“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream.”
I recently painted a picture entitled “Justice I, II, III.” It is a triptych done in primary tones of orange and blue with pigments of red, white, yellow, and green. The colors flow across the three canvases. The blues, flowing from both the left and right, make up circling cataracts of swirling colors. As you come to the center canvas they blues collide in a splash and create a great spray of water into the air. Above the waters the skies with an orange backdrop streaked with whites, yellows, reds and even hints of greens and blues. The sky is pulled together where the great wave shoots into the air and the sky is woven and spun underneath the mighty crash. It is simple. It is alive. It is cool and warm; fresh and new. It is the type of painting that deserves a museum bench to sit on and examine the multiple aspects and symbolism.
The merging and swirling colors are magnificent but for me there is more to the painting that causes me to look deeper within the painting pointing to world well outside the colorful confines. Inspiration for any piece of art comes from something deep within. Perhaps it is a passion for a place, an animal, a bowl of fruit that offers practice to the new artist. The passion for justice started with a simple, understated article I read in the January 2012 magazine Sojourners. Focusing on 21st Century slavery, I was in shock to learn that today there are more slaves in the world than any time in the course of human history. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services it is estimated that 600,000-800,000 individuals are trafficked around the world. This number includes all people regardless of age or sex. The work that these individuals are forced into includes domestic service, sweatshop work, and agricultural work and worse yet sexual slavery.
I was furious to learn about these acts and to read that a child in India can be bought for $5-$10.
The orange in the paint symbolizes the effort to end slavery.
There is a streak of red that comes between the orange and the blue it is not predominate but it slices the paintings in half. This red symbolizes the horrific fact that most of those who are forced into slavery, predominately women (up to 80%), are eventually infected with the HIV and AIDS virus.
As mentioned in Amos 5:24, the call is to have waters “roll down” cleansing and sweeping the world of injustice. The water is the predominate force in the painting as a cleansing and powerful force. One studying the painting should consider that the water is blue, with highlighting colors of white, green, turquoise, green and purple. I deliberately chose not to add the colors brown or black to the water, even though it would make sense to add to flowing waters. Floods and heavy streams are never shades of clean, crisp blues, but are dark and soiled. The waters of justice, even though they waters that cleanse, cannot be soiled by foul and putrid aspects of life. For the waters of justice flow on to continually refresh the world condition. Within the spray of water, there are multiple colors that are evident. As the streams collide they shoot colors of white, purple, blue but also orange, green, yellow, and mauve within the multiple colors of blue. The symbolism here is to represent that the waters of justice claim injustice and do not release, but rather incorporate and them into the flow where they will be later seen as the waters continue onward.
One rather unusual aspect of the flow of water is that on the left canvas there is a small counter wave that is seemingly the result of the colliding wave in the center canvas. This wave is literally going against the flow. However, it is not going against the wave of justice. It is returning, ensuring that justice has gone over and is doing the hopeful work we expect of it.
Another interesting part of the painting is that the sides are unkempt and sloppy. Paint dribbled over the edge or the brush went beyond and marked the sides leaving it not only looking raw but unfinished. The reasoning why it was left this way is to indicate that justice is never done. Justice needs to and shall continue to flow onward.
We equate the need for justice to all those who suffer, who know pain, who struggle, who are silenced by threats and bullies consumed with hatred and prejudice. Everyone in the world has experienced injustice in some form or another. Today, we can turn on the news and see how the Syrian government is killing their own people because of the difference of opinion and belief. This is certainly an injustice that cannot be tolerated; however, it is made worse by countries like China and Russia who have blocked attempts by the United Nations seeking to help the Syrian people.
As a society we cannot stand by and allow such actions to occur; slavery, genocide, racism, sexism, unfair labor practices, segregation, or any occurrence where people seek to damage and hurt one another by lies, gossip, and rumor. We must be prepared to take a stand, to proclaim what is right, to remove the dams that prevent us from being the waters of justice in this world. It is scary and requires courage as well as conviction but yet we who are called to proclaim love, grace and mercy cannot shield our eyes from the black, muddy, rank, waters that so often flood our lives and the world.