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July 23, 2020

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John Lewis worked for justice his whole life, but never lost his joy.
John Lewis was not just a persistent and wise civil rights leader and Congressional Representative with endless energy for justice: he lived with joy and boldness.
Just two examples of this that people shared last weekend: 
  • He crowd-surfed on Stephen Colbert’s show one time and talked about it later on Face the Nation.
  • He danced to Pharell’s "Happy" (more than once) – check all the YouTube clips.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. -1 John 3:18
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
-1 John 4:17-21
Yesterday, Resistance Prays founder Guthrie Graves-Fitsimmons asked people on Twitter to reply with their go-to Bible verse for social justice. The replies were wide-ranging, including many of my favorite verses or passages, reminding me exactly why the scriptures remain so powerful many millennia after they were originally written. For all the ways human life has changed, the ways that evil exists in the world and the ways that those seeking justice resist evil are strikingly familiar.
I replied that my current go-to was 1 John 4:20 - Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. I say my current go-to because on another day, in another situation, I might have replied Micah 6:8 or Romans 8:35-39 or Amos 5:24 or something about reconciliation from 2 Corinthians or so many others. Yet it is 1 John that has been on my mind a lot lately as we see a government full of people who declare their Christian faith loudly with their mouths, but then intentionally act in ways that harm others.
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.” “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” All of 1 John is begging us to see how our actions of hate against others shows that we do not love God as we say we do. Over and again, the U.S. government takes actions intended to cause harm in the name of safety, security and prevention of crime. Safety and security for whom? We know already – it is the rich, the white, the ones mostly loudly proclaiming their Christian faith. A safety derived from harming others will never be truly secure, but only an illusion. It is why fascist governments keep becoming crueler and crueler to maintain their power and policies. They cannot deliver true justice or safety.
And it is this cruelty that also has me thinking about 1 John as I consider the reasons I am seeking justice in the world. I am a 1 on the Enneagram, which, for those who are not into the Enneagram, is The Reformer. We are fixers, we are rule-followers - unless the rules are bad, and then we change them. If the only foundation for my actions is Something is wrong in the world (or on the internet!) and I need to fix it, it can become a bitter, brittle pursuit. We can become just as cruel as those we seek to stop.
Our foundations for justice must come from love. I seek justice in the world because I love my neighbors and I want my Black neighbors to be able to just live without worrying that wearing a hoodie, driving down the street, or even grilling in their own backyards will become a death sentence. I want immigrants to be able to come here and earn money for their families back home in countries they love, and that if they want to become citizens, they can. I want women to not have to fear for their lives because men think they can control our time, emotions and bodies. I want queer people to not fear for their livelihoods or their lives. I want us all to know and receive love.
This weekend, as we learned about John Lewis’ death and as we shared memories of his life, I was reminded of his great joy. Despite being discriminated against, arrested, and beaten up multiple times, John Lewis remained bold and joyful. And, more than anything, this is what I am reminded of in 1 John. God’s love gives us both boldness and joy. We need both to keep facing the evils in this world.
Think about what your current (or constant) go-to Scripture is that drives your work for social justice. Reply to Guthrie’s tweet with it. Consider why it is foundational for you, and how it grounds you beyond seeking justice. What fills and fulfills you as you seek justice? Find that grounding and hold on to it, as the road will likely get rougher, not smoother, in the upcoming months and years.
Loving God – you have given us love. You have given us faith. You have given us boldness. You have given us patience. You have given us persistence. You have given us grace. You have given us joy. Help us remember and hold onto these gifts as we seek justice and joy for all of your creation. May we know a world where no one has to live in fear and no one acts out of fear. Center us, ground us, comfort us, love us. Send us helpers to remind us we are Yours when we forget why we are called and who has called us. In the name of the One who teaches us to love again each day, we pray. Amen.
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