, trying to convince our tireless staff to go home rater than stay through the watches of the night waiting for these officials to make good on their own laws.
 Just as Jehosphat described the ways God had led in the past, described the current overwhelming need, then confessed his own inadequacy, and willingness to do what God instructed, Hezekiah took the letter from Sennacherib and spread it out before the Lord in prayer. 
“Every day, each one of us receives ‘letters,’ not unlike Hezekiah. Though perhaps not in written form, we encounter great discouragement in our lives that, in as little as one word or one image, threaten to lock down our hearts in deep burden. And as we pursue justice as integral to our daily lives, there will be times when we will be tempted to believe that our God does not hear, that our God does not see, that our God is not able to intervene. 
But as these ‘letters’ come our way, these discouragements that threaten our commitment to seeking justice, even our own disbelief in God’s power or willingness to act, we are invited like Hezekiah to spread all of this out before the Lord. 
When we spread out our discouragements before the Lord – the lies waged against the reality of God’s reign, the taunts hurled against our belief in God’s power to intervene and to heal and to redeem – this simple act of choosing to come before the Lord and seek his face is an act of proclaiming the truth that God is the good, the just, the sovereign Ruler of the ages over and against the brutality of the moment.” (33) 
Hoang describes the way the staff of IJM starts each day in stillness: setting the schedule, the challenges, the perplexities of the day before God and waiting for direction. Later in the day, together, the staff meets to pray, and in gatherings around the globe, staff, volunteers, whole churches wait on God together.

She insists that the global reach of IJM, “the tangible relief for those who suffer from violent injustices such as slavery, forced prostitutuion and illegal detention,” the accomplishments in transforming broken justice systems, holding perpetrators accountable, providing aftercare and support for survivors, are all made possible by the consistent discipline of spending time in prayer, listening in stillness, acknowledging our inadequacy and waiting for vision from the God whose desire for justice and love for the weak are greater than our own.

I wrote last week about the lure of disengagement, the struggle to connect what we know with what we do, what we believe with how we structure our days.

For me, this discipline of listening in prayer is the heart of any engagement.

With limited time, energy, resources, I struggle to know where to invest, when to draw back, how to make a difference. The needs of family, friends, community near and far are too many, too complex, too demanding. I am not wise enough to meet even the simplest.  

Yet, as I spread them out before God, like Hezekiah, or share them in prayer with others, like Jehosophat, as I confess, yet again, "I (we!) don't know what to do," opportunities become visible, next steps become clear, and I’m reminded: it’s not my plan I’m pursuing, but a greater plan I’m privileged to be part of.

Some next step applications:

Spend time in prayer about areas of need, asking God for insight and instruction.

Consider exploring The Essential Question: How You Can Make a Difference for God (a book by my husband, Whitney Kuniholm, just released by InterVarsity Press).

Read and reflect on Hoang’s Deepening the Soul for Justice, and think about ways to grow in spiritual disciplines that make engagement sustainable.

Gather to pray and share vision with others who would like to learn more about showing compassion and seeking justice.

Watch for unexpected opportunities to learn, grow, and serve. ( Here’s one opportunity I’ll be exploring: Bridges Out of Poverty Workshop, on October 18, at Church of the Good Samaritan, PaoliPA.)

This is also the last in a series exploring words and practices that help or hinder our ability to serve our communities in love while renewing a web of compassionate engagement. 

Next week I'll begin looking at specific issues and arenas for engagement, in preparation for the November elections, as an extension of last year's "What's Your Platform?"

Earlier posts:  
Wisdom, July 6, 2014
Liberty and Constraint, July 13, 2014
Justice for All, July 20, 2014  
Appalling Silence, August 3, 2014 
The Role of Rules, August 10, 2014 
Disengagement and Connection, August 17
 As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.   

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Disengagement and Connection

View North from Burnt Knob, Kevin Kenny, Catskill Mountains, 2013
When I was a kid I spent my summers at a camp in the Catskills – perched on the side of a mountain, looking out across the Hudson Valley toward Connecticut and Massachusetts. Once a week I received mail, a small envelope from my grandmother, with a sentence or two about the current pet, news about the Japanese beetles eating her roses, or the rhubarb pie she made for a neighbor. The world seemed very far away, misty green and gold squares bordered by darker tree lines, traced with slow-moving shadows from the fluffy clouds above.

The world is much closer now – insistently so. It hammers at me from the radio as I fold my laundry: Ebola, Gaza, Yazidis, Boko Haram. It grabs my heart when I check my email: a sobering update on persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq, with requests for prayer, financial and political support. 

Checking in preparation for a Weed Warrior workday, I find myself confronted with more news: “The Real DeathValley: The Untold Story of Mass Graves and Migrant Deaths in South Texas.”

From every direction, every device, we’re asked to care about people we’ve never met, issues we don’t understand, places we’ll never go. Sign petitions, send money, call your congressman.

What do we do with what we know?

That’s the question that runs through a book I’ve been reading: Visions ofVocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, by Stephen Garber of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture

He describes “An Info-glut Culture” that leaves us feeling numb, quoting at length from a 2002 Harper’s article by Thomas de Zengotita, The Numbing of the American mind: Culture as Anesthetic:
The moreness of everything ascends inevitably to a threshold in psychic life. A change of state takes place. The discrete display melts into a pudding, and the mind is forced to certain adaptations if it is to cohere at all.
When you . . . hear statistics about AIDS in Africa, or see your 947th picture of a weeping fireman, you can't help but become fundamentally indifferent because you are exposed to things like this all the time, just as you are to the rest of your options. Over breakfast. In the waiting room. Driving to work. At the checkout counter. All the time. I know you know this already. I'm just reminding you.
Which is not to say you aren't moved. On the contrary, you are moved, often deeply, very frequently--never more so, perhaps, than when you saw the footage of the towers coming down on 9/11. But you are so used to being moved by footage, by stories, by representations of all kinds--that's the point. It's not your fault that you are so used to being moved, you just are.
So it's not surprising that you have learned to move on so readily to the next, sometimes moving, moment. It's sink or surf. Spiritual numbness guarantees that your relations with the moving will pass. And the stuffed screen accommodates you with moving surfaces that assume you are numb enough to accommodate them. And so on, back and forth. The dialectic of postmodern life.   
Garber suggests that the numbness we feel in the face of our info-glut culture leads us toward “a shrug of the mind and heart, whatever”:
Sometimes playful, often cynical, the word itself is a window into the complexity of life; we feel overwhelmed in so many different ways all at once. How else to respond than with a heartfelt ‘whatever’? . . .

And yet there are ideas and issues that seem beyond ‘whatever.’ . . . The reality of pain and evil in this life requires a response that is more than the culture of whatever provides. . . Thoughtful, honest human beings wonder, knowing what I know, what am I going to do? To do nothing seems less than human, seems less than right.
The Synchroblog topic this month is Connection – and that word appears regularly in Garber’s “Vision of Vocation”:

What is “the connection between education and vocation”? (22)

“What is the relationship of ideas to life, of theories to practices, of knowledge to responsibility? Almost always, we assume a connection, that the one implies the other.” (97)

How do we live in relationship to broken people, broken places, loving even when we see the flaws? “In every century and every culture there is an integral connection between knowing and doing, and it is most fully expressed in love. For glory or shame, we choose to live in love – or not.” (135)

I’m still working my way through Garber’s book, and still puzzling over how to stay engaged with needs both near and far away when the lure of  “whatever” beckons.

Wondering how to encourage engagement in friends and family who say “Carol, you think too much.”

“It’s all hopeless, so why bother?”

We all have numbing behaviors, both symptoms and fuel to our disengagement:

Hours spent on games like Candy Crush, Angry Birds, FarmVille.

Evenings spent cruising Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram.

Darker addictions, like online gambling, pornography.

Withdrawal into work, food, shopping, TV.

In one of his closing chapters, Garber talks about “Learning to Live Proximately.”
It is so very hard to keep at it, knowing what we know. Even our deepest hopes are hard, because in this now-but-not-yet world we have to live with something less.
Several years ago I had to write an essay on the vocation of politics, and I offered “Making Peace with Proximate Justice.” It is an old idea, one that ripples across the centuries, taken up by people who in their own times and places have longed to do what is right, knowing that all that is right will not be and cannot be done. . . (201)
Whatever our vocation, it always means making peace with the proximate, with something rather than nothing – in marriage and in family, at work and at worship, at home and in the public square, in our cities and around the world. That is not a cold-hearted calculus; rather it is a choice to live by hope, even when hope is hard. (203)
Yesterday I spent the day with thirty women who are part of the League of Women Voters of PA,several of them fifty-year members, women who have been persisting in pursuit of voting rights for all and a fair and equitable democracy across more than half a century. They celebrate their small successes, grieve the many set-backs, continue to share their vision. 

Garber offers descriptions of other men and women involved in working for justice, for health care for those without, holistic education, courageously, persistently creating connections between vision and reality, between theory and practice, between values we say we care about and the every-day work of making it happen. Accepting the proximate, when their real goals remain elusive. 

What do we do with what we know?

How do we maintain connection between who we are and what we do, between ourselves and a hurting world, when numbing disengagement seems the safer, certainly easier choice?

Here are some practical ideas I take with me:

Stay alert to the ways we numb ourselves, or wallow in our numbness. Ask for help (from God? from each other?) to hold those behaviors in check.

Examine the ways we fall back on “whatever.” Surround ourselves with others who choose to live and work in hope, and talk together about what we know and can do to bring change in areas that concern us.

Bread for the World: With Child Refugees,
Who Are Members of Congress Listening To
Take small steps to connect what we know with what we do: give to one organization working on refugee relief; make a few phone calls advocating for more equitable legislation.

Pay attention to the distance between the way the world is and the way we think it should be. Where does that vision of how it should be come from? What responsibility do we have to act on what we see and know?

Join an organization committed to training members in practical ways to facilitate change: Bread for the World, Oxfam, International Justice Mission, League of Women Voters. We can’t join them all, but we could learn a great deal from ongoing engagement in one. 

And one more - that I'll post about next week - maintain Sabbath times, as an acknowledgement that we're not the ones in charge. We are called to love, connect, engage, but also to step back in times of rest, renewal, and reminder that the burdens we carry are not ours alone. 

This is part of the August Synchroblog, Connection.  Please take time to read some of the other posts exploring this topic: 
Jerry Wirtley – Connection
Michael Donahoe – Connection
Minnow – Our Dis-Connect
Leah Sophia – Touch of Life
Karen “Charity” Aldrich – Wuv True Wuv

This is also the sixth in a series exploring words that help or hinder our ability to serve our communities in love while renewing a web of compassionate engagement. Earlier posts:  
Wisdom, July 6, 2014
Liberty and Constraint, July 13, 2014
Justice for All, July 20, 2014  
Appalling Silence, August 3, 2014
The Role of Rules, August 10, 2014

 As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.   

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Role of Rules

I spent the past week vacationing with my family on a lovely lake in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, a rental won in a silent auction benefiting the work of the Philadelphia Project.

We were still unpacking cars when our youngest daughter, just starting a master’s program with Longwood Gardens, pointed out that the wooden boardwalk leading to the lake passed through a sphagnum bog complete with pitcher plants, still blooming swamp azalea, and seedling tamarack larches.

From the dock, we could look across the north end of the lake to acres of low-growing wetlands. Eastern kingbirds chattered as they swooped from the tops of stunted trees; willow flycatchers called a gentle “whit!” from branches overlooking the water. Common yellowthroats hopped in and out of dense cover.

For a birdwatcher, as I am, it was wonderful.

For a naturalist interested in public policy, it was just a little troubling.

Aren’t there rules about building in sphagnum bogs?

The next morning, I headed off on a short walk down the lakeside road, and found an abandoned lane leading in toward the wetland. Aging pavement ended in heaps of gravel and weed-covered piles of drainage culverts.

Puzzled, I went back to the road circling the lake and walked on, pausing to enjoy red-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatchers, the bright flurry of yellow warblers.

Then, a strange man-made channel, and a sign pronouncing “Fawn Lake.”


Back at the house, I googled the neighborhood.

The man-made ditch described as “Fawn Lake” looked like a hieroglyph carved in the face of the earth.

So I googled a bit more, and found this headline, dating back to 1989: “Developer Told To Restore Swamp -  Pike Violation Called One Of State's Largest.” 

As early as 1964, a local developer and his sons were dredging wetlands, building dams, and moving dirt to create vacation lakes. Since they apparently never filed plans for any of the work, it’s hard to know what the full intention was, but it looks like the goal was to create multiple interconnecting lakes, with waterfront lots to sell all along the way.

Apparently, it was their land.

And they were following the example of countless developers before them.

So when the EPA asked them to stop, in 1986, they ignored the request and went on with their work. 
Ramagosa ignored a July 3, 1986, EPA order and continued work on a 24-acre wetland along Poison Creek, authorities said. The site - after being drained, excavated, dammed and flooded - is now called Spruce Lake. . . .
The Ramagosas built similar lakes or ponds in six more areas near Poison Brook, Rattlesnake and Dark Dwarfs Kill creeks, affecting an estimated 55 acres of wetlands, authorities said. . . .
Steve Burd, district manager for the Pike County Conservation District, checked the Ramagosa property early last year as a follow-up to work done by a predecessor and federal authorities.
"I have no real authority over wetlands so I called the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers," Burd said. "We checked what we knew about and we came across another site, and then another site, and then another. We did aerial work and found the real big problems."
As head of the county authority involved with erosion problems and waterways work, Burd is no stranger to wetlands violations. But he said the Ramagosa project left him dumbfounded.
"In Pike County we've got wetlands violations going on all over the place," Burd said. "This is a big one. It's the biggest one I've seen. We're talking here about acres and acres."
Authorities stopped Ramagosa's machinery during the preparation of a wetlands area for subdivision and development. 
After years of hearings and appeals, the dredged lakes were left as they were; the contractors were fined $25,000, instructed to donate $176,000 to the Pennsylvania Wetland Replacement Fund, and required to deed 22 acres of pristine wetland to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

A group called PA Landowners points to cases like this as demonstration of governmental overreach, of unfair rules, and of outright theft of private property. A description of the case was included in a 1991 PA Landowners newsletter as one of many “Tales from the Trenches”:   
It was interesting to see firsthand the ponds and wetlands in question, and to consider the place of rules in our life together on this planet.

It was also interesting to see the discrepancy between the outraged letter, offered as evidence for EPA overreach, and the visible reality: muddy drainage ditches presented as lakes; rich, irreplaceable bog that narrowly escaped destruction.

Several weeks ago I set myself the task of exploring the underlying values that frame our conversation about political issues of the day.

At first, I thought I’d just list and write about the issues that concern me, but realized that how we see the issues is shaped by what we believe about the world around us.

Are we free to pursue our own good with no regard for the good of others?

Is liberty best defined as freedom from rules, or ability to pursue service to something greater than ourselves?

Are we in some inescapable way responsible for those weakerand less privileged?

Is advocacy for others an essential part of a moral life?

Paddling the edge of the bog in the morning mist, I found myself wondering about the role of rules in preserving the beauty and balance our sanity and sustenance depends on.

Rules will never take the place of wisdom.

But in a world intent on folly, I’m happy to have rules.

Ideally, we’d all understand the purpose of wetlands: cleaning water and air, soaking up excess rainfall to help manage flooding downriver, processing biochemical nutrients, providing habitat for creatures large and small whose roles we only faintly comprehend.

We tend to destroy what we don’t understand. 

We calculate cost and profit in simple, immediate terms, leaving externalized costs for others to manage. Sediment, flooding, erosion, dead-zones:? Those happen downriver, so why should we be worried?

One evening, as my son and I were talking on the dock, a bald eagle soared past us, disappearing beyond the trees.

Rules have kept our national bird from extinction: rules about hunting, destruction of nests, use of DDT. Does it matter?

Arguments for small government inevitably get around to objections to regulation.

Rules infringe on our freedoms, trample our property rights, cost money and jobs.

Except when they don’t: when they help maintain our freedoms (to enjoy clean air and water, to experience the beauty of wetlands, to escape disastrous flooding), hold property rights in balance (upstream vs. downstream, producer vs. consumer), ensure the economic stability of industries and communities.

Practical applications are many, but here are some underlying things I’m planning to consider, think through, and remember:

In a perfect world, rules wouldn’t be needed. But we are imperfect people, often thoughtless, selfish, and not really interested in the outcome of our actions.

Well-conceived, well-executed rules are a way to balance rights and responsibilities between impacted parties, and to keep thoughtless individuals from doing harm to themselves and others.

Rules –in themselves – aren’t bad or good. Most rules are created to address a concern, so it’s worth understanding the concern before condemning the rule.

Wisdom doesn’t look for ways to give less than rules require. Instead, it allows us to go beyond the rules in protecting the interests of others. (I posted about this, from a slightly different angle, in Law - Grace- Giving. 

Who benefits when a rule is rejected or repealed? Who benefits when agencies tasked with applying rules are underfunded? Who – or what – suffers? What privilege is preserved when rules are set and discarded? 

This is the fifth in a series exploring words that help or hinder our ability to serve our communities in love while renewing a web of compassionate engagement. Earlier posts:  
Wisdom, July 6, 2014
Liberty and Constraint, July 13, 2014
Justice for All, July 20, 2014  
Appalling Silence, August 3, 2014
 As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.   

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Appalling Silence

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9 
This week I received an email inviting me to “Be a Climate Extrovert.”

I confess, I regularly delete scores of emails urging protection of polar bears or protest of various kinds. But I did pause to read the email.

The Moms Clean Air Force will be joining the People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21. I’m invited to add my voice to the voices of others demanding action from global leaders gathering at the UN Climate Summit.

I’m intrigued by the phrasing: “climate extrovert.”

I’m one of those people near the middle of the Myers Briggs extrovert / introvert continuum. I’m happy with quiet. Easily exhausted by crowds. But I can switch over when I need to, turn on the energy, dial up the volume.

How do I decide when it’s time to speak up?

What inner calculus do I use to weigh costs and opportunities, incentives for speaking, reasons to remain silent?

Do I just default to “don’t bother”?

Take the easy way out?

I wonder.

Looking at the Moms Clean Air Task Force email, I find myself thinking of the little boy I know who spent too many days this summer in our regional children’s hospital, hooked on a respirator, struggling to breath.

He lives in a city with remarkably dirty air, in a zone near remarkably dirty refineries.

This summer my friend Susan Carty, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, has been tirelessly crisscrossing the state, offering testimony at EPA hearings about carbon emissions and clean air regulation. Thursday she was in Pittsburg, asking once again about plans to monitor methane release from the fracking industry, reminding the EPA, as she has before, that “
Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of having five municipal regions on the list of twenty-five of the most polluted cities.”

I’m challenged by Susan’s willingness to speak out on issues she finds compelling, and by others who put concern for the common good ahead of their own convenience or comfort.

CBS headline, April 2013, photo JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
I’m impressed by those who take time to understand the implications of policy decisions, and articulate reasons for change in ways that make a difference.

And saddened, and convicted, when I look back across time and think of the appalling silence of the church in the face of great evil and injustice.

That phrase, “appalling silence,” comes from Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail, written in August 1963 where he spent a month after being arrested for participation in a non-violent protest waited. The letter was addressed to the white clergy of Alabama who had written an open letter condemning the protest: 
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. 
After an exploration of the causes for protest, King wrote:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
. . . We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
. . . Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
King’s letter is worth re-reading for its clarity and stern conviction.

I was seven when it was written.

Eight during the Harlem race riots of 1964.

Twelve when King was shot in Memphis.

In my early teens when smoke from fires in the Bronx was so thick I could see it from my bedroom window.

The church I attended during those years was nestled along the northern border of the Bronx, in a racially divided community disrupted by urban renewal.

I don’t remember any mention, in my church, of King, civil rights, economic inequity, or the unrest and despair sweeping through neighborhoods just blocks from where we sat.

Appalling silence.

I remember a German friend, driving us through the streets of Colmar, France, speaking softly about the weight of guilt that darkens the conscience of older German Christians, who said and did nothing while evil grew around them. "It’s hard to speak of it even now."

Appalling silence.

I wonder – will our children look back and wonder why we were silent about the issues of our day?

Minister and blogger Kathy Escovar, posting on this topic last year, wrote:  

kathy escobar. april 25.2013
my dream is that as the body of Christ, we’d be deeply dedicated to making advocates not buildings. that we’d be known in our communities for actively advocating for systemic change to heal the core roots of injustice. and most of all, that we’d use our power and privilege on behalf of the vulnerable, not to replace their voices but to pave the way for theirs to be heard.  to say what they cannot say (yet).

What does it take to be an advocate for systemic change?

To use our power and privilege on behalf of the vulnerable?

What does it take to be an extrovert for justice?

Some practical ideas:

1. Spend time in prayer and reflection about people we know impacted by injustice, and about ways we interact, daily, with systems of injustice, and begin to acknowledge, to ourselves and others, the ways we’ve benefitted from unjust systems, or practices of privilege.

2. Look for ways to speak up for individuals without confidence or position to speak for themselves, while also spending time listening, encouraging, and role-playing to help prepare them to speak for themselves.

3. Politely question voices that repeat unjust accusations, that advocate unjust positions, that dismiss or demean others. Practice staying calm, and clear, in the face of hostile response.

4. Join an organization that advocates for justice, and take time to participate in their offerings of letters, public comment, or other avenues of advocacy. Invite others to join you. 

5. Consider becoming knowledgeable in one area of systemic injustice and look for ways to share and advocate on what you know.

This is the fourth in a series exploring words that help or hinder our ability to serve our communities in love while renewing a web of compassionate engagement. Earlier posts:  
Wisdom, July 6, 2014
Liberty and Constraint, July 13, 2014
Justice for All, July 20, 2014  
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.