At the church that I serve here in the city of brotherly love, we recently embarked on a summer sermon series that focuses on some of the smaller and lesser known letters in the New Testament canon. Beginning with the letter to the Hebrews (yes, I know, Hebrews isn’t exactly a “small” letter. So sue me.), we have been listening to excerpts from these “dispatches” from the early church, with a particular focus on the following question: in what ways might these early “pep talks” from church leaders to struggling churches also teach/inspire/encourage/challenge us in our own context?
Well, this week we reflected on the message of the epistle of James. You know, the one about how faith without works is dead? The one that is very clear that our actions speak volumes about the character of our belief? You know, that one?
So of course we spent a lot of time reflecting on the challenge of this letter, and also how consistent it was with the life of Jesus. We asked ourselves: did Jesus spend his time reciting the Apostles’ Creed and demanding others to do likewise? Or did he, more often than not, walk out of the synagogue and out into the streets to heal and forgive and bless? We were reminded that the one thing that Jesus asks his disciples over and over again is that they “follow Him,” or “take His yoke upon them,” or “carry their crosses.” In other words, he calls them to actions, specifically actions that will in turn form them (and their words), into people of the WORD.
Well, I got a little taste of what this challenge can feel like this morning. An striking photo (pictured above) of a young girl caught my eye, and suddenly I found myself reading this article. The article, featured in Foreign Policy Magazine, is essentially an overview of the practice of swara justice in the Pashtun region of Pakistan, what we often hear called the Swat Valley. Swara is part a tribal justice system in which elders in tribal communities meet in local assemblies called jirgas to ensure the rule of law in remote areas where traditional courts are either non-existent or not trusted. Swara is essentially a form of compensation that is intended to resolve disputes between families, and often the compensation ends up being girls, sometimes as young as 5, being given to the wronged family for marriage. These girls often suffer greatly as a form of revenge against the other family, and it is often extremely difficult for families who wish to protect their daughters to protect them.
So what does this have to do with James? As I read this excellent article, my conscience nagged at me. What are you going to do about it? I found myself wondering. Will you link to it on Facebook and let that be enough? Or will you struggle with this, will you feel the pain of it, will you search your heart for a way to respond?
I have to admit, many times, I read something, nod my head in agreement, and move on. But this time was different. Maybe it was the message of James working in my heart, but I know that reading is not enough. Agreeing is not enough. Christ calls us to respond. I am still not certain what the response will be, but I know where I can start. I can begin in prayer, and then move in the direction of generosity. I may not be able to give my presence, and my body to this cause, but I can certainly give my money (Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are both very active in the region. There is also the Women’s Centre at Edwardes College in Peshawar, Pakistan, and the activist featured in the article, Samar Minallah, is the Director of this organization that is involved in good work). I can absolutely share this article with others, and be a part of a conversation. That seems like a good start.