Co-creating community as a Body running together

Under the heading, “Everyday Justice: Life-Changing Advocacy,” Matt Jolley at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity writes, 1

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the LORD their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them –
    he remains faithful for ever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
     the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,

    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns for ever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5–10

I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
    and upholds the cause of the needy.
Surely the righteous will praise your name,
    and the upright will live in your presence.

Psalm 140:12–13

With reference to these scripture passages, Matt writes:

‘Early on in the pandemic, Madonna infamously referred to COVID-19 as a ‘great equaliser’.

The fact that she said it from a bath full of rose petals was just one reason to call her statement into question. Such ‘equalisers’ don’t really exist. Dig a little deeper and you’ll almost always find that the rich, powerful, and privileged will have an easier time of it.

Black and South Asian people have been hit hardest by Coronavirus, white-collar workers have continued working from home whilst other sectors have been decimated, and rich nations are experiencing a vaccine-fuelled recovery whilst the global majority continue to struggle.

The Bible is no stranger to such inequality. Righteousness is fundamentally relational, but because of sin these relationships are damaged – we turn away from God and in on ourselves, leading to greed and oppression. Fallen people then form broken structures, leading to institutional injustice.

Imagine a 400-metre race where some competitors had a massive head start. It wouldn’t be fair for the whole field to start at the same time. In the same way, where inequality exists it’s insufficient simply to treat everyone the same and assume it’ll all work out. We need to address inequality and the systems that cause it.

And we have a God who cares especially for the poor. Psalms such as the ones cited above show what John Stott calls ‘a God who desires justice and asks us, as his people… to champion the cause of the poor and the powerless’.

But who are the powerless? Scripture consistently refers to the widow, the fatherless, and the foreigner. Equivalents today might include the child in social care, the homeless man, the asylum seeker, the trauma survivor, the lonely elderly woman. God’s priority is to ‘secure justice’ for those on the margins, and we’re called to join this work.

So, practically, how do we use our everyday lives to undo inequality? One way is through advocacy, partnering with God to restore social structures and empower the disadvantaged. Not ignoring or abandoning our privilege, but stewarding it lovingly on behalf of others.

This might look like listening and learning to find out where inequality exists on our frontlines. It might involve our jobs, working for justice as well as for profit. It might mean signing petitions, or ‘upholding the cause’ of the voiceless in everyday conversations with friends, families, or neighbours. As we advocate for the marginalised, may our lives reflect God’s priorities.

Matt Jolley
Editor, Word for the Week

How might you advocate for ‘the poor and powerless’ on your frontlines this week? Join the conversation in the comments below.

In reflecting on injustice and unrighteousness in life, Matt invokes the metaphor of a race, in which some ‘competitors’ in fact have a structural and therefore unfair advantage. It’s a reasonable metaphor, and Madonna’s ‘thoughts from the bath’ fittingly illustrate it. Perhaps we can move on by recalling this:

An exhausted Jonny Brownlee is helped over the finish line by his brother Alistair who gives up the chance to win the race in a dramatic end to the World Triathlon Series in Cozumel, Mexico, on Sunday.

19 Sept 2016

See: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/world-triathlon-series-jonny-brownlee-carried-over-finish-line-brother-alistair-collapsing-a7315736.html
The Brownlee brothers racing through Hyde Park in 2012

Alistair switched his self-identity from ‘competitor’ to ‘sacrificial and loving brother’ because he recognised two things: (i) that Jonny is his brother, whose self-dignity allows him to ‘run his own race’ with independence, but also (ii) that Jonny was suffering such that his health was in question. Alistair changed his ‘rules of life’ to promote brotherhood above winning, not to leave the race but so that they finished the race together.
So ‘advocating for the poor and powerless’ on our ‘frontlines’ requires us to evaluate our identification of our fellow humans as sibling life travellers, and also to evaluate the (Matt switches metaphors here) race/ warfare we are engaged in. Apostle Paul himself used the race metaphor in 1 Cor 9 in a particular way:

‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.’

1 Cor 9 24-27 ESV

In Paul’s usage, this ‘race’ is only applicable to me. The other ‘competitors’ are not my brethren or ‘not yet believers.’ You have your own race to run, in Paul’s 1 Cor 9 deployment of the metaphor. [Paul mixes metaphors as well- first running, then boxing!] But traditionally we’ve read this poorly. We should bring other modes of thought to this picture; collective and community-oriented thinking. I have to admit that my efforts to ‘run’ well depend on supporting and partnering with others. We also get to determine what the race/war actually is; the ‘rules’ or ‘terms of engagement’. A socially just life and socially just mission are such that ‘the winner’ is corporate, not individual, where we have corporately agreed on worthy goals and just means of engagement, and where the dignity of individual endeavour is balanced with community solidarity. As I look at 1 Cor 9 now, I see the collective ‘Church at Work’ crossing the finishing line as a body, the Body of Christ, and so we receive that winners wreath together. So the Head, Christ, gets the glory, as its His graces that enable this miracle of internal transformation and corporate unity.

Chicago Marathon races down Columbus Drive. Michael Carruth.

1 https://licc.org.uk/resources/everyday-justice-life-changing-advocacy

Image: Sum_of_Marc on Flickr. The Brownlee Brothers. The Men’s Triathlon at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Olympic Triathlon took place at Hyde Park on Tuesday 7th August. 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image: michael-carruth-SYYdTxXH5_4-unsplash

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

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