Doing justice is hard work. It’s hard figuring out how to do it and it’s hard to do. It’s slow moving and tiring. It usually involves just showing up, which isn’t necessarily all that fulfilling in itself.
One of the things that we at CMC have going for us is that we do not work for justice alone. We are a part of a coalition of 50 congregations across Franklin County, known collectively as BREAD (Building Responsibility, Equality, And Dignity), who identity one significant issue every year and work for justice in one specific way on that issue.
This week I’m in Orlando, Florida with ten others from Columbus and 180 others from around the country at the annual DART (Direct Action and Research Training) clergy conference. I apologize if this feels like an unjust location to be in this week. Not to rub it in, but during a couple hours of free time this morning several of us went for a hike in a nearby local conversation area and discovered a wild orange tree ripe with fruit, which we promptly ate. Suffering for the cause. But I digress…
The keynote speaker this week is Old Testament scholar, and Hebrew prophet incarnate, Walter Brueggemann. WB has done extensive work in helping people of faith think of justice work within the framework of the Exodus story, overcoming Pharaoh’s narrative of scarcity for Yahweh’s narrative of abundance. WB traces the narrative from Pharaoh’s nightmare of a coming famine and Joseph’s role in interpreting the dream and implementing a system of collecting reserves, to a gradual monopolization of all resources in Egypt as the famine comes and Joseph demands that people pay for the stored up food first with their money, then with their cattle, then with their bodies and labor, leading to enslavement and harsh enforcement of that enslavement. WB’s sequence for this is Scarcity -> Anxiety -> Accumulation -> Monopoly -> Violence. It’s a sequence repeated through the Bible and throughout history, reinforced by fear which shuts down the ability to imagine any alternative. In an appropriate jab toward us pastors WB pointed out Genesis 47:22 which notes that Pharaoh took control of all the land of all the inhabitants, except for the priests, because Pharaoh needs priests (and pastors) to bless his way of running things.
Imagining another way is the beginning of justice work, but when people of faith confront the systems in place we are often told the narrative of scarcity – there’s not enough. Not enough money to invest in this new program, not enough resources for this group of people. Meanwhile, money and resources are spent on things that benefit small groups of people with more power. Justice work involves building power through organizing people. You most likely know that the key show of power for BREAD is the Nehemiah Action event, happening this year on Monday, May 4, at 7pm. Might as well get that on your calendar : )
I am finding this conference to be both challenging and encouraging as I think about how we at Columbus Mennonite work for justice in Franklin County. It’s hard work and because we join with others it means we sometimes focus on issues that don’t seem to directly affect our everyday lives, but it is work that flows directly out of our understanding of the call of Christ.