Making Injustice about Me
How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
—Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NIV)
I got pretty overwhelmed this past year.
I think it happened when children began being separated from their parents, being incarcerated, being neglected and abused, and dying in the hands of my government. When it made the headlines, showing how very bad things had gotten, it killed something that had been sustaining me through ten years of working toward immigration reform.
See, I’m kind of a jerk. I’m kind of self-focused, a little bit of a narcissist. Because the truth is, what really took the wind out of my sails was not that I couldn’t bear to look at the pain of this injustice. It was that I felt like I’d worked so hard. I had felt called, and equipped, and effective — and I liked how it felt to be making an impact. I had thought I was using my gifts purposefully, steering the church toward more hospitality, more compassion, more powerful truth-telling to the people making the laws.
But now we were locking up kids. Their pain broke my heart. And the truth of it broke my sense of calling. What did it mean to be called when it seemed to make no real difference at all?
“Why do you make me look at injustice?” is a cry of my heart, if I’m honest. Why have I been called to care about this stuff, to “feel the pain of injustice in my body,” as my friend Dr. Alexia Salvatierra puts it. I’m tired of the pain. I’m tired of the disappointment. And, I admit, I’m tired of feeling powerless, ineffective, and weak.
When I asked Alexia how she stays engaged in the face of such pain, she told me this: “It’s not us as individuals that do the work. We have this very individualistic culture, and that’s not a Scripture way of seeing the world. It’s really the body of Christ that does the work, and you just have your little voice in the choir. And so when you realize that, you don’t live with the pressure of having to get the work done in the same way. Your pressure is only your ganas, your deep desire. But it’s not the sense that it all is on you, because it’s not all on you. You’re really part of something much larger, that goes around the world and throughout the ages.”
Around the world and throughout the ages, God has been calling a people — not a person — to this work of redemption. It does not depend on effectiveness or impact or power or results, and it cannot be extinguished by evil policies or immoral rulers. It is our ganas, our deep desire that we feel in our bodies, because we long not for our own effectiveness, our own importance, our own power. We long for justice, for good news, for God.
Prayer: God, renew our deep desire for justice. Embolden us to continue to face the reality of a world in pain. Grant us humility to be part of a community, not the center of the story. Help us see signs of hope, good news, and redemption. Amen.
Rev. Kate Kooyman works for the Office of Social Justice, currently in a remote role as she travels the continent with her family and dog. Normally she lives, works, and worships in Grand Rapids, Michigan.