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February 21, 2013

bare feet and justice

February, for me, has been the month of the apartment hunt. I have high standards: I want a place where the sink isn't rusty, the paint isn't drooping or chipping, and the walls aren't stained with betel-nut-tinted spittle. I want something clean and safe for a single, white female. The apartments that meet my criteria are generally new developments, that's where realtors have been taking me. I'm seeing semi-clean white walls, freshly-tiled floors, televisions in every room...I'm finding out how the middle-upper class people live.

I'd also like to have a nice view from my apartment. In this crowded city, a "nice" view might be a vacant property or a nice-looking building. It might just mean being high enough that you see some treetops rather than the disorder below. But even the "nice" views overlook extreme poverty. Maybe that's why everyone in the condominium wants a garden-facing flat. Not a reality-facing flat.

A stone's throw from an apartment complex I liked—past the guard and the well-tended green space, over the wall, on the other side of the row of flowering plants—are shanty towns. Homes made of spare boards and strips of discarded banner material. Homes with no running water, let alone shining sinks; no flooring, never mind beautiful tiling.

These are the homes of the construction workers and maids. They build and tend to the homes across the street, but cannot even dream of owning such homes. Not because they don't work hard, but because they were born into the wrong family. With bad karma. Under the wrong stars. Fate made them the underlings.

I could have been that person who moved to Asia to work with the outcasts, the poor. Instead, the work that brought me here has me wrestling with Excel spreadsheets and becoming conversant in data transfer speeds. But as a person in relationship with The Just One, no matter my daily employment, I am pained at the injustice around me. Why do the rich live at ease at the expense of the poor? How can they treat them without mercy when they have so much? How are animals venerated but people expendable? I wonder: What can I do about this? What am I supposed to do about this?  How do I never let this injustice become normal to me?

My friends and I often visit a doctor's happy middle-class home. As I arrive, I stop to remove my shoes. If the doctor's wife is nearby, she stops me. Our conversation goes like this:

"Don't take off your shoes!"
"But they're dirty!"
"But our whole country is dirty! That's what it's like here!"
"But I don't want your house to be dirty."
"Leave them on. We leave ours on."

So, I dirty her house. If she's OK with her home being dusty, then I can be OK with that. But I can never be OK with injustice.

I've been trying to read through the Scriptures in a year, but my slow pace has me stuck in the prophets. Jeremiah writes, "Execute judgement in the morning; and deliver him who is plundered out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go forth like fire..." (21:12). "Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this knowing me?" (22:15-16)

If my soul is heavy when I see injustice, it is because I know Him, and He is grieved, too. He is more than grieved, He is angry. 

This month we hired a few new employees. The young man we took on came neatly dressed, his hair freshly trimmed. Each day he came to us after a full morning of college classes, riding the cheap bus for two hours to get here...and two hours to get home afterward. His smile was wide, and overflowed into his eyes.

Two weeks came and went, and his ability didn't match up to the tasks he needed to perform. We'd advanced him money from his paycheque to get glasses (a luxury he hadn't invested in) but still his eyes weren't picking up the problems in his work. It came time for the axe.

After explaining why we needed to dismiss him, my coworkers blessed him with encouragement about his good qualities. Where justice would have paid him two weeks' wages, grace paid a full month's wages. He left as pleasantly as he had always come, saying, "No other company would do this for me." He knew that something was different here. 

When we see justice done, something in us responds. Fair wages paid, wrongdoers punished, lies exposed. But when justice gets outrun by grace, something within us sings.

I like to think that Truth began to play on his heart as he was here. Truth was playing a song that cannot reverberate inside cows, pigeons or monkeys. It is a song sung uniquely inside Image-bearers, when the human soul sees qualities that reflect His Image. The song says: "this is what I was made for."

One of my new friends is short on cash. It's not because she's not a hard worker, or because she doesn't have a job, or because she's not skilled. It's simply because her employers hold back her wages. They promise, but don't deliver. 

Based on the prophets, I would say that God is angry at her employers for their injustice. He will make them give account. There will be a day of fire and judgement.

But between now and the Day when justice is finally meted out, what I can do about injustice? How can I do justice? I'm a graphic designer, or a writer; not a lawyer, or a social worker.

The voice from the fiery bush said, "What is that in your hand?" (Ex. 4). Moses had a rod. We start with what we have, too. This week, our company paid (more than) fair wages to an employee. This week, I pr@yed for, designed and printed business cards for my friend who needs paid work. This week, I wrote this to exhort you, because you witness injustice too. Do justice. Live grace.

As we do, the song in our hearts rises; Truth sings. We step on holy ground (Ex. 3). And this time, you'd better take off your shoes. Even the doctor's wife would agree.


  1. This was beautifully written Julie, thank you for sharing. I can totally relate to the feeling of helplessness in what can I do...yet doing nothing is not an option because although we do not have a degree in social work or law we are not empty handed!

  2. Jenn, thanks for adding your thoughts. This country has a way of overwhelming anyone, making you feel small. But we know One who is Big!! Walking with Him successfully is much more about the little, daily right choices than big, head-turning events.