I'm a small town girl. Growing up in a rural community in Iowa, life seemed pretty simple. In my little world there were bad people and good people and wise people and foolish people and the good, wise people usually rose to the top of society Unfortunately, life experience did not match that presupposition and my naivety didn't last very far into my adult life. For the last few decades my world has continued to expand, and with it, my ideas and experiences around how life plays out.
But my week in Guatemala has stretched my social, cultural and religious assumptions to some pretty freaky places. I have never much enjoyed spending time in arenas where I don't feel skilled or competent. Combine that with my go-to response of shutting down when I feel overwhelmed and you've got a recipe for denial. Essentially, the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and yelling, "La la la la la la"! when certain issues are being discussed.
But God is showing me that this will not do if I am going to call myself a follower of Jesus. The God of the Bible is a lover of justice and his call for the church involves the implementation of justice. "To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." To uphold the cause of the widow, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, to care for the fatherless, to bind up wounds and ensure justice for the poor and oppressed. Not just to pray for the poor or marginalized (although prayer is vital). Not just send money to others who can deal with the messy, complicated webs of injustice and suffering. But to engage in the pursuit of justice personally, even if it's imperfect.
Last week, one of our excursions was to an organization in Guatemala City dedicated to exhuming the remains of the thousands upon thousands of casualties of the civil war that waged from 1960-1996. These victims were branded 'guerrillas' and were captured, raped, tortured and killed, then thrown into mass graves. But most were not guerrillas. They were innocent mothers and daughters and fathers and sons. The truth is beginning to come to light and the healing process begun as a team of scientists undertake the painstaking work of finding these graves, carefully removing the bones and other personal items, returning the remains to the lab and reconstructing them. In this process they note trauma, gunshot wounds, shrapnel, etc., test for DNA, interview family members or other community members who may have known them and work to connect survivors to the dead. They do this so that families and communities can heal and truth be told and forgiveness be given as injustices are exposed. And, they do this in the hope it might not happen again.
Making it Personal
What I observed as we entered the facility, was a hallway stacked floor to ceiling with boxes. Each box held the remains and personal items of one person (two, if it was a mother and her dead infant).
It was hard to believe it was real. After an introduction of their work by one of the scientists we were ushered into the lab. On the tables in front of us were the meticulously laid out skeletons of perhaps six bodies. Two were tiny--toddlers at best.
How does one process the horror and sadness contained in that one room? I do not know.
We were then shown a large storeroom where the remains of hundreds of victims in newly uncovered graves were stored. As our guide shared what they knew about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these children, women and men our group stared blankly at the rows of boxes. We asked questions, not really wanting to know the answers. "Did they have to dig their own graves?" "Certainly." "Were they dead when they were buried?" "Not always."
One classmate asked our guide how she dealt with all the death and sadness and injustice and apathy from the general public. She seemed so calm as she stated, "Well, with the passing of time..."and then the tears began to stream down her face as the rest of her sentence was swallowed up in the sorrow.
As my black and white world continues to grow smaller in the distance, I am left moving toward an uncertain future. The heroes and villains are beginning to look a lot alike and I sometimes recognize my own face among the perpetrators. I feel damned if I move too quickly or too slowly. But I know I must do something. Not everything. Not regarding every injustice. So what is God inviting me to?
I don't know.
But I can start with telling the story.
I have a confession. I'm on my way to Guatemala City for a class on Spiritual Formation and Social Justice. The pre-class reading has already convicted me. Not like a shame-filled, guilt motivated burden, but like a love-expanding, eye-opening invitation.
So, here is where the confession comes in. I'm currently sitting in the United Club in the Houston airport. In a moment of self-protecting rationalization I upgraded the next leg of my journey to first class. That's right. Just as I open my heart to the injustices that most of the world experiences, I make a move that only highlights the separation between the haves and the have-nots.
My excuse? My heart isn't working as well as it should and long flights cause my ankles to swell up like a pregnant elephant. More leg room in business class with the ability to lift my feet and help my poor, ailing heart get blood to my extremities must be what God wants for me. Right? Plus, it was an absolute STEAL!
Don't worry, I'm not demonizing first class. On the contrary, so far it has been the best decision I've made all day and I haven't even boarded the plane yet. My flight is delayed and instead of the impersonal, glaring fluorescent lights of the general boarding area I'm enjoying a comfortable leather chair with a personal outlet for my waning computer battery. There may or may not be free drinks available (I haven't made it that far yet) and the wifi is much faster than what I was getting outside these doors. I'm pretty sure the bathrooms are much cleaner in here as well. This is good. Very good.
But it does highlight the fact that I'm an insider. True, in my 47 years I've never been in an airline 'club' or flown first class on my own dollar , but I fit in here. I'm in insider. I have power. And that means I have a responsibility to use that power for the good of those who don't.
I don't know what that looks like yet, but I'm more keenly aware of that than ever before. So this week I'll be updating you on the journey God is leading me on. And, my guess is, it won't involve a lifetime of first class. Then again, you never know.
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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