Habits of the Just

There was an episode of something years ago where one of the characters wanted to get a handicapped parking sticker for his car, so he could park close to stores during the holiday shopping season. To make sure he'd get the pass, he described himself as having nearly every disease and disability there was. And he got busted when the city parking inspector wanted to meet him in person, because he'd never heard of anyone who was that sick.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book "The Tipping Point" notes that crime rates in New York City went down sharply after the mayor decided to have the police department crack down on turnstile-jumpers and grafitti artists on the city's subway. Beginning with incredibly small things caused huge changes. The little things gave hope to the law-abiding, who became more active in keeping things hopeful, and shamed the lawbreakers.

We've just heard from Sharon Kohn, who's in charge of operations for International Justice Mission. We've been confronted with a huge reality (for example, the 27 million people in slavery today, more than any other time in history) and Christ's command to us to get out into God's world and work with Him to help heal it.

I'm both inspired and terrified at what God asks of us in seeking justice. I proudly and happily buy fairly traded coffee-- that's easy. The church where I work supports shelters and food pantries and donates supplies to help the poor in St. Louis-- we can do that without going any farther than our building. But I've never rescued anyone from slavery, or gone to the Third World to rescue children forced into prostitution. It's been years since I even wrote a letter to the editor. And I'm scared, honestly, of a lot of those things and what changes they would mean in my life.

As usual, there's more to justice than I'm ready to take on by myself.

But justice is a system that starts, a la Malcolm Gladwell, with the smallest things. We can think about justice once a year when a speaker shows us faces and tells us tragic (but ultimately victorious) stories, or we can keep justice in our minds all the time in the way we handle the details.

I'm telling myself that it's petty and won't matter, but justice begins at the handicapped parking space. In other words, it begins by making sure that people with needs have access to the things that meet them. Justice is not forgetting about elderly people who live in nursing homes with little contact from their own families. It's making sure soup kitchens and shelters have the food and manpower they need to serve their clients. It's losing our fear of people with mental illnesses and caring for them. It's challenging our middle school students to love their nerdy classmate (aka neighbor.)

What justice needs to grow is a tipping point, when so many of us are doing so many little things that we can't avoid the hope they give us, and start living, as Sharon Kohn put it, like we believe we are God's plan for justice in the world.


Anonymous said...

You should read "One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way" by Robert Maurer. Amazon links to it here: http://www.amazon.com/Small-Step-Change-Your-Life/dp/0761129235/sr=8-1/qid=1160366414/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-7614133-4670524?ie=UTF8&s=books


Anonymous said...

err... link here with line breaks added...


Tony Myles said...

I totally dig Gladwell's stuff... very thought provoking on many levels.