Lessons from the letter of James

Every other Tuesday, I meet with a group of women in my neighborhood for dinner and a Bible study. We’re all socially aware 20- to 30-somethings, so as we discussed the last chapter of James this week and grappled with its themes of wealth and sin, we naturally began talking about privilege and what it means to live in this world but not of it.

I should probably take a second here to give some context to this group: basically, they are some of the coolest women I’ve ever met. They’re all deeply committed to justice, and they all live Christ-centered, radical lives. Radical, of course, in the most literal sense – these chicas are deeply rooted in both scripture and spirituality.

And so, on Tuesday night, we talked about the theological mandate to oppose the oppressive systems all Americans benefit from, industries like Big Agribusiness, which provides our cheap food, and the complex, international process that produces the clothes we wear – industries we know are horrible but that are so seemingly omnipotent that it can be difficult to escape them. (Actually, Amanda just grows most of her food, so I guess she’s at least figured out that part.)

But this problem of how to live in the world yet not of it is hardly unique to a cohort of Millennials sitting on a back porch, sipping rosé and contemplating James. On Monday, Sr. Jan Cebula, the Global Sisters Report’s liaison to U.S. women religious, wrote about the case for nonviolence in a world that seems decidedly opposed to such an approach to conflict.

“It takes courage to imagine a different future” she wrote, and I think that’s true – not just of the peace movement, but of all the areas of life in which to follow Christ means to reject societal norms.

And that takes courage, and it takes faith.

This point was reiterated when I interviewed Jean Fallon, a Maryknoll sister who has dedicated herself to the nuclear weapon abolition movement. In 1947, just two years after atomic bombs had been dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she moved to Japan and spent two decades there as a missionary. Given all the pain and suffering she’d witnessed firsthand, and given the overwhelming task of abolition she tackles daily, I asked her where she finds hope.

Referencing a comment she had earlier in our conversation about governments and corporations having a monopoly on power, she told me, “There’s more than one power at play here: the power of the people, and the power of God.”

James ends his epistle with words of encouragement: “Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered” (5:11). In my Bible study, we concurred that this was James basically offering a balm to the recipients of his letter, helping to soothe the wounds caused by the metaphorical beat-down that makes up the other 98 percent of the text.

But I think these words of encouragement are also useful for those of us today trying to navigate two conflicting cultures. There is a lot of brokenness in this world, a lot of work to be done, and that can be terribly overwhelming. The key, I think, is to understand, first and foremost, that the world is not ours to save. Only Christ can redeem what is broken – we are simply invited to join in his redemptive work.

And once we can understand that, I think it’s easier to relax, to find our specific calling and to dedicate ourselves to that calling with the perseverance James so highly esteems.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report.]

Check out Horizons, featuring reflections from younger sisters.