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“Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning (is the director of the Micah Centre at King’s University, which helps students explore ways of seeking justice in today's local and global contexts. He joins Chris to talk about the lines of thought in two of his recent blogs on Do Justice which lent inspiration to the theme of this season.  

The following is a transcript of Season 6 Episode 1 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

We are grateful to the Micah Center for sponsoring this season of the podcast.

Chris: Well, Hello, friends, and we are back. Season 6. The Do Justice Podcast. It's me, Chris Orme. I'm happy to be here today. I'm joined with a new friend of the show, a new friend to me, a long time friend of the Office of Social Justice. You've seen him in the Do Justice blog. I’m really excited to have Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning from the Micah Centre at King’s University with us today. Hi, Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

Jonathan: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Chris: So, let's talk a little bit about why we're here together today. We're really excited to have the Micah Centre at the King's University be a sponsor for the show for this season. Talk to me a little bit about who you are, what you do, and why this partnership makes sense

Jonathan: Yeah, I mean the Micah Centre grew out of somebody with sort of common roots in both the Office of Social Justice and World Renew and the King's University. Roy Berkenbosh who, I know, has been in conversation with you previously. And yeah, Roy and other like-minded conspirators for the kingdom here at King's were wanting to start a Centre here at King's that would be dedicated to allowing our students to learn more about issues of justice and peacemaking and addressing poverty here in Edmonton, but also around the world. And so over, probably closer to 20 years ago now the Micah Centre was started, inspired both by the prophet Micah's call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, but also by, at the time, the global ecumenical movement of the Micah’s Challenge, which was a global faith-rooted movement to sort of push the global community to take seriously the UN's Millennium Development Goals. And so out of that inspiration came the Micah Centre and the Micah Centre’s work. We try to help students grow a global vision of justice and renewal here at King’s and beyond, when they leave this place. And so some of that is courses—we teach courses here at King’s—and also take students off campus to places like Honduras or Central Mexico to learn about what's happening around the world and how they can be global citizens inspired by the kingdom to do justice. But we also do things sort of more practically here at King’s, and so the Micah Centre hosts King’s refugee sponsorship initiative. So we sponsor a refugee student here at King’s once a year, the Micah Centre facilitates that. Just recently we got involved in something really exciting called the Pakitinâsowin Fund, which is a partnership with local faith communities—Christian Reformed, Anglican,Mennonite, and more—here in the city, partnering with King's to take seriously our calls to reconciliation and to do that in a really practical way. And so essentially, folks who are interested in taking the next step towards reconciliation can contribute to the Reparations Fund, which is another name for that Pakitinâsowin Fund here at King's. Yeah, so sometimes it’s practical stuff like that, sometimes it’s educational initiatives or workshops or lectures or that kind of thing, all of which is to try to inspire folks here at King’s and in the wider community to do justice and to love mercy. 

Chris: That's awesome. 

Jonathan: And what I'm really excited about—what we're all about—is amplifying the voices of folks who are doing the work and making accessible stories of doing justice work and doing justice in the world and doing it in the context of our faith for everyone, so that everyone can come on board. 

Chris: One of the things, and I think you mentioned is the history of the Micah Centre at the King's University—justice work is long. And that is what we're talking about for this season. I want to tell you the story, listeners, and you, Jonathan, too, of how we got to season 6 of the Do Justice Podcast. And to start, we go back to Inspire, which is the CRCNA Conference. Our justice team attended a dinner to celebrate 50 years of work in race relations in the CRCNA. So they heard the stories of people who have been involved in justice work for a long time, people who have been long-suffering in this work, and it wasn't easy. 50 years, and there's still work to do but to hear the testimony of these people who have been faithfully at work for so long was super inspiring. And that was back in August of 2022.

Then at the same time, Jonathan, you're writing as a Do Justice blog columnist and you're the program director, like we've mentioned, at the Micah Centre at the King's University, which helps students to grow a vision for justice and renewal. So you've been thinking and teaching about justice for a while, and your blogs, “Paying Attention in a Distracted and Distracting World,” and the the other blog, “Making Space for Joy in Justice Seeking,” offer some practices for how to stay engaged with this justice work for the long-term mindset and resisting the appeal of the quick fixes. So when both of these things came together, we decided this needed to be our theme for the latest season of Do Justice. And it was back, sort of late August early September, when Megan and Victoria and myself kind of got together, and we started batting this around. And it called to mind this quote from Eugene Peterson, and like I said, this was Megan and Victoria who brought this quote for me. They do all the hard work of, you know, making me sound relatively intelligent and they offered this quote. It's from Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. And the quote is this: “There is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called “holiness.”’ So Jonathan, thanks for joining us here today to set up the next podcast episodes, this series, season 6, and just to discuss with us the practices that have made justice work so sustainable for you. So, I want to jump in. You gave us a really nice outline of what you've been up to, and the work that you do, but I want to go back to the Eugene Peterson quote. What does “long obedience in the same direction,” what has that meant for you? What does that look like for you in Edmonton?

Jonathan: Yeah, that's an excellent question. I've been at the Micah Centre for about 5 years, and before that had spent just under 10 years working with folks leaving the prison system and reintegrating into the Edmonton area and before that was involved working with folks on the margins in Vancouver and so it didn't feel that long, time goes pretty fast, but Eugene Peterson's quote—and even the title of that book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction—I think it's helpful to use as a frame for this work. You know, I work with university students, and I feel like part of my role is just to help them imagine a world other than the world that they see before them. A world where people don't go to bed hungry and where people steward the environment justly and humanely. And so inspiration and excitement and trying to get people excited for things. And so then to help them even recognize that their excitement—excitement alone won't sustain them in a lifelong journey of justice seeking and needing to remind them that they need a community of people who can sustain them in their work. They need friendships with other like-minded people who will continue to inspire them and motivate them. And they need mentors who can—are a little further along the journey who can help them in that, and saying that, recognizing that I also have needed and continue to need that sort of mentorship and friendship and practices to sustain work that—yeah, you're sort of confronted, I think, if you are committed to seeking justice, you're confronted with a lot of hard stories of suffering people or a suffering world, and if those stories, if you dwell in that and aren’t inspired it can drain you and it can make the long obedience in the same direction difficult. And so to sort of think about that more intentionally with students, I think, has been something that I've sort of come to as of late—recognizing that students can quickly get overwhelmed when they begin the work and realize that there aren't really quick fixes.

Chris: Yeah, well, let's move into practices then, because, in your blogs you give some real practical, I think, accessible ways for folks to frame how to do this kind of work, and how to engage, but what are some of the practices that have made justice work sustainable for you?

Jonathan: There's a few things. I think, for me, friendship and partnership with folks who are co-pilgrims on the journey, I think, is really important. My wife is one of those people, but friendships also with folks who are passionate about some of the same things, and who see the world inspired by their faith. See the world in similar ways that I do in terms of being committed to justice and a more peaceable world and a more humane world. I think about, right now, one of the most life giving friendships that I have is with the local Cree pastor and activist name Travis Enright and Travis has been so helpful for me to deepen my commitment to the work of reconciliation and justice for Canada's indigenous peoples, and to also reframe some of the some of the commitments I have in really really practical ways. It was Travis who prompted the King's community to think about establishing a Reparations Fund, and it was through a conversation I had with him over lunch, and we were talking about an event that we had both sort of help host around reconciliation a couple of years ago, and, like many of those events, there was lots of sadness and emotions, and especially settler Christians coming to terms with the really difficult stories of the Indian residential school system and other really difficult stories of what we call Canada's history with Indigenous peoples. And so at the end of that weekend, Travis said to me, “Jonathan, white people feeling sad isn't doing anything for my people.” He said, “What we need is a way to build a common future and not just leave these events feeling bad and stopping there.” And so we began working together on how we can build that common future and bringing in partners and inspiring people towards taking action on reconciliation. And so friendships like that and conversations like that have been really important for me.

Mentorship has also been really important. Roy Berkenbosch, we mentioned earlier. When I first was ordained as a pastor in the CRC, you're sort of—I don't know if this happens everywhere, but where I am, you’re sort of assigned a mentor pastor who's farther on the journey, and Roy, very fortunately for me, was assigned as my mentor, and so we would have breakfast together at least once a month, sometimes more than that, and just talk about how things were going. And sometimes you talk about sort of vocational questions or theological questions, but other times we just talked about what we were growing in our gardens, and what we were excited to cook for supper that weekend. And yeah, so mentor relationships like that have been really helpful. Roy has helped me reframe some of the things that I am thinking about or struggling through. And so I think the role of mentorship really can't be overstated and it doesn't have to be a sort of formal thing, just somebody that you can—that you know has probably crossed similar ground that you're crossing at the moment and sort of get some wisdom along the way. It's always really helpful.

Chris: Yeah, just a shout out to Roy, because we're actually gonna have Roy on the podcast later in the season. And Roy's fingerprints are everywhere. I find Roy's influence everywhere, and I'm super thankful for the input that he's had on my life, too. I want to shift gears a bit. I want to talk a bit about the blogs you—there are 2 blogs in particular, the first one is called, “Paying Attention in a Distracted and Distracting World.” And in that blog you offer some questions to your students, to readers of the blog around paying attention and being attentive to what's important. And here’s what you write. I'll read your own words to you. “How can I slow down enough to pay attention to your world and those who are suffering in it? How can I help others to do the same? To what can I say, “No,” so I can say yes to what matters? What practical changes do I need to make so that I can live humanely as a servant neighbor in such a distracted and distracting world?” Awesome questions. What? What does that look like? How do we begin to incorporate some of those questions into our spiritual formation, into our practice of justice?

Jonathan: Those questions and that blog was inspired by a really helpful book by an artist named Jenny Odell, and she has done lots of thinking on how to live humanly and humanely in a really distracting world—a world who, whether it's social media or advertising or whatever, our distraction is the point of a lot of that because a more distracted person more easily succumbs to advertising and all that stuff. And so she really paints that picture really well, and I found myself reading that book and thinking about the work of justice and educating for justice and equipping folks for justice work and that language of attention really struck me as I read that book, because so often in justice work we talk about needing to get people to pay attention and how do we get folks to see what's really going on? But when there are so many people, even in the world of justice seeking trying to get folks to pay attention, whether that's through like a Facebook or Instagram feed or direct emails, or whatever we're we're getting a lot of stuff coming our way and so how do we think about the what we, as individuals, like what I, as Jonathan, can do in my little corner in the pursuit of a more just world? And so that book was really helpful for helping me think that—or just raising some good questions for me. And so part of it for me is recognizing that I can't do everything.

One of the practices, which is sort of a Sabbath inspired practice, which I know is really a significant part of that Eugene Peterson book is not just the practice of a Sabbath one every seven days in a weekly rhythm, as important as that is, but also a Sabbath mindset of knowing that I'm not God, and I can't do everything and so what are the small things that I can do and can do well? Recognizing that the other stuff will either be done by somebody else, or maybe doesn't have to be done at all, or the Spirit will inspire somebody else to do that work. I can sort of leave that be. I can do what I'm called to do. I can walk through the doors that are open in front of me. You know, working with university students where they're in a season of all their—they're just learning about all the things that are happening in the world, and how daunting the task is to help them remember, too, that there's only so much that one person can do, or one community can do, so to find the thing that they are called to, or the work that they find most life giving is really important. So that's sort of both a Sabbath practice, but also sort of a broader Sabbath mindset of saying no to some things—like really practically saying no to some things—so that they can say yes to other things is really important.

Chris: Yeah, I love that. There's another book on Sabbath, Walter Brueggemann wrote the book The Sabbath as Resistance, which has been a hugely influential book, and you know he has a take on Sabbath—it says less about us and more about who God is, you know, and so really, really taking our hands off in some ways, and letting God or the Spirit of God move through and in us to shape us and direct us. I want to talk about your blog. It's called, “Making Space for Joy in Justice Seeking.” And, I mean, you had me at the Jurgan Moltmann quote, because I'm a huge Jurgan Moltmann fan, but I won't read the whole quote, but there's a little tidbit—I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Moltmann writes, “Joy in life's happiness motivates us to revolt against the life that is destroyed, and against those who destroy life.” That is big. How do you consume that? How do you ingest that piece? And what does that look like and what’s Moltmann saying there? What are you saying to us in the blog?

Jonathan: Yeah, I mean, I think what Moltmann is saying is that joy is not something—I mean part of what he's saying, I guess, is joy is not something to feel uneasy about. You're steeped in a world where you see so much that—so many wrongs that need righting, you see so much suffering that you either need to be in solidarity with or address in some way, and you can sometimes get tempted to think that joy has no role in that work or in that world. But, in fact, he says, joy—like he says in that quote, I think our experiences of joy shouldn't be prompting us to feel guilty, they should prompt us to take action. Because they're a taste of that future world of Shalom where the world that feels upside down right now is made right side up, and there are experiences of delight and joy and laughter, and that those experiences are a vision of a reconciled world. They are foretastes of that world. Moltmann talks about the future breaking in on the present, and I think that joy is one of those experiences and so embracing that not as an isolated experience from your commitment to justice seeking, but as an inspiration to both create a world where everybody has experiences of joy and delight, and also, as in sort of an inspiration for your own  justice seeking, I think there's something really profound about that. So for me. Some of what that has meant is, for instance, if we take students to Honduras, where our students, you know, encounter the work of World Renew, and the Association for a More Just Society and other really amazing organizations doing really wonderful work on the ground in Honduras and to shape that visit with our students, not just in terms of seeing the really hard realities of the experiences of the poor in Honduras, though they encounter that, but also experiencing joy alongside the people that they're meeting in Honduras and joy with each other, and having joy be a theme, delight be a theme of that visit in Honduras, because joy breaks in even in places where the daily reality can be really difficult. So trying to allow space for that. Staying together and eating together, and taking pleasure in the gifts that God has given us. I think.

Chris: Yeah, yeah. I mean, despair can be isolating, right? So if we're in a state of despair we have a tendency to circle and look inward and be stuck there. Thanks. Jonathan. I'm excited for this season. I'm excited to go deeper into some of these conversations. I'm excited for our partnership. When this comes out, folks, we'd encourage you to look at the links in the description of this show so you can see a little bit more of the work that Jonathan does. You can find links to the Micah Centre, to the blogs that we mentioned, to the information about the Reparation Fund. But I want to end with a quick story, because what we're talking about here, the long road of doing this work, is something that I had an opportunity to reflect on personally 2 years ago. It was the summer of 2020 and I had an opportunity to participate in a march for racial justice, and I had my kids join me, and we were walking, and we were talking, and it was awesome. And here I live in Burlington, and Burlington is a you know, smallish city, and for the size of the city that we live in, there were 5,000 young people who showed up to march down New Street to City Hall, and it dawned on me that it had been 30 years since the first time that I had done a march for racial justice. That was back in 1994, and I realized something right then and there, that in my very first march for racial justice when I was in Grade 9, I was marching with people who, their first march had been 30 years before that. And so the long road to justice is a road that is best walked with people who know the way, and so we are excited for this season to look at the roadmap together. And whether you’ve been on the path for 30 or 60 years, whether you're just taking your first steps now, we're excited to have you come along with us.

So like and subscribe to the Do Justice Podcast so you don't miss a moment of these important conversations coming up. Thanks again! God bless.


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