It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears…

Water Lilly Pond and Weeping Willow by Claude Monet

If justice leads to anything it should lead to Hope.

This is certainly the biblical story of justice; a story which weaves the bright white threads of the Creative Desire of a God of Love through a tapestry of colourful and diverse patterns of human history.

For hope to exist there must first be despair or at least, the distinct possibility of it…for why and what would we hope for if we have nothing to hope against?

This is perhaps, what the late Stuart Adamson is getting at when he wrote his refrain ‘It’s the river of hope from the pool of tears’. While his own struggle for life-sustaining meaning ended pre-maturely, he -like many other artists before and since- makes vital links through his lyrics and music with the big questions of life; questions about justice which touch us all; rural and urban, poor and rich:

High above the forest in an unseen place
Where the clouds will gather on another race
In the dungeon depths of an unknown cave
There’s a stream that springs with a world to save

And it gathers up strength as it rolls along
And it gathers up hope for everyone
But it runs to plains where the farmlands weep
Through the brand new gardens where rich men sleep

He perceived that Hope connects us all as injustice connects us all. We each connect to Hope at different times and in different ways on our Journey when we encounter for ourselves the Life-denying, Breath-taking impacts of injustice. The penetrating question he asks: ‘will we know how to use Hope to good effect?’ echoes eerily down the corridors of human history. Sustained Hope is deeply transformative. Borne out of an encounter which often provokes and requires a change of direction in our thinking, attitudes, emotions and not least, our behaviours and patterns of life. Importantly too, it requires a lively imagination. Injustice has a habit of squashing imagination and suffocating Life-Breath. We forget how to dream the Dreams of Justice and Shalom; we forget to believe that they are Gifts which are contingent on our unwrapping of them. Hope awakened and energised by the lament of anger and tears reconnects us to Life-Breath:

I’m gonna find it, I’m gonna prove it
And show the whole damned world how to use it
When I find it, when I prove it
I know that some damned fool is gonna lose it
For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

The ugly consequences of injustice in our world can help to wake us up from our False Rest and we need to find and enter the River of Hope to lead us to our True Rest. Hope isn’t blind, but rather clear-eyed, tear-washed vision:

Past the chemical plant where the junk flows in
By the nuclear project where the children swim
Under bridges in a city where the bodies float
And the summer smell keeps the flies remote

…When we are awake, we cannot not see; we cannot be blind in the face of the reality which we perceive and we cannot fail to ask the question ‘why?':

Through the swamp of a ghetto where the mission was lost
Where the dope is king and the silver boss
Past the trash and wreckage from the garbage trucks
Past the oil slick where the jail boat docks

…When we are awake, we cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by the false prophets of peace who promise power and force will secure Hope and Shalom-Peace:

To a home in some sea at the nations end
Where the submarine is freedom’s friend
If we need that river like we did before
There can be no need for it lives no more

This clear-eyed vision is one which sees injustice for what it is-a travesty of lost human opportunity to be Creative, Connected and truly Alive; an ugly hole in the tapestry of life which provokes grief and despair; a Party-Spoiler of the highest order:

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

For it’s the river of hope, from the pool of tears
It’s the river of hope, it’s the river we lost for years

A recent interview with Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, highlights the biblical tradition of prophetic lament which  both recognises and mourns the disasters of injustice precisely because it has sourced its clear-eyed vision of  what the Community of Shalom-Peace should look like in scripture and revelation:

…the laments in the books of Psalms and Lamentations are all an expression of grief but they are also an expression of hope. They are an insistence that things cannot remain this way and they must be changed. Such prayers are partly an address to God but they are also a communal resolve to hang in and take transformative action. Unless that kind of grief and rage and anger is put to speech, it can never become energy. So I believe the transformative function of such prayers is that it transforms energy and rage into positive energy.

Brueggemann refers to ‘honest speech’ as a mode of waking us up to ‘honest action’ which has the energy to transform:

We live in a bourgeois cocoon of niceness and anything that breaks out of that is very threatening and disruptive to people. We have to work towards having honest speech with each other. When we have honest speech we have to speak out about the things that are unjust and unfair. We need a more honest and abrasive speech to bring our talk into connection with our social reality.

Whilst he recognises that we all have different responses and functions in response to the injustice and brutality in the world around us, he nevertheless draws our attention to the authorising of scripture of those who pursue ‘honest dialogue’ at a time when manipulative monologue, smoke screens and chimera have become the norm:

It is in the narratives and the psalms. Beginning with the Exodus narrative and the Elijah narrative and the Jesus narrative, they are all storied about public transformation that happened by courage of uncredentialed people. These kinds of narratives feed our imagination and give us energy and courage.

He also reminds us that ‘honest speech’ often erupts on the margins, where the encounter with the brutality of injustice and the brightness of hope are most keenly experienced; artists frequently encounter their truest voices at the margins as I’ve highlighted in previous posts here and here and here:

If you think about the Song of Miriam or those dangerous songs (many of which are in the mouths of women) we are invited to join that kind of singing which is a refusal to accept the dominant definitions of reality. Such singing and storytelling is an insistence that there is another way to experience the world and there is another way to act in the world. These are very important models and authorizations for us.

Importantly too, Brueggemann recognises that Hope, to be effective, has to be contextually relevant and imaginative in its response to injustice; which is to say that Hope dreams in Colour:

It is highly contextual. There are a variety of strategies that run from face-to-face engagement to pressure on public policy. We have to engage on every front because the issue is so urgent and the problems are so complex that there cannot be a single strategy. As we grow in our commitment to racial equality or social justice we have to be very imaginative. We have to find ways that have transformative potential.

Hope, like a river, can transform a landscape, but it needs to be channelled by vision which flows from the pool of tears and encounter at the edge of Goodness.

[Please enjoy listening to The River of Hope by Big Country and read Walter Brueggemann’s full interview below]

https://medium.com/theology-of-ferguson/models-and-authorizations-an-interview-with-walter-brueggemann-3ab5ecd96c20

Questions…how shall I know?

Bridge of Europe, Strasbourg

Theodore Zeldin

Theodore Zeldin, Oxford historian, wrote the following as a contribution to the art installation,  Writing the borders, the Bridge of Europe, Strasbourg.

Questions

How shall I know that we have something to say to each other, that we ought to meet? How can I guess that you too believe that humanity’s most memorable achievements in extending knowledge or creating beauty have been the result of meetings between people and ideas that have not met before?
How shall I know that you wish to go beyond the language of politeness, beyond repeating what you have said before? How will you reveal that it is not mere information that you would be willing to exchange, but questions, doubts and dreams, the dreams which refuse to die?
How shall I know that, just as this garden is a work of art made out of plants whose history began in distant continents, you too are trying to shape your life into a work of art, however modest? How will you tell me that you welcome into the garden of your mind everything that civilisations all over the world have discovered about wisdom and folly?
How shall I know that busy and stressed though you are, you do sometimes find the time to pause and think, to ask whether they world has to be the way it is?
How shall I know that, just this bridge was built by people who wished to stop ancient enemies hating and fighting each other, you find it rewarding to be a bridge yourself, between individuals who fail to recognise what they have in common, and what they could do better together than alone?
How shall I know that you do not judge people by their religion, or even by their beliefs, and that you are much more impressed by how they put their beliefs into practice, whether with dogmatism, or humility, or compassion?
How shall I know that you applaud people not for their victories over others, but for the thought they have given to their failures, for the courage with which they handle their disappointments, for their ability to continue to laugh and hope?
How shall I know that you are not a prisoner of the prejudice which separates people of different sex and age? Or that you are more interested by what a person’s appearance conceals than the first impression it creates?
My answer. We can only discover who we are, and what we would like to be, by having conversations with one another. There are so many possible links between us, and we have to search behind the fashions and facades for them. That is why I rejoice that this garden has been created as a place, I hope, where people will meet to start long conversations, not just to pass the time, but to become clearer about what matters most to them, and what they can achieve together.
What is your answer?
Theodore Zeldin

Recognising the ǝƃɐɯI ɟo poפ

I read two articles which connected around one theme this week: the image of God in relation to justice.

The first article was about Claudio Vieira de Oliveira, a Brazilian man who was born with a severe and rare condition called congenital arthrogryposis. Not only was he barely able to breathe at birth, his mother was told that as he was unlikely to survive, it would be kinder not to feed him and let him die. She didn’t take that advice and today she claims:

…there’s only happiness now. Claudio is just like any other person – that’s how he was raised in this house. We never tried to fix him and always wanted him to do the normal things everyone else does. That’s why he is so confident. He is not ashamed of walking around in the street – he sings and dances.

One of the features of the rare condition Claudio is affected by, is that his joints cannot extend which results in his limbs being badly deformed; his head collapses backwards or ‘upside down’ over his shoulder. This has not prevented him from training as an accountant and engaging in an increasing amount of public speaking around the world, inspiring others to see beyond their limitations. One message he is keen to get across is that although his head is upside down he sees the world very clearly, the right way round…

Claudio Vieira de Oliveira

The second article was about a Brazilian film-maker, Julia Bacha who has chosen to see and portray the world in a way which is increasingly ‘upside-down’ or contrary to how we are frequently led to perceive it by the media. Her area of focus is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Julia summarises the simple philosophy behind her filming:

Violent resistance and non-violent resistance share one very important thing in common: They are both a form of theater seeking an audience to their cause.

Her focus is on non-violent resistance which is growing in both Israeli and Palestinian camps; relationships are being forged between people who believe that justice begins, to echo Rabbi Arik’s words, in ‘respecting the image of God in their neighbour’ and by refusing to be manipulated into fearful habits of hatred. You can see the trailer for her documentary, Budrus on non-violent resistance here.

Julia Bacha

Julia Bacha

The axis of a biblical vision of justice is, quite simply, relationship. The biblical love of neighbour flows from our love of God and is instructed by the prophetic stream which defines love as care through relationship.

Both Claudio Vieira de Oliveira and Julia Bacha may see the world from an alternative or upside-down perspective, but both of them know that it takes courage and persistence to forge and maintain relationship against all odds, demonstrating in very different ways that wholeness can manifest in the most unexpected, distorted and upside-down of circumstances.

Recognising the ǝƃɐɯI ɟo poפ in ourselves and our fellow human beings is just a starting point for forging bold, loving and respect-filled relationships which are crucial for the flourishing of justice.

Two Kinds of Justice

Andy Kingston-Smith:

This is Tim Stafford’s helpful follow-up piece on justice. Andy

Originally posted on Timstafford's Blog:

In my last post I made the point that we typically use the word “justice” differently from the way the Bible uses it. Our justice is limited to the ideas of fairness and just desserts. Everybody gets treated the same, and everybody gets what’s coming to him. This is justice suited to the courtroom.

God’s justice is much broader, incorporating mercy and charity. Its aim is to set the world right, by all means. Care for the poor is not voluntary, it is a requirement —as justice always is.

What practical difference does this expanded understanding of justice make?

First, though this may not seem very “practical,” a wider view of justice enables us to understand the Bible as a unified book. How many times have you heard the remark that “there are [pick a number] 900 verses about caring for the poor in the Bible?” One Bible highlighted all…

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What Is Justice?

Andy Kingston-Smith:

The jusTice initiative has been collaborating with Tim Stafford and a number of others on a new justice project and here are some helpful thoughts by Tim on biblical justice, a concept which is so often misunderstood or conceived of in very narrow terms by the Christian community. Instead, Tim encourages us to see the incredibly wide panorama of biblical justice and how it can affect every aspect of our lives. We’re looking forward to reading and considering future posts where he plans to explore the implications of biblical justice for our daily lives. Andy & Carol

Originally posted on Timstafford's Blog:

If I have learned anything from working on biblical justice over the last two years, it is that the word “justice” can be confusing. The problem, I believe, is that the Bible means something different by the word than we typically do in contemporary English.

In our language, justice has two components: fairness, and just desserts. That’s the way we want it in a courtroom: everybody gets treated the same, and everybody reaps what they sow. If you are a criminal, you should pay. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, you should be held liable for your crimes and be punished accordingly. Victims should be compensated, where possible.

Similarly, outside the courtroom, we want treatment to be equal and rules to be enforced. The teacher should grade every kid by the same standard. Cheaters should be punished. That’s justice.

Of course, that’s a pretty limited view. It…

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Book review: Carnival Kingdom

Andy Kingston-Smith:

Thanks Jeremy for your review of Carnival Kingdom! Copies are still available from the jusTice initiative with a 20% discount for a limited period only.

Originally posted on Make Wealth History:

carnival kingdomI don’t review many Christian books on the blog here, but I recently finished a collection of essays from the JusTice initiative called Carnival Kingdom. I’m going to mention this one because I love the premise of the book: it’s all about working for social justice by being ‘positively subversive’, drawing on the cultural theory of the carnival.

We have one of the biggest carnivals in Europe in Luton, where I live, and I took my three year old son down to it this summer. We saw the dancers and the parade, but for him the highlight was being able to walk down the middle of the road, the crowd oblivious to the traffic lights blinking red at the junctions. On carnival day, I explained, you can walk in the road. The people dance in the street and barbecue on the kerb, and just for one day the cars…

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Loving enemies?

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

 

I’m trying to imagine what Jesus would say to the Christians fleeing their homes in Iraq just now. As I wade through article after article flooding social media I hear many voices and much pain…what keeps coming back to me are these words: ‘what would it look like to love your enemy in Iraq…in Gaza…just now’?

I’d like to think that those weren’t just meaningless words but that they carried real, effective guidance and power for change…I’d like to think that Christians all round the world were putting them into practice by the power of the Spirit every day…but I can’t quite imagine what it would look like just now in Iraq…in Gaza…and that’s partly due to the fact I’m not hearing any stories coming out of the atrocious, hateful mess which are describing what I’m looking for…

I wonder if there are any?