Monday, September 26, 2011

S-LC Covenant 2011-2012

Our covenant this year is composed of a series of questions focusing on love, justice, hope, humility, and presence. Two questions in particular have been swimming around in my mind since our written covenant was completed:

How does mercy envelop justice? How does mercy shape justice in light of the coming kingdom?

Let me start with a story:
In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The owner goes out to the marketplace early in the morning to hire workers. He agrees to pay them a certain amount for their work. He hires more workers in the middle of the day for the same wage, and he hires more workers in the evening, again for the same wage. At the end of the day, as all the workers are receiving their wages, the workers hired in the morning begin to complain that the workers hired later in the day are receiving the same wage as they even though they worked for longer. The owner of the vineyard says this: "I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

I throw around the term justice a lot, partly because I think the theoretical idea of justice is such a beautiful ideal. However, I also recognize the need to think about what true justice means for Christians, for non-Christians, for the world.

My priest talked about justice a couple Sundays ago, and I found his thoughts insightful and surprisingly poignant. In human terms justice, or fairness, he said, comes in three types: the justice of common rules we follow, the justice of inclusion, and the justice of distribution. Common rules and distribution are familiar to us. We have a judicial system that, in its own way, attempts to ensure that wrongs are righted or at least that some form of payment is made for a breach of law. We hear all the time about distribution of wealth and the failures of distributive utopias.

As kids we probably all threw at least one fit saying, "It's not fair! She won't let me play!" As adults, injustice concerning inclusion holds more serious social consequences, so again we have laws with varying degrees of efficiency prohibiting discrimination.
I think it's worth thinking about the justice of inclusion as it relates to Christians, though. The Christianity I was familiar with while growing up played by the rules of inclusion/exclusion. If I was "saved" I would be permitted to enter the pearly gates. However, if I refused God's free gift of grace, I would be separated from God forever in a very, very bad place. That was it. Yes or no. One choice. Boom. I have found this concept increasingly hard to swallow as I've met people of different faiths earnestly trying to live well in the world while seeking truth.

At this point some of you are probably thinking of Love Wins, but I hope you'll hear me out. How does mercy envelop justice? Is God not a loving and merciful, as well as just, God? Is this inclusion/exclusion rule what we mean when we say justice will roll down like waters?
Call me an universalist, but I have a hunch that true justice means more than that wronged "good" people receive the satisfaction of knowing that those who trespassed against them were punished thoroughly or even that we "were elected" or said a certain prayer. True justice, perhaps, can be tempered with mercy.

How does mercy shape justice in light of the coming kingdom? Well, back to what my priest said. According to him, Jesus' parable of the vineyard workers may shed some light on the topic at hand. The owner of the vineyard chose to give the workers the same pay regardless of the time they spent working, and then he said, "
Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" God sees much that we cannot. Perhaps, our place is not in telling God what he can do with his own money, if you will; but rather to live well in love with the knowledge and wisdom we have been given.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know nearly enough to speak conclusively on this topic, but I hope I can speak from my own experiences and internal tousles with these questions of justice and faith. My intent was not to step on toes but to communicate the heart of openness to questioning with which we composed our covenant.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lesson in Humility

First of all, the start of the year has been wonderful. The new staff had 2 great weeks of training where we bonded, became experts on service-learning, and pulled off StreetFest smoothly as a team after Emily Wolffis spent the summer preparing. It was a blast.

We wrote a new covenant. Some of you may remember last year's two word phrases. This year is quite a bit different, as is typical with a tide of new people. We have picked 5 main words that we will focus on this year. They are love, justice, hope, humility, and patience. Along with each word, we have written several questions that we will seek to "answer." These questions will never be fully answered, but maybe someone else can expound on the covenant itself in another post.

I realize that the title "a lesson in humility" is difficult to gulp down in and of itself. It's not really an attractive heading and some people may have even stopped reading right then and there. Who really wants to learn how to be humble? That is certainly not our natural mode in life. We prefer pride and self absorption, don't we? It is a harsh reality. I would rather think about my day and the set of problems placed on my plate, rather than spend time trying to understand someone else's worries. And helping them? Boy, that's a stretch. I am a college student, a nursing student, in fact. I will help people the rest of my life, why must I set aside time now to invest in understanding and helping others? Right now my sole purpose in life is to grow and learn as much as I can.

Here's the thing, I grow through my experiences and interactions with other people and the attitude I take while doing that changes how much I will truly learn. If you really set back and think about how much you are learning from other people, versus how much you are putting into other people, it's often disproportionate. Disproportionate because they teach you so much more than you could ever hope to give back. This is true for many relationships in life. Professor to student is certainly like that. I would hope that some of your friendships are like that. What about parent to son or daughter?* Realizing this truth is helpful in intentionally taking on a humble mode of existence. It is helpful in being open to other worldviews (yeah, I was going to try and avoid Calvin language, but I can't help it.) It is helpful in finding a sense of peace about your own imperfections. It is helpful in so many ways, I'm sure you can think of more.

This is the Service-Learning Center mantra. Reciprocity. Learning to serve and serving to learn. It's become so engrained in the way I think, I am hoping I've said enough here to fully explain. If anything, I hope that this is just a starting point for peer conversations. Also, feel free to add feedback or correct me in the comments. :)
Thank you for reading.

*There are plenty of cases where this is not true, after all, we are broken people. I have not meant to be hurtful and I apologize if this is off mark for anyone. Perhaps your relationship with parents is not ideal. I hope that you have then found a mentoring relationship that serves a similar purpose.

-Melanie Roorda, ABSL Coordinator