A gathering place for readers, writers, and other advocates for a more just world

Posts tagged ‘acting justly’

Needed – Stories on Acting Justly

I apologize for being absent during the last three month. I have excuses but none are sufficiently convincing to warrant sharing.

I have a resource and a  story to share today.    The first is a link to an excellent article and brief video on the need to interact with others to make changes. Here it is: http://odewire.com/184698/reach-beyond-yourself.html

The second is what happened to me last night. I ran into the grocery store (filled with an overabundance of almost everything!) and immediately saw another customer on a phone—crying. I overheard her say, “can you please send me at least $20 by Western Union because I need to get to my grandkids.” I looked in my billfold, found I had $16 and gave her $10 (which she accepted reluctantly and with a confused look on her face), then I quickly walked away. I felt very good—for about five minutes. This may be the reason we like to do charity more than justice work. That “feel good” sensation comes with very little sacrifice: I didn’t give all I had and it only took me about five seconds. And even though I didn’t want to be noticed, when I left the store the welcome man was especially gracious.

After the five minutes of being “puffed up,” I started to re-evaluate the situation. Why didn’t I give all I had, since I had heard her say what she needed and what I gave didn’t cover the need? Why didn’t I find out where she needed to go (maybe even offering to drive her)?  My answers are  similar to some of yours might be: I didn’t have much extra money…I didn’t want to interfere and embarrass her…I didn’t have time for a long drive…I didn’t know how to offer help gracefully.

The good feeling left as quickly as it came, leaving me with other feelings and questions. The situation and article made it clear to me that I need to interact with others who will help me understand how to be a person who “loves mercy and ACTS justly.”

I’d love to have you share your stories on my blog or by email!

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What is Social Justice?

One of the goals of my blog is to write about social justice issues in ways that motivate readers to act justly.  Since living in metro Detroit and interacting with some very justice-oriented Catholic nuns, I’ve learned enough about social justice to become a rather passionate advocate. But I’ve also learned that this subject is not a normal phrase in the vocabulary of many good people I know.  Maybe it’s time to address the basics before building a platform on just responses to the huge array of injustices rampant in the 21st century.

Today I will try to clarify the meaning of social justice vs social charity–a more familiar practice for many people–with a comparison from a book called Social Justice published by Greenhaven Press in 2005.

The primary difference is explained clearly by using the story of the Good Samaritan and the Biblical Exodus story. “Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses did not ask Egypt’s ruler for better food and medicine for the slaves, which would have been an act of charity. Instead, he demanded that Egyptian society be changed so that the Hebrews would no longer be enslaved.” The author notes that actions promoting justice, unlike social charity activities, are often controversial because actions that promote justice challenge the status quo. A Catholic bishop was quoted, ” When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a communist.”

This same theme is expressed vividly by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, in his speech delivered April 12, 1999 in Washington, D.C.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes… Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless… Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”

In the next few blogs I will attempt to discover ways to be less indifferent and more socially just. I would love to receive proposals from readers!

The People Speak –A Message for Us in Howard Zinn’s Documentary

Excerpt from The People Speak  (on YouTube)

I left the theater an hour ago with a sense of awe, outrage and commitment. Based on Zinn’s Histories of the United States, with dramatic readings by people most would recognize and musical performances most people would feel deep in their souls, this documentary produced by Matt Damon, Josh Brolin,  Zinn and others was, for me, a call to action.

The voices I heard were telling me to follow in the footsteps of people who used courage and passion as a substitute for money and position. When these common people, from black children who couldn’t use the swings in public parks to mothers deprived of their children in futile wars, could no longer endure the injustices ignored (or perpetrated) by our country’s leaders, they stepped out.  Violence was not their way to fight back. They joined together in unions and went on strikes; they boycotted businesses; they stood or marched en masse and their feet on the pavement drummed a new beat:  Stop this!  We are no different than you. We deserve to live as humans, to be treated humanely, to be respected.

And when enough “ordinary” citizens would no longer be victimized, they won new rights—but not fully and not forever. Some of those rights are slipping away again.  Gross disparities in income and education cause the distribution of power to be a strange see-saw, with a very few holding their seat to solid ground while millions hang high in the air, waiting nervously while hoping they will be let down gently.

A line from the film (from Ecclesiastes)that echoes back to me is, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…though one may be overpowered two can defend themselves.” Most of us know that to make ours a better world, we will have to partner with others, possibly even with some who challenge us to change. Yet we stay on our islands of discouragement and deprivation.

What will it take for us to step out? And what happens if we wait too long?

Good Friday Meditation for Justice Advocates: The Vices we Share with Pilate

From Morton Kelsey in Bread and Wine (p. 210): “Pilate didn’t want to crucify the man. Why did Pilate condemn Jesus? Because he was a coward. He cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice. He didn’t have the courage to stand for what he knew was right. Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don’t have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.”

Today, we see all around us the evidence of greed, rage, of self-centeredness. But are we islands in this sea of injustice?  I ask myself if I have the courage to do something, knowing that the top 1% of Americans own 43% of the financial wealth according to the research of a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz (http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html), while in 2009 the number of Americans in poverty increased to 42.9 million according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics (http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/acsbr09-1.pdf).

I ask myself if the greed and self-centeredness in me keeps me from sacrificial giving, of choosing more possessions and entertainment instead of giving my time, talents, and money to keep others from the injustices of poverty and prejudice, of physical abuse and discrimination because they are powerless to stop it alone.  It is very difficult to admit to personal vices that perpetrate social injustice, and even more difficult to find ways to act so that I, too, can be the change I wish to see in the world.

But I have been given a voice—through the written word—to enable me to say, “stop the crucifixions—the unjust treatment—of my neighbors in my city and my world. Will you join me?  With your help, I may have the courage to stand for what I know is right.

I didn’t want to crucify the man, either. But I have a choice, we have the choice to carry others’ crosses or observe their crucifixions…

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