Journey to Justice, Five
Small Steps into Big Issues
Cape Town, South Africa: 2009
Major revelations in my life often evolve as seemingly contradictory things enmesh and reveal they are not contradictory. Am I a missionary or an aspiring writer? Is my priority the soul or the body? Should I fill a gap, or make space for change? Can justice, love, anger, sadness, passion and Guinness all live in the same house?
Indeed they can. It is the beauty of the Both/And.
While I was studying in South Africa this collision of ideas was at its peak. I was discovering more and more deeply everyday what I believe I was created for: To love God, to love people and to voice to the world that which needs attention and action. It was a powerful time. The most powerful part about it was reading words, words I had read before, with new eyes; seeing what my worn, falling apart Bible had to say about the way we live in this world as I hadn’t seen it before.
I wish you could see my Bible. It is literally falling apart. It splits right down the center, no binding to hold it together, just the packing tape that is wrapped around the paper cover. It is missing Psalms 40-54. Psalms 54-63 are scotch taped in. It smells like an old book you would find at an antique store (That isn’t a bad thing. I really love the way it smells). This Bible has been to more countries than most people. It is highlighted, color-coded, notated and dingy and just after the chasm of Psalm 40 is the defining text for my time in Africa, and, I currently believe, my life. Psalm 119.
It is long. It was tedious before I sank into its beauty. Now it is 175 verses of confirmation that my love of justice is God’s love. It is a cry from the heart that I wish would rise up from the depths of our Earth.
One of my favorite things about Psalm 119 is its dichotomy. In one verse it cries from a place of vulnerability. In the next it sets it feet to not be moved. It longs to be changed as it desires to be protected. It speaks of sin and testimony congruently. It is life.
In it’s mystery lies the treasure of the answer.
My Psalm 119 is color-coded very specifically. I drew red hearts every time it mentioned the heart or love. I circled the words for being taught and shown. I highlighted in blue words of process and wandering like step, walk, path and way.
Under the blanket of color is the revelation of Psalm 119 that I found in South Africa.
Throughout the Old Testament God lays down some pretty specific ways of life that we (“Western” folk) don’t pay much attention to anymore. You know, the Leviticus things that are spoken of only historically and often skipped out of boredom. Things like “And he who carries their carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean,” and “When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a bright spot on his skin that may become an infectious skin disease…he will be considered unclean,” etc. Today we just put on some medicine or throw our clothes in the wash, but in a time when those were not options, these precepts were extremely important. Not rules or being set up to fail, they were protection for people of the tribe, protection from the spread of disease, ways to ensure the community was able to thrive. And there are a lot of them.
These precepts can still be applied to many today. They are simple ways a community can function without attempting to implant modern technology or medicine that is not viable.
Let’s look at an example:
“You shall not defraud or oppress your neighbor or rob him; the wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until morning…You shall do no injustice in judging a case, you shall not be partial to the poor or show a preference for the mighty, but in righteousness and according to the merits of the case judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19: 13, 15)
In 2009 the UNHCR reported that 42 million people were refugees. Often refugees are in forced labor positions, required to work under the threat of being turned in to authorities and deported back to the unsafe situation they ran from. If they are arrested, they are thrown into jails or detention centers, they are not given legal aid or even translators to help their case. What would happen if we applied the simple words of Leviticus 19: 13 and 15 to the case of refugees? If they were given their wages, given proper trials when necessary, and judged only under the expectation, merits and laws that should be applied to them and their situation?
Those questions bring us back to Psalm 119.
A cry for God’s precepts is a prayer for justice. A yearning for his ordinances is a longing for his testimony to take over. Studying his statutes is the study of practical help in the most desperate of situations. As Psalm 119 cries out for the precepts, ordinances and statutes of God, it is crying out for the poor, exploited, displaced to be given an opportunity to live God’s dream for them – safe and healthy lives.
“Oh, let me not wander or step aside – either in ignorance or willfully – from Your commandments.” Psalm 119:10
To be continued…
In an effort to record and remember my own journey into the justice issues of the world, I am taking each piece of heart-wrenching realization and compiling them. More to come.