Over the last few months, I’ve found myself struggling with all of the violence that comes up in the news over and over again. How so much of it is related to the deep injustices that folks my age and my color were raised to think we’d gotten past. Racism is dead! We’re colorblind! We have people of all sorts of different colors in different positions… we elected Obama!
First, I remember 2001. And lots of people told me I needed to be scared of people who are Muslim. Turns out that’s not good – I’ve met and loved lots of folks who celebrate the Islamic faith – my next door neighbors, students I taught in my classes. Good, hard working, thoughtful and giving people. I learned more about the tradition, and found beauty in the words of the Quran.
Then 2008 came. And lots of people lost their jobs and livelihood. I was told over and over again not to be scared. And yet we lost 8.8 million jobs, and there’s another 7 million who have just thrown in the towel. And so now there are even more people hoping that their fast food job will be sufficient, and hoping that when things got better, they’d get better, too. They haven’t.
And then came the deaths. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. And those are the ones that get the most airplay. And so many more young black and brown boys not getting the opportunities they deserve. AND PEOPLE HAVE BEEN NOTING THIS FOR NEARLY 40 YEARS. And if we’re honest, even longer. But again, we are in an era of new thinking! Civil Rights! Colorbindness! And equal justice for all… of a specific color, or of a particular profession.
And yesterday, two NYPD officers lost their lives from a man who felt it was his place to dispense his own version of justice. And I mourn and find myself as angry at this as I do every single other circumstance in 2014 that has led to this general disarray.
Amos was a prophet in a time of incredible prosperity in Israel. It’s one of my favorite books of prophesy (in part because of one of the best slams in all of Scripture), because of this:
Let Justice Roll Down
18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19 as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
Repeatedly, Amos calls out those who thought they were living a faithful life through loud and showy displays of piety. God saw it all as sham, and Amos made sure that they knew it. God (and I believe this is the actually the official commentary) did not give a shit about anything people were doing – the fattened calves, the songs, the things that were part of the law that was guiding the people for years that God commanded… any of it. So everytime some white kid wants to protest because it’s a chance to tell a story to their kids or that they’re “just trying to do some good” and making sure folks see it and doing any of it as a form of worship? My guess is if it’s not attached some deeper sense of Justice, God doesn’t care.
God cared about justice. For the poor. For the oppressed. For the innocent. For the ignored. For the folks who no one really liked. Otherwise, everything the people of Israel were doing was simply noise and distraction. And this was not meant to be a violent, vigilante justice, but one that brought peace. It’s why people were called to leave wheat for the poor and foreigner. It’s why debts were supposed to be cleared every seven years. It’s why Jubilee exists.
Justice is not fear of whole people because of the few who may do wrong.
Justice is not excusing the few who may do wrong because they are wealthy or powerful or supposed arbiters of justice.
Justice is not vengeance.
I write this because I’m a tired, disillusioned man. I was raised in a promise that things were better, and that we were better. It isn’t and we’re not. And I have a son that I watch playing with pure joy, surrounded by love, and I think how I’m going to protect him while showing him that he needs to do what he can in his own way to seek the betterment of those who were not protected. And in spite of all of this, I believe even more in a God who deeply loves this world and wants the justice of Amos to roll mighty through the land, overwhelming and sweeping away structures that cannot withstand the flood.
I write this because I all too often lack the belief of shalom, but still hope it in day after day.
Maybe you do, too. And to the folks who do – please keep walking. Don’t let any of this stop you from your current Emmaus. There continues to be so much that God will teach and show, and Jesus is with us despite our inability to see him. We know the story, and we need to continue to tell it to everyone walking with us.
Because on days like today, I need to be reminded of the story.