If we were to gather a handful of young adults in a room and ask them to brainstorm some ideas on how they can make a difference, we might hear suggestions such as, “Bring a sandwich to a homeless person.”
Or, “Buy a fair trade bracelet.”
Or, “Donate your clothes to a shelter.”
Or, “You know…just love everyone.”
It seems we love the idea of making a difference, especially if it doesn’t actually cost us anything.
But are we actually helping the people we are claiming to serve?
Or, is it possible, our spontaneous justice is actually hurting our communities?
Young adults worship the idea of spontaneity.
So often, we run full speed in the opposite direction of anything that threatens commitment, routine, or consistency.
This can lead to great adventures, new experiences, and unexpected friendships.
Spontaneity can be good and healthy in our lives.
However, this spontaneous lifestyle becomes dangerous when it begins to characterize our approach to fighting injustice.
Spontaneous justice often leads to privileged people swooping in and out of lives, situations, places, and experiences that “need our help” only to swoop out again when we feel we’ve fulfilled our quota of justice for the year.
We swoop into our cities, pass out a sandwich and drive home.
We swoop into the homeless shelter, spoon some soup and leave.
We swoop into our food pantries, donate some cans and go about our lives.
We swoop in, bring a temporary fix, feel good about ourselves, and leave.
But this is spontaneous justice.
Does it really fix anything?
Or does it simply curb our appetite and make us think we’re making a difference?
Could systemic injustice really be defeated through a spontaneous approach?
Or, will it be defeated when we move, both figuratively and literally, into the lives of the people we are hoping to reach?
When we show up, day, after day, after day, after day.
When we go where brokenness exists and we ask questions.
When we listen to people and understand their stories.
When we ask, “What do YOU need? How can I serve YOU?”
No one has ever contrasted spontaneous justice as beautifully as Jesus Christ, Himself.
As the God of the Universe, Jesus could very well have redeemed the entire human race with a snap of His fingers or the whisper of His voice.
But He didn’t.
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (MSG)
He entered into your story and into mine.
He walked the earth, He heard our stories, He touched our pain, He embraced our messy lives.
He did life alongside real people and, as He did, He ushered true and lasting justice into their lives.
Although He is the ultimate Hero of our stories, He didn’t act like one.
Rather, He asked questions, and healed people, and then told people not to tell anyone.
His healing and justice was strategic, intentional, and long term.
He was here to break the chains of systemic injustice, not to swoop in and play the Hero.
Because Jesus doesn’t see His people in two groups.
He doesn't see the privileged as His “helpers” and the less privileged as the “others.”
He sees people as people.
He sees value in every life.
He sees world changing potential in the eyes of every one of His children.
Black or white, slave or free, woman or man, refugee or immigrant, prisoner or homeless, rich or poor, first world or third world.
Jesus just sees people.
If you and I truly want to reorient our approach to justice according to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, there are two steps we must take.
1) Stop Using the Word, “Other.”
During a trip a few years ago, I found myself sitting in a church auditorium amidst a mostly white, privileged congregation. The church was sharing their excitement for a new initiative they were launching that would help their community in significant ways. The man on stage shared passionately about how much our money and resources and time could help those people who were living below the poverty line in their community.
It was an extremely honorable aspiration.
However, something didn’t feel quite right. As I looked around at all of the people who looked just like me, I wasn’t surprised. No wonder this church wasn’t ethnically, socially, or economically diverse. The leadership of the church was talking about the less privileged people of their community as “Others.” Using phrases like, “Those people don’t have enough money to provide for their families.” And “Those people are in great need.” And “Those people need our help.”
It was clear “those people” were not in their church.
But it made me wonder, “Shouldn’t those people be the very people the Church is built on?”
“Shouldn’t the others be welcomed and expected to be a part of our Churches and communities?”
Without even realizing it, this church was communicating, “We do not expect these people to be in our church.”
We must stop speaking as though the others are not welcome in our communities.
Are homeless men and women a part of our churches and small groups?
Are refugees volunteering in our ministries?
Are our events filled with people who look just like us?
Instead, let’s speak in a way that communicates to our congregations, our audiences, our communities and our friends that every person is welcome.
The way you talk will shape your culture.
Don’t underestimate the damaging power of the words those people or the others.
2) Move Into Their Lives
Ushering justice into our communities isn’t just about solving external issues.
It’s also about confronting the internal brokenness and spiritual poverty that exists in our world.
Whatever God calls you to confront and fight against, don’t swoop in and out. Move in. Plant deep roots and allow yourself to be transformed in the process.
If you are called to speak into the lives of girls who wonder if their life is even worth living, do life with these girls and understand their stories.
If you feel led to invite refugees into your community with open arms, then invite them over for dinner and hear their journeys.
If you desire to seek justice for those living in deep poverty, ask them questions, see them consistently, become a familiar face and establish deep trust.
Move into the neighborhood, enter into their lives, and learn their stories.
Get your hands dirty as you enter into the mess of humanity.
Above all else, we must remember we are all broken.
If there is any beauty, goodness, hope, redemption or love inside of us, it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit and through the power of Jesus Christ.
As we spend time with people who are walking through different experiences than we are, we must allow ourselves to be transformed as well.
As we encounter the work of God in the lives of people, we may just find that God does the greatest healing, restoration and redemption in our own lives.
I’m not the hero. You’re not the hero.
Rather, we are called to reflect the heart and life and ministry of our Hero.
So let’s go into our communities and see people through the eyes of their Creator.