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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Oppression & Deliverance (Micah)

Micah and Isaiah were calling out the same sinful behavior.  For example,
Listen! The Lord is calling to the city—
and to fear your name is wisdom—
“Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.
Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house,
and the short ephah, which is accursed?
Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?
Your rich people are violent;
your inhabitants are liars
and their tongues speak deceitfully.
Dishonest scales is such a specific version of exploitation to be called out. I hear echoes of campaign finance reform reading Micah's condemnation that "the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together."

The work of the prophets was the work of the social justice activists.

Why did exploitation of the poor lead to the fall of Israel?  Was it necessarily divine intervention?   

Righteous or Wicked (2 Chronicles 27; Isaiah 9-12)

It's hard to explain how much Dad loved his '67 Chevy.  In the winter of 1979, his heart filled with pride when it started while the frigid cold paralyzed later model cars.  The ripped upholstery and missing passenger side mirror gave witness to its service as youth group transport.  We boys would manipulate the nonfunctional eight track controls to enable it to fly.

Unsurprisingly, he passed on a few reasonable offers when it came time to sell the car.  Enter Ron.  Ron, who could not read, told Dad about the most recent scam perpetrated against him by an unscrupulous used car dealer, then asked how much for the Chevy.  Dad asked Ron what he had in his wallet, and then accepted $1 for the car.

Today, I practice law and I suspect those bad deals complied with Indiana's statutory scheme. And even if the did not, I am quite certain they would not have sufficient monetary value to interest a lawyer in taking the case.  
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised
From Isaiah 10.  But, Isaiah recognized that those who make unjust laws would not have the last word.  Isaiah new that no matter how dark the looming invaders were, invaders he identified as doing God's will in punishing Judah for it wickedness, the worst thing would not be the last thing.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
From Isaiah 11.  We have a choice.   We may be a tool of righteousness or wickedness.  And while these specific terms are probably old fashioned, I suspect we have all felt the difference.

When you act for justice can you feel the pleasure of something outside of you?  When you've acted selfishly, can you not feel displeasure of what seems like something other than you?

Prophesy is More than Anger (Amos 1-9)

At seventeen, emotions drove my actions.  Seeing my dad overwhelmed by the most recent board meeting ambush from that wicked church was too much for me.  I knew that the lies and rumors were taking a toll on him, on all of us really.  So, I drove to her house, and knocked on her door.  At maybe or eight thirty or nine o'clock at night she let me.

"How is it possible that there are all of these ridiculous rumors about Dad sleeping around, but none about you--his secretary?"  Before she could respond, "Obviously you are the source of this," and while she denied it, I simply concluded, "Stop it."  Then I left.

The preacher's family felt the brunt of gossip in my small town.  As outsiders, the insiders could not resist going after us.  Despite its short duration, engaging Charlie Hedrick's daughter holds a permanent place among the stories by which I define myself.

"Stop it," often sums up the message of the prophets.  Amos, an outsider from Judah, spoke to Israel in its time of greatest power.  However, wickedness supported their power.  From Amos 2:
For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.
The wickedness includes making sex into something profane, but Amos provided it as only one example of the powerful exploiting the powerless.  Read this list and think about the wage disparity in our country.  Think about the handful of people who fight our wars, tour after tour.  Think about immigration raids and the bosses hiring more immigrants the next day--perhaps for the cost of a pair of sandals. Amos prophesied that because of this, “An enemy will overrun your land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”

Likewise, I ensured powerful people who attacked my family, that at a minimum, we would not pretend we didn't know who was doing it.  We would not submit the oppressor's tool of politeness.

But my ego and testosterone inspired visit that night--despite its frequent use of an example "when did you exhibited courage" on essays and in interviews--lacked the essential component of prophesy.  Hope.  The only good news the Bible contains for the powerful: if you give up their power, if you live rightly, you may yet be restored.  These are the closing words of Amos, a prophet speaking just before the Assyrians would carry Israel away in exiles

“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”

             says the Lord your God.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Injustice Is Costly (Isaiah 1-8)

I've tagged this reading as Isaiah 1-8 because in rereading Isaiah a couple of days ago a scripture really jumped out at me. I read it first in Spanish, "¿Para qué recibir más golpes?" Is. 1:5.  Why should we receive more beatings.  The cost of perpetrating injustice is like a beating on the perpetrator.  This feels like one anchor point for message.

Isaiah targets the privileged in his list of woes.  "Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers." Is. 5:18.  The Prophet engages in class warfare.  He tells the listeners to, "Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow." Is. 1:17.  These ideas ring out as moral guidance.  More than mental exercise, but they do not quite strike a soulful chord. 

Having spent the last four days in General Assembly with my church, having spoken of justice for LGBTQ+ and how to bring it home to Arizona, having heard Rev. Barber preach and then met with other people about bringing something like Moral Mondays to Arizona, there is a chord that is still vibrating in my soul.

That vibration, that dawn of transformation type feeling that rests in your belly more than your head, I believe that is what Isaiah captures in the following passage:
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Here am I.  Send me.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bowing Down is Not an Option (& Isaiah 1-4)

Yesterday, we packed into Central Christian Church to await a message from Reverend Dr. William Barber.   Stained glass windows, carved wooden pews fixed to a sloping floor modeled after the gatherings on hills, all felt familiar--but a familiarity that I had almost forgotten.  I remembered Dad's dark robe with a red stole.

That Southern Indiana church was as broken as our country is now as Israel & Judah were then.  The air was filled with caustic gossip.  Tribalism overcame values.  As an immigrant nation targeting immigrants, as a people of God worshiping at Asher poles.  Sometimes the air is so stale that a flash of lightening is needed to bring the rain.

I remember Dad's proclamation: If this church was as full of gospel and gossip these wall would be filled.

Isaiah proclaimed: Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

And Rev. Dr. William Barber taught us that you must stand your ground, when bowing down is not an option.  

The stakes are high and the time is now.