I Hope to See More Floods
The Cumberland River crested at 52 feet above flood stage. Nashville and the Middle Tennessee area were hit with destruction not seen since the Civil War, potentially the most costly inland disaster ever to hit the nation. To be a citizen of Nashville during these days has shown me a side of a city that gives me confidence in my fellow humans. Rather than massive looting, heavy military presence, and selfish headline posturing, we’ve seen a city of people step forward to serve their neighbors.
And right in the middle of it all, the students of Trevecca Nazarene University found their way to the poorest section of the city, rolled up their sleeves, and started working. They helped staff shelters around the clock, starting on Sunday evening; they helped clean up a church that had been flooded; they have helped families clean up damaged homes; and they have gathered and delivered supplies. All of this is happening as Trevecca students take final exams, prepare for the graduation of 948 on Saturday (with their 7,000 celebrating guests), and move into a major clergy conference on campus on Monday. At the heart of this work is a young leader and professor on the campus. Jamie Casler, the director of the J. V. Morsch Center for Social Justice. Now in its second year, the Center is preparing a generation of students to address human need with skill, compassion, and experience.
Floods and other crises call for response. Sometimes the need is immediate–rescue a child from a submerged car or get water to a thirsty person. But full recovery requires leaders who know how to assess the need, organize the response, and deliver the help. Compassion alone can never skillfully address massive human need. At Trevecca, social justice means doing the work of Jesus with the heart of Jesus in the most highly skilled way that addresses the true need.
While the words social justice have taken a beating in recent days by irresponsible commentators who try to link them to communism, liberal political thought, and forced distribution of wealth, at Trevecca we reclaim those words for their truest meaning—doing justice throughout social networks and neighborhoods in the name of Jesus. It is required of us that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6.8). That’s exactly what we mean by social justice. To be moved by compassion is the beginning of the Christian response, but to become skilled in doing justice to humans is the higher calling. Justice is the work of making things right, as God intended it to be.
I hope to see more floods. Not the kind we saw in Nashville this weekend, but the kind imagined by the prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5.24 NRSV).