Proximity in Justice

It seems to me that proximity is an important concept for justice seekers. In fact, the more I grapple with it, the more important is becomes. I view justice in the world in terms of movement towards restoration or reconciliation. In wider, theological terms, God’s story of justice and reconciliation involved Him getting close to us. He became one of us in order to restore us to Himself. But in our search for justice, we are often so far removed from the things that are “broken” that reconciliation is not only out of sight, but also out of mind.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

Take for instance the plight of many of the world’s most materially poor. It is easy for those of us who do not live in those situations to ignore those who do, because they are not in proximity to us. Often, they are not near in space, time, or relationship. Even with the materially poor in our own cities and neighborhoods, while they may be near in space and time, they can be distant in relationship; we sometimes unintentionally maintain that distance by ignoring them or averting our eyes as we walk by. Yet, even if we are in true proximity (near in space, time and relationship) to those who experience material poverty, we feel distant from the causes of their situation – large economic and trade systems, entrenched racism, broken social or family systems, etc. This lack of proximity frequently leads to a lack of justice; economic and social justice.

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Poverty Explored

How we define a problem impacts how we try to address it. Our mission at JustUs revolves around addressing the problem of poverty. Today, I’d like to take a few minutes to explore that concept.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines poverty as the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions or debility due to malnutrition. This is a material or physically focused definition. In fact, this is the way most people in the North America define poverty when asked. But according to a study done by the World Bank in the 1990s, if you ask people who live in low-income countries, they by and large describe their condition in psychological and social terms. While they recognize their material lack, they talk more about things like shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation, and voicelessness.1Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53 

Dimensions of Poverty

The inclusion of the psychological and social dimensions alongside the material aspects of poverty leads us to a much fuller understanding of what poverty means. Continue reading

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself, (Moody Publishers, 2009) p. 53

The Concept of Shalom

Poverty is the problem we are trying to address at JustUs. Basically, we are working for the opposite of poverty! We define poverty as the result of broken relationships. Therefore our focus is on being part of the restoration of broken relationships. The word shalom is a word that goes a long way in describing this concept of restored relationships. So, I’d like to focus on the Hebrew concept of shalom for this blog.

Shalom is a Hebrew word indicating a state of completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety and soundness. Furthermore it means tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony and the absence of agitation or discord.

Defining Shalom

We often think of peace when we hear the word shalom, but the English concept of peace does not quite capture what shalom encompasses. Continue reading

Listening As The First Step Toward Change

Silence.
Silence? We don’t really know what to do with silence. If anything, we are intimidated by it and find it awkward. Silence could mean, that we have to listen.
Listen.
Listening? Most of us have a hard time listening to other people’s stories. Listening is challenging. We might be confronted with emotions, struggles and problems. Listening requires time, involvment and actions. However, often it involves a need for change in our own lives and hearts. Mostly we find it hard to listen because we want to be seen and heard. We want to share our stories, our opinions and views.
At JustUs and in social justice circles, a lot of emphasis is often put on speaking up. But sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen. In our loud world, the value of listening can sometimes be lost. Above all, the simple act of listening in such a context is revolutionary. 
Danielle Strickland, co-founder of the Women Speakers Collective and Amplify Peace invites us to practice listening as a first step toward change. Jump over to her blog and find out “How listening could change everything…”

Mobilizing your local community

It can be so easy to sit at home and lament all of the horrible stuff that happens around the world: “Black Friday really is the worst!” “It’s so sad what’s happening in Syria” or “Did you hear what Trump said about immigrants, democrats, the Supreme Court, Russia, the media, whateverelsehesrantingaboutnow?” But every once in a while, you get a chance to actually do something about it. Not just talk, or blog, or read, but DO.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from MP Peter Julian about a Private Member’s Bill that he brought to Parliament in 2016. The Bill is called The International Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Act (Bill C-331) and it is going to go before Parliament for its second reading soon.

I’ve long been marginally aware of the violations and injustices perpetrated by industries operating in majority world countries. After receiving Mr. Julian’s email about Bill C-331 I did some research and found out even more about the impact of Canadian mining companies internationally, particularly in Latin America. Continue reading

Reacting vs. Responding

The social justice world is full of people who react. We react to people who are hungry. We react to people who are marginalized. We react to pipelines, and privilege, and racism, and leaders who say things we disagree with. We react to situations where we see that something is broken and we know things could be different, more whole and healthy.

But, what if we aren’t called to react?

Stick with me here. I’m not saying that we should cast the powerful call of Jesus aside, but what if reacting to the need is not what Jesus is calling us to do? What if he instead is calling us to respond to him.

The difference between reacting to a need and responding to the person of Jesus may be slight in appearance, but I think it is a powerful and important difference, especially if we are committed to transformation – both in ourselves and in the world.

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Every Girl Is My Daughter

I woke up in the middle of the night the other night – something that’s not unusual for me, particularly when my body is still trying to adjust its clock from a trip overseas. After not being able to get back to sleep for a few minutes my typical course of action is to reach for a book, so that’s what I did. I’m in the middle of reading a wonderful book called, “The Hate U Give,” which tells a story of racism in the US through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl after injustice touches her life in a tragic way. The book has me thinking a lot about systemic racism in the United States, particularly in the law enforcement and justice systems, but also in the smaller, everyday places, like within and between neighbourhoods and friends.

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Merry Christmas, from the JustUs Team

  1. Come, thou long expected Jesus,
    born to set thy people free;
    from our fears and sins release us,
    let us find our rest in thee.
    Israel’s strength and consolation,
    hope of all the earth thou art;
    dear desire of every nation,
    joy of every longing heart.
  2. Born thy people to deliver,
    born a child and yet a King,
    born to reign in us forever,
    now thy gracious kingdom bring.
    By thine own eternal spirit
    rule in all our hearts alone;
    by thine all sufficient merit,
    raise us to thy glorious throne.

This hymn by Charles Wesley expresses the hopeful longing of the Advent and Christmas seasons. We know that Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected. We know that Immanuel, ‘God with us’, is with us – goes before us, and is at our side, even now. Yet still we long for the day when God’s kingdom is fully realized. Our hearts are touched by the poverty and injustices we see in the world and cry, “thy gracious kingdom bring!” – the day when all things will be reconciled, made new. In a world that often seems full of pain and darkness, the hope and the longing sit, almost paradoxically, side by side with the joy of this time of celebration.

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Beyond #MeToo

If you’ve been anywhere near social media since October 17th, I’m sure you’ve seen the literally millions of #metoo tweets and statuses. A flood of women sharing that they too have experienced sexual assault or harassment after yet another very public story of gender violence and abuse of power in Hollywood.

I have long thought of myself as a bit of a feminist, but despite these feminist leanings, I did not participate in the #metoo campaign. And not because I haven’t experienced sexual harassment or don’t think it’s a problem. I didn’t participate because I’m tired.

I’m tired because I don’t understand why people should have to continue to “out” themselves as victims again and again to try and see change. #Metoo is not the first campaign of its kind, and it’s not the first time a public story of sexual violence has provoked a flood of new voices that have bravely said, “me too.” I applaud those who have been courageous enough to share their truth, but another “victim count” will not create the change we are looking for. We need to move beyond framing the story around the overwhelming number of people who have experienced this injustice and towards how we, as a society, continue to enable these types of injustices to happen in the first place.

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Injustice . . . it’s more than you think.

Often when I talk about injustice, I think about it as an international problem. And injustice is rampant internationally, but it’s a very local issue as well. My work for a locally focused community youth work organization – Greater Vancouver Youth Unlimited – reminds me of this in beautiful ways. At Youth Unlimited, our mandate flows out of the mission of Jesus. We relationally engage in holistic work with vulnerable youth in partnership with the Church and the community. In other words, we work with some pretty rough around the edges youth, journeying with them towards God’s healing love.

I often tell people that in my role I get to work with the cream of the crop — the leadership-minded youth of Youth Unlimited. However, many people looking out at the faces at one of my program’s meetings may not recognize just how amazing these youth are. Instead, they may be distracted by the blue hair… Or the multiple piercings… Or the green lipstick… Or the sarcastic remarks…

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