- Jack H. Bender
The Big Giveaway
On Saturday I attended a 2.5 hour presentation on connecting faith and justice. This is the third time I’ve heard Jack Jezreel speak. He is the creator of JustFaith Ministries, the entity that develops courses for Christians that want to understand justice more deeply and how to live more justly in the world.
He launched his talk by saying Pope Francis has used a word no other pope has every used and that word is sourpuss. That brought a laugh. People of faith cannot be sourpusses. People of faith are the people of the Good News. Jack is a cancer survivor, so he considers each day a gift. Jezreel is keenly aware of countless people dying every day from violence, hunger and disease. So, for him, his life is a gift and the gratitude he holds encourages a response from him in the world. Gratitude begets generosity. The best way to live your life is to give it away.
Jack is good at framing, so he offers that Genesis is the story of “the big giveaway.” The rest of scripture is commentary on our responses to the big giveaway. We’ve been given this amazing planet. What is our response? I sum up scripture a little differently, a course in how to live your life, but I don’t think those two summaries are at odds.
Jezreel believes in change from the bottom versus allowing the elite to arrange the world according to their needs. His latest book, A New Way to Be Church: Parish Renewal from the Outside In, takes a position that the injustice around us should influence what it means to be church and that would imply church members changing in order for the church to change.
In a favorite book of mine, Reality, Grief, Hope, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann urges us to scan the landscape and grieve over the pain that we discover. The process leads to the hopes we have for ourselves and each other. Jesus urges us to repent, but he is not talking about sin. The word he uses is metanoia and the Greek roots of metanoia mean “above mind” or “bigger mind.” Metanoia is the opposite of paranoia where a person loses touch with reality. Jesus was suggesting that the Reign of God with its landscape of love, peace, freedom and abundance was more whole and holy, bigger and loftier, than the choices made by the oppressive Roman elite. The great giveaway was as much a reality as Roman rule.
Jesus, Jezreel and Brueggemann ask that we look around with clear eyes. The reality of pain requires us to grieve, but grief is not a dead end. Grieving helps us move on, inviting us to a place of hope. We, the hopeful, at the bottom of institutions, are the ones who can transform our churches and cities. The DC elite are often distracted from justice issues, even though a more just world would be better for them as well.
I share Jezreel’s vision, which is:
Justice courses offer an opportunity for personal transformation.
Changed people influence their churches in becoming justice oriented
Justice oriented churches change the cities in which they reside.
Is there a possibility of that really happening or is it impossible? We know what a sourpuss would say. Here’s a statement by boxing great and social activist Mohammed Ali:
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”