Column: Doing the unheralded work of moral justice

  • Will Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

For the Valley News
Published: 4/30/2019 10:20:22 PM

I spend too much time on the internet — sometimes I suspect it’s even an addiction — scrolling through the hundreds of comments, requests and memes posted by legions of users. They range from requests for money or prayers for afflicted people, to comments on the current political scene, to angry messages reviling Muslims, to surprisingly vile personal attacks on other users or various prominent persons — President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton leading the hit parade, as it were.

The cumulative effect of all this can be deeply depressing, and its implications of dystopia ominous. It’s obvious that our nation has in the past been at least divided as now — I’ve just returned from a “great battlefield of that war” — but somehow it’s easier to deal with those past lethal divisions than to contemplate the possibilities suggested by the often dark world of today’s internet. We know from their own testimony that many of the recent white supremacist mass murderers, especially the young ones, were stirred into action by their relationship with the fantasy world on their computer screens.

It was thus a great relief that, just as a combination of negativity and unremitting spring rain were beginning to get to me, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of hours with a group of people dedicated not to the creation of a utopian society, but to making the best of the one we’ve got — as the old children’s hymn puts it, brightening the corner where you are.

The United Valley Interfaith Project, it’s called. It’s a gathering of about a dozen and a half “faith organizations” (the current term for churches and similar groups). I like that it’s called a “project,” rather than something static, like an institution, because it’s obviously an active bunch of people. Its organizing mantra is one I was taught as a kid. In the King James language of my childhood it’s: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

You don’t have be a believer to agree with the goals of the prophet: justice, mercy and humility. And you don’t have to be very astute to notice a distinct lack of all three in our current public life. The mess created at our borders, for example, by our outdated immigration laws, our innate dislike of “others” and the embers stirred to flame by ranting politicians and the dark lords of the internet, has devolved into an inhumane response to desperate immigrants. They’re the best of their native countries — people with the gumption to pick up, leave everything behind, and set off in search of something better. And yet they’re treated like the scum of society, as they’re described by politicians bellowing to their bases.

Shakespeare has words for the treatment due them: “The quality of mercy is not strained. ... ’Tis mightiest in the mightiest. ... It is an attribute to God himself; and earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”

This is where the interfaith project’s members come in: working with like-minded organizations to secure merciful justice for immigrants, supporting a sanctuary location in their valley, and helping immigrants “navigate the very complex and frustrating U.S. immigration system.” The president claims that “we’re full, can’t take any more,” but hires many for his resorts. Meanwhile, farmers, fruit and cotton growers, and dairy farmers are crying for more help. Our system, it’s clear, confuses even us. The project, to its great credit, helps protect the most vulnerable members of this muddled equation till we get it sorted out.

Immigrant justice is, of course, but a part of what the project does. When I read its agenda for fair wages, improved working conditions and sick leave, the protection of programs to help the poor, I can’t help but hear Woody Guthrie singing, and recall fondly my days as a union laborer. At the meeting the other day were people from Listen, the Haven, and the Good Neighbor Health Clinic, all working together wherever possible to lighten the burdens of their clients and even help them to become advocates themselves.

An old friend, a history professor, once told me that he wasn’t quite despairing, but was deeply pessimistic about the future of our race. There were so many things that could go wrong, he said, and of such deeper consequence than ever, that we likely won’t collectively wise up in time to save ourselves.

Reading daily about casual threats of “surgical” nuclear attacks, the rise of xenophobia and tribalism exacerbated by mass migration, and the insane hollowing out of the working classes, I tend to agree with him.

And yet here, almost unnoticed and unheralded among the daily spectacle of conflict, are folks who, whether they agree with the prediction or not, are doing all they can to keep it from happening. “Moral justice,” they call it, and they’re working at it constantly. The simple old mantra still holds: Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Can you imagine a world any better than one living that way?

Willem Lange can be reached at willem.lange@comcast.net.




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