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All I know about justice I learned from Cinderella

When I was five years old, my father took me to see the Disney version of Cinderella at a packed theatre. During the scene in which the ugly stepsisters start ripping apart Cinderella’s dress, most of the other kids in the room started to cry.

Not me. I stood on my chair, pointed at the screen and screamed at the top of my lungs, “That’s not fair!”

My father says that it was the defining moment of my life.

In her book A House Like a Lotus, Madeleine L’Engle writes, “The young have an appalling sense of justice. Compassion doesn’t come till much later.”

She’s right, of course. As five-year-olds, we all have a clear sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, and we are not afraid to stomp our feet and say, “That’s not fair.” As adults, we grow wiser than that-or do we?

Many times I feel as if I’ve evolved from a vociferous five-year-old to a whispering 22-year-old. And I don’t like it.

I think we ought to be pointing at the screens of our world. If we’re looking at the grander scheme, however, we shouldn’t simply be pointing out the injustices. We should be working to rectify the problems in society.

And I think that’s what God wants us to do as well. Look at Isaiah 58, for example:

If you remove the yoke from among you,/ the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,/ if you offer your food to the hungry/ and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,/ then your light shall rise in the darkness/ and your gloom be like the noonday.

The entire passage is a condemnation of Israel. God says to them: “You come to me with sacrifices, but then you oppress your workers, and you fight amongst yourselves, and you fast only so that I’ll hear you. But guess what? I’m not going to hear you if you don’t act justly.”

I cringe when I hear this passage, because I know, in some ways, it’s about me. But then I see the end of the passage, where Isaiah says, if I do away with oppression, then “you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Funny thing is, we can do it in our own backyard.

Case in point: Last fall, Mayor John Street announced a plan to end homelessness in the next ten years. He also announced that he would put $10 million aside to achieve this goal. I thought it was a good start.

But hanging out with the homeless shows you quite a different side to the story. Many Philadelphian homeless folks take shelter in Suburban Station during the winter. About 60 to 100 stay in a practically abandoned hallway. A couple of weeks after the campaign against homelessness started, we went down to the hallway to find it locked and shut down.

We were angry. Our homeless friends were resigned. They’re used to being kicked out and pushed around and, yes, legislated against. But more than angry, we were confused. How can Mayor Street campaign against homelessness and then kick the homeless out into the cold? There are not enough shelters, and many are dangerous and inhumane.

It’s not…well, it’s not fair.

So what to do? The issues are complicated, and we realize that, ultimately, this is not about a subway. This is about a deeper issue. What city officials fail to realize is that homelessness will not disappear. Systemic, structural problems will not be swept under the rug.

The poor may always be with us, but that does not give us an excuse to ignore them. We must all be involved in pointing out the injustices. At the same time, we should keep in mind activist Lilla Watson’s saying:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

When our liberation and our lives are bound up with those in need, then will we be able to work together to fight injustice, to loose the chains of oppression, to do away with the yoke. We will not only point and yell at the screen, but we’ll be able to work together to help Cinderella as well.

Now isn’t that a beautiful vision?

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