“Miss, could you spare a dollar so I could get something to eat?”
I took a good look at his leathery face as he rattled his cup near the Dunkin’ Donuts in Uptown. “Nope.”
I didn’t feel guilty at all when I said it. That’s because I was the cook in the building where he lived.
“I am so insulted!” I laughed. “Are my meals so bad that you have to beg to eat somewhere else?”
“Sorry, I didn’t recognize you, ” his leathery face turned beat red before he chuckled, too.
Sometimes, it’s hard to help those you’d rather tune out.
But this past weekend at the Justice Conference in Chicago, I learned the importance of helping those you want to tune out, or who aren’t on your radar to begin with.
There was a potpourri of amazing presenters: authors, musicians, activists and poets with cool hair.
(A poet without cool hair is like Captain America without his shield.)
For the most part, the presenters focused on one word: justice.
What justice means in a biblical sense.
Justice for the marginalized.
Justice for those in Ferguson.
Justice for the woman in Africa whose picture was used without her permission on the poster to plug one of the speaker’s books.
Justice for those with different a religion, pigment, and zip code than you.
Because over the years, the word justice has been misinterpreted by the church to mean something that it’s not.
Sorta like kids who sing hymns about about Gladly, the crossed eyed bear.
Pledge allegiance to the republic of Richard Stands.
And pray to a God named Harold in the Lord’s Prayer, asking Him to forget about our trashes as we forget about those who throw trash at us.
Sorta like that.
So what exactly–according to these guys–is justice other than a darn good scrabble word?
Simply put by Dr. Cornell West, justice is to leave a bit of heaven wherever we go.
Or as author Bob Goff put it, justice it’s to love people that creep us out.
Or as Jack Black, a 19th century unrepentant outlaw put it,
Justice is something found only in a dictionary.
He didn’t speak at the conference. I found his quote online.
So I snapped my fingers until they blistered at the poetry slams.
I fervently took notes as each speaker spoke.
I sang along with the bands.
And then I left the justice conference and who was sitting out front?
And I didn’t cook for this guy. But every bone in my body thought if I gave him a buck, he’d spend it on something he shouldn’t.
“Maybe this is a test,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it’s one of the justice speakers undercover wanting to see if the conference made any difference.”
Well, I failed the test miserably. I kept my dollar in my pocket.
Actually, I spent it at Dunkin Donuts and still feel guilty about it.
Maybe the dead outlaw is right.
Maybe justice is impossible to achieve, just hair styles in a shampoo commercial. Or the hair style of a cool poet.
But I’ll keep on trying to love those who creep me out.
I’ll start by buying donuts for the panhandlers in Uptown, even if I do make a few of them breakfast.