Post-Christendom: A Time for the Church to Rethink Mission

statueWe live in a time of flux, change, and tumult. The old position of cultural privilege for Christianity in the West has eroded quickly. Since the time of Constantine, Christianity enjoyed a position of great influence in the West, but those days appear very much behind us. In the face of such radical cultural change, fear, anxiety, reactionary thinking comes easily, but how can we approach our new situation Christianly? Is there hope and opportunity in the face of so much change? Continue reading “Post-Christendom: A Time for the Church to Rethink Mission”

The Challenge of Single Moms

“Mom, I want my old life back!”  

He was three years old and his words cut like a knife in the heart of his mother.  Amy wanted her old life back as well.  How could she explain to her son that his father was not coming back and a divorce was imminent?  All she wanted was to protect her son, wrap him in her arms, and keep him safe from the hard realities that lay ahead.  How would she have the strength to carry on?

Amy’s story is one we hear frequently at Administer Justice.  Amy had a wonderful middle class life, until she woke up one morning and her husband was gone.  After the divorce she found herself among the ranks of single moms who struggle to balance time, money, and the challenges of parenting.  More than 58% of children under the age of six who live with a single mom live under the poverty line.  That compares to only 13% of children living with married parents.  Divorce is devastating.  Sometimes it is inevitable and its causes are varied and complex, but its effects are unmistakable:  poverty, worry and stress.  In the midst of the complexities of life, people need a place to turn to for help and hope.  Administer Justice is such a place.  As Amy said,

“When the world’s legal help offered no more than promised victory in the fight, Administer Justice offered a hand out of the pain – and realized the fight was much bigger than that which was right in front of us. From that first moment, walking into the office I felt God’s presence. The volunteers that folded the pamphlets full of hope, or hung the artwork that gave a visual to the purpose of Administer Justice and Bible verses of hope, the woman who greeted me with kindness and compassion at the desk – they each had a hand in healing my crushed spirit. This entire organization was a healing balm to my weary soul.  I cried as the attorney prayed for me and not just me but for my husband and son as well.  No one shrunk back from me.   They wrapped their arms around me.  They promised protection through their legal knowledge yet offered love to all involved. They reached their hand willingly into my situation and demonstrated God’s healing love.  Administer Justice knew what needed to be done and empowered me to be able to handle the situation.”

We want to help people through the pain of this broken fallen world.  Years have passed for Amy.  She is now remarried and has a stable home.  She joined our board of directors and brings a passion for helping people through some of the darkest days of their lives.  She speaks on behalf of moms who face multiple challenges.  She also demonstrates that God is not absent in the midst of trials but is an ever-present help in times of trouble.

I have great respect for our nation’s mothers.  As we celebrate mother’s day I hope we will celebrate the many sacrifices mothers have made and are making every day as they seek to make the world a better place even in the midst of brokenness and challenges.  Pray for our single moms and encourage them.  If they need help will you let them know we are here to help them.  As Amy said,

“I recently met another single mom at church.  To say I met her may be an overstatement.  I barely spoke to her—she wasn’t able to speak through the tears streaming down her face as her friend simply said… her husband has left and she isn’t sure what is going to happen.  Her house may be in foreclosure this week and she went to the food pantry today to make sure she had enough for her two children.  As I hugged her—I told her – I have walked in this shadowy place and there will be a day that it will be better. Do you know about Administer Justice?  I want you to save up your strength. All you need to do tomorrow is find the strength to call this number. I am confident you will be stronger and more at peace even if all you need is someone to talk you through the maze of what is happening.

How could I be so confident Administer Justice could help her?  Each day, in this place, I know that God is glorified. Each day, in this place, the word of God is lived out in action. Each day – hope is instilled. And as the effects of Administer Justice live on in my life and my son’s – I am certain in saying it lives on in many others.  I am privileged to join in this effort having been one who had nowhere to turn for guidance, but was rescued through Administer Justice’s devotion to a God who believes in defending the weak, comforting those in need, and speaking hope into every dark corner of this world’s most difficult situations.”

Should lawyers be required to do pro bono?

Have you heard this one – “What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”  “A good start!”

Jokes abound because lawyers are too often seen as being interested in business, over serving others.  One Judge in New York is doing something about it.

Starting next year New York will become the first state to require new lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before they can be licensed to practice law.  The announcement was made by Chief Judge Johnathan Lippman on May 1.

“Those who are privileged to call ourselves lawyers have a special duty as gatekeepers of justice to participate in what we hold so dear,” he prefaced in addressing the most pressing responsibility facing all lawyers – “instilling and fostering a culture of service in the men and women who enter our profession as lawyers each year. It is the legal profession’s commitment to equal justice and to the practice of law as a higher calling that has made service to others an intrinsic part of our legal culture.”  Judge Lippman said.

How will you choose to benefit your fellow man and your community with your new skills?”

Will you use your legal acumen to foster equal justice in our state?

Do you recognize that being a lawyer requires an understanding that access to justice must be made available to all regardless of their station in life.”

“From the start, these responsibilities of the profession must be a part of every lawyer’s DNA — to support the values of justice, equality and the rule of law that make this state and this country great.”

The New York Times picked up Judge Lippman’s remarks.  As the paper noted:  “The need (for legal aid) has exploded in recent years as the economic crisis delivered what advocates call a triple whammy:  more people are struggling financially; more people need legal services to cope with foreclosures, evictions and credit and employment problems that could push them into long-term poverty; and state and federal financing for legal services has plunged… While criminal defendants have a constitutional right to free legal representation, defendants in civil cases – as well as people who need legal help for essential needs like applying for disability benefits – do not”

Administer Justice recognizes the significant increase in critical needs.  Something must be done or we rip the very fabric of our democracy.  The United States has the greatest legal system on earth but when we rank next to last in the world in the 2011 Rule of Law Index for providing access to that justice system, the system breaks down.  I applaud Judge Lippman’s sentiments, but I think we need to  better educate law students in why it is important to serve our fellow man.  We need to talk about law as a noble calling defending the weak and guarding the innocent.  Someone may take a job as a patent lawyer or a mergers and acquisitions attorney, but the heart of our profession must be about serving the vulnerable.

I don’t believe the great truth of our profession, engraved on the United States Supreme Court of equal justice under law, can be compelled – I think it must be caught.  The nearly 240 attorneys volunteering for Administer Justice do not serve out of compulsion but out of a desire to administer justice with mercy and compassion.  Every year they stand in the gap on behalf of clients in need and donate thousands of hours.  They represent the best of our profession and I would love to see thousands join them in these efforts.  I pray that mandating pro bono does not result in poor service or poor attitudes as I fear it might.  We will watch the New York experiment with interest.

So what would you call 10,000 new lawyers required to perform 50 hours of pro bono service before getting their license?

“New Yorkers”