Recently I have actually had the time to read a couple of books that I wanted to read as opposed to all the books assigned to me. One was about a dog named Merle whose exploits led him to be dubbed honorary mayor of a small town in Wyoming. In the end of course Merle died and that was sad, but overall it was a fun-filled account of a dog who "sucked the marrow out of life," both in the sense that Thoreau would have appreciated as well as literally, usually after a successful elk hunt. Then there was a second book the result of which I probably should have known would be internal conflict. Nonetheless I boldly charged into Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr. Johnny lives with his wife and five kids in Pittsburgh and has some highfalutin' position with a Christian non-profit specializing in crisis pregnancy counseling and adoption.
As I read the book it began to reveal an unconscious assumption that I had unwittingly made. Hopefully the ink on my son's adoption papers will dry in the next several weeks. It is very dark ink apparently. After that I sort of figured that having adopted our two children my wife and I would simply merge back into the pursuit of the American dream albeit from considerably further back in the pack than where we started. But as I worked my way through Orphan Justice I was reminded of two things in particular. First, the American dream with all its accessories, perks, and comforts is not a biblical mandate to be sought after; quite the opposite in fact. Second, in light of things that go on in the wider world beyond our subdivisions and manicured soccer fields the American dream is kind of...stupid. Abandoned children, human trafficking, rampant disease, and insipid racism render my desire for a quieter, more reliable dishwasher a bit shallow.
If it's not new appliances, more efficient cars, comfortably furnished homes, and college educated progeny, then what does the Bible mandate? Well, for one thing we're told that the Lord requires us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). Fine. I hereby resolve to stop teasing my kids and beating the dog. I'll drink nothing but fair-trade coffee going forward. Next Christmas I really will throw my spare change into one of those red kettles with the bell ringer. What else? Well, there's a lot more actually, but James 1:27 gets most specific and to the point: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." I missed the part about the dishwasher.
As you may have guessed I happen to be of the narrow minded sort who believe that no amount of "religion" can be "pure and undefiled" apart from faith in Jesus Christ. (There's more to say about religion, but that's another post...or posts.) I mention that so that the thousand, or more likely the dozen or so readers of this post who are "conservatives" having been trained to equate any mention of social justice with socialism can put their red flags away. This is not about that. Rather it simply seems to me that believers can not avoid certain directives while embracing others. It also occurred to me the more I read that James 1:27 is not prescribing a one time event, but rather a way of life.
I found a short video clip in which Johnny Carr talks about his hopes for what the book he wrote might accomplish. He says, "I hope churches will use this book as a guide for their justice ministries, for their orphan ministries..." I wondered aloud, "What justice ministries? What orphan ministries?" I'm in the business, yet I'd never heard of such things! So listen...it's not as if I have any of this figured out. If you have a family already, please give it some serious thought before putting your home on the market and donating all your kids' college savings to UNICEF. Likewise, if you're single and/or just starting out you are probably not in a position to adopt a child...maybe, but probably not. Apparently there are multiple courses of action we may consider, and I submit to you that I think they are worth prayerful consideration. Far from a guilt trip, Orphan Justice is a challenge to consider that if we only make ourselves available God is indeed able to do more than we ask or imagine.