Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. ~Isaiah 1:17 NRSV
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“I’ve never met an activist member of the Evangelical Left before!” The woman stood before me with wide eyes. “How did you get there?” That got me pondering. We believe social justice and Jesus should be our guides, with Scripture as our road map. Evangelists, dreamers, artists, preachers, protesters, teachers, prophets, activists, writers, creators and doers. I’m blessed to know folks who speak up whether it is through action, service, art, standing in front of government buildings, writing everything from books to letters to protest signs (which often are pieces of art themselves).
But not all my friends and associates would be considered hippies or liberal or radical or any of those other names bandied about in the media. I look at all these disparate people and got to wondering, “How did THEY get to who they are today?”
So I asked them. And not just friends who think like I do.
Now true to form, folks were willing to speak up. Whether people considered themselves Pentecostals, Methodists, Catholics, Jesus followers, pagans or agnostics etc.:
- They believed they were born with empathy for others; and/or
- Life experiences and exposure were catalysts – whether they observed acts happen to others once too often or incidents in their own lives.
Born that way
Quite a few of my friends talked about feeling for people from a very young age. They came into the world “born” empathizers. These folks can trace examples back to early years when most other children are still fighting over toys.
Young eyes saw riots happen and realized people were angry for a reason. Some had what one friend called an “overactive sense of fairness.” They stood up for others on the playground. Or maybe even more importantly, they noticed when they had a nice playground at school while others did not. Some have been encouraged and taught by their parents to be this way, but those seeds were planted in fertile soil.
Jesus was born that way too, a wise friend pointed out.
Targets of bullies, teased about skin color, witnessing a shooting or being a victim of violence, adopting children of color, having children with special needs, being multi-racial, or having family behaving badly. As one friend said, witnessing racist family members spewing vitriol and then going to church and hearing, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight,” made them angry enough to stand up for others, even if it meant disagreeing with family.
A pediatrician and family friend influenced me. Dr. Neumann’s patients WERE her family. We loved her. But we were her family because her own relatives were killed in the Holocaust. The horror of her experience affected me like nightmare horror movies. From an early age, my guiding questions were, “Why would anyone kill Dr. Neumann’s family? What would I do in that situation to prevent it? What makes people put their lives at risk for others?”
Again, some parents influenced them in the way of Micah 6:8 – Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. They didn’t keep their children in a bubble, but took them to places that made them think, introduced them to people different from themselves. Books also were listed as an incredible influence into the worlds and lives outside our own. As adults, people allowed themselves to be exposed, to step into situations and get out of their bubble.
Called to it
Pierre Teihard de Chardin says, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What would Jesus Do? What would God want me to do? These questions moved people forward whether they liked it or not. And they find themselves proclaiming, enough is enough. Even when they’d rather be silent.
Or a transformation happens regardless of a person’s nature or experience. “Jesus introduced me to His friends.” Or God speaks to folks directly and opens their eyes. God allows people to see injustice and then doesn’t let them unsee it. Enough is enough. God called the reluctant, blind, and silent. Several reluctant friends mentioned getting dragged front and center into situations needing a “voice crying out in the wilderness.” Enough is enough.
Bottom line: You may not have been born an empathetic soul. You may not have had the experience to get you out of your bubble, but God swoops in and uses you anyway.
I may be a person whose beliefs others don’t identify with – but this is the deal. Whether you are a conservative Baptist, a liberal agnostic, a not so silent Quaker, a noner (person who is still Christian but done with Church), a person who connects more with Nature, or someone who doesn’t think about God at all, if we pay attention to the Spirit within us, if we allow ourselves to be exposed to the pain of others, if we listen and look for an opportunity in this world for us to make a difference, we will be able to speak up in ways we never thought possible. Maybe with fear and trembling, but we can do it. Trust me.
I speak up because of the strength Jesus gives me, the guidance of the Scriptures and God’s nudgings, but I wouldn’t have gotten HERE without valuing and examining the experiences through my life. That’s how I got here.
What experiences can you look at more fully and make a difference? What will help open your eyes? What makes you speak up? How do you find the strength?
My prayer is that we each find that strength and speak up about what truly matters.