This week I spent in my favorite sitting chair, with a fractured leg elevated just so. That's a fun story involving a sense of adventure, no sense of balance and a pushy youth group. In between calcium-rich snacking and glimpsing through that stack of books I spent the last nine months swearing I'd read eventually, I find myself missing one thing--my birch workbench.
In the rack I built onto the back end of my bench, just to the right of my chisels, there are a series of measuring devices- a sliding bevel, a small set of dividers, a marking knife and a marking gauge.
In the old days a craftsmen could use the width of his fingers or the length of an arm or leg to measure out proportional pieces of oak for a chair, maybe a staircase using tools like these.
These sorts of tools not only helped determine where to place a cut or gouge a dado (squared groove), they helped decide how the parts would work best with each other. Unlike ruled measurers, tapes and rulers which impose their standard inch or foot to the piece, these would set the standard by perpetuating the proportions of the workman's own body to the pieces' own nature. They represent a time when the craft was even more personal to the craftsman. It should be noted, these tools are still useful today, but are more often than not used directly with traditional metrics (inches and feet).
They are old tools, they are relational, bringing together what is unique to the worker's nature to the nature of the piece, and draw metered order from what is rough sawn, unruled, and unfinished.
Sometimes in development and relief work countable things like populations, food, income, rates of increase and decrease, help do a similar thing. They help us know what's going on. And as far as the church concerns itself with such verbal identities as doing justice and loving mercy, it's best attempts will be rooted in solid data. But that's just the beginning.
What makes things like food insecurity, affordable housing and criminal justice reform matters of justice and not simply real time word problems is that when we see issues like these, as complicated as they are, we know something's wrong and we are inclined to believe a better ideal exists. They involve people we care about.
Besides what can be counted and recorded, measured, from the social injustices of our time, we must consider a proportional response. When the church is involved in the the work of redeeming a broken world, its solutions should be unique to the work of Christ itself.
In the case of our brother and sister who are hungry today, let's not objectify the pangs in purely economic terms, seeking purely economic solutions. Perhaps the problem of not having enough is rarely as simple to just be about the not having.
Jesus's finger is slightly wider than the whatever standard metric a world of workmen applies to the same work. His concern extends beyond material needs and that makes all the difference.
Doing justice in our communities should have a higher standard of excellence because when Jesus sets the captives free, it's not regionalized emancipation. His is freedom from sin and its consequences for everyone, to every level of living. Our commitment to social justice should not only concern the people we are comfortable serving because their brand of poverty or oppression is not too uncomfortable to look at. We cannot peeter out after charitable holidays or when problems seem less agitated.
Justice work for churches can't stop at surface level solutions. We must be involved with changing the systems which propagate injustice and oppression.
Also, working for solutions with Christ as our guide means we are not bound by those worldly institutions which vie for our allegiance. We don't have to ask permission from a given social institution or class, the bank or any politician to love our neighbor out of poverty.
For the Christian community, justice is predicated about the notion that God's love trumps injustice in the end, forever. That, the gospel alone, runs counter to the world's justice moores of all time. The gospel drives our efforts to rectify broken systems and relationships in our state, nation and abroad as a means of building the Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven. The gospel ensures justice is done well and completely, and that in addition to material providence, the true needs of a person's heart are met.
That makes our work unique.