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Why Doesn't He...

Why doesn't she...

                                                     His life would be better if...

                                                                                                                         You reap what you sow...

John* was walking along the sidewalk. He wore faded, black denim jeans and an Iron Maiden t-shirt underneath his studded leather jacket. Far removed from the latest fashion trends, he was decidedly a child of the 80s as he lit the cigarette he just bummed from someone passing by.

"Lazy." was the response from the passenger side of my car. "He should work like the rest of us."

Perhaps. I didn't argue the point. This particular passenger wouldn't cede it anyway and diplomacy was in order. I simply reflected in silence for what was going to be a very long ride.

*    *    *

Three decades ago John had been my best friend. In fact, he was one of my only friends. Small, socially awkward, and on welfare I tended to exist off to the sides. So did he. Caste and class within the societal structure of our school put us together.

At recess and lunch hour we would endure the taunts and teasing. John all the more because he would fight and most often lose. That, and with 3/4 native blood he looked the part of "the mutt" (their words, not mine) that my 3/4 Scottish ancestry hid from sight.

During class the segregation was much the same. Teachers would be as kind as they could but there was only so much energy to invest. This is where our paths diverged. At one point they decided to test me because I had a speech impediment and they thought I was slow. It turns out I was just bored and frustrated and all of a sudden I had potential.

There was money for that.

Not for John.

He stayed in the back of the class.

Home life for him was worse. His caregivers consistently insulted him. I would be there as they beat on him for being no good and lazy or as often as not just because they could. Discipline had been physical in my home but John endured abuse and cruelty. I watched as he formed a defiant shell to protect himself from the hurt. He'd often laugh with tears as the punches rained down.

Eventually he would spend time in juvie and then a little bit of in and out as an adult. Never finished high school. Picked up a few odd jobs here and there. Never kept them for long. Couldn't really. Who would hire him? Who could keep him?

*    *    *

"He should work like the rest of us."

Perhaps. I won't argue the point. What I would argue, however, is that in this "common sense" statement of moral outrage and judgement we have committed a fundamental injustice: we have absolved ourselves of collective sin without any notion of reconciliation.

Even though we made John.

We made him when we bullied him on the playground and in our silence told our kids it was okay. We made him when we thought taxes were too high to justify allocating resources on kids without potential. We made him when our government policies of assimilation and residential schools left him without real parents. We made him when our tough on crime agendas made us feel safer and righteous.

I made him when my teacher told me I shouldn't be his friend. And I listened. And I drove in silence.

*    *    *

The pursuit of justice and reconciliation, the core of our gospel message, requires that we have a more robust theology of sin. Too often we are content with a fundamentalist reading of society that limits our view to simplistic boot straps "common sense" and a theology of blame.

Neither of these ubiquitous heresies leads to grace and yet we accept them. We accept them because they are easy. We accept them because we've been taught to. We accept them because the moment we don't we find Christ calling us to places we don't want to be.

Where we experience guilt for collective sin rather than a blind absolution.

Where what is required is uncomfortable service rather than a "common sense" solution.

Where the demand is sacrifice rather than a charitable donation.

This is the heart of Biblical, social justice. It is centered not in a progressive notion of works righteousness but with a very profound and reformed understanding of the depths of our sin and the incarnational nature of how God reconciles it in Christ through us, His ambassadors.

My prayer for you is this.

May you, when confronted with issues of social justice, be thrust with sense of sin. We have accumulated poor theology that blinds us not only to the process of reconciliation but to the fullness of grace itself.

May you resist the temptation to condemn without seeing or in seeing to remain silent. Both are the easy way yet neither leads to the cross.

And may you, as you experience the sacrifice of Jesus who sympathizes with our weakness, be lead from temptation and evil into His Kingdom as we pursue grace and justice - the great commission - together as His church.

Continue the conversation with Dan on Twitter at @danielgtbrown.

[Image: Flickr user Gagilas]

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