He has showed you, O man, 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.
The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s was more than just a demand for equality, it was a journey of living ones faith to the core of one’s being. As such it was transformative work; it was redemptive work beginning with the people doing the work and rippling out to transform the society at large.
As Unitarian Universalists we generally get the ‘act justly’ and ‘to love mercy’ part of Micah 6:8. We can look to our principles –acknowledging the inherent worth and dignity of every person; of seeking to live justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; and working towards the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all—as enhancing our understanding of acting justly and loving mercy. But where do we get our understanding of ‘walk humbly with your god?’ How do we translate that when seeking to create justice as people of faith?
There are many of us who do not believe there is a god, small or capital G, let alone asking us to walk with one. So how do we do this?
We begin with wrestling with what this means because in order to live Micah 6:8 we need to be fully understanding what god means not only in this context of Micah but also in our lives—even if we do not believe that such an entity exists.
Walter Brueggemann in his classic work, The Prophetic Imagination writes: “The liberal tendency has been to care about the politics of justice and compassion but to be largely uninterested in the freedom of God. Indeed, it has been hard for liberals to imagine that theology mattered, for all of that seemed irrelevant. And it was thought that the question of God could be safely left to others who still worried about such matters. As a result, social radicalism has been like a cut flower without nourishment, without any sanctions deeper than human courage and good intentions.”
I believe Brueggemann’s criticism of the liberal religious approach to creating justice is an accurate one in regards to embodying Micah 6:8 especially the third component regarding walking humbly with your god. If we, as a liberal faith, are going to create a powerful prophetic voice addressing the injustices that are happening around us then we need to come to terms with what Brueggemann means by the freedom of god in the context of today’s world.
We need to wrestle with the meaning of the phrase ‘to walk humbly with your god’ in the 21st century especially since it will most likely be this century where the choice to finally dismantle white heterosexual privilege in America will occur. The battle ground is already being developed to maintain white supremacy in America with the enactment of harsh anti-immigration laws targeting a specific immigrant population across this country.
The conservatives in this country have only produced potential candidates who are willing to enforce white supremacy… even Herman Cain was willing to maintain white supremacy through supporting corporate personhood’s desire for complete domination over American politics and economy. The falsehood of privilege diminishes the worth and dignity of all people, negates the golden rule, and elevates the narcissistic illusion of self-importance to a fundamental value worthy of preservation.
Brueggemann also levels on a criticism on the conservative religious: “Conversely, it has been the tendency … to care intensely about God, but uncritically, so that the God of well-being and good order is not understood to be precisely the source of social oppression.”
He later adds that a foundational element to social oppression is “the establishment of a controlled, static religion in which God and his temple have become part of the royal landscape, in which the sovereignty of God is fully subordinated to the purpose of the king.”
From my perspective this is what is happening in America today through out all corners of our society, a systemic wide subordination of a people under the guise of being faithful to god. The shift in society from majority white to majority of people of color represents a threat to this order. Until the recently passed laws in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and in other states creating enforcement through attrition this shift was to happen around 2030 and those who would lose their white privilege are fighting this shift through their xenophobia while claiming they are being faithful to our country’s founders’ vision and faith.
There is a false belief that god’s sole purpose is to protect our standard of living and our way of life. The god of well-being and good order as Brueggemann names it has become the god of America. America is the land of too big to fail. This is the god that preaches the American Dream. This is the gospel of prosperity that is dangled like a carrot in front of the poor and then holds them down in submission like a weight around a chicken’s neck to ensure their place as servants of the 1%.
This leads me to wondering once again about the question which I began; how do we as Unitarian Universalists walk humbly with our god? How do we dismantle our own sense of privilege?
Can we as Unitarian Universalists embrace the idea that there are unknown forces at play? These forces need not be supernatural but may simply be the words and actions of others that we are not privy to but have been said and done and are bending the arc towards justice and liberty even while we ponder our next move. Who could have predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the outcome of the Arab Spring? There was much happening beneath the surface.
Robert F. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope… These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
For me, walking humbly with my god means to feel the direction of the current of change, to sniff the wind of justice and follow it where it leads. It means being willing to change how I live if it will ensure that others will find freedom.