Justice is love in public.” —Cornel West
Courage is grace under pressure.” —Ernest Hemingway
Over the last few years, I’ve talked with hundreds of people who believe that Christians shouldn’t be concerned about politics, law, or the fate of the world, and yet have been trained to watch carefully for signs of “the last days.” These beliefs seem to force a mix of heightened anxiety about what others might do and apathy about our ability to impact the world we’re in.
Perhaps that’s why these two quotes have been part of my reflections today: one describing love as the common root of justice and tenderness; and the other on grace as the soft heart of the virtue we know as courage.
Middle Collegiate Church’s Rev. Jacqui Lewis spoke on justice as worship this morning. (I’d hoped to share portions of that message with you, but the streamed audio is not yet online. It may be by the time newsletter subscribers receive this post. Click the link to find out.)
Lewis’ message addresses the dichotomy I’m referring to, between feeling called to escape the world and feeling called to heal or renew it. Her congregation comes down firmly on treating justice work as an expression of deep faith, expressing divine love by standing with others, and sharing grace by remaining tender through trauma.
But as I alluded to in my last article, this choice comes with penalties. It’s hard to work through social trauma, especially when, as Lewis says, incidents track not just individual wounding stories but cultural and group wounds as well. Any of us might empathize with immigrants and refugees and LGBTQ people and persecuted religious minorities, but we’ll do so in very different ways, and their stories will touch each of our lives differently too.
A series of news stories about one group might roll off me but throw you into fight-or-flight. You might be able to read stories with sympathy and yet hold your emotional center while I move into a more immediate response if others’ stories too closely mirror my own.
What threads together justice and love and courage and grace and worship, at least for me, is transcendence. I’m seeking an integration between knowing myself deeply and reaching beyond my singular, separated self toward other people, other experiences, other perspectives, and others’ lives.
I’d love to hear what these quotations mean for you.