Justice From The Inside Out

Recently, I have been apprenticing with an independent crafter, doing home renovations of all kinds. Whatever folks need taken care of – whether it’s carpentry or electrical work, HVAC or painting – we get it done. As an apprentice, I am growing in many ways. In addition to learning all sorts of useful skills, I am also receiving an entirely different perspective on my city. I’m getting a laborer’s-eye-view of how things work – and sometimes don’t.

I grew up believing that I lived in a generally fair society. My childhood experience – admittedly, rather sheltered – told me that people mostly honored their agreements, and that insurance would cover any major catastrophe. As an adult, I’ve learned enough to realize that this is not always the case. Yet, in the jobs I’ve worked, I’ve always been treated relatively fairly. At the very least, the letter of the law has been obeyed.

Lately, though, I’ve been seeing first hand that this isn’t everyone’s experience. Many workers are very vulnerable to those who decide, for whatever reason, not to follow through on their commitments. Just in my first few weeks as an apprentice, I’ve seen one person simply decide that he wouldn’t pay for labor. Another man left us hanging for days, without payment, after having us buy hundreds of dollars in materials for him, while we sweated in the worst summer heat Washington has to offer.

Watching all of this play out, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our culture could become more honest, more fair in our dealings. As someone for whom the system has often worked, my knee-jerk reaction is to desire a legal fix. Contracts should be honored, and those who cheat their workers should be held accountable! Perhaps with better laws, things would be different.

But state power can probably only address the most extreme abuses – and even then, government intervention often creates as many problems as it solves. As I witness the fundamental disorder of our culture, I am becoming more aware of our need for individual and societal heart change. New and better laws can coerce some citizens to behave themselves some of the time, but our real need is to move from law to grace, from the letter to the Spirit, from form to substance.

I don’t have an easy road map for how we get there. The church – the true, living body of Jesus being made flesh in the world – is the only durable solution. But I don’t have any lever to pull to cause this radically faithful fellowship to come into being. I do hope that my life can make some positive impact, cooperating with the movement of the Holy Spirit that we pray for. None of us, by our own efforts, can build the church. But I can plant, water, and nurture the tender shoots of God.

What are ways that you have found to nurture the seeds of justice and right relationship in your community? How can we open ourselves to the transforming power of Christ’s love? What steps might we take to lead lives of deeper integrity and love, and encourage others to do the same?