With Your God

So here’s the final installment of my little series that I’ve been doing, how fitting that it falls the day after Ash Wednesday. Just to recap, we’re talking about this video where, in small part, Justin Lee discusses Micah 6:8 by breaking it down into constituent pieces and discussing what each element means. I’ve talked about that, my thoughts, and generally related musings all month. And now there’s just this one little bit left.

Whenever I hear or read about Micah 6:8, it’s always been about three things. The three titles of the previous posts. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. But while “walk humbly with your God” is the whole phrase, I think the last part deserves to be talked about on its own merits. Because that’s the part that a) makes it all possible and b) makes it worthwhile.

It is easy to miss how powerful and honestly stunning the inclusion of these last words are. Then as now, religions don’t typically involve a personal relationship with the divine and it’s kind of  a big deal.  Lee uses a couple examples, like someone asking us to perform this or that task…. with Meryl Steep. Like, it’s the company that catches our attention more than any task they could possibly give us, right?

God comes to us and says, “I want you to do this with me.” Not because God is incapable but because relationship is important. Not only important, but desired. God is desirous of a relationship with us.

And that gives us humility and confidence. It is kind of awe-inspiring, the “fear of the LORD” kind of awe. It’s wild, much like being asked, a bleh citizen of no particular talent, to work with Meryl Streep. Intimidating, almost, but so exciting that you can’t help loving it. And then confidence because we know that Meryl is good enough to carry us both even if we mess up. And for the record, I have a grand total of zero qualms making Meryl Streep God in all these scenarios. Zero.

And there is an excellent queer corollary to this whole invitation to walk with God. We, as queer Christians, are not standing outside the church, knocking and hoping someone will let us in (if we’re good enough, if we comply, if we submit). We already are the body of Christ. We are already walking with God. God issues the invitations, not the church.

The outflow of this walk, the idea is, should not only change our lives but also the lives of those around us. God offers us living water not just to quench our thirst, but to flow out of us into the lives of others.

Looking at these past few weeks, here’s I guess a belated insight that maybe could’ve saved us all a bunch of time. I feel a little bit like, while worth talking about individually, doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly are all pretty much the same thing. And they’re all boiled down in this last, mostly overlooked part. It’s about being with God. When you are living your life with God, your life will be suffused with the kind of perfect love that encapsulates justice and mercy and humility.

So I guess go into this week in the presence of God. God is, after all, with us.

Walk Humbly

We proceed today to the third part in my little series inspired by this talk at a conference I went to back in November and using Micah 6:8 as a way to talk about stuff that I think is important.

So. Walk humbly.Our daily lives should be characterized humility at all times. I don’t recall the post in which I talked about “characterized” but I still like that word, it makes me feel better about evaluating myself on-the-whole rather than in-this-instance.

The point of this, I think, it to model ourselves after Jesus who, being literally actually God, was also just some random Jewish peasant. But foremost in his actions is taking care of others, no matter what it looked like. Meeting people’s needs, going to where they are–physically, culturally, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually. I want to strive to care for others. Gently, humbly, individually, joyfully. Careful to try my best to ensure that they do not feel like a burden.

And here’s a big part of what I think is tricky about that. The difference between service and humility. Anyone can serve, all you have to do is do something. But like last week, when we had to not just do mercy but actively love it, to be humble is to serve for the right reasons, not just go through the motions. Jesus was big into this, the whole idea that when you give, do not even let your right hand know what your left is doing. Or something like that.

Finally, to walk is a directional verb, unlike do or love. We are meant to be going someplace. Which to me means two things: do not expect perfection, and be open to correction. On the first, that means that we ought to go easy on ourselves and on others because none of us are there yet. On humility, or on justice or mercy. I guess that is itself a little humility though, look at us we’re getting somewhere!

And on the second. When we get hurt by people, it can make us extra sensitive to correction. When people have used cudgels in the guise of guidance, especially in church settings, it can make any words of wisdom sometimes feel painful. But it is our work to listen to valid correction and strive to move forward–to heal our wounds and to walk further every day. On the reverse, we have to be sensitive to the hurt in others, to serve and guide them appropriately. Do not underplay or ignore or cheapen the experience of others in the pursuit of betterment (but also don’t give up that pursuit).

I think this correction piece is really key for religious settings in particular. The church offers boundaries and guidelines that the secular world doesn’t, exactly, and I think that’s a strength (when it is not abused). But this element of humility also means that (and here’s my little queer moment on the subject) the church must be able to look humbly on itself and take correction where it can be brought closer to the justice and mercy of God.

Let me tell you, applying for jobs has been a rough time. Being rejected over and over again from scores of places, month after month, isn’t great for one’s self-esteem. But that’s not humility. Working at Michael’s, cleaning bathrooms on the odd occasion–and not minding too too much, and at least there’s a paycheck. But that’s not humility.

I don’t mean this to be the kind of thing where I’m like, I’ve been stripped of everything that’s important to me and that’s how I learned to rely on God because a) I have not been so stripped, nowhere near and b) those stories always kind of annoy me though I’m not sure why. And also c) I don’t think that I’ve learned any better to rely on God than in the past few years (which is maybe a personal failing but that’s neither here nor there).

What I think I have learned a bit is a better perspective. First, on the very tangible scale of Capitalism, learning that I am and always will be replaceable and that a job will never actually care about me because it’s just a job (people can, but people are not jobs). And instead of this being depressing (though not having a job is kind of depressing), it is liberating because I am free to derive my value elsewhere. Like God, theoretically.

And second, perspective in a more global, cosmic sense. To be humbled by the knowledge of God, as far as I have come on that question. To know that while I certainly oughtn’t derive my own worth from a job, God definitely doesn’t. Not from a job, or a relationship, or actions, or words, or thoughts. God doesn’t consider any of those things when estimating my value–not even for an instant. Not a single thing.

The only thing that God considers when charting my value as a human being is that I am. That is the humility that I have been trying to learn. It may sound kind of counter-intuitive, the humility of knowing my worth, and maybe I haven’t explained it well, but I know what I mean.


Love Mercy

A friend posted a link to a site that offers a wide range of media fit for consumption to learn about and honor Black History Month. It includes several reading lists based on age level and fiction/non-fiction. I would really encourage you to take a look here.

Continuing this month’s little series on Micah 6:8 and a talk that touched on a lot of good things, today we’re on to loving mercy, you know, that really simple and straightforward task that is super easy and everyone everywhere does all the time. In some ways, dividing the verse up is to create a false separation because they’re in truth all so closely intertwined but here we are. No promises, but here are some of my thoughts for the time being, again inspired by Justin Lee and current events

In connection to the first task, ‘do justice,’ love is a higher order than do. Mercy isn’t something that we’re meant to do begrudgingly, or simply because we feel that there’s some sort of command of imperative to have mercy. It’s meant to be something that inspires our passions, that we actively pursue, that we yearn for in our hearts.

And, therefore, we should strive to have every part of our lives, our beings, be infused with mercy. We have received a mercy that we cannot fully comprehend in its completeness and unconditionality, we should do likewise.

If that sounds like it won’t pose any problems for you, yikes. Because it’s tricky. The world often views justice and mercy as opposites–you can either see justice done to perpetrators of violence, for example, or you can have mercy on them. But they’re not opposites, they’re meant to be undertaken together. We are meant to have mercy not only on those who sometimes mess up and hurt us–those who are still growing, learning, striving (as are we all). But we’re also meant to have mercy on those who are unrepentant, those who hurt us deliberately, those who do evil to us and to others.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

This does not mean that anything goes but it means that justice does not equal punishment. The villains don’t have to die at the end. Showing this kind of mercy–the kind that refuses to call another person an enemy– exacts a cost. But it is through healing wounds with love and not rancor (indeed, that latter is impossible) that we are often best able to show mercy to one who has wronged us.

This has got me thinking about a relevant life application taking place as we speak. That is, politics. Elections/campaigns are tricky because there really is a lot at stake. You want to fight for justice as best you conceive of it (at least, that’s my generous assumption) and so you speak strongly and hotly and sometimes aggressively. And that’s not necessarily wrong; justice needs to come and often that means fighting for it because it’s rarely given.

And so here we are, coming in with the loving mercy bit. And I don’t think I’m really advocating a gentle kindness to deal with people who are working on behalf of injustice–there is a time for gentleness but justice isn’t always it. But I think something that we can do is this, simply: refrain from ad hominem.

It’s amusing to make fun of Donald Trump’s hideous makeup and inability to form complete sentences. Those things, though, aren’t why I think he’s an awful president. If he, conducting himself in largely the same manner in terms of Twitter storms and bizarre press conferences &ct (but minus the super offensive things he says), advocated healthcare for all, fought against discrimination based on race and sexuality and gender identity, brought down the whip on the fossil fuel industry, committed the country to international cooperation on climate change and peace… then I certainly would still make fun of some of his traits but I’d be a lot happier with his presidency.

Calling someone ugly doesn’t further the cause of justice. I think it’s important to remember, in times like this, that justice is meant to be our key concern when it comes to the structure of the world and mercy is meant to be our key concern when it comes to people.

I think this is why Jesus told us to bless those who persecute us, to love our enemies. Not because we shouldn’t be fighting–and fighting aggressively–for justice, but because justice is brought about in ideas/policies/practices and mercy is brought about in people. Justice takes issue with ideas and not with people. That is why we must love mercy.

Do Justice

I said back in November that I might do a series of posts about the things I learned or thoughts I had at the Reformation Project’s Reconcile and Reform conference. The main issue is that I am not a note-taker–in general but especially listening to non-school speakers. Which I recognize as a weakness but not one that I usually feel too terrible about.

So, in lieu of going through some of the specific speakers and take-aways, I thought I would have a little series that was inspired by one of the keynote addresses and which connects to a verse that has pursued me for several years. That would be Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse, in connection to a keynote address at the conference delivered by Justin Lee, whose ideas I may or may not be paraphrasing with greater or lesser accuracy at any given moment during the musings. Yay my memory.

Anyway. I thought I would, as Justin did, break this verse down into constituent parts and take them one at a time. Not in any kind of exhaustive sense, lest you think I have the time/energy/training for that, but in a sort of survey of meaning as well as some particular applications that are relevant to me, you, and the world today.

To start, I want to link this together with a couple previous posts that track a little bit of my history with Pride (the gay kind, not the cometh before the fall kind) here and here. Two reasons for this: first, this series was prompted by a queer Christian conference and second, I’ve been on a journey and as I continue, it’s good to look back. If pressed, I’m sure I could enumerate in relatively granular detail some areas of growth for me since those posts but the gist is: yes, I am learning and growing and I’m so happy for that.

On to the topic at hand. Not to be too punny, but I know I’ll never do this subject justice, simply because it’s a big deal and I am not equal to that task. But I shall try, and I shall be led for the time being by the speech previously mentioned. Which you should actually listen to for yourself. The Reformation Project has added several main speakers’ addresses to YouTube and I would highly recommend every one of them. But here’s the one we’re going to be talking about. So go ahead and give that a listen, if you have a sec, but if you have a little less than that, I’d maybe tune it around the 38 minute mark. Anyway, here goes for a quick moment on doing justice.

To begin with, I think it’s important to recognize that how we live matters. Not just as people of faith but as people who acknowledge that our lives have an impact on the people around us, and to see those people and impacts as important. But as someone who believes what Jesus said and did, I do find myself in the position of having freedom of action–no longer being under ancient, Jewish law–and also constrained in action by the love that I bear (in my best moments) toward all others.

So that’s my starting point. I believe that what I do with my life matters because I want to live in response to the love that God has shown and am therefore motivated to see my actions benefit others in recognition of their belovedness.

And now we come to Micah. To begin with, the instruction is to do justice. Starting at the beginning, then, we must see that doing is not simply refraining from acting unjustly, but an active pursuit of justice. It’s something that we should do (and be desirous of doing). In other words, leaning heavily on Justin Lee’s, we are called to put more justice out into the world than we found when we arrived.

We can’t each solve every problem but we can be equipped and prepared to face what we can, when and where we can. I was arrested by Justin’s assertion that we can all be an ally to someone. It is a weighty responsibility but it is as vital as it is life-giving. To give bread to one who has none–or to ask our neighbor to give bread to the stranger who is visiting.

As we’ll talk about more next week, justice without mercy is no justice at all. The aim, it is essential to remember, cannot be retribution or even just punishment. The model that we are shown is that the aim of justice is forgiveness. We cannot ignore the harms that are done–and we cannot simply allow them to continue–but we have to remain focused on seeing perpetrators as worthy of mercy, not caricaturish villains.

Healing is not light. You cannot move on without doing work–hard work. But we also can’t use that as an excuse to never forgive.

I’m not going to try to get any more direct about what ‘doing justice’ really looks like, because yikes. But I want to leave you with two thoughts, one inward and one outward. First, what burdens do you put on others that do not reflect the unconditional love of God for all people? Second, what burdens on others are you in a position to help alleviate–not just in the present moment but in a systematic way so that such an undue burden is not laid on anyone?