Last month, Alexander Rougeau took part in our Urban Leadership School, on a summer placement in the Catholic Parish of Manor Park. In this blog, he reflects on his experience – and the thirst God has placed in our hearts for justice.
It is not difficult to see that the world is unfair. When there is injustice, the soul needs change just as the body needs water. Like someone dehydrated, without fairness the soul becomes desperate, restless, and irritable. There is always injustice, so we are always thirsty.
The necessity for change unites all people, and understanding this can radically transform the way we see the world. During my time in Manor Park, it certainly did. I heard heartbreaking stories of people trapped in a system that was unfair and it was not that I merely wanted to help. I had to do something. I knew the world was unfair and I needed this person because my soul desperately needed justice. Only armed with the power of the experience of another could I ever hope to find it.
Growing up in the United States, I learned the world was unjust at a very young age. My brothers and I were followed in shops well into our adolescent years. The same cities where people buy apartments for $100 million, people without homes freeze to death on the streets every winter. My experience in noticing was not different than that of any other person in that all Americans understand that inequality surrounds them. People do, on the other hand, often disagree on if and how we should address injustice. Community organising has shown me where I stand on the question. Not only must we fight against injustice, we need to pursue strategies of doing so that fully respect and uphold the dignity of human beings.
This means different things for the church and for the state. Politicians must stop writing off areas of the county they hope to represent just because their party may be unpopular there. Faith leaders must resist a paternalistic approach that ignores the lived experiences of their congregations. If change does not happen, the disconnect that now cripples these institutions will only grow, continuing to disenchant and marginalise the most vulnerable. This all takes difficult and intentional conversation. We must be open to the challenges religious belief makes to the ills of our society, and equally aware of the inequalities within our institutions of faith that our society has clearly progressed beyond. The community-organising model is an effective way to go about doing that.
In my life, the message of Christianity has proved to be subversive and revolutionary. It demands change. We must allow it to change and challenge us just as much as it does the world. We need to answer the restlessness it causes when we leave a world of disparity to its own devices.