Journey and Destination …

A thoughtful question about justice, poverty, history, and theology after the jump

From my e-mails of the past I am sure you are aware that I hold your writing and thoughts in high esteem-I believe they have helped re-shape and re-mold my faith in a way that is very pleasing to God. To put it succinctly I have moved or shifted from a destination paradigm to a journey paradigm, that is, we get to be the hands and feet of Christ. I believe this paradigm shift is paramount for the post modern church. However, after getting half way through Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a book I received as a Christmas present, I am conflicted.
You, me and so many people of the world today are so fortunate to have so much at our disposal. Because of what you and I have, it allows our faith being centered around a journey paradigm not only possible, but exciting as well! We have so much to offer and give back to our community and the world-it is such a privilege Christ gave you, me and so many to be his hands and feet!
Reading Zinn however, has brought to mind all of those that do not have the resources, possessions and freedoms that you and I have been given. Zinn discusses the injustice of slavery as well as the injustices and abuses of power that the working class had to endure during the 19th century.
My initial reaction to this was a feeling of thankfulness that, with our postmodern world, we have moved and grown away from the injustices of our past. However, Zinn also discusses the abuse of power that the wealthy used to keep the working class subservient to the rich. After further reflection on this abuse of power my initial reaction of thankfulness was replaced with sadness because I am really unsure much has changed or that at minimum we have a long way to go!
While I think it is great that you and I can be the hands of feet of Christ and continue on our journey, who of those oppressed or destitute: the citizens of Haiti; the child prostitutes in Thailand; slaves in salt mines in India, would choose a journey paradigm over a destination paradigm? I can’t help but think of the slaves and there spirituals that they would sing. Those spirituals do not focus on what they can do here but on what their reward is in the next life and who can blame them for this when their living conditions and the injustices they endure are taken into consideration?
My question is what words/encouragement would/do you have for “the least of these” that is journey rather than destination oriented?

Thanks for your question. It’s interesting you mention the old spirituals. There’s a theory that they actually operate on two levels. On one level, “Down by the Riverside” means “When I cross over to heaven,” but on another level, it means “when I cross the river to freedom.” “Follow the Drinking Gourd” might be saying that if you travel north (using the Milky Way as a guide), you can escape to freedom. “All God’s Chillen Got Shoes” might be a way of celebrating hope for a better life here below, not just in heaven above.
But of course slaves wouldn’t be allowed to sing of those hopes overtly. That would get them a whipping. So by singing about heaven, they could keep their hope alive – and still be defying the status quo in their hearts.
And when there is no real hope of change on earth, thank God for the hope of change in heaven, because without that hope, there would be only resignation and despair. Believing that God is on the side of the oppressed gives them a truer view of God, I think, than the one held by the oppressors!