Over the course of my biblical justice studies, I have had the wonderful privilege of interacting with Mae Elise Cannon. Because I am overwhelmed with deadlines and Mae travels extensively, I do not feel like I have scratched the surface of all there is to glean from this woman of God. However, I have had the opportunity to read both of her books, The Social Justice Handbook and Just Spirituality.
The Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World was 2010 Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year award winner. Like The Social Justice Handbook, Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action was also published by Intervarsity Press (2013). Here is a quick review of both:
Just Spirituality shares the life stories of seven devout Christians who understood God’s call for biblical justice and their righteous response for social action on behalf of poor or oppressed people. The author connects these faithful servants to the spiritual practices and disciplines that sustained their life’s work. Cannon also takes an interesting step by integrating these stories of our faith heroes with the stories of modern-day servants who are walking in their footsteps.
Mother Teresa was moved from silence to service. As many know, Mother Teresa accepted the call to become a nun at a young age. As her faith grew, her heart began to break for the poor. In humility, she devoted her life as a servant in Calcutta and inspired the entire world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was moved from prayer to discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a servant of Christ who stood up against Nazi Germany. His life was devoted to studying God’s Word, teaching God’s truth, and making disciples. As a result, he was thrown into jail and martyred for his faith.
Watchman Nee (Nee Shu-Tsu) grew from study to evangelism. Wathman Nee was a 20th century evangelist in China. He unapologetically shared the gospel and led an evangelistic movement that covered all of communist China. He was a student of God’s Word and his heart was broken for the hearts of people. In 1972, he died in prison as a martyr for the gospel.
Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced community which compelled him to proclamation. Dr. King found his community within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Established in 1957, the group existed to coordinate actions of local protest groups. The SCLC organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was the catalyst to the Civil Rights Movements. Dr. King was martyred for living his life on purpose for God.
Fairuz is a worshipper who songs connect people to God and each other—that is freedom. Fairuz is “one of the most famous singers in the Arab world (110).” Her songs of worship have “penetrated the divides of nationality and religion and become a unifying force for the Maronite Christians and Arabs around the world (110).” We were all created to worship, and when our worship is directed towards God, we can see walls of injustice and division come down.
Desmond Tutu went from Sabbath to reconciliation. Desmond Tutu served as the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa from 1986 to 1996. He also played a critical role in dismantling the racially segregated and unjust apartheid government (from 1948-1994) in South Africa and led the country on the road to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Oscar Romero learned from submission which led to his martyrdom. “Oscar Arnulfo Romero was a twentieth-century Roman Catholic archbishop who worked tirelessly for social justice and in defense of human rights (153).” He had a genuine concern for the poor, especially when they are oppressed by the government. He preached good news to the poor and began to speak out against the government’s injustices and corruption. He was murdered in the church on March 24, 1980 after conducting mass. Oscar embraced suffering, submitted to God, and became a martyr.
As I read these stories of sacrifice, suffering, and death, I am humbly reminded of the cost of discipleship. As Christians, we are called to lay down our lives for the gospel and for the sake of those we call brothers and sisters, neighbors, and friends. Christianity is a call to a God-centered and other-focused life. The spiritual practices of these believers remind us to keep our focus on God who sustains us in difficult times and disciplines us to respond in obedience to his calls for justice. It is the obedience to God’s call that gives us courage, and brings our hearts joy and celebration even when situations look bleak. We have joy and celebrate because we know that this life is not the end of the story. God wins in the end! We look forward to that day with hope and great anticipation.
The Social Justice Handbook is an excellent resource! It lays the foundations of justice by answering the questions: What is God’s heart for justice? What is social justice? What is the history of Christian social justice in the Americas? How can we move from apathy to advocacy? What are some solutions to injustice? Cannon believes that “the evangelical church has strayed from its original roots. We must return to our twofold purpose of a contemplative tradition reflecting good theology and a church that put its beliefs into practice through action (13).” Therefore, she had written this book “to explore the basics of social justice from a biblical perspective, rooted in Scripture and the core tenets of the Christian faith (13).”
I found this book very informative. Not only does Cannon lay a theological foundation for social justice, she also provides clear definitions which cuts through some of the debates and misunderstanding about the issue of justice in the church. In addition to helping the reader understand social justice and the various transitions of American history, the book helped me answer the current question: Why are things the way that they are?
Part II of the book raises awareness about the important social justice issues, both nationally and globally, of our day. Cannon presents well researched summaries and statistics concerning issues like AIDS, genocide, education, health care, women issues, clean water, poverty, and racism. She does this by also sharing personal stories and revelations, organizations and people that are working hard to combat these injustices, providing practical awareness exercises and take action steps, and by also offering recommended reading for further discussion and understanding of the topics.
Both are books worthy of study and reflection.
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2014