I try to read widely so I have more exposure to a variety of things. I figure if I am passive, not much good will come my way. And certainly new things are much less likely to find their way into my brain. I read newspapers, periodicals and these days, blogs and other social media. Regardless of how I might feel about the new forms of social media, that is the way of the world and I know I need to do it to stay in touch.
One of the regular places I go to find good, new things is Krista Tippett’s online presence called “On Being.” She has enlisted a number of authors to reflect on numerous aspects of spirituality and the spiritual life. Some of them---like Parker Palmer---I know and others I may not have any knowledge who they are. But this is a good way to make new media friends, even if they don’t ever become personal friends.
One of my new media friends is Omid Safi, who is the Director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center. He shared a recent blog entitled, “Justice is Love, Embodied.” I will share substantial parts of that because it helps me and broadens my awareness and understanding. In fact, it was from reading this that the title for my own reflection arose. In an autobiographical note, Safi says, “Much of my life has been about carrying inside of me two streams that both nurture my soul.”
One stream is his own Muslim tradition. It is represented by figures such as Rumi, Hafez and medieval Sufis. This stream, Safi says, is “the extraordinary tradition of Divine love that erupts onto humanity.” This is good for me to hear and again to remember. Not everything spiritual comes from Christianity. I am a Christian, but that does not mean I have all the bases covered. It is good for me to know there are powerful spiritual voices in the Muslim tradition that can teach me a thing or two about love. I would be an idiot not to want to learn from them, too.
The second stream Safi identifies is the “movements of social justice committed to redemption and liberation.” In this tradition Safi lists Malcolm X, feminists and Cornell West. These names might be less familiar to the average Christian or they might be a little more intimidating. I know most of these names, so my issue is less one of ignorance and more an issue of letting my life be informed by them, too. The more privileged one is, the less one might be interested in social justice. And if we are privileged, we might have our own take on redemption and we might assume we have no need for liberation. And that is just the problem!
A little late Safi slightly switches metaphors---from streams to oceans. He comments; “Perhaps not surprisingly, when I wander into spiritual oceans next to my own---realizing that all oceans are connected---it is usually figures who connect together love and justice that most deeply touch my soul.” I appreciate this. Love and justice are, I believe, the twin key themes of the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus was love embodied.
And he worked tirelessly for justice; in fact, it got him killed.
Again, it is clear to me that people who are privileged (like me) find it easier to do love than to worry about justice. However, if you know anything about the Bible, you would know that you would have very little of the Bible left if we took out the parts of the Bible that argue for justice. Most of Jesus would be gone. The entire literature of the Hebrew Prophets would disappear. And so on.
Safi extends my own knowledge and ability to appreciate what others say about love and justice. He quotes from the Qur’an (Koran): “God commands you to love and justice.” Ok, I think. That is very simple, but dear Lord, that will take me appropriately a lifetime of commitment and work to become the kind of disciple God wants. Can you imagine God saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Forget love and ignore justice. I know you just want to be happy!” That is what I fear the mantra of our American culture.
The second line is from writer, Cornell West. He says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” I doubt that most of us would pair justice and love. We conveniently keep them separately, so that we can deal with them in compartments. Of course, most of us want to deal with love all the time. Who does not want to be loved? And the right ones, I want to love. But putting it that way is not the spiritual way. I want to do better.
I speak from the position of privilege because I know I am. Of course, most of the time I never see myself that way and don’t consciously think about myself that way. I figure that is probably the best way to keep myself off the hook of justice. If I can see myself as average, then justice applies less to me. When I am ignoring justice, then I am only drawing from one of the streams. I want the love stream.
But truly deep spiritual people need to be people of both streams: love and justice. We need to love each other---all the others of the world. And we need to work for the justice of all the others in the world. I want to be involved in both streams.