If you’re unfamiliar with this phase, well, you probably aren’t American. Which is fine. It is the ending to the pledge of allegiance that grade schoolers are expected to recite most mornings…..at least when I was that age it was. It’s an interesting phrase eh? Not liberty and justice for some. Not liberty and justice for the good. But liberty and justice for ALL. I wonder if the writers of the pledge thought through just what they were saying.
I was at the Justice Conference this last weekend, and there were many stories that will probably be coming in the upcoming weeks. It was inspiring and like coming home all at the same time. It was everything I wanted it to be…and the only thing I could complain about was that I want to do it every day…except then I’d never be out loving other people so it’s not really a bad thing it’s just a weekend of refreshing. Like going home for the weekend from university just to slog back into it all when you get back to your dorm.
One of the things I was reminded of this last weekend was that concept though. Freedom and Justice for ALL. That true justice requires me seeing the offender as someone in need of love and grace and redemption not because they are the offender, but because they are human and we’re all broken.
One of my most poignant personal stories happened when I was about 23 and was living in overseas. I was living in Kathmandu and I had been for several years. I had a sense of confidence and I knew what I was doing. Kathmandu had always been in the middle of a civil war as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t as bad as you’d think. There were bombs that exploded and some friend’s did die. But mostly, we lived our lives in the city. We knew what to look for to keep out of danger. We knew when to stay indoors and when we could go out.
So it was pretty normal that when some friends walked me home from dinner at their house we said goodbye at the entrance to the street that led to the goat trail down to my house. It was only 100 meters from my house after all. Why would we question the safety of that? But, I noticed 2 guys coming from the opposite end of the street. At first I thought I was being paranoid. But when a hand grabbed my wrist I knew my gut was leading me true and I should have run. They proceeded to try and take my bag and my phone and I tried to fight them off. I was doing pretty good taking punches and dropping to the ground and protecting my stomach with my bag. (thank you older brothers??). But true to my nature I just couldn’t leave well enough alone and screamed my rage after them as they ran. Only to find that I was still on the ground struggling to move and they were running back as fast as they could. They took my head and slammed it against the ground several times. They grabbed the strap of my bag and lifted me off the ground until it snapped from my own body weight. They kicked me until I had no choice but to release. And then I screamed as a victim screams….a whisper. I don’t know what happens when you are truly and utterly victimised and you lose your voice. You lose your breath. You know you desperately need help, but you just can’t get loud enough to find the help. I remember thinking, “Why can’t I scream louder?” It did end up being loud enough and some beautiful people did come out to help me and get me to friends who got me to a hospital.
Fast forward a week and I was in shock. I was scared to walk alone. I started jumping when anyone walked up behind me, even in the day time. I talked to the police, to the embassy, to friends….anyone who would listen probably. And I knew it was a lost cause. Those men (boys? It was dark, they could have been teens for all I know) were not going to be held accountable. And I was angry. Why didn’t I live in a country that could actually find people through good policing? That had cameras that might have recorded the attack? That would swab me down for the DNA that had to be all over my body? How could someone get away with robbing and beating me so easily?
Then I went to a friends house and we had just a dinner thing or something. I felt a bit awkward because my eye and lip and cheek were still puffy and bruised and there were kids there and I didn’t want to scare them. But one of the couples had a 3 year old. She was sweetness embodied and she came and she sat on my lap. She looked at my face and she gently touched the bruises. She asked how I got them. And I sighed. How do you explain to a 3 year old the horrible things in the world? I told her some men wanted my bag and they hurt me to get it. And she stopped and thought, and then said one of the most profound things. “They must have been very sad to hurt you like that.” I was blown away. In 30 seconds of conversation this 3 year old had undone me. I began to cry and told her, “Yes, the probably were very sad” then she said, “we should pray for them.” GAH! Then I was warring within myself. Pray for them?!?!?! They beat me and kicked me. They left me bloody and bruised and for what? A bag with personal items and a few hundred rupees( the price of 2 bags of rice)
But I also knew she was right. I knew when I looked into her 3 year old face I was looking into a more ancient wisdom than mine. So I said, “Yes, we should pray for them.” And we did. And I cried.
I’d like to say that experience has made me always remember to pray for my enemies and forgive those who hurt me etc. But it hasn’t. Cause it’s an ancient wisdom. But it’s also a damn hard wisdom that goes against every grain of my being. So, it seems that every few years God sends another experience, another conference, another wise friend…. something to remind me…you still gotta love enemies. That true justice frees the victim and the perpetrator. Which is key in all the work with JusticeKiss: to remember Justice and Freedom for ALL.