The Hard Work of Justice: Reflections on Peru Trip


Sometimes it takes getting out of my usual routine and daily surroundings to re-remember why this hard, long justice work consistently calls my name.


The work for climate justice usually feels insurmountable. It is horrifying, intimidating, and heart-breaking. Driving past ash gray and white mountains, from acid rain, that should be brown and green, I cannot imagine how my tiny contributions can help bring back the color that belongs to that landscape. Watching beautiful toddlers giggle and dance while knowing lead poisoning limits their future capacity and growth, I cannot quite draw enough breath. I know it is not only the high altitude affecting my body in this place. My body just cannot accept this limitation of children, when it could be stopped. I will not accept a corporation that declares bankruptcy instead of paying to clean up the mess it created, an American company in a foreign land.


This work is hard. Lecture after lecture, personal experiences up close, hearing others’ stories—all so overwhelming. Understanding the intersections of market forces, racism, gender discrimination, and environmental destruction as they reinforce one another, I think it would just be easier if we didn’t care so much.


Yet, it doesn’t matter if it would be easier. That is what it comes down to. It would be easier to not care, but God forbid the time that comes to pass, when we give in to the temptation of “easier.”


The reality is that “easy” is not what we’re called to do. Claiming huge victories, even, may not be the goal here. God asks for us to be faithful, to do the work even when hard, even when we might not fully believe our work can ever do enough.


While continuing to fight corporate giants with only glimmers of hope feels like failure, I don’t believe it is failure. Only giving up, acceding power to the already powerful, is failure. Only deciding that the work God puts in front of us is not really ours, that someone else might do it for us instead, is failure.


As someone in Tuesday’s workshop reminded me, Augustine remarked that hope has two daughters: anger and courage. So we engage in the building up of the beloved community with anger—righteous anger at lead poisoning in 99% of children in La Oroya, at ludicrous wealth in one corner of the world while others do not have basic rights of water or enough food, at another town undermined and even physically relocated because a corporation wants the land for what lies beneath. We work with faith-filled anger.


And, we work for God’s kin-dom with courage—speaking truth to power, marching in the face of oppression, joining hands with strangers in solidarity. I see the courage in brothers and sisters fighting the hard fight, I witness their indignation that becomes strength, and then, at that point, all of the sudden, my spirit realizes what my mind cannot: hope is no longer far away.  Just look at these glorious people! Hope is right here, in front of me. In anger and courage and in hard justice work, hope springs up and life lays claim to what before felt like it would be inevitable death.


I have been traveling in an amazing, beautiful, complex place with faithful, wonderful people and engaging the hard work of justice. It is here that I’m reminded that in the end, what makes this hard work possible, for me, is joy. Real joy– not a simple contentment with life, nor a false optimism that things will automatically turn out right. Instead, it is the joy of building relationships, being together, hands joined, hearts beating, bodies, minds and spirits working for justice together.


Joy is: knowing one’s physical presence shores up another’s languishing energy, solidarity across nationalities; side-splitting laughter with new friends as we try to speak one another’s language and navigate culture; the human spirit surviving in the midst of harsh realities and still yearning for more; marching with others in city streets to name the intersecting justice issues that we see and know and will not accept.


The reward for this justice work is not that we always get to see the giants fall. We do not get to skip blithely into the promised land, just around the corner. The reward instead is the joy that God brings into our lives through the connections, friendships, and relationships with one another. With other people, yes, but also the fulfillment of relating to a glacier, a garden, an alpaca, a dog running beside our van. On Thursday, another speaker talked about “el gozo de la vibracion vital” which I took to mean something along these lines I have been thinking—that a way to live an alternative life is to recognize and embrace the joy of all the connections we have to all living things.


Joy is knowing that we are being faithful, even if not always victorious. The work for justice, and the joy of people who join hands in it, are the reward. This joy then feeds back into our justice work, and the pursuit of justice is what feeds joy. God has created a marvelous thing, the dance of justice and joy.

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