By Dany Hernandez – “SHHHHHH . . . Don’t Say Those Words.”
Fun Fact: My full name is Dany Hernandez Lizardo Garrido Gomez Consepcion Guzman Velazquez Garcia.
I’ve been called many things—Dan, Daniel, Horrendous, Lizard, Pastor, Vicar, Paco. I’ve been described as loud, passionate, authentic, fake, caring, mean and, in one instance, a “snake in the grass, back-stabbing, two-faced liar.” I’ll be honest. That last one is still a bit confusing to me as well as others who were present. Immediately, I had multiple individuals tell me, “Don’t take it personally. They just don’t know you.” Sure, I’ll chalk it up as ignorance on the part of the person who said those things about me, but it still stings. It still hurts. It still feels wrong.
But then, there was this one time when I was super excited because I heard some people describing me as a Social Justice Warrior. Social Justice Warrior. That sounds impressive doesn’t it? At least, I thought it did. After all, the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance are, “liberty and justice for all.” Maybe it’s just me, but I have a sense that many of us have placed our hands over our hearts at some point and have taken an oath committing ourselves to doing our part to establish a society where all are free, where all are treated with equal justice, and all are given an equal opportunity to live in peace and happiness.
So, needless to say, being called a Social Justice Warrior brought out in me a sense of pride and honor. I was living out what we, not just as Christians, but also as Americans stand for. I was living out what I thought our Founding Fathers and our church stand for.
That is, until I realized that those three words are a bad thing. A friend pointed out to me that “Social Justice Warrior” was a derogatory term. To my surprise, after a bit of research, I found the hashtag #SWJ all over the Internet and was devastated to learn I was not being complimented, but instead, insulted—the equivalent of “a snake in the grass.”
I’m still trying to figure out how the words “social justice” became such a repulsive phrase to so many Christians, when in fact, it is the single most common theme in the Bible. This dynamic creates a difficult tension to manage. I can almost guarantee that every one of our pastors and church leaders would say that “social justice” is not only important, but it is a critical and foundational part of Christianity. However, because certain political parties and organizations that we might not align with have become vocal about “social justice,” we shy away from doing the right thing in order to protect ourselves. Let’s be honest. At times, it’s called “self- preservation”. I get it.
Mark 2:15-17: “And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to His disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
OK, we don’t know if it was a party or not. This is what we know. Jesus invites Levi, “Follow me,” and he does. As a tax collector, Levi did not hang out with church people, so we could probably assume Levi’s friends were outcasts of the religious and faith community of the time. The other thing we know is that at some point between Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, there was another invitation from Levi to come and hang out with “the sinners.”
Jesus could have declined the invitation to gather with questionable and marginalized characters for reasons of self- preservation. See what I did there? Jesus could have made certain demands of Levi regarding the food, the beverage, the music, and the guests before he accepted the invitation in order to avoid tension among the faithful. Jesus could have simply said, “No thank you.”
Not only do we see Jesus accepting the invitation as it was, but now we find him, “reclining” with sinners.
Two things jump out at me:
- Reclining = In no rush
- Reclining = A posture of approachability
So, I pose a few of simple questions based on this observation. Is your church in no rush? Are you willing to work with a group of people for years and be present as the community grows and transitions? Are you able to take your time developing meaningful relationships by stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping into someone else’s territory as uncomfortable as that might be? Do you lead with a posture of authority or a posture of approachability? It’s interesting that the Pharisees never sat down to teach the Torah. They always stood in a posture and sign of authority. But somehow, Jesus takes a different approach. He knew these people would never attend church. He knew they would not even be allowed in church. Instead, Jesus reclines. He knew that it was more important for him to be present and approachable than it was for him to be right and authoritative.
How present and approachable are you? How present and approachable is your church? I’m not talking about people who believe, act, dress, eat and talk like you. How present and approachable are you with the kind of people Jesus reclined with?
Here’s the deal: “Social justice” or should we say, “helping the vulnerable among us” so as to not offend anyone, can only be maintained and implemented in the context of presence and approachability.
If you are going to be fully committed to “helping the vulnerable among us,” then some people will feel left out. Take for instance Black Lives Matter (BLM). Some of you probably just stopped reading. That’s OK. But if you continue reading, hear me out.
Let me be vulnerable with you. For those of you who don’t know, we have triplets who will be turning 18 in January 2021. One of my kids has recently been challenged with more things than a teenager should be challenged with. This has required a tremendous amount of time, finances and resources on the part of our family. Many times, my wife and I have lost sleep, cried and felt guilty because of the lack of quality time we’ve been able to dedicate our other two. Does that mean we love them less? Of course not. But because of what we are going through at this point in time, it is necessary we call out the need to dedicate extra time and attention to that one child. If my teenage kids can understand this, why can’t some of us?
“But . . . but . . . do you know that BLM . . .” I do. And I’ve come to realize I don’t have to agree with everything someone stands for in order to support certain causes. I’m sure you don’t like how things ended with Dr. Kellogg, but you still eat cereal, don’t you? If we find ways to celebrate what is good instead of focusing on what is wrong, we’ll begin to find beauty and light in otherwise dark and gloomy places.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and composer of the Broadway musical Hamilton, wrote a line for the character of Aaron Burr played by Leslie Odom Jr., that should become foundational to all of us.
In the second song of the musical, Alexander Hamilton meets Aaron Burr and proceeds to go on a rant about university, family, country. Hamilton, wanting Aaron Burr to know everything he stood for within a few minutes of meeting him, ends up completely overwhelming Aaron with information. Out of nowhere, Aaron Burr interrupts Hamilton and tells him, “Let me offer you some advice. Talk less, smile more . . .”
What would it look like if we, as Jesus’ followers, took that advice? What if our churches were known for our smiles instead of our talks? What if we were more concerned about approachability than authority?
I think if we did, we would be doing the very thing that God requires of us according to Prophet Micah.
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously (Micah 6:8).
Mercy, justice and humility—the foundations of our Chris- tian faith and the basis of “social justice.” There, I said it.
–Dany Hernandez is Lead Chaplain at Littleton Adventist Hospital, Little- ton, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]