RR Book Group: Just Mercy

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  • I intended to read this thread and reply, but I can’t seem to do it yet. I’ve started reading. I have managed the introduction and the beginning of chapter 1, but I am already finding things too overwhelming. It doesn’t help that I live in Alabama, and I’m going to know people who are reflections of ALL the people in this story. There are going to be both “heroes” and “villains” in this story who are reflections of people that I know and love and can at least somewhat understand and identify with. I want to be able to love all of them without any shirking of the reality of the wrongs that they commit. I suspect that is going to be very hard, if I actually face what specific people may have done. I suspect that there were probably some hardcore racists in my childhood church, or at least in the local community where I grew up. There is some type of “shadow” there where People of Color are still reluctant to come to that area. They know something I don’t, and that I am afraid to know. But I suspect that people who loved me and taught me about God may have been involved in AWFUL things, or at least stood by while others committed them. That is hard to face. But even in a less direct conflict, I’m afraid that some of the ideals that I have held in the past, and that I can believe in the abstract, have become too twisted and corrupt to be relied on. Swift punishment for wrong behaviors seems like a good thing and ought to deter the wrong behaviors- unless the system is corrupt and justice is not really happening, or some people are being punished more strictly than others, or those with power are abusing it to suit their own needs, etc. Individual responsibility matters, but has to be weighed against systemic inequality. It isn’t just a thing for people in an ivory tower to try to figure out, it is what real people have to figure out in their daily life, when there isn’t a clear “right answer” anymore.

    Any suggestions on how to really dig in and engage with this, while not letting it overwhelm me too much? I want to learn and grow and at least TRY to make my home state a better place, and I know that isn’t going to happen if people like me are not willing to face what has and is happening. But I also don’t know how to do this in a way that is helpful and activating rather than just leading to despair about the state of the world and my little corner of it. Maybe I just need to keep reading, but I’m finding that I am already overwhelmed by the memories of injustices that I have seen and know about, and the echoes of things that I DON’T know about but can still see the shadows they cast. I can’t change any of them, and without a way to respond, I don’t know what to do with these feelings.

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    @misslinda, that is hard stuff. i wish i had a good answer for you. i’ve lived in the midwest almost all of my life, and unless Texas counts i’ve never lived in the South, so my experiences and parallels will be completely different from yours, and we’re likely starting in different places even just in recognizing what’s happening. But i feel that same desire to engage and to effect change without a clear sense of where to start. For myself, my hope is that this discussion becomes a place to start and gives me a few avenues to explore. But i’m with you. This is hard. i don’t know. Yet.

    If this would help, i give you permission to read at a slower pace. Maybe taking breaks for gloaning in between chapters, even if that means getting less read each week, will help you keep going without giving up.

    This afternoon in my Intro to Mentored Formation class we talked some about practices that we can engage in our growth process, and one of the things that stood out to me from the list, which might be helpful here, is writing prayers of lament. Maybe that would help with the feelings that don’t have a place to go yet.

    i am just flinging words out right now. Forgive me if those ideas were the wrong ones or land in the wrong spots.

    @misslinda Thanks for your honesty. Truly. It’s a really difficult book to read, and I understand where you’re coming from, because I felt some similar things.

    I haven’t talked about this yet because it’s hard for me to articulate, but I’m going to try… I have family in rural North Florida, right near the Alabama line. (Dothan, AL is mentioned in the book. I remember while I was visiting them we would drive to Dothan just to get a pizza.) I’ve spent a bit of time in the area — not a lot of extended time, but enough to get a sense of the culture — and sometimes while reading this book I couldn’t shake the feeling that, my goodness, the white “villains” in this book could quite easily be my relatives, or friends of my relatives. In fact, I remember the first time I heard openly racist talk was from a prison guard from this area, and I felt so shaken and confused… the thinking was so foreign to me. And yet, this was a person I knew, a mostly good-natured country guy. (I also remember as recently as the 2016 elections some people from this area flipping out on my mom because she said “yeah, I can’t stand Donald Trump” but that’s another story…”)

    Absolutely take your time with the reading. Grieve if you need to. (Laure’s prayer of lament idea is a great idea!) And yes, it’s important to recognize the complexity of all the people in the story. I can tell you I had a rough time reading the first part of the book. Bryan’s stories shocked me like those racist comments I heard or my mom’s stories about segregation in our hometown. It’s shocking, painful, and even embarrassing to think these things could happen in our lifetimes.

    But I’m happy to say when I finished the book I felt hopeful. I hope that will be your experience too. Just take all the time you need and we’ll be here to help you process.

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    @misslinda I agree with @mrs-hittle regarding lament. In Walter Brueggeman’s The Prophetic Imagination, he makes the point that Jeremiah and Lamentations are prayers of lament in prophetic opposition to/criticism of a numbed and entrenched “royal consciousness” embedded in the Jewish monarchy just prior to exile. The royal consciousness is the culture of the comfortable oppressor, who advocates for the status quo and expects it to continue in perpetuity. Note that you do not even need to benefit from the oppression to be taken in by this royal consciousness. What this means is that lament is the means by which we penetrate the numbness in our own society around racism and its current instantiation in our prison system and beyond.

    What this means is that lament is the means by which we penetrate the numbness in our own society around racism and its current instantiation in our prison system and beyond. I think for many of us, lament is the good and proper response, and yes, I can only read this book in short doses because of the combination of grief and anger I feel. I try to do about a chapter per day if I can.

    For what it’s worth, Brueggeman also talks about a prophetic energizing in response to despair. Once Israel is in exile, despair sets in, and the prophetic response is that of Isaiah, casting an energizing vision of what God is doing, His Kingdom, and nothing less than the renewal of all creation. He also links both of these concepts to Jesus in the Gospels, and Jesus’ response to the injustice he faces. I mention this because lament may lead to despair but we are not intended to remain there.

    I’ll need to come back to the discussion questions because I need to get back to my day job right now. However, if we need to bring things a bit more into the present, check this out:

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/12/opinions/prisoners-pet-irma-opinion-jones-jackson/index.html

    “With all the stories of heroism and tragedy in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, one group of people have been left out of sight and out of our hearts: the incarcerated men and women in our federal correctional facilities.”

     

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    @jblocher, that article is so troubling. What really strikes me is that according to the writer, the prison officials and prisoners are telling directly conflicting stories.

    @misslinda I also appreciate your honesty about your wrestling with this. What I have found is that one tangible way to combat despair is to get involved in some way with the issue that’s breaking your heart. This is, of course, a risk. As is illustrated later in the book, as you get closer, your heart might be broken over and over. But also, more importantly, I think, you get to be part of pushing back against that particular darkness. This builds hope. I agree with @jroseyokel about feeling hopeful after finishing the book. It’s ridiculously encouraging to know that EJI exists in this unjust world. It’s, of course, sad to know that their work is so necessary, but this is the world we are living in and as hard as it can be, we must live with our eyes and hearts wide open.

    know the gospel; understand how the gospel provides hope for criminals and for victims; know your DA/SA/CA candidates; and vote/advocate accordingly.

    Thanks @dmitchel for your input here.

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    These are some great questions.

    #1, I grew up in the upper-middle class Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. It was rather multi-cultural and so I would say I grew up “colorblind” in both the good and bad sense of that word. It also means I saw our criminal justice system as basically fair, good, and accurate. I remember my first wake-up call was the Rodney King incident in LA, but even that struck me as an anomaly, not the norm. The past few years (news events and my own reading and education) have shown me how naive and sheltered I’ve been.

    #2. I think we need to realize that “we” is all of us. In our individualized culture, we have a tendency to be pretty self-oriented. Charlie would be a tragedy and we get angry, but we don’t feel responsible. I think that is not the right way to think about it, especially as a Christian. I agree with the saying “you should judge a culture not based on how it treats the powerful but how it treats the marginalized and poor” or something like that. On that metric, the US fails miserably.

    #3. This is related to what I said earlier (somewhat restated): our justice system isn’t really about justice, it is about punishment. It is also (perhaps moreso) about power and maintaining the current power structure – i.e. those in power do not want their power threatened. This is why Alexander calls it “The New Jim Crow” – it is a new system designed to maintain the existing power structure. We can’t look at our incarceration rate and credibly claim that what we are doing with the criminal justice system is at all related to ‘justice’ or ‘public safety’ or anything like that. I call B.S.

    Therefore, it isn’t really about the victims. It is pretty clear, over and over, that prosecutors don’t really care what the victims want. Victims, having themselves experiencing violence often do not want more violence against the offender, but prosecutors go for the death penalty anyway because that is the best way to maintain the existing power structure. I think Stevenson implies that victims get treatment according to social class/wealth. This seems about right to me, but I don’t think that is the entire story. I think it is a symptom, not itself a root cause of injustice.

    What needs to change? We need to reform the whole system. I don’t think you can separate our treatment of victims from our treatment of offenders. We need a system of restorative justice that seeks to right the wrongs, heal the offense, and reconcile that which is broken. This sounds like utopianism, but New Zealand is working on it: https://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/criminal/charged-with-a-crime/how-restorative-justice-works/

    #4. Tennessee is, unsurprisingly, about the same as Alabama. I didn’t know this before you asked the question, but I suspected it. Children often get tried as adults for violent crime and homicide means a life sentence behind bars at a minimum.

    http://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/09/20/life-sentences-tennessee-juveniles-essentially-death-sentences/90730652/

    Since I mostly identify as a northerner, I have to be careful not to look down my nose at the south. I think it is pretty important that many of Stevenson’s anecdotes come from northern cities as well. If there is one thing I’ve learned recently, it is that the north isn’t all that different from the south when it comes to racism, we are just a bit better at hiding it or couching it in justifiable terms.

     

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    Charlie would be a tragedy and we get angry, but we don’t feel responsible. … We need a system of restorative justice that seeks to right the wrongs, heal the offense, and reconcile that which is broken. This sounds like utopianism, but New Zealand is working on it. … Tennessee is, unsurprisingly, about the same as Alabama. I didn’t know this before you asked the question, but I suspected it. Children often get tried as adults for violent crime and homicide means a life sentence behind bars at a minimum. … If there is one thing I’ve learned recently, it is that the north isn’t all that different from the south when it comes to racism, we are just a bit better at hiding it or couching it in justifiable terms.

    #2 This is hard, and i think you’ve nailed it. Where is our anger coming from, and where is it directed? And if we don’t feel responsible, is it possible that the reason we feel angry is as much about ourselves as it is about the victimized juvenile offender?

    The NZ restorative justice initiative looks amazing. What in particular strikes me is that the offender can seek restorative justice, and that the judge can take the results into account during sentencing. i would think that just the desire to face one’s victim, hear them, and do what’s needed to address the damage caused is worth at least half of any punitive sentence.

    #3 This line from the article you linked caught my attention: “…a rethink makes it possible for Tennesseans to see juveniles being treated in the same manner they would want their own children treated.” A willingness to see each other as neighbors rather than others, to put offenders alongside one’s own children, could not help but have radical results in sentencing.

    @jblocher, thanks so much for these links and thoughts.

    This afternoon i read and listened to “Of the Coming of John,” the short story mentioned in chapter five. It was good and hard. i’m thinking that W.E.B. Du Bois might be the non-white author i’ll read first. This is nerdy, and may or may not be useful in this conversation, but toward the end of the story i saw a line in German that i had to look up: “Freudig gefuhrt, ziehet dahin.” It’s from the opera he had attended earlier, but when i looked it up i found that Du Bois had changed the wording. Where the opera had “faithfully led, pass along to that place,” Du Bois renders it “joyfully led.” i don’t know what to make of this yet.

    Has anyone else read this story? Stevenson gives the sense of it in his book, but it’s worth checking out. The text and audio narration are available here.

    i haven’t looked up the laws in Colorado yet regarding juvenile offenders. i’m stuck on a case from when i was in college in Minnesota. i was working with a church youth group and this case was all over the newspapers, and what really bothered me about it was that the defendant was the age of “my” kids. It took me forever to track this case down, as i didn’t recall any specifics of the case, just how young he was and the anguish i felt when thinking about what had led him there and what lives were lost as a result. i had encouraged my youth group kids to pray for him and write him encouraging notes, which i promised to mail for them. i don’t remember if anyone took me up on that, but i found the photo i’d printed out from the news article, on which i’d written “My name is Andy… please pray for me.” With that tiny detail i tracked him down: Charles Andrew Williams, sentenced as an adult in California (not Minnesota) at fifteen. He served the first three years of his sentence at a juvenile detention facility after which he was transferred to an adult prison, and will be eligible for parole when he turns 66. An appeal to retry him as a juvenile was denied several years ago. There have been some efforts at getting his sentence reduced, but as for right now he’s incarcerated and apparently doing well. i found an interview he gave about four years ago, and it was hard to read, but i’m glad i did.

    Update: Apparently in Colorado one can be tried in a district (i.e. non-juvenile) court as young as 12, if the crime constitutes what would be for an adult a class 1 or 2 felony. But looking up what those classes of felony indicated did not entirely clear things up, because the example they gave of class 1 was murder, and the example of class 2 was selling Schedule I or II drugs (heroin, LSD, cocaine, marijuana, morphine, codeine)… and then class 3’s example was patronizing a prostituted child and class 4 was sexual assault. i cannot fathom how selling drugs is worse than “patronizing” a prostituted child. But when i tried to read the documents around how the system actually works i very quickly bogged down. It looks like the state is trying to address juveniles as juveniles and acknowledge bias based on race, ethnicity, and gender. But i couldn’t find statistics on how many 12- and 13-year olds are actually tried and sentenced as adults. (Sources: this, this, this, this, and this.)

    I promise I will eventually come back to the questions (and new ones go up tomorrow! ack!) but this was in my inbox today, and it’s super pertinent. Thoughts on lament and reconciliation from pastor/author Steve Wiens* via Seth Haines’** email newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/sethhaines/letters/tiny-letter-53-oppressed-or-oppressor-on-experiencing-scripture

    I know it’s uncomfortable to read the Exodus story and consider the possibility that you’re an Egyptian. Stay with me. We can’t talk about restoring the entire world if we don’t talk about repenting of our part in breaking it. Sometimes, seeing to the shalom of your brothers and sisters puts you in a position in which you need to realize you have been part of what has kept them enslaved, even if you haven’t knowingly done anything to keep them enslaved. And Moses is a perfect candidate to lead us there.

    Moses was a person with an identity crisis. Though he was Hebrew by nature, he was raised in an Egyptian household, with Egyptian values, from infancy until well into his adulthood. It’s why he thought he could see to the shalom of his brothers and sisters by murdering the Egyptian slave driver. When we don’t really know the life of someone who is enslaved, we tend to resort to answers that don’t really help. It took Moses forty years in the wilderness to take Egypt out of him.
 If Egypt was in Moses, it’s possible that it’s also in me.

    * Steve is great. He led a workshop at our church last year (I think?), and afterward mutually geeked out about The Rabbit Room/Wingfeather Saga with me and Chris. Y’all would like him.

    ** Seth is also great. You should totally read his book and subscribe to his email letter.

    Week three’s questions!

    1. After how Walter’s hearing went in chapter 9, were you surprised by the judge’s decision in chapter 11? Why do you think things turned out that way?
    2. How can hope create justice? (p 219)
    3. Read and reflect on 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. How has someone mitigated for you? Is there someone you can mitigate for?
    4. How do we address mental health as individuals, families, society, and the church? How can we improve?

    As always, feel free to keep talking about chapters 1-8 as well as anything this week’s reading brought up for you.

    I’m way behind and reading at the pace of a snail. But I am still in this, even if I am not going to be anywhere near keeping up. This is partly because life got busy, but also partly because I am not staying focused very well. Reading the book makes me think of other topics and questions and I get side-tracked with those too. I may have to make a series of posts rather than just one, because I cannot seem to stay focused.

    First, I have done some research into the history of the area I grew up in, and so far I have found… nothing. That is a huge relief, since what I was researching was lynchings. Sadly, I can believe that people from my childhood community (perhaps even my church) would be rude to, or even threaten and harass, a person they did not want living near them. Some would probably even think they were doing the right thing by “protecting” their families in that way, although I struggle to understand why they would have felt so threatened. But I am relieved that at least there is no official record of killing here. Whatever the shadow is on this area, at least it doesn’t look like it was that. I am considering whether or not to ask some of the few older people of color that I do know, whether they know anything about the history here. I don’t want to reopen old wounds, and I wouldn’t want to put them in a situation that feels threatening or uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that this is a social taboo that they have been trained from childhood NOT to talk about, especially with a white person, so they may not be willing to talk about it anyway. But I also don’t want to ignore things if they need facing, and understanding the micro-culture where I grew up is going to be part of understanding how racism has shaped me. I was insulated from it somewhat by my parents, but I’m pretty sure that you can’t be surrounded by racism and be untouched by it. Even just the simple fact that when I was growing up it seemed normal to me not to have any racial diversity around me will have left some type of impact in my heart. I just can’t exactly recognize or pin it down yet. These are things I have thought about at certain times in my life, but probably not as much or as deeply as I need to. I do not want those unconscious influences from childhood to be controlling how I see people now or my assumptions about the world if I can help it.

    Second issue- that article about the prisons. I’m really upset by this. I should know better than to be surprised, but I still was. I am most upset, I think, by the conflicting reports about the conditions and the fact that no one was allowed inside to check on the situation. Power without accountability is a recipe for corruption. Even if some people have the integrity to handle the power well (and I believe some do), the larger the organization becomes and the more people involved, the more likely that is going to break down and power will be misused. In a case like this, it is possible prisoners could be lying about the conditions they were in, but it is much more likely that they are telling the truth. I do not know who is responsible for emergency preparedness plans and for figuring out what to do in a natural disaster and making the decision whether to evacuate or not, but it is horrible to think of people being trapped and unable to even try to secure their own safety. I know that there is a balance of some sort that has to be reached- prison isn’t meant to be comfortable or fun, and I am not expecting people to try to make it that way. But when one human being is given power over another (in any setting, from children with their parents to nursing homes and everything in between), they are also given the responsibility to meet that person’s needs, at least as far as they are able. Physical safety, shelter, food, and water are the most BASIC things. When we (as a nation, or state, or county, or city) fail to give those to a prisoner under our care, no matter what crime they committed, we have failed in a huge way. I do not know what accountability systems there are in place now, or what there need to be, but I hope that this issue will not be ignored.

    On the other hand, it is yet another big cause that is out of my reach to do anything about, which frustrates me. Worse, I know that I don’t know what is happening. I don’t want to criticize the people who work there when they may be doing the best they can with the resources and power they have… often the “front line” people, like guards or teachers or nursing staff have little to no say in how the larger organization is run. Even the people who are “higher up” and made the decision not to evacuate may have good reasons for what they decided, like knowing that they couldn’t move all those people safely or having nowhere to take them. But if that is the case, I hope they are using what they learned this time to build better plans and systems so that this won’t happen again. Even when there are signs of gross negligence or outright abuse in an organization, there are usually good people inside it trying to be faithful with what they have as well as those who are failing the charge entrusted to them. I cannot sort them out, especially from the outside. But what I read saddened me and I hope for change.

    Ok, my post is taking too long and I still haven’t gotten to the book at all. I’m just going to post this now and come back to the other things later.

    @jblocher thanks for your thoughts, and the helpful links! I love the idea of restorative justice but wasn’t sure how it would be put into practice. I’m encouraged to learn about the ways New Zealand is exploring it in a practical way. Deeply entrenched systems are hard to shake, but this is a start.

    ***

    So I had an epiphany about Week 2’s question #1, regarding Armelia wondering what to tell the children. It’s not much of an answer to her, but I realized that the talks black parents have with their children about police are in some ways (not all) similar to talks my parents had with me because I am a woman.

    First a side note: I’ve been a little fired up at the discussions my Facebook friends are having about the NFL players kneeling for the anthem. One friend in particular expressed concern about the direction this movement is going. Which is one thing. But his friends chimed in and were saying some pretty harsh things — “if you feel oppressed by your skin color you should leave the country” or “children shouldn’t see this disrespect” or “I want to watch football and be entertained, not have politics shoved in my face.” When one man dared to enter the fray and present another side, another man invoked his veteran relatives and proceeded to accuse the other person of being a liberal that hates America (and apple pie and Jesus. probably.)

    I’ve been thinking about that since last night. I want to say — though I know arguing with strangers on Facebook is more often than not fruitless — until you’ve lived life as a black man in America, you have NO way of truly knowing their experience. All you can do is listen, and try to see their side. I thought about these NFL players and wondered, when they’re walking down the street in their normal clothes, do they feel watched? Threatened? Side-eyed by people who don’t recognize them as sports celebrities? (I sure wouldn’t recognize them!)

    Did their parents have to talk to them about keeping their guard up? About being pre-judged by the color of their skin? And how are you enjoying the benefits of a free country if you have to live in fear?

    I don’t know what it’s like to be them, but on some level I can relate because I know what it’s like to be a woman.

    Growing up, I got talks too. Not about police, but about men you don’t know in general. (Unfortunately, with a side of race and class bias) Keep your guard up. Watch how you dress. Walk with purpose and your keys out. Don’t go out by yourself at night. Heck, I’m 34 and married, and my mom still gets worried if I tell her I took a drive to the beach by myself in the middle of the day.

    I’m learning how to overcome that anxiety, but I still walk with purpose and my keys out, and avoid certain places after dark. And we’re not talking really risky situations. We’re talking going to the grocery store after dark. Not sure if I want to call it oppression on the same level (I never worry about getting harmed by police), and there’s a fine line between common sense and fearfulness, but if you think about it, it’s not 100% freedom.

    Over a decade ago, when I was starting my first job, a young woman was abducted in Orlando. It wasn’t a sketchy area either… she lived in an upscale part of town, and the case was never solved. She was just getting up and going to work and she disappeared. I remember it causing a lot of anxiety in me and other women I know. What do you tell your daughters?

    I guess the only answer I could give Armelia is “I don’t know. I really don’t. But I think I understand.” Empathy is a pretty good place to start.

    ***

    Okay, and Week 3 Question 2: How can hope create justice? I think I’m tempted to feel hopeless when I look at how deeply entrenched our systems, biases, fears, and cultures are. Change happens slow, on very small levels. But before there can be any change or justice, one has to have hope and vision. One has to believe that even tiny change matters.

    I can’t imagine doing the work Stevenson does for so long. One of my favorite quotes from the book comes near the end, when Rosa Parks tells him it’ll make him “tired, tired, tired… but that’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.”

    Hope creates justice by imagining a better story for us first.

    Which brings me back to the NFL players. I don’t know their motives, but I’d like to hope their actions are an act of love for their country, because when you love something you can critique it and call it to be better. I’d like to hope their actions are an invitation to practice empathy and hope for a better story.

    I would get into juvenile laws from my home state and my current state, but this is long enough. Thanks for giving me a safer place to vent than Facebook. 😉

    Hey y’all. I expect Laure is deep in Homework Land right now, so I’m filling in to share Week 4 questions. As always, you can go anywhere you like with the discussion if you’re pondering past chapters or behind in reading. (In fact, here are questions for Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3)

    The last four chapters of the book! Can you believe it?

    1) “That they were giving an award named after a beloved prime minister who had been tragically murdered by a deranged man to someone who represented people on death row revealed a lot about their values.” (p. 251) 

What values can you infer from this award? What values can you infer from our American institutions and practices? What are your values?

    2) Who is your favorite cartoon character?

    3) Look again at Stevenson’s list of four institutions. (pp 299-301) Research one (or more) you feel unfamiliar with. (Perhaps also research one you do feel familiar with; does your understanding change or your attitude shift in this research?)

    4) Why do we throw stones? What would it mean to be a stonecatcher in your own context or circumstances?

    @jroseyokel Love the link to Steve Wiens book. I started following him a year or so ago myself, but not very closely. And yes, I have had to put myself in the place of the Egyptians to better understand what is happening around me. Convicting. I need to meditate more on that truth.

    For now, I’m going to focus on Q2  (from the previous questions): how does hope create justice. I think this may get a bit preachy, but know that I’m mostly preaching to myself. I need to say this so I can remember it. And I’m simply posting it here in case it is useful for anyone else. One last caveat: sorry for all the references and links. It is probably my profession as a researcher, but I’m forever thinking in networks of citations and links, at least tacitly acknowledging the smallness of my own contribution as a part of the bigger whole.

    Most of the remainder of this comment comes from N. T. Wright’s (extensive) canon. If you’ve not heard of him, I swear he is a modern-day C.S. Lewis. Start with Simply Christian or Simply Good News and go from there. His “for Everyone” set of commentaries on the New Testament are just that and wonderful ways to engage scripture on your own.

    Anyway, back to Hope. Wright has a wonderful, wonderful book (skip what I said before, read this first) called Surprised by Hope, which I think is vital. Basically, it reoriented my eschatology (fancy word for what you believe happens at the end of time). He shows that we’ve bought a bunch of drivel about “going to heaven when we die” which is very amorphous and not compelling. We’ve also reduced the Gospel (the Good News of the Kingdom) to soteriology (i.e. “how to be saved”) when the latter is contained in the former, but not all of it. We think that the point of everything is “saving people” when really that is just the start. The Gospel is so, so much bigger and more exciting. I venture to say that if you are not energized and enthused by the Gospel, you may not fully get it yet. The Gospel is mind-blowingly, staggeringly Good News. Imagine the most excited, surprised, and happy you’ve been and multiply by a thousand.

    I cannot do Wright’s work justice here, but the Hope we have is the Resurrection. Paul says just this in I or II Corinthians (“if the Resurrection isn’t true, we are to be pitied most above all people.”). The Resurrection is our hope because it undoes all of the terrible, awful effects of all of our injustice! We even say things like “no harm, no foul” right? Well, if we know that, in the end, the dead will rise and we will be healed, we can look at injustice now and start to see what redemption and reconciliation look like. It looks like victims (dead, now risen and healed) and victimizers having hard conversations, shaking their heads in sorrow, sharing tears, and reconciling. Our bodies and our souls will be healed, and all of the injustice, evil and sorrow will become untrue. Victim and victimizer (we are all both, right?) will relate to each other as deep, long-lasting friends who have hurt each other in the past but have reconciled. The memory remains, but the friendship is real.

    Christ defeated evil on the Cross. Evil loses. Right now, we are just participating in a giant clean-up mission to implement the Kingdom. Wright calls it “Inaugurated Eschatology” – i.e. the things we know will come to pass (the defeat of evil, redemption, and reconciliation) have begun and are proceeding apace. For reasons beyond our simple minds, God has chosen us to be the means by which He reigns. Therefore, to set all of Creation back on track, He first had to set humanity right, hence the cross, the forgiveness of sins, and our reconciliation to God by way of Christ’s death. This is all true. But all that does is set us up to then be the means by which Peace comes to Earth, and His Kingdom Come and Will Be Done on Earth as it already is in Heaven. This is our vocation, the Church’s vocation. The jobs we have (paid or not) all fit into this vocation of setting the world right, participating in the defeat of evil, restoring and healing the broken things. This is what Jesus did as he walked the earth before he died. Instead of protecting his moral purity by hiding or shielding himself (like so many Christians want to do today, and the Pharisees did then), His touch brought healing and cleanness to the broken and impure. We are His children and we are to do the same, through the power of the Cross.

    This is how Hope creates Justice. We work now in the knowledge that we will succeed. Maybe not in the current task or on our own timeline. But we know how the story ends, and it is good.

    There is more I won’t go into because this is long enough. The Resurrection is also the means by which we can commit to non-violent resistance. Since we are unafraid of death (it has been conquered), and death is the only real weapon of the tyrant, he has no sway over us. We can stand against tyrants and injustice without fear because we know that death has been defeated. The message of the Cross also tells us that self-sacrificial death (“take up your Cross and follow me”) may indeed be the means by which we participate in the defeat of evil in our current age. It is easy for us in the West to imagine that “take up your Cross” is a metaphor for some inconvenience in our day-to-day life. Haven’t we all heard this applied to interpersonal relationships – i.e. dying to your own will in your marriage or community? I’m sure there is truth in that, but I think we also need to consider the possibility that it isn’t a metaphor. What if we are called to stand, unarmed, against white supremacy? Against police brutality? The only thing that sustains us is that eternal hope in the Resurrection when we will rise to be with Him in the New Jerusalem, and when all will be reconciled and redeemed with no more injustice or pain or fear.

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    Good gravy, @jblocher. Mic drop.

    Surprised By Hope is an incredible book. Eschatology as an instrument of justice: Yes yes yes. One of my seminary classes today touched on this also. We were talking about a theology of work and rest, and the professor drew out the four chapters of the Grand Narrative of Scripture—Creation, fall, redemption, restoration/consummation—and said that in our Western evangelical churches we tend to camp on the two in the middle to the neglect of the two on the ends, but what if we allowed those two on the ends to inform the way we read the middle? In the context of work/rest that means restoring a sense of joy, freedom, dignity, and mission to work, which allows us to embrace rest more healthily. That’s partly a creation/imago Dei idea and partly a teleology/New Creation idea. But reading that dang awesome sermon you just unleashed on us recalls those thoughts to mind now—if we step back from the forensic aspects of the Gospel and took a larger view which celebrated all humanity’s creation in G-d’s image and our (saints’) own eventual restoration to co-regents with Him, how would that affect the way we address justice now? From now on, we regard no-one according to the flesh, right?

    All i’m doing here is saying YES as loud as i can, but YES.

    (Side note: i agree that the churches i’ve been in do tend to focus on the middle two chapters of the Grand Narrative, but as i was writing that down in class it hit me that HERE in the Rabbit Room there is so much good conversation about the other two. It fills a huge gap in my lived theology. So thank you, @pete and @andrew and all you other RR contributors who have spoken and written and celebrated this.)

    Once again, i am still gloaning about the reading and the questions. i’m hoping to set aside time tomorrow to dig in a bit more. Thanks for posting, @jroseyokel. 🙂

    @jblocher I love that. Surprised by Hope is on a very short list of books that changed my life and permanently altered my thinking… I recall reading it around the same time as losing a family member, and it woke me up in a powerful way. If we believe in the full resurrection and reconciliation of everything, we don’t have to be afraid of death. And we can keep pushing back against injustice knowing it’s not in vain.

    Thank you for connecting those dots for us. 🙂

    I have only visited the Rabbit Room a couple times but when I saw you reading Just Mercy I had become a member and respond. I picked up Just Mercy in the airport a few months ago for something to read on the plane and was sucked into it immediately. I have since recommended it to others and gave my only copy to my niece who is a paralegal and is getting her private investigator license. Just Mercy really changed my opinion about the justice system and I had to confess before God my own bigotry and ignorance regarding race and justice (injustice) in the legal system. My opinion use to be  “well, they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t guilty.” So shameful.  Psalm 103:6 says “The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” and Psalm 140:12 “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.” Stevenson’s story depicts a man, in my opinion,  who is the voice of God and the hands and feet of Jesus as he advocates for those who need it most and opens our eyes to see injustice in our own communities.  I work with victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking (i.e. prostitutes) and I can attest first hand the injustices that have plagued this particular population. Yet in the past few years the tide is turning as we realize these women are the victims, not the criminals.  People such as Bryan Stevenson have helped to bring to light the truth behind the inequality and unjust practices that plague not only our courts but the world at large. Yet he does not advocate using revenge or hate as a tool for seeking justice. Dignity, compassion, and perseverance seem to be his recipe for action. I am so glad this book is being read and discussed. I pray it changes our hearts toward a more just society as we seek to be God’s advocates of His mercy and grace.

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    How is everybody doing? @jroseyokel and i were thinking of connecting back up after Hutchmoot to read the epilogue together and talk about where to go next, and to be honest my brain is only barely starting to catch up with that intention. Who’s still reading? Who has thoughts burbling? Who wants to jump backwards or forwards and pick up a line of conversation we’ve dropped or not yet considered? Who just suddenly remembered this was happening? (Ha. Me.)

    I’m gonna get back to this. Really. I am.
    Eventually.

    Hutchmoot, stuff in my regular life, and some new books have distracted me rather badly. (I’m now attempting to read 4? or maybe 5? books at the same time. It isn’t working.) I really do want to read this book and not just read it but READ it, and think about it, and learn from it. That takes time and a level of focus that I am finding hard to reach right now. I will return and talk more at some point, but it may not be very promptly.

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