This past Sunday night, before we had even fully fallen asleep, you could hear the sirens of ambulances and police cars race past the block our house is on. Generally speaking, in the neighborhood in which we now live, hearing that many sirens at one time usually means one thing: violence.
We woke up early the next morning and there was a smattering of people talking about it on social media, wondering what happened, asking if anyone knew what was going on. A few hours later, word came out: a double homicide about 5 blocks from where we live. Many of our friends lived much closer. Some of our friends were close with one of the victims.
As word spread, a Prayer Vigil was organized and here's what we posted, connecting people to it:
A few hours before those sirens wailed their way into our neighborhood (a neighborhood with a pocket which holds the distinction of being the 6th highest concentration of poverty in the United States, the largest track of Section 8 government housing on the East Coast and failing schools more segregated today than they were after bused desegregation started in the 1970's) I was in a planning meeting. We'd just finished an all-church picnic at Jefferson Park, a beautiful park in our neighborhood that overlooks the city of Richmond. We did the egg toss that our worship pastor, Erin Rose, insists must happen at every church picnic. There was laughter, and games and eating and baptisms and singing, all very much in public.
This meeting was specifically planning a service we have coming up in the month of September that will focus on Justice and practically equipping the people God has entrusted us to engage with justice. It was a fascinating meeting on several levels and we had some really rich discussion. One comment someone made, in particular, stood out to me:
That comment has stuck with me for the last few days.
We are supposedly Bible people. We come from a tribe of Christians who take the Bible seriously. We want to do what it says...all of it, not just the bits of it we like or are comfortable with or fit in our sometimes-oft-wired-minds.
In talking with some pastors as well as parishioners across the country, there seems to be an allergy to not just engaging with justice, but sometimes to even talking about it; to understand the theological underpinnings, much less doing something. There seem to be certain approaches to justice, or specific issues themselves, that the church is unwilling or unable to step near.
And yet...there it is. In black and white.
But maybe you don't think that's true of you?
Since Sunday night, I've been thinking about CAUSE and EFFECT.
One of the things I think that Micah passage is getting at is both Cause and Effect. It's talking about participation with Justice and Mercy and not just a head nod; but to do so with the great understanding of who we are in relation to God...his servants, purchased and ransomed by his blood, walking in his power. We walk humbly before him.
At this point in time, I think most churches are already engaged or gearing up to do Mercy Ministry; caring for vulnerable people, often times children. We probably think about the Matthew 25 passage:
And without a doubt, we should engage with these kinds of Mercy Ministries. Clearly, that's what the Word tells us to do!
But I wonder...do we see that these are Effects of something deeper? Do we keep feeding the poor, caring for vulnerable children, visiting people in prison...do we keep doing those things and not realizing that there are forces at work that keep putting people in that position and keeping them there?
There is Cause, and Effect.
There are root Causes that keep producing these kinds of Effects. There are systems that make the double homicide we experienced on Sunday night somewhat normal. Sometimes these systems accidentally and unintentionally do this; they produce unintended effects or consequences. But sometimes? Sometimes it's intentional.
But whether it is intentional or not only matters a little. Whether a system produces evil because of foolishness or it produces evil by intention...it's still producing evil.
And a system like that should be dismantled, dismembered, and destroyed.
That's the Justice piece of Micah 6:8. It's not just that I, the individual, is walking justly. It's that we, the people of God together, walk out justice together.
In the same way that our great Savior and Lord "disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross"...we participate in this great triumph and the reconciling of all things when we seek to destroy systems of evil.
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
For the Church to only engage with Mercy Ministry is the definition of insane.
We compassionately care for those in front of us, seeing the brokenness right there...and then we do it the next day, and the next day, and the day after that. And with God's strength, we will never stop. But we've got stop and ask, "Why is this normal? Why does this keep happening? What's producing these kinds of results?"
Justice and Mercy need to come together.
I confess that I'm new to this neighborhood and new to experiencing sirens racing by at all hours of the night. I grew up with privileges and opportunities that few in this world have and I'm grateful for that. But I'm having to reconcile that some of those things I'm really grateful for? They came at the expense of others. Whether or not I realized it — I was and am part of the Cause.
We don't need to pray about whether we as disciples or our churches should be involved. In the same way that we don't need to pray about whether we should have an affair with a married person or steal money when the opportunities arise. We just know.
But we should pray. Oh Lord, we must pray. Because we are not strong enough, clever enough, skillful enough, willful enough or holy enough to seek justice well.
We need His help. The help of the one who promised wisdom and all the resources of heaven itself when we would pray in his name.
And then we step forward.