Justice Conference 2013
LEAVING - Feb 20, 2013
I'm attending this, the Justice Conference, for the 2nd time in my life, staring tomorrow. I leave for the city of Brotherly Love at the wonderfully dismal hour of 5:00 a.m.
I am extremely excited and prayerful about what I will learn and what will be ignited in my heart. As always, my trusted side-kick, Ben Chen, will be going too.
In short, I will attempt to keep up with things here on my forlorn little blog: what I'm hearing, what I'm seeing, what I'm learning. More to come, when I'm not falling asleep on the keys.
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA - Feb 22, 2013
Welcome to Philadelphia, a city where I deign to think of myself as a local already, knowing the difference between Market Street and Southside, Passyunk and East Passyunk. I know where not to buy cheesesteaks and where to buy seafood and I know several actors in shows I see in posters as I walk down the street.
This city, bedecked with grandiose Masonic architecture, crowded with row-houses shoved together in delightfully close-knit unity, jostling with national history on cobbled streets, is an inspiring place.
And somehow, it is a city that welcomes you in with open arms.
So I am not a local so much as the city simply becomes my friend, invites me to its parties and lets me in on a few secrets. It showed me love, not I it.
Philadelphia - as we all know our greek etymology - means brotherly love, or love between brothers. Love is a strong concept and I don't mean that random city dwellers lock me in an embrace as soon as they see me (though that would be swell, I think), but it speaks to a certain unity that we all want. A certain bond we all desire - a communal fraternity (ladies included) of people.
This makes me think of the Church. Big C. It makes me wonder if the Church is, at times, as welcoming as this city? And this city is just a large-scale experiment in human community, like any other. But do we as a Church, as the Bride of Christ, have as open arms? Do we beckon and invite others to our tables; do we show them more hospitality than these few strangers-become-friends I've met?
This is a big yes and no answer and more than a mere blogpost can tackle, especially as I sit minutes before the Conference begins with the last sugary dregs of street-cart coffee. But suffice it to say I've been thinking about "adelphoi" - Brothers and Sisters - the Church. The greek word Paul and Jesus used to talk about the People of God. Paul used it all the time and Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, used it via translation - but the word is often treated in most Bible translations as simply "Brothers" - perhaps because of past patriarchy or perhaps not - and "adelphoi" given a nice little footnote.
But my point is: the Church was and comprised of Brothers and Sisters and referred to as one word, as "adelphoi", as those joined in love so strong that it is considered "philadelphia", brotherly love - strong, open, bold and unbreakable love. Jesus is the only "friend who sticks closer than a brother" so apart from Him we, Church, need to love each other with the unity and sacrifice that comes with "adelphoi"- only then will we rightly love this world. This world needs love and more than that it needs real Love and if Christians believe what we say we believe we've got a lot more loving to do.
My train into this city saw the outside, the less-loving parts, where the row-houses not so quaintly lean near-to falling down, where most buildings lie in decay and abandonment, where the trash of struggle and cheap living stick to the fences and gather in the corners. This isn't a diatribe about 'urban decay' but a microcosm of the larger story - the larger brokenness pervading this Creation that looks for its fix when only one Fix will do. The Church is tasked with this work, this work of brotherly love.
Thus am I here at this conference, to learn better how to put action in my arms and meaning behind my words. There's more to say and better ways to say it but for now, this is where things are.
PART I - Feb. 24, 2013
(There may or may not be a part II. I have hopes and notes.)
Today was day 1 of the conference - I attended the pre-conference and the actual 1st day of the conference itself. 7.30 am till 9.30 pm of learning, listening and pondering.
For now, I'll talk about what I've gleaned so far.
I learned in Session 1 that justice is not sexy but it is beautiful, that it is the power of Christ, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, to 'make a way out of no way' and to be 'a balm in Gilead for the sin-sick soul,' that Jesus has been to Mordor and back and that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like me, wrestled through doubts about who he even was, fundamentally torn between an imprisoned, light-longing soul and a supposed lover of the Truth.
I learned in Session 2 not to pity the Congo but to labor and seek for its beauty to be realized, to intercede for reconciliation at the tribal level and to download a helpful and practical app for saving money to be used for small but important charity victories called Forgo.
I learned in Session 3 from a Chinese-American lover of Philly named Laurence that scarcity leads to clarity and reveals my priorities, that suburbs are good at hiding the poverty they contain in larger numbers than most cities, that the changing urban world requires unity among Believers and that unity requires sacrifice of self motivated by a Grace that 'breaks the seams and redraws boundaries beyond the familiar.'
I learned in Session 4 from the man who started One Day's Wages just how exactly I might go about putting action to my dreams and hands to work to create my vision, that I, like him, suffer from the "messianic complex" that I and I alone must do all and save all, and that our generation is "the most over-rated generation in human history," that our conflated sense of self, entitlement and wasted creative brilliance has us "languishing on the surface" of truly impactiul initiatives while lackimg the tenacity.
Then there was the poetry slam, some gospel, a tiny acoustic set by Michael Gungor and meeting a handful of the exhibitors. For now, day 1. I'm falling asleep already - we met up with several conferencers after the last session and then met even more new strangers-turned-friends on our walk back home. We keep things busy.
POST-TRIP - Feb 25, 2013
This conference has found my friend Ben and I more mature and more practically inspired by the wise and encouraging words of endurance, faithfulness, tenacity and consistent righteousness. We labor and pine that this burgeoning Justice movement - starting in the church and flowing outward - is more than a fad and that we remember the tireless and thankless labor of our forefathers and mothers.
We are the most over-rated generation in the history of humanity. We are extraordinarily entitled and living in a culture of conflated self-worth. The call of Christ to die to self can be grossly rewritten into a self-centered rhapsody of our own 'selflessness' while we exploit the very ones we claim to serve, all in the name of Jesus; this is a scary thing.
There is so much potential in us. So much energy and labor and creativity. We are so wealthy and we are so able. Let us reclaim our neighborhoods, live amongst the needy, pour out our time and limited funds like water, pray without ceasing and love without reciprocation.
For now I leave this conversation, lest I bore everyone with a burden of helplessness. Christ's yoke is easy, after all, and His burden light.