Shuck and Jive

Friday, October 05, 2007

Justice-Making: The Heart of Faith

(Conversations with Bob! When you care enough to blog your very best. My turn!)

Thanks Bob, for your post on the image of God. I commented, but I would like to repeat what you wrote here:
I affirm that humans, all humans, are created in the image of God. That means that whenever we look at anyone, no matter how we feel about that particular person, no matter what that person may or may not have done, that person deserves respect. We should see that person as one who bears the image of God.
Because what you wrote is so good (and so easy to forget in practice), I almost feel bad about adding that I think creation itself is the image of God and that all living things deserve respect. I think that homo sapiens are slowly realizing that all our relations reflect the divine image in their own unique way.

We are reading Marcus Borg's book The Heart of Christianity in our Thursdays With Jesus study. I think "heart" is the metaphor I have been searching for regarding the essence of faith. What is the "heart" of faith?

So far, I have talked about awe, gratitude, compassion, and creativity. This conversation has also been great inspiration for sermons. I preached on justice-making (My Peace I Leave With You) as another aspect of the heart of faith. I also did a sermon on awe (To Be Spiritual is to Be Alive) and gratitude (One Sufficient Prayer) as well.

I think I will write more about justice-making here. I spoke of two types of justice in the sermon, retributive and restorative justice.

Retributive justice has to do with punishing those who have committed wrongs. Our justice system works on this aspect of justice, for the most part. Restorative justice includes not only retribution but wholeness and healing. Restorative justice can also be called distributive justice in which God's bounty is distributed to all creation.

I have been thinking about this in regards to the recent events in Johnson City regarding the sex sting, although we could talk about it in regards to many issues. Retributive justice is rather easy to accomplish. You find the person who broke a law and you punish that person. Yet the punishment does not always fit the crime and justice is not always blind to prejudice.

Even if retributive justice were perfect, it would still not be enough. It would fall short of God's peace. So much is left unsaid and undone. Restorative justice requires the entire system (nation, community, church, family) to look at its dysfunction and ask what are the deeper issues that underlie the breaking of laws? How can we restore wholeness?

It might be helpful to look at family systems. Children in a dysfunctional family system take on different roles (unconsciously). Nearly every family has a rebel or a problem child. This one is the one who acts out. This one gets in trouble and is seen as the bad one. That is a role that the child takes on for the sake of the family. It is given to the child at birth. So that the family doesn't have to look at its own issues, the rebel is seen as the reason the family is not functioning well. The problems of the family are placed on this scapegoat child. For more on the roles of children in families, here is a nice summary.

This scapegoating can happen with societies as well. Different groups of people can be identified as "the problem" and the collective sins of the community are heaped upon them. Often throughout history, Jewish people were scapegoated. Immigrants, various ethnic groups, and homosexuals, have been demonized and blamed for the ills of society.

Restorative justice requires us to look at the whole and take our responsibility for our own blindness. So what would restorative justice look like in regards to this recent incident in the parks?

This also brings us to the larger question of how we view God. Is God primarily understood in terms of retributive justice or restorative justice? Are human beings ultimately bad and sinful and deserving of divine punishment? Or are human beings in dis-ease and in need of healing and wholeness?

How we look at the problem theologically, sociologically, and psychologically has a great deal to do with how interpret divine action in the world and how we shape our ethical response.

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