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Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus Kindle Edition
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A pivotal, although almost incidental, line from `Seeking Justice' is found on p. 54,
`Moral dilemmas, after all, are a luxury only those with the space to debate enjoy.
Powerless people often are too busy surviving to moralize.'
For me, Hebden here sums up exactly what is wrong with an awful lot of modern church. So it gives me a huge amount of hope that he, as a young and popular Anglican priest, feels able to point this out at a time when, more and more, official Christianity seems to allow itself to be defined principally as the adherence to a set of beliefs (which are themselves not remotely agreed upon) and very little else of much singularity or substance.
There can be no doubt that, in the 168 pages which make up `Seeking Justice', Hebden goes a tremendously long way towards getting us back on track. See, for example, his marvellously perceptive and ambitious;
Identifying, and identifying with, the marginalized is a long-term and vital role of compassionate activists in thwarting the system in its attempt to pass the buck for its
sins onto others. (p. 84)
And what is more, as he details, Hebden practices what he preaches; and inspires the reader to do the same.
If I have one criticism of `Seeking Justice' it is the way Hebden occasionally throws into his text abstract phrases which he doesn't define or expand. E.g. he talks about,
`what Jesus meant by the present and to-be-expected compassion of God' (p.93)
when I do not think the words `the compassion of God' appear in the New Testament. He also says things like,
`finding God in the street-talk and the street in the God-talk transforms our vision of both God and society' (p.95)
and vaguely refers to
`the abundance of God' (p.127) and similar.
Words like these certainly have a good ring about them, but what do they mean? Hebden says virtually nothing at all about God (of the Bible); about why He matters or is relevant to the `Seeking Justice' debate. For me, the way we talk about God is crucial in keeping us focussed and fit for purpose. Having said that, however, it is abundantly clear on every page. that Hebden understands that God (of the Bible) is all about marginal politics. Consequently, `Seeking Justice' is, without doubt, the most encouraging book I've read in 2012.
The author, no stranger to non violent direct action (or its consequences), writes with passion and prophetic vision about how we might go about effecting change in our society. The fact that a quick web search will find references to how he practices what he (literally) preaches only goes to reinforce this point.
While this is a personal book, it's also a deeply Christian book, rooted in the Christ tradition of 'The Kingdom of God' - Justice, Peace and Joy, as you might expect from someone who spends his day to day as a parish priest. But it's also a text for all - and deserves a reading and rereading. It's simultaneously an easy read (because of the author's eloquence) and an uneasy read (because it reminds us who we are supposed to be).
An ideal work for use in a study group, a social justice group, or just for anyone who half remembers the clarion call of Christ to fight against oppression and injustice, without falling in to the trap of using the ways of the world to do so.
The case for active, compassionate citizenship is one every Christian should be persuaded by... but be prepared to find a pale, sickly representation of that case in this book.
Hebden makes some important points about nonviolence, compassionate activism and community and brings the Bible to the fore in discussing these things, though he generally picks odd examples and there were moments where I was convinced he must have wilfully misunderstood the point of the text in order to make it fit his point. He presents Jesus as an ardent social activist, but only that - repeatedly falling short of putting Jesus' actions in the context of his wider message of redemption and restoration through grace and forgiveness. I'm still not sure whether Hebden actually believes in the deity of Christ and he certainly appears not to believe in the atonement of the cross - instead framing Jesus' death as a result of bad Romans or some sort of unfortunate mistake which the Father had to put right (and if it's either of those things, Jesus really isn't the guy we thought he was anyway and we don't need to bother with the Christianity thing). He is also keen on adding numerous speculative details to scripture which, while not wrong in itself, is just a pretty flimsy basis to argue from.
All the above seems, to me, to more obscure than explain the wonder and challenge of being part of the Kingdom of God and pursuing justice and compassion in the name of Jesus. At best this is just plain sad, and at worst, a rather dangerous message riddled with half-truth and misunderstanding. Please seek justice, but if you're going to do it in the name of Jesus, you're better off going back to the Bible.
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