Justice For All

I grew up with the phrase, Life’s Not Fair. Usually it was used to stop whining between siblings but it seems to have taken on a whole new global meaning. Life’s not fair means we can write off systemic injustice, using the rational that life was never meant to be fair, so why even try?

equality-doesnt-mean-justiceWhen I was getting master’s degree in Urban Education, most of my classes were on the discrepancies of education between neighborhoods in our city. Wealthier neighborhoods had better public schools; poorer neighborhoods had gaps in funding and resources.

We often looked at this graphic of Equality and Justice: Three children of varying heights are standing on three boxes of the same height, looking over a fence. The tallest child can easily see the baseball game on the other side; the middle child can just see over the fence; and the smallest child, even when boosted, still cannot see over the fence. Justice shows the tallest child standing on the ground, still watching the game over the fence. The middle child is standing on one box, and the smallest child is boosted up on two boxes and now enjoying the game.

ajAerM1_700b_v2This is a great start in understanding the difference between justice and equality. But it’s still imperfect. After I got my degree, the much-used graphic became imperfect (or perhaps it was always imperfect?) and a new one was created. The first two images are the same but a third scenario is added, this time the fence is chainlink and no one needs a box to stand on because they can all easily see through the fence.

(I suppose this one is imperfect, too. Why do we need a fence at all? If this is an image of life, why do we have those who are not at the field? I guess that’s a different conversation wth a lot of nuances and economics to consider.)

For now, I’m thinking of the Pledge of Allegiance that we teach to our children: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Liberty and Justice for all. We teach our schoolchildren these words. We demand respect while saying them, facing the flag, hands on hearts. But our daily practice doesn’t always amount to justice for all. We don’t like the idea of giving someone else our box to stand on, even if we don’t need it ourselves. We don’t like having people watch through the fence when we’ve paid good money for our seats.

The thing is, I’m still sitting in a pretty great seat, right on the third base line. I’m still enjoying the game with an incredible, closeup view. Is it fair that others are watching through a chainlink fence while I’ve paid a lot of money for my tickets? No. But is it changing my experience? It’s not. I still haven’t given up my seat to those watching through the fence.

In a redeemed world, I think we’d all be sitting at the best seats. But for now, let’s remember our own spot in the stands and allow others to watch the game, too.

Where do you sit on the field? What’s your view of the word justice in the Pledge of Allegiance?

BackyardThis post is Day 11 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.


The Slow Walk of Justice

We were driving in the mountains with friends this past week. Frank and Sheunesu in one car with the girls and Susan and I in the other car, since we haven’t graduated to something big and family-friendly yet. In this instance, I was glad that we needed to take two cars. Susan and I were able to connect and converse in ways we just couldn’t with kid music playing.

IMG_6922We were talking about life and this journey and Susan said something about the fact that we are on a long walk with Jesus. I loved this image. So often I hear that life is a marathon, not a sprint. But I don’t like marathons. They are a lot of work and I’m not a huge fan of running.

Walking is something I love. Connecting on a long trail, out in nature. Having time and distance to talk without losing my breath. This image of my walk with God resonated.

Recently, I read a quote from John Muir:

I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!

Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,” To the Holy Land. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not “hike” through them.

John Muir, in a conversation with Albert Palmer. From The Mountain Trail and Its Message.

I’m not a sprinter or a marathoner. I suppose I’m not a hiker, either. I love the idea of being a saunterer. Someone who sees the Holy in this journey, who passes through nature reverently.

I think this posture could be taken in the way our world moves toward justice. An event happens and I want change now. I want results and action and outrage. I want to move forward, to strike while the iron is hot.

But that’s not reality. Justice happens slowly, carefully, with an attitude of sauntering.

I’m not saying that thoughts and prayers are enough or that we simply do nothing because we are so busy reflecting. But I am saying, as a reminder to myself, that life is not a sprint or a marathon. It is a slow walk. It is spending time together, pausing to eat a snack on the trail, remembering to stay together.

I need to remember that the path to justice is walking alongside. It’s walking alongside my neighbors and friends who are oppressed because our laws and regulations are unfair. It’s walking alongside my neighbors and friends who benefit from those same laws and regulations and don’t want to see their rights changed. It’s walking alongside those who are unable to vote, to express their opinion and values. It’s walking alongside those who create the space for our national opinions and values.

It’s easy to go for a saunter with someone who believes what I do, who sees the world similarly. It’s hard to hold space and conversation with someone who I don’t immediately agree with.

I’m learning how deep justice runs. That justice for the poor and widowed means making space for the rich and married, as well. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. There is space for all of us to walk through this holy land.

How do you make space to engage with those who have different beliefs? Are you a sprinter, a marathoner, a hiker, or a saunterer?

BackyardThis post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Rewriting the Victor’s Story

In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue.

monument-of-the-catholic-kings-887605_960_720This is about all I remember from the poem about the Italian explorer who, for better or worse, changed our world forever. I didn’t realize this was part of a longer poem that ends with, The first American? No, not quite. But Columbus was brave and he was bright.

As an art historian, I value knowing and learning history. I think we need to look at how we as a nation have formed and grown. This means looking at it from as holistic perspective as possible – the good, the bad, the ugly. I believe this means rewriting our history books to reflect how history actually happened. I know that the victors get to write the story, but since we know better, why not do better?

Our school district doesn’t observe Columbus Day. It’s a normal day, though I’ll be interested to see what Bea comes home with today. Will they learn this same poem that i did? Will Columbus be the hero of the story? Even though he never set foot in North America, we have claimed him as our own. How will Bea’s teacher handle this with a class of culturally diverse five-year-olds?

There has been a lot of a debate in our nation recently about how to write history. How do we remember well the victories and atrocities that have created our nation’s story? How do we honor and respect our story without glamorizing racism and oppression?

Simple ways to start are by talking with our kids about the real story. What were some of the repercussions of Spain’s conquest? How do we still see the results? I don’t see myself having a conversation about genocide with my kindergartener but I can talk with her about taking land, about forcing people out of their homes, about some of those realities.

For adults, here are just a small handful of resources to get you started. Sometimes simply, listening to the voices of others is the best place to begin this work of justice and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples.

Read Indigenous Authors
My favorites are Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. Erdrich has written many stunning novels, but I’d start with her newest, LaRose about a family who lose their son in a hunting accident and the subsequent call for justice and atonement.

Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a YA novel about a young Spokane Indian boy who attends an all-white high school. Both books tackle identity and history of Indigenous people who live on reservations, and how that shapes their worldview.

Watch the Kairos Blanket Project
The Kairos Blanket Project focuses on Canadian relationships with Indigenous people, however it is not much different from the United States’ relationship with land occupation. It’s a stunning visual presentation on the impact of land distribution over the centuries.

Follow Indigenous Social Media Accounts
On Twitter, Kaitlin Curtiss is my favorite. She’s a smart, articulate activist who blends her Christian faith with her Native American roots. She is also the author of the upcoming book, Glory Happening. I’m about halfway through and am loving her slow, meditative style.

On Instagram, Melaney G. Lyall posts her own homemade jewelry, her Kairos blanket facilitations, as well as thoughtful posts from an Indigenous point-of-view about world events.

Reframe the Story
Spend some time putting yourself in the story. Imagine if someone with weapons far greater than you can even imagine came and took your home, destroyed your neighborhood, killed your family. You cannot fight back, you cannot resist. Or imagine being tricked into thinking that your friendly new neighbors wanted to learn all about your culture, only to enslave you. Really put yourself into this story – not in an idealistic way but in a realistic way. Sometimes, spending time with the story is enough.

I recently read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. She reimagined the early expeditions but in space. It was a fascinating look on human nature and what we might do with the hindsight of history.

I think the key to reconciliation is stopping and recognizing inequality. How can we start to break patterns of injustice, one holiday at a time?

How did you learn about Christopher Columbus? What are some ways you’re learning about the other side of this story?

BackyardThis post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

A Blessing for Justice

On Sundays, I thought I’d highlight a blessing to start our week. This week’s theme is justice and these words from St. Francis seemed a good way to set the tone for our reflections.

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.


St. Francis of Assisi

BackyardThis post is Day 8 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Telling Better Stories

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by what I can’t do in this phase of life – I can’t drive without the demand for kid music; I can’t read more than a paragraph in a book without interruption; I can’t attend protests or marches. Sometimes I wonder what I can do. How can I make a difference in the midst of my own everyday story?

21232021_10155709708059772_4896716415377640771_nOsheta Moore answers that question with grace and enthusiasm. In Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World she reminds me what everyday peacemaking looks like. It looks like getting to know my neighbors; it looks like loving and empowering my kids; it looks like giving myself grace when I mess up.

She reminds me that we all have a story – that our experiences and opinions aren’t formed in a vacuum. How did we get here? What happened to help shape our own narrative? I appreciate that Osheta doesn’t have big solutions to big problems. She has small, doable solutions to everyday problems. Her solutions include things like listening, getting to know our neighbors, dancing in the kitchen and choosing subversive joy in the midst of pain.

Throughout Shalom Sistas, Osheta reminds me that can be the one to change the narrative. I don’t have to believe what I see or what I’m told. I can choose to see good, to love through the seemingly unlovable situations, and to choose to bring peace rather than division.

But being a peacemaker isn’t passive. Like getting your hands dirty in the garden in order to grow flowers and vegetables, peacemaking requires getting messy in order to create something beautiful.

How do you find peace in your everyday? What are ways you choose to tell better stories?

BackyardThis post is Day 7 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Tracing My Own Story

Our speaker yesterday at MOPS led us through exercises in defining freedom in our stories. What are our yeses and nos? How do we achieve those? It was an incredible experience and made me reflect on my journey and what defines me.

vintage-2608934_960_720It also made me think of this journey in seeking justice. So many issues around the very word justice are polarizing. One person’s definition could be completely different from another’s. And it made me reflect that each of our stories have a defining moment of justice. No one responds to world events based solely on their news channel of choice. Though we may be influenced by those particular sources, our own stories and life experiences are really the lens that shades our response.

I grew up in a conservative military town. My family isn’t part of the military but I was surrounded by families and friends who were. I didn’t really think about gun ownership rights and privileges until I moved to France and was in discussion with those who had strong opposing opinions. When I trace my story, those experiences and conversations set me on a path to discovering my own opinions.

I’m thinking about looking at the issues that give me a strong reaction and mapping out my own journey with them. Why do I feel certain way about immigration rights and reform, about gun ownership rights and reform, about education rights and reform? Perhaps by really looking at my own story, I’ll better understand the stories of others.

My friend and fellow blogger, Andrew commented on my post about guns and I appreciate his point of view. (Check out his full, thoughtful comment here, but I wanted to leave you with this:

The problem facing our country is not gun control or an erosion of constitutional rights; it’s far deeper, and it’s called alienation.
We’ve become a country so fragmented by the ability to please ourselves, without having to plug into a physical community, that we consider ourselves virtual citizens of the world…but how many times have you heard the term ‘civic pride’ used recently, except in mocking scorn?
Just as alienation begets indifference, community begets responsibility and accountability. And that is what we need, now more than ever.
How do you step back to recognize your own story in your opinions? Have you ever taken time to map out your journey in relation to certain issues?


Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “story.”

BackyardThis post is Day 6 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

A Vulnerable God Invites Vulnerable People

cartridges-2166491_960_720One of our first arguments was about gun control. Frank saw the reasoning to own a gun; I just couldn’t wrap my mind around needing protection of that kind. I have trouble imagining taking someone else’s life to save my own.

This week, my daily dose of Henri Nouwen arrived in my inbox. It was an incredibly timely reflection about laying down arms in order to practice communion. He says,

When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another. We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and pistols attached to our belts. When we break bread together we leave our arms – whether they are physical or mental – at the door and enter into a place of mutual vulnerability and trust.

Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen

I think this so perfectly captures my inability to understand arming myself. Nouwen goes on to say, “The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal.”

How can we practice peace and vulnerability if we don’t trust our neighbors? I understand my privilege to live in an incredibly safe neighborhood – one where we leave our doors unlocked and garage doors open. If I lived elsewhere, maybe I would feel differently.

At its core, though I think there’s value in trusting first. How can we love our neighbors if we hold a level of distrust toward them? How can we trust that God will care for us if we feel like we need extreme levels of protection to ensure this? How can we live in openness and faith if we cling to our fear?

I know that I fear other things – things that don’t require guns for protection but that do create a foundation of fear and distrust. Conversations about gun control and protection make me reflect on ways in which I act out fear rather than faith; when I rely on a foundation of mistrust rather than love.

I know there are no easy answers. Our neighbors are gun owners and if everyone were as intentional and cautious as they are, I would have no reservations about citizens owning weapons. I know there are lots of ways of interpreting the Second Amendment. I know that there are ideologies and layers that will take years of shifting and unpacking to reach an agreement.

But I do think, in the wake of tragedy like the one we just saw in Las Vegas, we need to examine where we find our trust and how we actively show our love to our neighbors.

(For an enlightening history of the Second Amendment, I’d highly recommend the book The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman.)

How do you balance fear and faith? How does your faith guide your view on gun control and gun rights? Any books you’d recommend on this topic?

BackyardThis post is Day 5 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.