How to Cope with Life’s Injustices

Where do we start? I’ve been very quiet recently, not for any sinister reason but because I felt I must either say a great deal about some subjects or keep very quiet. On the subject of racism, for example, I can say very little. I don’t understand it and never have. It simply baffles me that skin colour could ever be used as a marker of supposed inferiority/superiority. On the subject of slavery and the slave trade, however, I would have to say a great deal because the subject is historically much more complex than many who see it solely in terms of Black Slavery from the sixteenth century onwards seem to realise — and the tragedy is that it still continues today. I prefer to leave these questions to others, so it is probably just as well that I have been busy with many of those things that keep a monastery going but which are neither romantic nor particularly interesting to outsiders.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that one fails to register what is going on in the world outside the cloister or the injustices that are perpetrated. There are the big injustices: the corruption that bedevils political decision-making, often without our being fully aware of it; the economic exploitation that enriches some but impoverishes others; the suppression of freedoms and the manipulation of opinion that makes us all doubt whom we can really trust or what we can believe. Then there are the smaller injustices, those we experience personally and acutely: the failure to recognize our goodwill; the attack on our good name or the belittling of our attempts to be kind or generous; even the breakdown of relationships or our own health can come into this category. It isn’t always easy to respond with courage or the kind of bright-eyed determination we are taught to admire. Sometimes we just want to go into a corner, curl up in a heap and howl.

Cue the entrance of St Barnabas, whose feast-day this is. We might think he would have something of a chip on his shoulder for being the perpetual ‘second fiddle,’ first to Paul, then to John Mark. Even today his liturgical commemoration is ranked not as a full feast (festum) but as a memorial (memoria). In Acts 11.24 he is described as ‘a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’. I think that explains why we can derive so much encouragement from Barnabas. He is not one of those on whom the spotlight naturally falls. He’s more of a peace-maker than an agitator or protestor. He introduced Paul to the apostles after his conversion and accompanied him on some of his missionary journeys, which speaks volumes about his tact and patience. He defended gentile converts against the Judaizers, and when the break with Paul finally came, Barnabas seems to have gone on quietly preaching and teaching, happy to leave the first place to his more brilliant colleague. We might say that Barnabas’s life is an essay in living creatively with injustice, not condoning it nor grumbling about it but generously accepting it and not letting it get in the way of what really mattered.

Thinking about St Barnabas makes me question how I cope with the small injustices I encounter in my own life. It is an uncomfortable question but one I feel the need to address before I can properly think about some of the larger ones mentioned above. Sometimes we try to avoid dealing with our own shortcomings by concentrating on those of others or society in general. We forget that, like Barnabas, we have to work at becoming good ourselves before we can hope to encourage others to become good in their turn. The trouble is, we’ll never see the good in ourselves but we must hope that others will. That, surely, is the way to change the world — but it will never be easy.

Audio Version

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12 thoughts on “How to Cope with Life’s Injustices”

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I particularly liked listening to the audio version after I had read it first. It allows some of the individual points to sink in and echo in my head later in the day, to think and pray about. It must be such an effort for you and I for one am very grateful that you do this for us. God bless you and grant you the energy to enjoy a good day, today and every day.

  2. Here in Nottingham we have St Barnabas Cathedral but we hear little about the man. Thank you for the insight and also for helping to shine a light on our own thought processes. I found this very helpful.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful voice you have sister. I don’t understand colour racism either.
    I have from a child, had very bad eye sight and have been brought up with Christian values. So shall things I don’t try to see and hear… only God word! L blessings

  4. Not on the subject, but since you mentioned it in passing at the start: racism need not be about superiority / inferiority. It is prejudice regarding any of a number of judgements, and these originate in fears. Find those out in yourself, and you may find prejudice lurking nearby

    • I agree. I was writing briefly as usual. It is for the reader to do some work, amplify the thought and consider the argument (not an original thought — D. Felictas Corrigan’s advice to would-be writers). I was blessed to have an Indian great-aunt, and her stories of being forced out of India after Independence because she had married my great-uncle made me realise, even as a child, that race affected people in many different ways.

  5. St. Barnabas sounds like a lovely man – thank you for sharing that Dame Catherine.

    On complex, contemporary issues, I found long ago in my career as a psychologist that there are some topics that many people lack the resources to discuss in a way that will lead to greater understanding and they include most aspects of race / ethnicity, sex / gender and sex differences, and intelligence / IQ. Without a combination of knowledge, discussion skills and the emotional maturity not to get angry or upset when views aren’t supported by the research, those topics can easily end up creating more misunderstandings, conflict and divisions. I learned never to discuss them in public fora. Hopefully I am coming from an ‘inner Barnabas’ rather than just a desire for an easier life!

    • Very wise! Something else I have learned from my online activities is that comparatively few of us read what is actually written but make assumptions about what we think was written. It does make life complicated sometimes.

  6. Thank you for this, and for encouraging us to reflect on hidden events. I was brought up in Malaya, with a warm respect and affection for people, without the slightest concern about skin colour. Later I lived for some years among Arabs, again conscious of ‘content of character, not colour of skin’. I have become increasingly saddened at the distinction created by the words used as dividing lines, when our Lord went out of his way to seek all people.

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