Faith-Rooted Organizing

I had the opportunity to attend an event last evening where Rev. Alexia Salvatierra spoke on the topic of faith-rooted organizing, which is also the title of a book she co-authored.  She framed the discussion around the idea that we seems to have developed a notion that mercy and justice are two ends of a spectrum where if you lean more toward one, you lose the other.  Instead, she proposed that if we follow mercy all the way, it takes us to justice. 

To show us what she meant, she gave us an example:  Imagine you find out that there is a young woman who is failing math at school.  What do you do?  If you tutor this young woman or find her the help she needs to succeed, you have begun the work of mercy.  Now imagine you find out that half of the children in this school are also failing at math.  What do you do?  If you start to ask questions about why this is happening and work to change the system that has brought about this reality all while trying to find more tutors, you have moved through mercy toward justice. 

It’s not a perfect example, but it helps me to make the connection between mercy and justice that is so often hard to see.  Too often, the work of justice feels far too overwhelming; there are too many problems in the world that can beat down our souls.  At the same time, acts of mercy can become too easy and sometimes self-serving in the way they make us feel good about fulfilling an obligation. 

When mercy and justice kiss (Psalm 85:10-11), however, we begin to ask ourselves how we can use all of the tools available to us to help transform the world into the kind of place God dreams it can be.  Our hands, our money, our time, our voices, our social connections, and all the things available to us become catalysts to bring about both mercy and justice. 

Rev. Salvatierra opened her talk by sharing Isaiah 65:17-24 from The Message as an inspiration for the kind of world God desires us to create together.  I’m including the text below.  As you read, ask yourselves, “What are the gifts, talents, and resources I bring to the table that can help make this vision a reality?” 

Pay close attention now: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy, create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem, take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle, or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses and move in.
They’ll plant fields and eat what they grow.
No more building a house that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees, my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it, they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God, with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer. Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.