-excerpted from “It’s Like This: Visions that Help and Hurt the Church”
I discovered that the work of justice still needed to take place in my life when I was questioned by a Black friend of mine. “What’s the experience of being White in America?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “I’ve never thought about it.”
“That’s the experience of being White in America,” he told me.
I can now answer the question. The experience of being White in America is comfortable apathy. It’s not necessarily malice or stereotyping. It’s the mere disregard for the fact that you are benefiting from a system which disadvantages others. The sense of nonchalance in the face of the struggle of a minority, the passive negligence of the other who must work against tougher odds, is the modern face of racism. We may not have separate bathrooms, but we still have separate possibilities.
Justice is that outward movement of love from a simple compassion for others towards a determination to create compassionate systems and structures. Love seeks to build a home for the homeless. Justice seeks to stop future generations from experiencing homelessness. The blueprint of heaven is not merely for an individualized faith that makes one a better person. It is a plan for a better world.
Justice means living as though by a set of laws no one else has read. Becoming a citizen of a new kingdom means living by the laws of that kingdom, even it if is still only a kingdom to come. It is when employment is free of gender bias, when education is free of political slant, when relationships are founded in respect, society is awash with civility, and classism gives way to abundant generosity that it becomes clear the kingdom of heaven is infecting the kingdoms of this world. Jesus told us to look for signs of it – that the lame would walk, the blind would see, and the deaf would hear. Is it any less supernatural when unjustly shackled are free to run, the prejudicially blind are awakened to clarity, and the apathetically deaf become compassionate? These are the signs that the kingdom under construction is coming to be.
The call of Christians is to begin to live by the rules of the kingdom that is to come instead of by the rules of the kingdoms we’ve inherited.
Standing in the Chicago airport, I was bundled in multiple sweaters, coats, and undershirts. I had been summoned to be a groomsman in a frigid January wedding (for which I never forgave the groom). I couldn’t wait to get back to my home in Hawaii. Standing across the terminal from me was an older couple dressed in matching aloha wear, which, in Hawaii, is the equivalent of writing “tourist” on your forehead. I couldn’t resist walking up to them and asking, “So where you headed?”
They almost shouted, “We’re going to Hawaii!” Of course they were, and everything about them said that they were, from their audacious outfits to their beaming smiles. They knew where they were going, and they couldn’t wait to get there, so much so that they had already dressed for it. They dressed themselves in such a way that no one could miss what they were doing, even if someone might be prompted to make fun of them. And making fun of them wouldn’t have dampened their spirits, because their destination was just that appealing.
Shouldn’t it be that way with the people of heaven? Shouldn’t we be so dressed for our destination that no one could miss it, so excited about our travels that it just oozes out of us? The kingdom of heaven is so compelling that we can’t wait till we get there; we have to start living it here.