Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Justice in the Burbs: Breathing Room

I remember thinking this just can't be right
Got to be a better way to live your life
Slow like a soft southern breeze
Nobody take time to breathe
Everybody always rush, rush, rush around
~ Edie Brickell

Once upon a time, I had a really great concept for a post about anxiousness. Of course, in my busyness I never got around to finishing the series, which kind of negated the moral of the story. I had all kinds of great quotes and illustrations floating around in my head to expound upon the difference between living for today, living as if there is no tomorrow, and living in light of tomorrow.

Watch as, before your very eyes, I attempt the abbreviated version of my original outline, and the death-defying stunt of tying it all in to Justice in the Burbs.

Justice in the Burbs uses two parallel methods to bring readers into the discussion. One is the general prose teaching, and the other is the story of a fictional suburban family that gets drawn into God’s heart for justice. Early on in the book, we are reminded that we live in a disruption-avoidance culture. In the subsequent story vignette, one of the characters is asked by a well-meaning friend, But do you really have time to get involved in all that? You just agreed to lead one of our women’s Bible studies.

A big theme in Justice in the Burbs is identifying things in our lives that keep us from pursuing acts of justice. Some of these things are privilege, comfort and safety. An overarching distraction is busyness and, more often than not, busyness with really good commitments.

Living for Today
When we live for today, we tend to be affected solely by those people and concerns that surround us and are most immediate. We fail to see the big picture of our world and how God is moving in it, and we sometimes fail to see how God is moving in our neighborhoods and our congregations.
(p. 43) Yet frequently the stuff of this normal life so dominates our time and attention that we fail to see issues greater than ourselves. If we are never interrupted, and if we do not intentionally strive to raise people to value the stranger and the needy in the ways God does, everyday activities will crowd out God’s call on our lives.
Living for today focuses all our attention on our (and our immediate family’s) personal needs, comfort, safety and satisfaction. It fails to look beyond our selfishness into what it means to truly love our neighbor more than ourselves, because loving our neighbor will always call us to deny ourselves in some way.

Living As If There is No Tomorrow
Living as if there is no tomorrow can be a bit trickier. In this case, we can often be aware of all of the good that needs to be done around us, and feel a responsibility to do it all now. This is often the state of mind that leads to anxiousness and exhaustion.
(p. 58) We even “church” too hard, some of us spending three nights a week at church-related activities: youth group, prayer meeting, and leadership meetings, to name a few. It seems as though we Americans do all we can to feel busy. In fact, the prevailing answer to the question “How are you?” is no longer, “Fine, and you?” but “Busy!” This allows us to feel like a player; a bootstrap puller, not a loafer or someone without goals or a to-do list a mile long, not like someone who isn’t really going anywhere far. But does all this activity keep us from thinking about the bigger issues of life?
Early on in my faith, I was literally at the church Monday night, Wednesday night, and all day Sunday. Often, in-between I was at additional church activities and/or in our high school campus Christian club meetings. I was committed. When, as a young adult, I became involved with a church plant, I still found myself signing on to every “service opportunity” that presented itself, not to mention community groups and Bible studies. By the time I realized how stretched my resources had become, and how little I was interacting with anyone outside of the church, it was too late – an “no” to a request to serve or participate equaled a rejection of the program or need presented. Even in my current congregation, I can be found talking to myself and remembering the phrase I heard from Margaret Feinberg: the existence of a need does not equal a call.

Those who live as if there is no tomorrow may recognize the myriad of needs that exist in our homes, our congregations, our neighborhoods, and our world… but they may also feel the unrealistic (and unhealthy) belief that they have to meet them all (AND NOW!).

Living in Light of Tomorrow
Take a deep breath. There is an alternative to living selfishly or living anxiously. We have the option to live in awareness of the needs that surround us, and how our life choices intertwine with those needs, and to make wise decisions about how our gifts, skills and resources can best be used in just and merciful ways.
(p. 161) The first step toward living justly is to consider small, repeatable steps that will move you forward.
(p. 188) Deeply rooted in our modern culture is the belief that if something worked in one person’s life, then systematizing that process and offering it to others would guarantee success in their lives. How I wish that were so. We have sold our hopes to the promises of the quick fix. We embrace each new technological revolution with enthusiasm. In the church, we often embrace each new church growth idea with the same level of enthusiasm. Perhaps you think that living justly is the new marketing method to grow your congregation. But issues of justice run deeper; right to the very heart of a God desperately in love with this world and deeply hopeful that you will play some part in the redemption of all creation. Causing the world to be more just will require a commitment for the long haul. Some of the greatest injustices of our world are the result of hundreds of years of actions. It would be na├»ve to think that days, weeks, months, or even years will solve the problem. There are no silver bullets.
(p. 190) In order to live justly, you must begin to see yourself as part of a plan that is already thousands of years in the making, with no knowledge of when that plan will end.
God took on flesh and lived among us as Jesus, and he extended an invitation for us to join him in building his kingdom. That’s pretty darn exciting, and not the type of invitation you toss in the junk mail pile. He told us a bit of what this kingdom would look like, and even went so far as to tell us that the kingdom is already within us, so we can start living like its already here.

The kingdom is, and it is not yet.

It is not until he returns. It is in every step we take toward making it so. We see the big picture, and we are helping to paint it day by day.

I’m a sucker for Mary & Martha, and I have to say I think poor Martha gets a bad rap:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-40)
Martha opened her home, she made preparations for her guests, she wanted to make sure that everyone was cared for and comfortable. Martha had a heart for other people. I feel for her. There was work to be done and her sister, who lived under her roof, was not helping. Sure, Mary was spending time with their guest and listening to him. That’s great… Martha would like to spend time with him too… however, Martha realized that if they all sat at his feet and talked, nothing would get prepared and she would look like a bad hostess. If her sister would just help her, everything would get done quicker and then they could all sit and enjoy each other’s company.

Can I get an “amen”?

But our Creator reminds us to breathe. He does not say that Martha’s preparations are bad. What he is concerned about is her busyness and her anxiousness. I can almost hear him continuing: Settle down, Martha. Everything will get done. Come sit her and enjoy my company. It’s ok if the presentation isn’t perfect, I appreciate your heart and I really just want to spend time with you. Come have a seat, and I’ll help you in the kitchen in a bit.

We have been called into a journey, a process, a coming kingdom. And even the one who sacrificed everything, that the kingdom may be possible, took time to rest, to laugh, to enjoy meals and conversations with friends, to breathe. He touched, he listened, he taught and he loved, and he calls us to do the same. It shouldn’t be overwhelming, it should be exciting.

We will have to make priorities.

We will have to open our eyes and our hearts to the needs around us.

We will have to learn to say no to some things we want to do.

We will have to learn to say yes to some things we may not want to do.

We will have to make room in our lives for interruption.

But, in the end…
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:31-46)

1 comment:

Janna said...

We own this book. It's been sitting on the shelves for about a year. We had a hard time with the fiction bit, and never got into it. We'll have to try again sometime.