“It’s just not right.” All day long in all sorts of different ways we respond to the world with words that try to make sense of what we see and hear– and sometimes we protest, sometimes we lament, sometimes we cry out.

Twice in the last few days I have been drawn into serious conversations with serious people about situations that are both complex and unjust. One was the reason for a dinner on Capitol Hill this week, and Meg and I walked into a house where long friends were gathering to think with a new friend from Sri Lanka about deeply-established patterns of social and economic oppression on the tea plantations of his country. A story repeated thousands of times over the centuries in every culture, those who have show very little interest in those who do not have, apart from the benefit gained from their hard work to grow and harvest the tea. How is it possible to eat a wonderful meal, glorying in the goodness, and at the same time respond to something that is painfully not right?

And then I was invited to take part in another long conversation at a think tank in the city, this time focused on the generational injustice of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Serving on the board of the group sponsoring the gathering already means that I am committed to working on this, but this time there were many people from many places who together came to hear stories of what is and of what might be. Most want to choose a side in this one—either the Israeli or the Palestinian –but that only further escalates the problem. It is a land of two peoples, and neither one is going away. We heard of hope, and of despair, both wrought from the reality that what is is not the way it’s supposed to be.

There are few days or weeks that issues like this don’t come knocking at the door of my heart. Sometimes I step in more fully, joining in as a board member, and other times I offer something less, even if heartfelt. But always the cries of longing come close, and I know that I cannot just act as if nothing can be done, that nothing is worth being done.

A few years ago my good friend Gideon Strauss asked me to write on the vocation of politics for Comment, the magazine he then edited. Over a summer I thought about it, and finally offered him “Making Peace with Proximate Justice.” The essay has gone far and wide, surprisingly, and still I hear from people from all over the world who have found its vision of something—not everything but not nothing either –a way forward as they try to respond to the world that is theirs.

I know of no other way to live.


Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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