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Chris and Cindy Geek Out About Shalom

Our colleague Cindy Stover joins Chris Orme to geek out about the word “shalom” and set the groundwork for our next season exploring the intersections of charity and advocacy.  Season 4 drops January 18th!

Chris: Hey friends, welcome to a special preseason episode of Do Justice. It's me, Chris, and I'm here with my friend Cindy. Hey buddy, how are you? 

Cindy: heeeyyy.

Chris: Hilarious around the hey buddy. That's my like standard greeting for everybody. I just say “hey buddy what's up?” 

Cindy: He does. He walks around the office and says that all the time.

Chris: So I'm super stoked to have you here Cindy. It's always fun to talk with you. I always feel inspired and I always feel like I'm learning something and I always feel like it's just a great conversation when you and I get together, mostly on your end so I'm grateful for you to be here. And we're moving into this new season of the podcast where we want to talk about the move from charity to advocacy and why advocacy is important. We hear a lot of conversations about the Justice work that people are doing and oftentimes in chatting with them it becomes clear that what they're doing is more, sort of charity or relief, which is sort of a gateway to justice, a gateway to advocacy work. But yeah we're here to talk about that. And yeah, welcome Cindy. Cindy, tell us a little bit about what you do and who you are and all that jazz.

Chris: Cool. I am a justice mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I work for the CRC and World Renew and a number of other Ministries supporting congregations and doing Justice. That looks like a hundred different things: maybe it's developing curriculum or facilitating workshops or coaching people in a congregation who are already doing their own justice work. But it's a great job and it just means that I get to hang out and talk to people about justice all day—which is great because that is what I studied a lot in school, which is what we're going to talk about later today. We’re going to geek out a little bit.

Chris: Yeah we are. Nothing wrong with geeking out. That’s fair to say. That move, that charity to justice move or that charity to advocacy move is sometimes—I mean sometimes it just happens. But when we bring in some sort of intentional kind of focus on that I think we learn what the dynamic is between that move. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like what's that move look like, that charity to Justice move? How do we wrap our heads around that? 

Cindy: Yeah, people often have conversations with me or with our justice and reconciliation team here in Canada and they talk to us about the justice work that they're doing. They're really excited to share it with us and it becomes clear as we're chatting with them that what they're talking about usually isn't actually doing justice as we would define it but actually doing charity or acts of service or relief works, you know, volunteering at a food bank or donating money for a women’s shelter. I'm sure there are examples from World Renew where they do relief work, where funding comes in and gets sent to a partner overseas where there's been a natural disaster or something like that. That’s relief work. That’s charitable work, not necessarily always doing justice. And that's not a bad thing. Let’s be very clear. Doing charity is not bad. It's necessary very often, especially in emergency situations, right? 

Chris: Right. And listeners you’ll hear some conversations that we have—that I have later in the season with some of our guests and we talk a little bit about that move. We talk about the stabilisation that’s needed in order to move into advocacy. Because sometimes if there's an immediate need, we have to stabilize the situation in order to a) do the right thing. But also give us the platform from which we can move into advocacy, that we can move into the deep justice work. What do you think of that?

Cindy: That’s absolutely true. When it’s done well, charity and relief actually leads to individual and community transformation. And that stabilization comes before that. People need to be able to get to a point where they can just daily survive before we can begin addressing some of the larger systemic issues. But what's really important is to look at those systemic reasons for why that charity is needed. If we’re using the food bank as an example, well why are people in your neighborhood experiencing food insecurity? Why do they need to access the food bank? And are there ways that we can address the situations of injustice that are actually causing them to need to seek a solution instead of having the ability to flourish on their own without needing to rely on some of these Band-Aid solutions? 

And often, if you look deeply into it there are structural reasons why: there's not enough funding coming down through city structures or there's inherent systemic racism happening in neighborhoods where there are lots of people of color or people of a lower socioeconomic standing. And there are real significant reasons why this injustice happens and why charity is needed in so many of these cases? And so it's important to look at these longer-term structural reasons and begin to address those, so that charity is not forever required.

Chris: right. We talk in the—charitable sector, I guess, or in a charitable world—it would be great if we weren't needed right? 

Cindy: We want to work ourselves out of a job.

Chris: And the advocacy piece, in a lot of ways, is that work right?

Cindy: I think a lot of people listening to this have probably heard the word shalom, probably know that it is most commonly translated as peace. But it means so much more than that, so much more than simply the absence of conflict right? Shalom—if you do a word study on it means peace, but completed-ness. It means welfare; it means harmony, wholeness and flourishing. There’s this sense of like, you are able to be everything you were created to be when you're in a community of shalom and in your relationships with one another and with even the Earth, with the land—everything that God intended to be is happening. And yes, it's aspirational. But it's much more than you know what we get in our North American understanding of the personal flourishing, or like personal righteousness. It extends to the welfare of the whole community, and righteousness and relationships and peace with all people and all of creation. And so when we talk about these terms for justice, for right relationship—where there is justice there will be shalom. That's how you get there. When you're in right relationship with each other and with your community having the opportunity to flourish there is shalom. 

However, like I said, it's aspirational. We don't always get there. I don't always get there. I don't think I've gotten there today yet. And so it is a working-towards thing that we do with the example of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And yet there are times when we come up against obstacles where we just cannot accomplish it on our own. Going back to the food bank example, I don't know that I personally can ensure food security for my entire neighborhood so what do I do?

Chris: You likely can’t.

Cindy: I do have a little garden out back. I can give people a lot of kale. There’s a lot of kale. But there are limits to what I on my own can do or even what my church community on our own can do in our neighborhood. And that's where advocacy comes in. To really live in to these biblical principles of justice and peace and shalom—communities of shalom—means that we sometimes have to speak up and bear witness to when we see injustice happening. And so that's a way for us to live out the command of God and commands that we see through Jesus's example on Earth to love and care for our neighbors.

Chris: Give me a taste. Like what does that look like then? Tell me what that looks like.

Cindy: Oh goodness. It's messy. It’s complicated. It’s relationship-based, which is were some of the messiness comes from, but it means recognizing where there are opportunities to stand alongside someone who's experiencing injustice, to help their voice be raised, to take little baby steps toward social change and transformation and trying to come into a more just and righteous relationship with each other. So like very simply on a neighborhood level—you know where I live here in Hamilton, Ontario I'm a part of a neighborhood association. That’s another way that I’m a geek—I go to monthly meetings with my neighbors and we talk about like “what is good? What is the best for the common good of our neighborhood?” So recently there have been a lot of people living in tent encampments because there's a housing crisis in Hamilton especially, but in all of North America right now. And so there have been a number of people living in the parks in our neighborhood in tents. And there's an encampment support network of folks who are social workers and healthcare professionals and the people who care, people who want to to support and help out their neighbors—cuz they're still our neighbors even though they live in tents. They’re still part of our neighborhood. And so there have been a lot of folks showing up when the police come to tear those encampments down and—I'll be honest—evict people from their homes—because that is their home for that period of time. And there's been a lot of people doing what they can to provide some charitable relief—providing tents when they get taken away, providing sleeping bags, providing food, providing support. But also a lot of people addressing that system of injustice. Why are there so many house less people in Hamilton right now? So people delegating to city hall, demanding that the city spend more money on affordable housing and expand shelter spaces—safe shelter spaces—so that people can have access to a safe place to stay at night, somewhere that's safer than a tent. Because right now there are not a lot of places safer for people. And then advocacy too: speaking up to city hall but also writing letters and delegating to your members of parliament, to your local representatives who have the ability to impact the way that federal spending is spent on housing, the way that—let's be honest—by law comes down in some of our cities and provinces around who is able to actually find a home in a tent in a park. Because some of the reason—some of the huge obstacles to this are just that someone who's never even considered being homeless made a rule and now police have to enforce that. So it's all of these things working together to try to care for our neighbors

Chris: Wow. I think what you're touching on there—and I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people too, on similar issues, even talking about encampment. I have friends who are in Toronto who are frontline on some of this stuff. And it's like we're treating the encampments like the problem. The encampments are not the problem. It’s the symptom of the systemic issues, like lack of affordable housing, or lack of mental health support, whatever it is. Those are the real issues. 

Cindy: And how do we address those?

Cindy: yeah.

Cindy:  We can keep giving out tents. And we do until there is a better solution, but there needs to be a better solution. There needs to be safety and security and shalom for our neighbors living in encampments. 

Chris: So then, how do we hold charity, justice and advocacy—specific to this season as our listeners are listening to these conversations and in these upcoming episodes of the podcast—how can we hold these things?

Cindy: I would say they are interconnected. I think a lot of people think of them as being on a spectrum opposing each other, but they are all part of us working towards God's shalom in the world, working towards a world of good news—like real gospel good news where there is enough for all in the world. And so that means charity, that means donating to the food bank when people need it, but it means addressing the injustice, addressing why there is food insecurity or why there's housing insecurity in your neighborhoods, and advocacy as well. Sometimes you can address those issues of injustice on your own or as a church community, but sometimes you don't have the power to do that on your own. Sometimes you do need to speak up and bear witness and use the influence that you have to meet with your MP, to meet with your senators or representatives, to meet with the people who can make the difference and who can speak out about that stuff and change federal policies, or provincial and state policies on these things. And I'll just put a little quick plug in here. We do have a workshop called Faith in Action and it's about practicing Biblical advocacy. It’s practicing everything we just said. Another thing we can put in the show notes.

Chris: It's so funny. I was going to ask you—I go “is there a way Cindy that people could learn about biblical advocacy that you know of? “

Cindy: “Is there a possibility that you’ve been working on a workshop for two years on this that we could bring to our audience?” Yes, yes there is, Chris.

Chris: Awesome. Hey buddy I mean, it’s good to be with you.

Cindy: Hey buddy!

Chris: Hey buddy. It’s good to talk. It’s good to be inspired. I’m thankful for you. I’m thankful for the work that you do. And I’m glad that you’re on our team—that's all I can say, I really am. It's a privilege to get to have these conversations. And folks listening: we hope that the next season is going to be inspiring, that we're going to have some conversation that will touch on the things that you're passionate about—and even if they're not directly linked up to the things that you're passionate about—that you'll get some tools and ways to be inspired to move along the continuum and get involved in advocacy work. That's our hope. So I'm excited. I'm excited and I'm just grateful for you, Cindy. Thanks for joining us and thanks for hanging and I always appreciate you. So check it out: Do Justice Season 4 coming at you.

Cindy: comin’ for ya.

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