Award-winning novelist Lisa Samson and her husband, Will, join forces in JUSTICE IN THE BURBS, a call for suburban Christians to rouse themselves from apathy and make a difference in their communities and their world. Think Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (NIV)
Will’s and Lisa’s backstories are of growing up in conservative, evangelical Christian homes where attending church was as regular as brushing their teeth, and memorizing scripture was a normal part of everyday life. “Yet neither of us can remember hearing sermons about God’s concern for those in need during these formative years,” Will writes. Later, Lisa tells of their own early marriage: “…As typical professionals in the suburbs, Will and I found our lives consumed by the kids’ school, sports, church, and of course, our careers. We had no time to help out others and felt pretty satisfied with infrequent touches of goodness on our part….”
The Samsons use the spiritual discipline of dislocation or displacement to gain perspective, moving from the suburbs into the city of Lexington, Kentucky, with their family. “We failed to live a life of justice in the suburbs, and this book is, at least in part, our mea culpa --- our confession of insufficiency,” Will writes.
Justice, they believe, needs to be based on Biblical ideas: care for the poor and oppressed, concern for the environment, love for foreigners, sharing of wealth, not profiting at the expense of the poor. However, how we have learned to view the Bible, they believe, has given us an overly simplistic understanding of the role it plays in our lives. “The Bible is quoted but rarely understood in its entirety…some really awful things have been justified by a poor understanding of the purpose of Scripture….we need a new view of Scripture.”
Lisa, a well-known novelist in inspirational reading circles, creates the fictional suburban characters of Matt and Christine Marshall, whose continuing story illustrates the concepts throughout. Nonfiction passages offer insights about suburban culture and ideas for learning to live a life of justice. Sprinkled throughout the book are various meditations on different aspects of justice by an eclectic group of individuals, including Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet and Luci Shaw.
An interesting point that the Samsons make is our culture’s avoidance of disruption. “Why are we so afraid of disruptions?” they write. “What are we doing that is so completely important we cannot be interrupted?” Fear often keeps us from acting, as does busyness and overwork. “The suburbs seem particularly designed to avoid facing the bigger issues of life,” write the Samsons. In her fictional scenes, Lisa illustrates many Christians’ unwillingness to get involved with other denominations, to work side by side with those who have different belief systems, and the peer pressure from family and other well-intentioned Christians that may sink good intentions.
The Samsons ask some probing questions. “How do we define God’s blessing on the church today? More people, bigger buildings, better programs…What if success in God’s economy is more people being fed, less people dying of AIDS, and families restored after years of religious bickering?” As well as theoretical questions, there are also plenty of practical, applicable ideas for Christians to begin making changes that reflect a pursuit of justice.
So, what do we do? According to the Samsons, we start small. But we start where we find ourselves. “Perhaps Jesus lives right next door or down the street. He might even be in your own home.” Readers will be encouraged to take the next step on the road to a more justice-oriented faith. And, as the Samsons say, “Kiss normal goodbye.”
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011