It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of never-ending new life-instructions for Jesus-followers these days. Every day there seems to be a new social justice battle cry:
- Eat no beef. Too much grain consumption.
- Buy a hybrid, or better yet, ride a bike.
- Fill up your car with nothing but ethanol. No, wait, ethanol causes food price spikes, leading to destabilizing riots.
- Make sure your sheets are organic cotton.
- Install your backyard windmill, rooftop solar panels and low-flow shower heads pronto.
- Buy only locally grown, pesticide-free, in-season flowers and food.
- Insist on compact fluorescent light bulbs.
- You must all immediately memorize storyofstuff.com.
- Refuse to buy Christmas presents.
- Recycle everything, including your Patagonia fleece jacket.
- Intentionally move into a rough school district.
- Hold a prayer vigil for peace at Lockheed Martin headquarters.
- Convert your car to run on used vegetable oil.
- Wash and dry your clothes, which are only bought at thrift stores, by hand.
- Call your senator!
- Spend your spring break in New Orleans!
- Stop. Buying. Period!
I can imagine the response. “Yuck! Too confusing! Too radical! I’m too busy to think about this! Nobody can tell me what to do. Who does this stuff? Only weird hippies, clueless millennials or people who have no fun. Isn’t it all just a fad, anyway?”
In the end, however, I think the real message here is far simpler than it appears. Jesus tells me to love my neighbor as myself. In fact, after loving God with all my might, Jesus says that’s my next-most-important responsibility.
How do I love my neighbor as myself? I try, with every decision, to treat every member of our big human family to the same things I want myself. Clean water. A safe place to live. Enough food to eat tonight at dinner. A healthy environment.
I want to rid my whole life of any actions that hurt people, even if they are far away and I may never see their pain firsthand. I want to find ways to not participate in systems, economies or structures that hurt people, either. What if having flawless orchids in Texas in January requires a young woman in Thailand to inhale and handle pesticides and an airplane to burn huge quantities of fuel to fly them around the world? I’ll do without.
My conviction is that I must evaluate the costs of my behavior to every other human as if those people were my own family. Thinking in this way makes me want to change a lot of my purchases, patterns and everyday activities to make my life more loving. That’s what social justice means to me.
Katie Kilpatrick is donor development coordinator with Buckner Foundation in Dallas. This column appeared on the Albert Reyes’ Pan Dulce blog in a special series on social justice.