Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Gettin' All Righteous Up In Here

It must be the long span between Christmas and Lent this year; Epiphany is leaving me too much time on my hands.  But I was reflecting on Trump's appeal to evangelicals, and to the famous words of Micah:

Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. "0 my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. 0 my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD." "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:1-8

I could have just cut to v. 8, the most famous verse from Micah; but I like putting these things in context, even if I don't want to address the context.  What I want to address is v. 8; but it comes in the context of what is important to the God of Abraham, and what is important is not the sacrifices humans are so eager to make.  Sacrifices they are eager about because those sacrifices so often involve sacrifice by something else, actions that are repeatable but not really functional, that don't involve other people, and certainly don't involve treating other people, all people, as people.  Notice the order of the litany in v. 8, where this discussion about God and relationship and sacrifice culminates..  I was going to point out none of these three applies to Trump, or to Jerry Falwell's son's public actions, or those of Bill Graham's son, or Robert Jeffress in Dallas, and on and on.  Seat myself comfortably on the throne of judgment, in other words; but then I would be judged, too.  So just pay attention to the order of the litany.  What comes first?

Justice.

There is so much encompassed in that word I almost don't know where to start; but justice begins with what is what is done in the name of consideration of the Other, not in consideration of you.  I had a friend who had been a legal secretary to a criminal lawyer before I met and worked with her, and she said the lawyer often returned from the courthouse and, if his client had been convicted, declared that "Justice was done!"  Not because he believed his clients guilty, but because that is the system of justice, that is pretty much what we call "justice".  I represented many clients who thought justice meant they would win.  Donald Trump's insistence that a deal mean he wins, is not that extraordinary, except in such a high office and place of such responsibility.  Justice begins with not being about you and what you think is in your best interests.  That's a good starting point, so let's leave it there and move on to the next admonition.

Mercy.

Mercy is also not about you.  Showing mercy can be the hardest thing you do, because who knows if the person you show it to deserves mercy?  I had a friend the other day approached on the street by a young girl, a teenaged girl, who seemed visibly upset and tearfully spun a tale of woe, of living on the streets and needing some money just for food.  Was it a lie?  Was she, quite credibly possible in this, one of the centers of human trafficking, being forced to beg by her captor, who was watching nearby?  Would mercy benefit her, feed a pernicious addiction, go in someone else's pocket and further her slavery?  Would mercy be shown to a con artist?  To a victim? All of which raises the fundamental question of mercy:  when is mercy about the other person, and not about you?  How much are you your brother's/sister's keeper?  Mercy, it turns out, is as simple and easy and clear cut as justice.  Yet what society are we without both?  We pay lip service to both ideals; but what would our society look like if we instantiated them, made them the bedrock of our law and our public morals and our common dealings?  What then?  What if we lived our lives as if they were about other people, and not about us?  Would we be more merciful and just?  Would we be any less so?

Walking humbly with God.

Finally, a mention of the God of Abraham; and what is the mention?  It is not aimed at some requirement God has to be worshipped and adored, or even to have as many companions as possible. It is still aimed at you, and now it is about humility.  Then again, what true justice and what true mercy is there, without humility?  The arrogant man is not just, he is preening in his power to punish or bless.  The calculating man is not merciful, he is gauging the value of his ability to dispense gifts.  We don't have to set aside God to ask:  what would our society look like if we followed this litany?  If we did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God, whom Jesus identifies as the least and last among us (so no metaphysics required, if you don't want them), what then?

For one thing, we'd have to leave the evangelicals to explain their business, without us clambering into the judgement seat.

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