Over two and a half years ago, my family received a call regarding two boys who had recently entered the foster care system. At the time, my family had recently felt called to care for disadvantaged children, so we decided to be put on the call list for foster care.
The decision to be a part of the foster care system was frightening at the time because we weren't sure how it was going to unfold, but the call we received that night radically changed my life and the way I view the world.

My family took in two boys with a complex history. Needless to say, after over two years of them living with us they have been grafted into the vine of our family in the same way we are grafted into Christ’s. Understanding how truly terrible their childhood experience was, and how abused children have no voice, has implanted within me a care for the neglected and hurting.
Striving for justice for the boys has helped me understand justice at a societal level. The situation these boys have been thrust into is not one of their choice, and, because of their age and the resources allocated to them, they were not provided the childhood they deserved. The need for social justice in the instance of the boys within my own home has become symbolic of the social justice which all foster children deserve.

The Margaret Fell Scholars Program offers a $1,000 annual scholarship on top of financial aid to theology majors who hope to pursue seminary after graduation. Through the program, students will have an accelerated path toward a BA from George Fox University and an MA from Portland Seminary, allowing them to enter their vocation 1-2 years earlier and save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

 

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Something new and radical

It has been alluded to above, but the reason my family decided to take in the boys was because of the commandments our Lord has given us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, we are told to love in a radical way the world has not seen. This radical love, a love which humans attempt to show toward others, is spurred on by the revelation of Christ, and strengthened by his heeded command to love our neighbor. With this love in our minds, my family took the two boys in.

Today, as a student at George Fox University and a Margaret Fell Scholar, I can further appreciate these commands in light of Jesus’ call on my life. The scholarship program, given through a grant from the Kern Family Foundation, has provided a community of mentors and peers who continually challenge me as I pursue my path of ministry.

A divine grounding

As Christians, social justice takes on a new meaning – a meaning grounded in divine love. This divine grounding allows us to strive for social justice in a way the rest of the world can’t. Anchored in the commandments God has given, social justice becomes an activity ordained by Christ.
It is not that seeking social justice outside of Christianity is bad, but that in Christianity there is a lovely sense of urgency and authority. It is not resting on a feeling – one of giddiness and frolicking – but of grit and discipline.

Kierkegaard hammers on this point in his Works of Love. The love we have for neighbors is transcendent precisely because God has commanded us to do so. Because it is a command, we are able to love freely.
For example, because we are not reliant on our affections in seeking social justice for the impoverished, our mission for social justice is one of constant presence. Our own personal motivation for love and social justice may be fleeting and swift, initially strong and then weak. It does not matter howwe feel when we are fulfilling God’s commandments to love our neighbor. We love our neighbor because we are commanded to do so, not because we feel like it.

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The jewel of divine love

Held fast in the love of the Lord and his authority, Christians seeking social justice must not forget that the love of God can be likened to a jewel, a jewel which lights up the world in its rays of divine love. A jewel has many edges, and it must not be forgotten that social justice is but one facet of the jewel. While social justice is incredibly important, it is not the jewel itself.

Boethius makes a similar case in his description of Lady Philosophy in his work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Lady Philosophy’s garment has been torn to shreds, with philosophers and sages each claiming the scrap which was ripped from her garment to be the whole of the garment itself. Social justice is important, and is most definitely at the heart of our current social agenda, but we must take care to not claim we are taking hold of the whole of Lady Philosophy’s garment while we are just holding a scrap.
We must not claim to be looking into the whole of the jewel of divine love while we are merely looking at one of its revelational facets. Each facet shines so brightly that it is easy to be lost in its splendor, but the glory of the rays of light bouncing off of that jewel are so much greater when they are perceived in a sanctimonious whole.

Within that ray of light bouncing off of the facet of social justice on the jewel of God’s love are the many different groups of people and individuals who deserve equality. I have seen the effects of ill parenting on children, but I know that within that ray of love is also social justice for those treated unfairly because of their race, gender, nationality, ethnicity and more.

How College Helps

I study psychology and philosophy at George Fox, and this has undoubtedly helped me hone in on my intended career of chaplaincy – a career where I can help and love others simply by showing them the jewel of God’s love.

Undoubtedly, this jewel contains elements of social reform. Luckily, I am a part of the Margaret Fell Scholar Program, which aims to help students in college fulfill their ministry calling. Not only has it challenged me personally, it has provided scholarship money and an accellerated path to earning my bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Portland Seminary.

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I urge you to remember that social justice is incredibly important, as it is a part of the commands of Jesus, but is not itself the whole of our commands. God is not justice, for God is love, and within love is elements of his justice. Take this sense of urgency instilled by Jesus to motivate you in your love of the other in the seeking of their due justice. Show and tell the glory of the jewel of the Lord’s love, and be fearless in your obedience in doing so.

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Josh Burks

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Josh is from Beaverton, Oregon, and is a junior psychology major with a minor in philosophy and is in the George Fox Honors Program. When he has time to spare, he enjoys reading novels and theological works, outdoor activities such as spike ball or disc golf, and spending time with his family. Josh is looking forward to serving others as a Chaplain when he finishes school.

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