‘Put aside your old self’ ‘so that you can put on the new’ (Ephesians 4:22-24), and accordingly lead a life dead to the world and to self-love, full of gentleness, humility of heart, true sincerity, modesty, interior and exterior peace, and of charity toward the neighbor; in a word, a life completely modeled on the holiness and the pleasing virtues of Jesus which you develop in yourself.
Fr. John Pierre Medaille
You can’t watch the news today without seeing reports of young adults embattled in gang warfare, drugs, or materialistic apathy focused on some reality show or latest trend. We older folks lament the state of our youth today and wonder out loud “what is it with kids these days?”
On Friday afternoon, I was honored with the opportunity to facilitate a session on social justice at Saint Louis University. When I was an undergrad, Friday afternoons were sacred cows. If I had the afternoon free before going to work that night, I did not fill it with a workshop. Most often, it was filled picking up an extra shift. But on this particular Friday afternoon about 40 students (and a couple of faculty) volunteered their time to sit together and explore social justice together. These were not reluctant – I need extra-credit participants. These folks dove in head first and really wrestled with trying to understand what we mean when we talk about social justice.
After a large group brainstorm we came up with some shared ideas of social justice and then at their tables in small groups they were asked to come to a consensus on a unified concept of social justice that we could work from. We came back together in a large group and tried to combine those concepts into a common concept of social justice we could all share. On the surface it seemed so easy. We assumed we were like minded individuals that shared common beliefs.
What we quickly discovered is that we all had a different view of social justice. What was seen as essential to some was peripheral to others, based on experiences, world views, spiritual frameworks, professional lenses. And what impressed me the most about being with this group was there was an awareness of the complexity and an appreciation for other views. They truly wanted to know why something was important to another and then how could we accommodate that belief or need into the larger understanding. And then what of my own needs/desires could we let go of to make room for all at the table.
In the end, what we learned from one another is that social justice is a nice neat term but dig below the surface and it changes, shifts, eludes a unified understanding. One person pointed out how easy it is to tear something down, but how difficult it is to build something up together. Another shared that they tossed the term social justice around all the time but never took the time to see what lay beneath and where others believed and understood social justice to be. And how would this conversation look if there was conflict, ego, ownership preventing exploration toward a common understanding? What if one or more of us needed to have “the” definition?
We talked about finding our own personal understanding of social justice, not as a definitive position that we try to persuade others to adopt but as a grounded place that allow us to ask questions of others. We are all holding different pieces of the map, so that together we can see our way forward. And recognize that as we see more of the map, then our understanding shifts, like a compass, holding us true to our course but not fixed and unmoving.
This week I’m at the LCWR Think Tank on Religion and Revelation. Fr. Anthony Gittins is presenting and he is calling us to move out of thinking and into imagining! That it’s through our imaginations that we will see a new way forward. And that’s what inspires me with the young adults I am meeting on the way. They can imagine a new way. They are just seeking a few elders to give them permission to shed old ideas and confirm their suspicions that new ways are possible! Elders who will hold them as they play and experiment with new ways of being.
So I have to ask myself, am I willing to listen to younger voices and see their wisdom? Or do I want to be the one who generates the ideas that will “save the world”? Can I surrender ego, share my experiences and then be taught by others? Or do I need to be seen as the teacher? Am I willing to truly embrace social justice as co-created by all or does it have to be my view of justice? Can I surrender to the will of Spirit regardless of how It is revealed? Can I put aside my old self and put on the new?
And while these are definitely not “kids”. The young adults I meet give me so much hope! They are not pie-in-the-sky dreamers but realistic idealists who will imagine a new way forward. I’m so glad they are welcoming me into their imagination and I have no doubt there’s room for you too.
On the path,