Practice Makes Presence
I imagine that being a Christian is mainly an expressive language that communicates about loving God and about being loved by God. Growing in my faith has become an understanding that loving God means loving what God loves. Generations of prophets, the voices in the wilderness of Israel's history, and the human face of God encountered in Jesus, make it clear that God is both love and justice. Those that have lost either are soon to recognize they are longing for both, for they are two sides of the same coin.
God is not ignorance, repression, suppression, or oppression of love and justice. In the trials and chaos of life, our obstacles are the void created by the absence of love and justice. Over and over, love and justice are God's words and actions breaking into the void. When the void is overcome with the truth which becomes evident as caring, compassion, comfort and the restoration of the dignity of all. When love pretends to be our motivation without a commitment to justice, our result is selfishness. When our sense of justice has lost its source in love then our result is self-righteousness. God is neither selfish nor self-righteous, and living with both is to enter the void.
When we look at the stories from the sacred scripture we see example after example of our responsibilities toward one another. If you were to ask Malachi and James what the definition of pure religion is, you will find particular instructions that represent universal values. You will not find the moralizing and rationalization that defends the prevailing oppression of the day, whether it be the harsh realities of imperial dominance, economic injustice, or patriarchy. As John Dominic Crossan points out, to a patriarchal society love and justice require that we care for the widow and orphan (and much more), in a tribal society they provide for the resident alien (like Ruth), and in a market society they provide aid to the poor, sick, and hungry. Since the time of Jesus, progress has been made and also lost on all fronts, in a dizzying yin and yang of human development.
I grew up in a tradition that emphasized the birth and the death of Jesus. Even the most famous creeds make these two events preeminent in their assessment of his purpose and vocation. The gap between birth and death, however, was often minimized or not discussed at all. The result is the same void we encounter when we lose sight of the love and justice. This is to me the greatest tragedy of current Christian practice and worship. In our effort to categorize, philosophize, and proselytize we have reduced the holy art work of a lifestyle love and justice into a mechanical expression of self-serving ideals.
This error can and must be undone and it starts with encountering, once again, the human face of God on earth. The face that demonstrated love and justice by walking toward things labeled "unclean", by eating with and creating relationship with "sinners", by defying gender roles and demonstrating that many society's structures are often built for the powerful few, who exploit the many, and are blamed on God. Instead, the human face of God is the one who is waiting as a father to the prodigal and the older son, who is sitting and waiting for the shame ridden woman to visit the well, and who is ready to offer a parable to a self-righteous Pharisee who mentally judges the tearful embrace of Jesus by a sinner.
To love God is to love what God loves which is to act in a way that restores and protects the innate dignity of all beings, cares for the sick and hungry, comforts in the reality of pain and death, and loves so thoroughly that it provokes the embrace of the sinner. This is what you find between his birth and death. If you can read this, you are still between those two events, too. May you fill your days with the same ethic of compassion known by the names of love and justice.