…you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
and the flesh off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people,
flay their skin off them,
break their bones in pieces,
and chop them up like meat in a kettle,
like flesh in a cauldron…
*This is the third installment in a series of seven pieces on Micah posted every Wednesday during Lent.
Surely, Micah wasn’t winning any popularity contests by openly comparing political and religious leaders to Jeffrey Dahmer. The prophet homed in on two socio-economic atrocities. First, the decisions that social, corporate, political and religious elites make have a direct effect on the livelihood of everyday people. Masses of people are trying to survive slave conditions. Many live and work in toxic and hazardous environments. Those who can do something about this almost always don’t.
Second, those with the power, privilege and possessions use their wealth and connections to magnify their status. Whether through bribes, fraud and corruption, or through “legal” means like name dropping, campaign contributions, advertising, lawyers and lobbyists, our CEOs and celebrities leverage their place in society. Affluenza is spreading. Check for the symptoms: massive wealth inequality, the fear-based militarization of police departments, descaling social safety nets, awkward boasts of colorblindness.
In New Jim Crow America there is a haunting racial dimension to all this devouring. Elites prefer dark meat. Black, brown and red populations within the U.S. suffer at far higher rates than their white counterparts. These resilient communities are lambasted by bank and job discrimination, unjust arrests & prison sentences, decrepit housing and schools, water shut-offs and poor access to health care and nutritious food. Desperation, though, is a perverse corporate dream. These conditions turn compassionate humans into commodified workers who will do just about anything for a meager paycheck to survive.
Micah confronts a cannibalized society, concentrated on Jerusalem and her Temple apparatus. How will communities of faith respond to wealth inequality, labor exploitation and limitless resource extraction? Consciences demand creative confrontation, yet comfort constipation leads to justification. And silence is violence. Upton Sinclair once wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
It’s one thing to know the difference between Bradley Cooper and Bradley Manning. It’s quite another thing to openly privilege Manning with our time, energy & resources and to make commitments to work creatively and consistently for a world void of manna piles and maquiladoras. Raising these types of issues might make for awkward conversations at Easter Brunch next month.
The late postmodern systematic theologian James McClendon challenged readers to know the difference between beliefs and convictions, what he defined as “the gutsy beliefs you live out.” Beliefs are subject to change quite frequently. Convictions, on the other hand, are less readily expressed, but more tenaciously held, not easily relinquished and deeply self-involving. Out of convictions flow attitudes, beliefs, intentions and practices. Through social relocation and analysis we become a laboratory of more spiritually and politically gutsy experiments. Hear the words of New Jim Crow prophet Ndume Olatishani, finally acquitted after 28 years of wrongful imprisonment, proclaiming two weeks ago, “Knowledge makes us responsible.”
Jesus challenged his radical disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” This vocation prescribes a heavy dose of social analysis and spiritual discipline. Prophets need communities that gather—for wisdom, discernment and nurture. But the sacred Script must always challenge before it comforts. After all, too many victims are being feasted upon. Our entire socio-economic system of cheap consumer gadgets depends on it. The least of these need lobbyists who are willing to call out, boycott and divest. At the very least.