A friend recently sent me a link to this blog post. In it, the author talks about the differance between justice and compassion – as he describes it, compassion is feeding the hungry, while justice is working to end the causes of hunger.
This sort of talk makes me uneasy.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for working to end systemic problems. If you have the chance to make life better for those on the margins and you do not, I think you are wrong. On two days out of three, I would even call it sinful.
But I suspect the reason so many of us are attracted to high level solutions (ie. “working for justice”) has less to do with our desire to see a just world and more to do with us.
We have bought into the myth of our exceptionalism. We believe that all problems have solutions and, what is more, that those solutions can be discovered by us. In fact, I would go further than that – we believe that those solutions should be discovered and implemented by us. We view ourselves as the world’s problem solvers. We are the virtuous ones. We are the standard.
We have nothing to learn. Because we already know the answers.
Most faith based versions of compassion, such as a short term mission trip or an afternoon at the soup kitchen, are no better. They reinforce to us that we are the fortunate ones, that we are the standard and that we deserve to be the way we are. Short term service can, and often does, revolve around our issues of convenience and control.
My work is about moving beyond, to use, the author’s words, either compassion or justice and into relationship.
Relationship is not me centered, but relationship centered. Entering into relationship is messy and time consuming. Entering into relationship is humbling – because in a relationship we have to subliminate some of what we want in order for the relationship to work.
If the church were to focus on entering into relationship with the poor instead of merely having compassion for the poor or instead of working for justice for the poor, then the church could learn from the poor.
But first we would have to believe that they have something to teach us.