Because it is the Faithful Thing To Do

{Editor’s Note: Due to technical difficulties, this post, originally scheduled for August 19th, was delayed – posting now!}


I spent two weeks out of state, mostly away from the internet, TV, and newspapers – enjoying some much needed study leave.  Returning to the news of the world on Thursday, August 14th was, I confess, quite an incredibly jarring experience.

The depth and the breadth of the systemic racism in Ferguson, Missouri revealed both in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager and the assault on the protesters demanding accountability for his murder at the hands of the law, the ongoing deaths in Gaza even in the midst of cease-fires, the President’s announcement that we are reentering Iraq, increasing violent deaths in the Ukraine, Syria, Honduras…  and at home, the second weekend of August was an especially bloody one in New Orleans, as six shootings across the city left five people dead and wounded 11 human beings, including a 2 year old, a 4 year old and a 13 year old…

Dear Ones, today my heart is broken and I am trying to do the faithful work of making sure that it is broken open, to make room for more and more love.

In my time away, I finished reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder’s portrait of doctor and anthropologist Paul Farmer. Dr. Farmer is an extraordinary human being who has spent much of his life both among the most profoundly poor people in the world and in the halls of ‘the Brigham’ and Harvard in Boston.   Haiti is where the organization he founded, Partners in Health, did its first work and where it still maintains its flagship project, the hospital called Zanmi Lasante, (Haitian Creole for Partners in Health).

As the book concludes, author Tracy Kidder “notes Farmer’s fondness for a particular phrase: “the long defeat.” At one point he quotes Dr. Farmer:

 “I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory. . . . You know, people from our background — like you, like most Partners In Health-ers, like me — we’re used to being on a victory team, and actually what we’re really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it’s not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.”

Commenting on Kidder’s work, Professor Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College wrote:

 “It seems to me that this philosophy of history, if we may call it that, is the ideal one for anyone who has exceptionally difficult, frustrating, even agonizing, but nevertheless vitally important work to do. For such people, the expectation of victory can be a terrible thing — it can raise hopes in (relatively) good times only to shatter them when the inevitable downturn comes. Conversely, the one who fights the long defeat can be all the more thankful for victories, even small ones, precisely because (as St. Augustine said about ecstatic religious experiences) he or she does not expect them and is prepared to live without them….”

Now I have been recently described as ruthlessly optimistic –and while I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that description — it did highlight for me the need to be explicit about our call to do the work of justice.  Friends, we do not work for justice because we know that we are going to win.  We work for justice because it is the ethical thing to do, the loving thing to do, the merciful, compassionate, and faithful thing to do.

If and when you feel overwhelmed by all the healing that must be done, by the sheer volume of injustice present in any one news cycle – I invite you to breathe in and breathe out.  Remember that you are not alone. We who have only begun to imagine justice and mercy, let us not give up if we are comfortably devastated and can afford to despair.  Let us be in solidarity with those whom the dominant culture treats as losers, let us join in the fighting the long defeat with love, compassion, courage and peace that passes understanding.

Together we bend the long arc of the universe toward justice that we may not live to see, but which we must struggle for because it is the faithful thing to do.

{PS – There is a gathering in New Orleans planned for September 26-28, 2014 for those wanting to live missional, justice-making lives and who are looking for a beloved community to connect with on the journey.  Learn more here and here }



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