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What Is Justice? II  |  "In the Beginning"

What Is Justice? II | "In the Beginning"

From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community. 

“This social justice agenda is an add on to the gospel by liberals and progressive Christians, but it has no biblical basis.” I simply replied, “Well as a Pastor of Justice, I’m just going to have to disagree with you. I can assure you there is tons of biblical basis for justice, social or otherwise.”

I don’t think my friend meant offense by what he said. He wasn’t trying to get my goat. He was simply just sharing an opinion on the current cultural and political landscape of our country. It didn’t surprise me to hear a comment like that. In all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that a lot of Christians believe there is no biblical basis for social justice. I’ve heard other pastors refer to “social gospels” as though it were some well meaning, but ultimately neutering of the “real” gospel. That somehow a “social” gospel is a gospel with an agenda that wasn’t Christ’s agenda and relies on non-biblical sources to make its case. Martin Luther King Jr. was often criticized by the Christian community for being a socialist.

The truth is that taking out the portions of scripture where justice is explicit or even implicit would be like removing the advertisements out of Cosmopolitan magazine. You’d be left with little more than the binding and a few seemingly random pages. The fact that we’d need to emphasize the gospel being “social” is evidence that our default gospel telling is set to “self-center”. It should be no surprise that the biblical basis for social justice starts at the beginning; the very beginning of the biblical narrative in the book of Genesis.

What makes for a just space? Judaism has a one word for that which dates back to ancient times. Shalom. In English shalom translates to peace, which unfortunately does not begin to capture the robustness of what Judaism was trying to communicate. Our usage of peace typically means the absence of conflict. The picture the writers of Genesis paints of the beginning is absent of conflict, but it is also absent of any signs of life. The earth is described as being “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”

What happens next and its significance is often lost on those who want to debate on whether or not it should be taken literally. We are witnesses to the fact that the earth is not formless and devoid of light and life. We know that the earth is teeming with life and light and beauty of seemingly infinite form. Far from being empty, it is full.

Genesis gives its own poetic account of the divine speaking creating and declaring good things on the earth. The divine creates entire social system of plant life, wildlife and human beings all “blessed” with the ability to continue the creation process or as the writer simply puts multiply! At the end of their work the divine looks at the earth and declares it all very good.

But what is good about it?

This is where the Jewish understanding of peace or shalom is tantamount. It is good because there is complete and undeterred individual and corporate harmony between and amongst every inch of the earth and its creatures. If Genesis 1 had a theme song, Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” seems the obvious choice. Shalom is the idea that everything is as it ought to be.

Justice depends on the idea that our world, and everything in it, was good and is good. Justice is the belief that whatever has gone wrong with our world can be made right. Justice is the ethic that our goodness as mankind is tied together with the goodness of this world we inhabit. Creation didn’t end after the sixth day. Most everything that fills the earth was bestowed a blessing to continue the creation process by being fruitful and multiplying. In the Genesis 2 account mankind is explicitly invited into the vocation of creating more when God tells them to work the ground and keep it. Eden had no boundaries no fence no limits. It was always meant to go forth and expand. The world is the showcase for our creative endeavors that multiply and expand goodness and thicken shalom.

Last but certainly not least shalom is also the idea that everyone and everything has enough. Some have more and some have less but everyone has enough. Everyone and everything have enough to contribute to the increase and expanse of good in our world. Everyone and everything have enough to keep inadequacy, or shame, and guilt or blame out of the equation.

Justice recognizes when this isn’t the case and springs into action to make things right. To pursue, at times what seems impossible, shalom. For things to no longer simply be the way they are, nor the way they could be, but to be how it ought to be.

At Watershed we are energized by seeing people in our community who see the absence of shalom and respond by using their resources, ingenuity, and creativity in unison with others, to bring about shalom. That’s how we know people really truly understand what justice is, why it’s needed, and that it is inherently social. 

What Is Justice?

What Is Justice?

From inception Watershed has sought to put justice at the forefront of our mission. Whether embedded into the themes of pop culture artifacts or real life events in our city, nation, and world, justice has become a hot topic. Over the course of the next few weeks Pastor of Justice Cedric Lundy is going to conduct a blog series aimed at unpacking our understanding of justice and why it’s fundamental to our community. 

The dictionary definition of justice is as follows…

“The maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. The principle or ideal of just dealing or right action.”

Undoubtedly pop culture has shaped our understanding of justice. We have a plethora of television shows movies and comic book heroes who administer justice by pursuing evildoers and holding them accountable for their misdeeds. However, they most often present an incomplete picture of justice. The collateral damage in the form of property damage created during the heroine’s pursuit is usually glossed over. There are some exceptions.

Pixar’s The Incredibles builds a story where the collateral damage develops a major plot point. It leads to a flood of lawsuits that eventually leads to legislation forcing the supers to go into hiding. The movie Hancock starring Will Smith picks up a similar theme. Ever since watching those movies I find myself thinking about the millions dollars in property damage caused by the Avengers, Superman’s final battle with Zod in Man of Steel and not to be out done the Transformers franchise. Point being, we often have an incomplete understanding of what justice truly is evidenced by the popular stories we tell and consume.

On the other hand the Christian scriptures present a complete picture of justice one often easily missed. Many are familiar with Christian traditions where the climactic point in the story is when God banishes evildoers and the unrighteous to eternal punishment and suffering for their crimes.

However it has often left a huge unresolved issue, “What about Earth and all of creation?”

Many of the same Christian traditions would reply by indicating that Earth is destroyed after the saints are relocated to heaven, which only causes people to balk even further. Imagine a story where the heroines only save the inhabitants of Earth and not Earth itself?

You needn’t think too hard if you’ve seen the movie Interstellar. I absolutely love that movie, but I can’t help but wonder if I’d feel slightly different about it if the lasting image or scene from that movie was a dead and desolate Earth with no signs of life instead of a father who has literally crossed space and time to be reunited with his daughter. We get so lost in the image of Cooper boarding a ship to go find Brand all alone on her planet that we’ve all but forgotten that while the remaining humans have managed to escape there is no justice for planet Earth (as I’m writing this it's suddenly occurred to me that it appears they left all the animals there to die as well).

On the contrary, that depiction of the biblical narrative is an incomplete one. The story doesn’t end with Earth destroyed. It ends, or, better put, re-begins, with Earth being renewed. The saints don’t go up to heaven, heaven comes down to Earth. The original vision of heavens and Earth joined together without separation is recast.

In the same way something is missing when super heroes can ride off into the sunset satisfied that they’ve brought the villain to account while the city crumbles literally and financially, there is something missing when we paint the Divine as only concerned with saving souls... and matter does not matter. Assuming we all agree that all matter matters, Christians who promote this incomplete story need to be reminded that the Earth Matters (too!).

The end of the Bible in Revelation is not the only place where we see this picture of Earth being restored and renewed. It is mentioned in the similar language in the prophesies of Isaiah.

“For behold, I create new heaven and a new Earth…”

“They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.”

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall ear straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.”

All that being said, a complete yet simple definition of justice is “putting the wrongs to rights”. In the super hero movies it would look like the Avengers working to help restore and rebuild the cities that were laid waste in their epic battles to defeat their adversaries. In Harry Potter it would be Harry using the Elder Wand quickly to rebuild and restore Hogwarts before snapping it half and tossing it into the Black Lake (that always bothers me when I watch it). 

With the exception of Potter, where it’s as simple as a waving of his wand and everything magically coming back together like new, a scene where we see the process of justice come to completion isn’t a climatic high point. Justice, the real substantial justice that we long for, is long and slow. It doesn’t happen over night. The pains and wrongs of this world didn’t happen over night, so it only makes sense for the real work of justice to be long and slow as well.

When we talk about justice at Watershed, it is with this understanding of justice.

When we look at the Christian scriptures we can’t help but be drawn to this over-arching theme of the Divine creating an entire world worth saving, not just its inhabitants. We see a God who is deeply invested in putting the world to rights. We see a God who is about long, and sometimes painfully slow, justice as He communes with mankind and equips us, the vulnerable ones in this equation, to be a part of bringing justice to His good creation.

Sure, Harry Potter could have used the Elder Wand to repair and restore Hogwarts in an instant, but I have to admit that there is something beautifully communal and healing for all who considered Hogwarts home to pocket their wands and get their hands dirty. There is a new level of ownership they’d all have by forgoing the quick, easy, sanitary way of rebuilding.

In the process, maybe they’d find some semblance of healing themselves as well.


Will You Inconvenience Yourself to Intervene?: Small Steps in Stopping Rape Culture

Will You Inconvenience Yourself to Intervene?: Small Steps in Stopping Rape Culture

I don’t think I truly recognized how potentially significant of an intervention I made in Sarah’s life until I read the unnamed victim of Brock Turner’s letter, and internally wrestled with how messed up it is that he is going to be home in time for Halloween after he serves his 3 months in the country jail after doing that to her. I had an idea but I don’t think I really truly understood.

India: A Generosity Opportunity

India: A Generosity Opportunity

In last Sunday's Gathering Matt took some time to share about Watershed's ten-year partnership with Pastor Thanglal Haokip from Guwahati, India. Thanglal was a boy from the orphanage where the O’Neil’s and the Hoferts lived in the late 90’s. He attended the seminary in Kota, Rajasthan, where Matt and Scott were adjunct staff and he served as their translator.

Thanglal and his wife, Angum, planted a church in 2006 in Guwahati called Saraighat Community Church. Saraighat (pronounced Sa-rye-got) is a community striving to embody God’s peace, love and mercy. This isn't easy given the oppositional religious climate in their region of India. People who identify as Muslim, Hindu, and even some Christians are often in turmoil with each other due to poverty and governmental power struggles between corrupt religious and political leaders. Saraighat continues to try exist in ways that build bridges into their community and broker compassion and hope in the wake of so much poverty and struggle. The name Saraighat is actually the name of a bridge in Guwati which connects several different parts of India together. So, in some sense, their name embodies their mission. Watershed has enjoyed providing a decade of support for the Hoakip's justice-oriented work in India and Matt and Scott continue to mentor Thanglal via Skype to this day. 

Recently Thanglal reached out to Matt and Scott with a special need: a reliable vehicle. The Haokips have relied on public transportation their entire existence in Guwahati. However, due to how difficult and sometimes dangerous it is to travel via the public transit system and due to how geographically dispersed the villages they work with are, having a vehicle to rely on would be revolutionary to their efforts. A vehicle would enable the Haokips to move about more organically, more freely, and in a way that is more secure and safe. 

It's not often that we have such tangible opportunities to show love to our global partners outside of our regular support! 

the total cost to purchase a reliable vehicle for the haokip family is $3,500

Already our community has generously given about $800 toward the vehicle! We would love to fully cover this cost by the end of the month, and we invite you to be a part of that effort. 

If you'd like to practice generosity by helping the Haokips obtain a vehicle, there are several ways you can do it:

  • By cash or check. Drop an envelope in our metal offering boxes on Sunday or mail to P.O. Box 12749 | Charlotte, NC 28220. Please be sure to note that the gift is specifically for India.
  • Online through our SecureGive System (click here). 

Thank you for supporting our dear friends as they seek to do meaningful work in a difficult part of the world!

The Haokip's prayer requests

  • On May 18th a fanatical Hindu party won the election in the Haokip's state. This group is against several minority groups, including Christians. The Hoakips and their community are always vulnerable to violence or discrimination. Please Pray for God's protection and God’s peace to materialize within a climate of anger and fear.
  • Please pray for the two house churches which are extensions of Saraighat’s community in remote parts of India. Because they are more isolated, they are more vulnerable to injustice and suffering. Please pray for their protection.
  • Thanglal will be preaching and teaching 15 times from the last week of June until July 20th in a variety of locations to both youth and young pastors.  Please pray for stamina, inspiration and awareness as he teaches.