I have thought often of the complementary, simultaneously contrasting, visions of charity and justice. My 8th grade teacher first introduced me to this idea — I was terribly offended at the time. Shocking as it was then, now I am gripped by the idea that charity sometimes obstructs justice, although justice often can’t unfold without charity. Alas, the ever-present both-and. Charity can offer relief to ease the symptoms that the disease of injustice creates; justice addresses the disease of injustice, and the root of why it occurs.
As we enter into Lent, I want to ponder new creation. N. T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope has accompanied me in previous Lenten seasons, and this year it will again. Wright speaks to the new creation that Jesus ushered in, and how we participate in that new creation through kingdom work. I do not think our engagement as Christ-followers stops with charity. No, our call goes far beyond that if new creation is truly what we participate in. Instead, it will extend to those justice-oriented projects and participations that may seem purposeful, at times pointless, irresistible, foreign, even foolish. The types of projects that provoke, confound, and beg the question, “Why?”
This month, I’ll be meditating on these ideas, asking how I can best participate in them, and how our community might also better engage both charity and justice. I’ll be meeting with our core team of faith to best identify how the faith community can best engage in relief and systems-change; how our intern Haley can actively participate in charity and justice during her time with Uffizi; how a documentary can reveal human trafficking in Santa Barbara, with the aim of addressing injustices and mobilizing a community to change them.
At the Missions Conference, Brenda Salter-McNeil identified proximity as a key factor in social justice: Do we dare get close enough? That, to me, marks both true charity and justice. If we get close enough to care, if we move ourselves away from comfort and towards an experience that may jolt us deeply, even completely, will we move into the neighborhood, as Jesus did? Often I don’t have answers, but I feel that I, that we, are asking better questions. And we are invited, even compelled, to the conversation. I look forward to continuing it.