Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

21 July 2010

Joustra on fast or slow justice

My esteemed Redeemer University colleague, Robert Joustra, offers insight after his recent attendance at an event sponsored by the Center for Public Justice in Washington, DC. His thoughts are worth sharing here:

I spent last week with the good people at Civitas, talking about graceful politics. It’s an ironic theme. Politics is many things, but it is almost never graceful. Sharp, witty, bombastic, sure. Graceful? Not really. Grace is for figure skaters and pianists, not politicians. No one can be graceful after that much scotch.

It was, after all, the grace of the thing that touched me. I had my first hint of it when Derek and Sandra talked about their different approaches to song writing. Derek radiated a passion for justice in song, for naming the hurt and calling to account. He admitted it turns out to be a liability sometimes, rushing in without careful consideration. The call to social justice is strong; the need is real and immediate. Action is justified. It was an attitude I’ve found, and fallen in love with, in my classrooms. An almost beseeching tone: Professor, point me. I will go. Derek felt the pain, the need for fast justice.

Sandra was subtler. I knew straight away my political sensibilities resonated more with her. She spoke less about specific action, and more about principle. Her conservative caution was borne from deep thought and considered opinion. But also, she said, from fear. Sometimes, she admitted, slow justice is safe justice. Sometimes considered approaches are stalling human hearts.

I’m trained to do slow justice. I do what Mike Gerson calls the banality of goodness. Slow, methodical, plodding, articulate and planned justice. Architectonic justice that (supposedly) lasts. Paul Wells said this week in Macleans of [Canada's] Prime Minister, “Other people are moved by a sonnet or a perfect game. Stephen Harper mists up at the thought of long-term planning.” That’s me. I don’t sign petitions or march on capital hill(s). I grab drinks, take lunch meetings, ploddingly offer stats and case studies, voraciously track cultural and political conditions. I get more than 30 journals.

Those of us who do slow justice seem to be more conservative. Those who do fast justice, more radical, more alternative; less impressed with the systems that provide justice. Slow justice gets PhD’s, writes in journals, runs for office. Fast justice petitions, marches, mobilizes. Slow justice can resent fast justice. I’ve resented fast justice. It’s messy, annoying and – at times – hopelessly ignorant. It hasn’t done the work to get to the table.

But what it’s not is complacent. Our thirst for justice hinges on our need for it; on our felt experience of injustice. I recall the civil rights movement, where slow justice politicals, like me, said to wait. Or apartheid, where slow justice bureaucrats stalled. Or when we are confronted with stories about the crush of violence and terror that seizes parts of our world. Who will say to them, “Wait. We have diligence to do. I believe some numbers have yet to be crunched.”

I learned to be more graceful last week at Civitas, if a man of my girth could ever be called such. At least I learned to be more charitable. I remembered when I listened to these husband and wife song makers that justice is a marriage of just those things. I learned to listen a little better when left-of center activists rail on our Parliament Hill for big government solutions. I may not like their programs or their methods, but what I can love is their agenda. Fast justice never forgets, and slow justice can have a bad memory. After a long time the banality of goodness can just turn banal.

So fast justice should probably keep marching, keep song writing, keep petitioning. Slow justice needs help to keep it honest. And thank-you, Derek and Sandra.

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