Being A Social Justice Advocate…

February 14, 2014

I often wonder why I turned out to be such a social justice advocate. Was I born that way or was it due to some early childhood experiences? I am certain that growing up in a single parent household at the lower end of the economic ladder was a significant part of it. But I don’t think that was the driving factor. Like so many have said before, we might have been poor but I really didn’t know it until later.

Many of my early heroes in the literary sphere wrote about ordinary people struggling with daily life. John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens were two of them. They showed me that people struggling through life was a common thing. They let me know that my feelings about life were not unique to me as I had imagined. Was my attraction to those authors and their books on social justice a chicken or egg sort of thing?

As I have mentioned before I spent the first couple of decades of my life in the Catholic church. During that time I learned that being compassionate to those less fortunate was what God expected of me. I think these experiences helped make me the social justice advocate that I am.  But I do think it was more than that. While I am not currently associated with any particular faith system I am attuned to Quakerism in many respects, especially their thoughts that there is the light of God in absolutely all of us. I like to think that an important part of that light in me pushes me into social justice issues. Why am I so serious about social justice when others who had similar experiences are not?

I admit that I find it hard to understand those who seem to have little empathy for others. Those “pull yourself up by your bootstraps or die in the gutter” folks are very foreign to me. I’m sure at some level they have feelings for others but…  I have little in common with those who want to “lock them up and throw away the key” people. It is not that I don’t believe in all of us being responsible for our actions, I do believe that but I am more firmly entrenched in the second chances option.

Being a  follower of Jesus Christ or at least being a Christian I know means thousands of different things to different people but to me the only real message of Christ was to love God and to love each other. All the other messages that people find inside the words in the Bible are very secondary to me.

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4 responses to Being A Social Justice Advocate…

  1. 

    That attitude you’ve labeled a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps or die in the gutter” attitude also confounds me.

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      I don’t really understand it either. I will admit here that I got a first time comment today that I immediately sent to the trash because I don’t have the energy to deal with it on a serious level right now. It goes like this. “I will ignore the needs of the 99 in order to prevent the 100th one from getting something he doesn’t deserve”. This comment also declared that social justice as he sees it is nothing but communism.

      I can’t tell you how many times I have heard comments like this. But the truly sad thing is that they almost always come from someone who calls themselves a fundamentalist Christian. A major premise of that version of Christianity is that we are all nothing but pitiful sinners and don’t deserve anything but Jesus died for us anyway. To turn around and not pass even a miniscule amount of the mercy that they received on to others quite simply makes me sick. But even the sadder part of this is that I’m sure the people who make these types of comments really believe them and just don’t see the correlation between giving and receiving grace. Whose fault is that?

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  2. 

    I’m saddened when I hear people espouse that kind of hatefulness, saddened for the people with whom they interact and saddened for them, too. What confounds me most is that I know many such people who are thoughtful, helpful, and giving to those who are their family members, friends, neighbors and church community members: people who look and act like them. If they were uniformly mean, it would be easier to understand. Yet, they think of those who have suffered adversity or made a wrong choice to be “other,” unlike them and deserving of scorn or whatever hardships they’ve “earned” by their wrong choices, despite the evidence that many have not earned their current circumstances. Each morning when I pray, I add the prayer that people might be without enmity or danger. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot reason away the kind of hatefulness that must come from some place of fear or hurt, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t pray, with hope, that they be without that kind of enmity.

    You have courage, RJ, and I admire your willingness to publicly tackle these issues.

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    • 

      Linda, I am impressed with your insight on this topic. Thanks for sharing it.

      Yes, I too was shocked when I heard these types of words from a couple I knew to be very family oriented and a very respected member of the church I once belonged to. Up until that time I considered them some of our best friends. I couldn’t understand how they could be such a Jekle/Hide type pronouncements coming from them. From that point on, they were still friends but there would be that barrier now between us. We haven’t seen them in about three years now that we are no longer members. Their friendship apparently is restricted to a tight circle. Leave the circle and you are more or less shunned. It hurts but that is the way life is sometimes…

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