The Language of Justice

Everywhere I turn in the media these days I am confronted with powerful images of human suffering.  The stream of Syrians seeking refuge from the civil war in their country; the response or lack of response of our and European nations; the refusal to call them refugees (as if changing the word changes the suffering); the latest shooting–wherever, of whatever kind–because there is one or more every day in our nation, and they are most often mass shootings.  I am spending a lot of my waking hours with these images in my mind, with broken heart, with anger, with frustration, with fear.  Turning off the media no more makes it go away than refusing to use the word “refugee” makes the human suffering go away.

All of these, however, have brought for me a moment of insight.  Hope.  Whatever justice is if it is to be the relational justice that we as Unitarian Universalists call for and are called to, it must speak the language of hope.  True justice, as I am understanding it, speaks to human hope, recognizes hopelessness when it begins to arise in others, moves to salvage hope, sustains hope, creates hope and calls for hope.  Injustice exists, I am coming to see, anywhere and everywhere that hope is being denied–hope for a life that is both surviving and thriving. Actions, systems and communities that practice relational justice speak the language of hope, and they constantly re-evaluate and reform themselves based on how they communicate and work with human hope.  The same actions, systems and communities begin to lean toward injustice when they fail to address or offer a weakening support of hope.

A student came to me recently and shared with me that she feared that she had done badly on a test in another teacher’s class.  All that I could do was listen, ask questions, inquire about plans that she had to talk to the teacher, take the test over, etc.  I helped her scope out her possible plans for action.  It was a fairly simple conversation where I didn’t have any power to change the educational situation and very few answers, but it occurred to me later:  the student left looking more hopeful.  I think I engaged the language of hope with her.

This was one instance.  I want this to become spiritual practice in me: to find ways to speak hope into situations, both personal and systemic.  Do you speak hope?  If so, how do you do it?  What does it look like? What does it sound like?

Bob Patrick

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