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  • Seasons of the Spirit: The Call of Restorative Justice

    As we enter autumn, the realities of our deeply polarized religious, social and political world become increasingly apparent. As Christians, scripture and tradition call us to be “light in the shadows”: bearers of good news to a broken world. 

    How do we orient ourselves in such a time as this? Jesus points us toward taking responsibility for doing our “inner work” first, so we do not project out our shadows both personally and culturally: 

    “Take the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck from your brothers or sister’s eye.” 

    —Matthew 7:5

    But doing this deep work of bridge building is much harder than blowing up the bridges that connect us, one to another, as creations of God. Our human instinct is to be “right’ and make the others “wrong”, in a failed attempt to establish our identity and our tribe. God calls us to travel a higher road in which we understand ourselves as one people on one little planet trying to learn to love God and one another in a realm of peace, hope, justice, and mercy.

    One of the places to which God calls us is a practice of a justice that is a “restorative justice” rather than a “retributive justice”. God calls us beyond mere punishment to a place of being restored after an acknowledgement of our wrongdoing. It is the process that was used by Nelson Mandela in South Africa as the injustice of apartheid was being dismantled. 

    In restorative justice, we are called not only to speak but also to listen—to be willing to hear the voices of those who have been harmed by our silence, our exclusion, and our collusion with systemic oppression, unearned privilege, and even violence used against others. 

    To listen, we must be willing to release our self-justifications that ignore those whom we have hurt without regard for creating victims, causing pain, perpetuating systems whose access to justice and an equitable life has been blocked. God helps us to be supported and loved even as we listen to the harm that has been done, and as we understand there are consequences to our actions and inactions. God helps us understand the possibilities present in making amends, being forgiven, and being re-oriented so that new life, hope, and possibility may come out of those places of pain at seeing our own part in the injustices that have been visited upon another.

    It is our listening to God that allows us to be willing to release our self-justifications and hear the voices of others. It is our listening to God’s authority from the future, reaching back to us, here and now, offering us a new possibility which God invites us to co-create. This is the realm in which Jesus shows us the power, joy, and fulfillment of servant leadership.

    God’s realm is where we live the new life growing out of the places where we laid down our “need to be right at all costs.” It is the realm, which grows out of the surrender of our false notions of superior control and self-serving power. It is the realm where our tawdry idolatries which never deliver but instead addict us to wanting more and more are exposed for what they really are: empty of meaning, void of love, and lacking any true fulfillment of life. It is the realm where we seek salvation for all, not just for “little me.” Here we see where what we have done for the least, the last, the lost, we have done for Christ himself. Here we learn to serve the will of God and not only our own. We allow our will to be infused with God’s love—to co-create a universe that the authority of Gods future gives to us.

    We listen, listen, listen to the voice of God reaching out to us with abounding grace, refreshment, and release from the old voices that hold us captive. We are given the courage to speak out for justice, hope, love, kindness, and be a light shining for the rejected, forlorn, victimized, and those who have been excluded. This light helps all to find their way to God in community. We are invited to turn and walk together across the bridge we are all building one stone of love at a time: stones laid down, placed with listening hearts, compassionate acts, and a loving spirit. 

    Moving together, we remind each other of the new world we are creating with God, speaking the language of the new realm. We are empowered to listen, to lend a compassionate hand, to do justice, to love kindness, to co-create with God the new realm where the words of the familiar hymn will guide us:

    “The poor are rich/ the weak are strong/ the foolish ones are wise.
    Tell all who mourn, outcasts belong/ who perishes will rise.”


    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church in Winchester (UCC) and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC)