A lot has happened in the world recently.
President Trump has visited the UK, and been off to see President Putin. Our government has been shedding ministers like a snake sheds its skin. Our European friends look at us in disbelief as self-serving politicians, well, serve themselves and seem to not to care very much about the future of the country. Brutal war continues in Syria; homophobia continues its reign in many of our churches; the poor keep getting poorer. Underneath it all, behind all the headlines and the tripe, injustice grows in leaps and bounds.
Justice is a major theme of the work of Peterson Toscano, one of the people that Modern Church is supporting at Greenbelt this year. There’s a piece on Peterson’s website entitled ‘Everything is connected’ and it’s a really good place to get hold of where Peterson is coming from, and to get a sense of his unique style; have a look before you come to Greenbelt and join in the conversation while you’re there.
I don’t remember now if it was Vladimir Illych Lenin or John Lennon who quipped once that ‘everything is related to everything else’, and Peterson gets this really well. Everything is related to everything else. You cannot act in isolation, we cannot live without complicity in the world’s great problems (or the problems of the woman next door). What happens to me, or what I do, happens/is done to everyone.
All the things that matter most to our politicians seem to be the things that God hates the most, and they’re all forms of injustice: despising and maltreating the foreigners in our midst; picking on the least able or least well in our society; grinding the face of the poor into their own poverty; treating the earth as if it was disposable; cheating, lying, corruption. Not doing these things is not only a measure of a good society, it’s a measure of godliness.
Justice is one of the golden threads that runs through the whole of the Jewish and Christian understanding of God. Nowhere is this spelled out more clearly than in the writings of the great Prophets of the Hebrew Bible. God, it seems, is not very interested in the forms of religious practice we have, or the religious words we use, or how well we follow the bishops. God, it seems, wants God’s view of the world to be written on our hearts. It has to become instinctive. And justice becomes instinctive only when it is grounded in love.
Learning the instincts of justice and love grow out of acting in just and loving ways. An Anglican thinker in the 1500s, Richard Hooker, thought that holiness – acting in just and loving, that is godly ways – comes before the knowledge of God. What he means by that is that as we act in just and loving ways, so we will begin to understand a God who is justice and love. If you try to wait to act in loving justice until you understand God, you will wait a long time…
Acting, living justice takes serious imagination. We have to think outside the usual boxes. When injustice is not addressed, and those with power shrug and say ‘that’s just how the world is’, we need to remember that love and justice say the world need not be the way it is. When the vast inequalities of wealth in our society and our world are not addressed, and the rich say ‘that’s the way markets work’, love and justice say that markets need not be the way they are. Whatever the injustice, our God – love and justice incarnate – says the world need not be the way it is: love justice, act mercifully, walk humbly with God.
The world need not be the way it is. Where will your imagination take you (come and tell us on the stand Modern Church is sharing with Inclusive Church and Watch)? But living out loving justice is not just a practical thing; there’s a spiritual dimension to it as well, to opening your imagination to the possibilities of God. Opening yourself to the God of justice and love, is to open yourself to the work of God’s Spirit in the world; it is to open ourselves to the same Spirit who leads us from where we are to truth, to where God would have us be. But, as we feed our spirits, so we also feed our minds: we learn – to see differently, to think differently, to act differently. Feed your spirit and feed your mind: see, think, act.
Greenbelt this year has much that can help us think outside the box, to use our imagination to see beyond the usual. Look forward to seeing you there.