Jul 13, 2009

Making Peace with Proximate Justice

This past weekend, I was able to travel to Washington, DC for the wedding of two dear friends from college. The ceremony itself was an experience, given that I have never seen a Russian Orthodox wedding before (and that may be the subject of a future post). However, I came away from the reception with a lot more than I expected.

There were no assigned seats, so I sat with a few of the people that I knew. Across from us sat two older men ('older' meaning that they weren't in their 20's like the rest of us) and their wives. We proceeded to introduce ourselves and begin a fascinating conversation. Now, full disclosure, I must admit that the bride told me to expect something good. She was sitting at the table next to me and gave me a very truncated bio of each, saying that one of them was her parents' priest and that the other was a professor who would engage you with the most intense discussions of your life (his cards, she mentioned, are embossed with the motto "Conversations with Consequences"). That certainly proved to be the case.

The "Conversations with Consequences" man's name was Steven Garber, and most of the time I spent talking with him. He explained that his work was primarily tied to helping those in business, art, culture, and politics understand how they could be both Christians advancing their beliefs and excellent purveyors of their vocations. His example for one group, called the Wedgwood Circle, was the story of its namesake. Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the Wedgwood company, was a fierce abolitionist who sought to use the power of his art to alter his culture. He allied with William Wilberforce and produced the 'Slave Medallion,' bearing the image of a man in mondage asking "Am I not a man and a brother?" Ultimately, the medallions sold handsomely and helped spread the abolitionist cause in Britain. How, Mr. Garber asks, can we accomplish something similar today? How can those in the culture affect it for both the good of the Kingdom (in Christianese) and the common good of society?

He asked about me, and I told him that I am in the midst of a quandry. I for along time have felt a call to some greater social good; namely, justice. I still don't know what exactly 'justice' means, but I do know that though there are many, many attorneys, there seem to be few who are able to stick it out with some amount of idealism intact. Again, that may be an incorrect judgment on my part, but it is what I have seen. However, I also love art and puppetry and animation. If I didn't feel some greater need in the field of the law, I would lunge right in to those things, since I find so much passion in them. Ultimately, I'll have to choose, and hopefully I'll feel a clear call to which I should do. I still think that lawyering is where I should be, but I'm open.

Mr. Garber pointed me to an article that he wrote called "Making Peace with Proximate Justice". It is an excellent read and helps my situation considerably. He asks whether so many lose their idealism because they are looking for perfect justice in a fundamentally imperfect world. Proximate justice is being willing to find the fact that there is something good, even if not perfect. Setting a broken bone, for example, won't make it perfectly new, but it will make it 'like new'. It won't be 100%, but it will be close. It's similar here. In a broken world, having the realism to not lose hope without perfection, but maintaining the optimism of an ultimate perfection worth striving after, can keep one hopeful.

Christianity, I've said before, is a strange paradox in many ways, but notably in this: it leaves the faithful knowing that they are called to seek perfection in an imperfect world. Moreover, they are told that it is impossible to achieve perfection. However, that does not mean it isn't worth seeking. It's the most hopeful hopelessness in existence.

Much more, intellectually at least, than I expected from the reception.

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