Clara is a young adult from Germany, who moved to the Chicago area to intern for the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Ill. In a recent blog entry, Clara reflects on being German and expresses some uncertainty about tending to the holocaust survivors she meets at the museum. “Should I say, ‘I am really sorry’? or ‘It’s terrible what happened to you’?” Clara wrote. Every time Clara thinks about the Holocaust, she feels guilt for the collective sins of her ancestors. Then one day a survivor’s response broke open Clara’s heart. The survivor said that Clara didn’t have to feel bad because, to the survivor, Clara was an ‘instrument of justice.’ I hope that the people of Detroit experience ELCA youth as ”instruments of justice.”
The vast majority of ELCA youth who will come to the Gathering are typically reared in middle-class families with predominantly well-informed parents. And, they are white. Like Clara, they are inheritors of systems that fail to render justice to people of color and immigrants. But they don’t have to perpetuate those systems.
In Scripture, there is a constant call to seek justice. Jesus got upset at the Pharisees because they neglected the weightier matters of the law, which Jesus defined as justice and the love of God. Isaiah 58 complains about the fact that while the people of God are praying and praying and praying, they are not doing anything about injustice. Hebrews 11:33 tells us that we are God’s hands for dispensing justice, and God uses us to “administer justice.”
All of the service experiences being planned in Detroit will help young people learn how to “walk the talk” and put their prayers into action to change some of the systems that keep people stuck in cycles of poverty and oppression. They will learn that the “good news” we embody is Jesus, who frees us to stand together at the foot of the cross. It is from Jesus’ endurance of the cross that we draw strength for the marathon work of justice-seeking.
Just as in New Orleans in 2009 and again in 2012, we are showing up in Detroit – body, mind and soul – to do everything in our power to act as God’s hands, feet, hearts and minds in bringing justice. We don’t go to Detroit to offer charity. As Saint Augustine reminds us, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” And, as Mother Theresa once said, “The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action.”