Lenten Devotion: March 18

Due Effort From Our Own Wisdom

— By Anonymous —

When I reflect on how I might remove my support from systems that perpetuate injustice, I feel the wall is insurmountable. The “butterfly effect”, or “globalization,” or the “reproduction of the means of production” all work to convince me that I cannot live outside of “the system,” that no one can live out of context. Everything has a time and place. Each time and place has a historical, social, economic, political, physical reality. If you participate in even the smallest way with any part of that system, you participate in the system as a whole. Even Jesus, the only perfect man, let His words and actions be informed by the cultural norms of His day (Matt. 15: 21-28). Even Jesus, throughout His lifetime, contributed to the salaries of the men who killed His friends and crucified Him. Even Jesus spoke words which have since been used to oppress and kill hundreds of thousands.

So, what can we ever possibly do?

I believe the answer is ultimately concerned with the act of giving, but I am not sure if that giving takes the form of reparations as I currently understand the definition. For some reason, the topic of reparations makes me weary. It seems to imply we are able to measure out a definitive payment for inequity and that with that payment we are able to affect the past. And I know that we aren’t. We are completely incapable of measuring or restoring lives of those who lived before this present day. And I further find myself uncomfortable focusing on the act of repaying debt. I think, ‘Once you start, where and how do you draw the line? Who, but God, can measure the sins of the world?’ 

So, at first, I was thinking more along the lines of: ‘We should be focusing on what can be reshaped and repurposed in this present day – not how to erase what has happened in the past.’ 

But as I thought more, I realized the act of reshaping and repurposing our currently existing systems will involve a reparation in and of itself. Not necessarily in an obvious way like repaying a sum of money to a particular group, though that could be an integral part of it all. But it will be grounded in the fact that getting ourselves or an organization or an entire institution from their current state of operations to a point where they function in a 100% equitable way will require some sacrifice on our part to bridge the gaps. A true effort to realize a more perfect system/process/reality will require an excess of energy, time, resources, imagination, patience, empathy, etc. And that excess of will is itself reparations. To successfully change the world, every existing person, company, entity, institution must provide their part.

And we must not discern the extent of our due effort from our own wisdom.

I feel convinced the answer to how we might overcome our existing inequality is ultimately concerned with giving because the moments in which Christ was truly radical – in which He defied His era’s system – were moments in which He was giving freely to others. Jesus radically gave food, health, forgiveness of sins – His most surprising act, His resurrection, followed the gift of His own life. And before He ascended, He gave everyone the Holy Spirit, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27).

I’m not sure exactly the form “perfect reparations” would take. I believe they are not impersonal, they are not easily calculated, and they will not be thoughtlessly given. I believe those who truly desire to repair the broken systems shaping our reality will know the peace of Christ when they are given their charge.