Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wrestling with the Ruler Passionate for Justice

Guys, I'm wrestling.

Every time I see/type/say that phrase I hear it in the voice of my pastors from St. Louis, "I'm wrastling! Are you wrastling this mornin'?"

Well yes, Pastor Tony, this evening, I am.

This afternoon I received word that there will not be justice from Denver's "Justice Department" for my friend Michael Lee Marshall, who was killed while in the Denver Sheriff's custody in November.

I mourned the loss of this friend, who I and other dear friends knew from Network Coffee House. You can actually see Michael featured as the first photo on Network's website.

I mourned yet again a few weeks ago when the Michael's autopsy was finally released, bringing fresh grief and a deep sense of horror at the brutality of his killing. His death was ruled a homicide, which essentially just means he did not commit suicide. Even death by lethal injection as a result of the death penalty is considered a homicide on the autopsy report...which says something very significant about the death penalty, but that's another topic for another time.

So as I mourned again today, it was not fresh grief, but something slowly built and deepened like the deep cracks embedded in the hands and feet of my homeless friends - cuts never allowed to heal continually broken over until they will likely never fully repair.

The Bible states with abundant clarity God's hatred of injustice and His deep care for the poor. Proverbs, the book of wisdom, declares, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker." Those who spend themselves on behalf of the poor will have lives that light up the darkness and cast away the night. 

As I read through the prophet Isaiah's words tonight, I was struck by the promise of a ruler who was passionate for justice, one who would set things right. 

"'When this is all over,' Judah answers,
'the tyrant toppled
the killing at an end,
all signs of these cruelties long gone, 
a new government of love will be established
in the venerable David tradition. 
A Ruler you can depend upon
will head this government, 
a Ruler passionate for justice, 
a Ruler quick to set things right.'"
-Isaiah 16:4-5 The Message 

Oh! My first emotion was joy. A Ruler who is passionate for justice? One quick to set things right? This is a promise that brings hope, it means these injustices and these power-hungry people taking advantage of the weak, poor, and powerless will not rule forever.

But then I think more and find to places of wrestling...

Why, if true religion is to care for the widow and orphan in their distress (read: care for the poor,  marginalized, and oppressed), are so many people who call themselves Christians failing to follow Christ's religion? 

And why, if God is one quick to bring righteousness and bring justice, does our world look so very wrong? Why is there still such great injustice? Why was Michael Lee killed? Why did he have to live in a world where being black, homeless, and mentally ill was a death sentence? 

These are not popular questions, there is no answer. I'll be the Christian that admits, I do not know.
And I can tell you also that no other Christian actually knows the answer to "why is God good but the world full of evil?" Everyone has an answer, but no one actually knows. If we did, we'd understand God, and I just don't think it's up to me to understand and answer for God.

So here's what I'm wrestling over. 

Perhaps (some of) the answer to my second question is found in the first. I believe in God's sovereign love, He grants us free will. And as we all learned from Batman, "with great power comes great responsibility. And perhaps we have misplaced, misused, and greatly abused this powerful gift of freedom. With it, we have not chosen the right path of generous love, selves spent on the poor and oppressed, and the choice to see first with compassion and last with judgment (as a side note: I believe if we were to truly lead with compassion, we would never get to judgment). 

Perhaps we can never know the answer to why God does not stop all bad things from happening. I could theorize and have ideas of why I think this is, but this isn't the time or space for such thoughts. Rather, I will share my choices when faced with these thoughts I wrestle through. 

First is that I will choose to believe that God is loving and that His very being is good. I will choose to believe that God is passionate for justice, that He is in the process of righting all wrongs, wiping away all tears, and setting every captive free (another blog post will be about who exactly is the captive, and I think it's a broader term than we'd like to admit). 

Second is that I will choose to live the life called for in Isaiah 58. I will not fall by the wayside, so entrenched in my internal debates and wrestlings that I am paralyzed from action. I will choose to spend myself on behalf of the poor. I will choose to fight for the rights and lives of those marginalized, whether they are oppressed because of their poverty, sexuality, skin color, religion, gender, or more. I will choose to share my food with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into my home, put clothes on the shivering ill-clad, and be available to my own family (Isaiah 58, paraphrased from The Message).
So at the end of all this wrestling, this thinking, these prayers, is a choice.

What will you believe, and how will you choose to live? 

I implore you, do not be among those who pretend to do what is right, who say the right things and go through the right religious steps all the while failing to see the poor human being on the street corner, holding a cardboard sign and asking for a little help. 

"Cardboard Sign"
by Katy Owens

Cardboard doubles
as shredded sheets
"Spare a little change,
trying to make ends meet

Just seeking refuge
from the cold and sleet"
Well, the Savior didn't have a place
to lay His head
So maybe they're closer to Him
than I am
But people see the signs
All they do is stare
Wonder, what's he done
and where's she been? 
I couldn't cast the stone
cuz my record ain't clean
No one gave me
the judgement rod
And you, sir, don't look like God
Driving by
rolling up your windows and
down your nose
"Probably for drugs,"
your judgments say
"Lazy bum will
squander it away"
As if you and I
never fail, please don't forget
we've just been given
a better circumstance,
missed some unfortunate
Do you squander love?
Waste your privilege? 
We're all the same
Skin bones and blood
And I know I'm
begging for change
on the streets of human love
Forgetting I've been given grace
from the Divine
Covered by love that looks like
water blood and wine
Maybe my friend
the "homeless bum"
is really a bit closer
to the One