In his wonderful book Generous Justice, Tim Keller makes the case that for those who have truly experienced the unmerited grace of God, their lives will naturally be marked by a passion for pursuing justice. But the Christian life is “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson famously put it (borrowing from Nietzsche), and doing justice as a way of life doesn’t just happen automatically. So what are the spiritual practices that will shape us and sustain us?
Mae Elise Cannon, whose work with World Vision focuses on advocacy and outreach in the Middle East, offers some answers in her new book, Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (IVP). Those answers come in the way of mini-biographies of Christians from around the world who have worked for justice and social change over the long haul – fueled by spiritual disciplines.
Some of those profiled in the book will be more recognizable to readers than others – and that’s important in and of itself. Those who get famous for doing justice and loving mercy – people like Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa – are the rare exception; most heroes of the faith end up cultivating the good, the true, and the beautiful in relative obscurity. If we take this “long obedience in the same direction” seriously, it is fairly likely we can expect to find ourselves in the company of the obscure as well.
Nonetheless, in each chapter Cannon links a more-or-less well known Christian with respective “inner” and “outer” spiritual practices:
Mother Teresa: From Silence to Service
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: From Prayer to Discipleship
Watchman Nee: From Study to Evangelism
Martin Luther King, Jr.: From Community to Proclamation
Fairuz: From Worship to Freedom
Desmond Tutu: From Sabbath to Reconciliation
Oscar Romero: From Submission to Martyrdom
One can’t help but be encouraged by the stories of this “great cloud of witnesses” – including the less well known saints whose stories appear amidst the big names in each of the chapters. Their lives are indeed instructive for us.
Just Spirituality’s greatest contribution is the way it reminds us that rightly ordered societies are so closely linked to rightly ordered lives.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest thoughts.
[Photo: "Candles in Coptic church" by Héctor de Pereda via Flickr]