The eleventh chapter of Writing in the Margins begins with a quote from Cornel West, an American philosopher and the author of Race Matters:
Love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that’s being pushed to the margins, and you can see it.
The first prompt at the end of the chapter is…
Cornel West speaks prophetically when he names what is being pushed to the margin in the world today. Read Amos 5:21-24. What does the Lord God hate in the world of Amos? What does God hope for in the world today? Write responses to these in your margin. Then, consider our world today. What would be the parallel for what God might hate, and for what God might hope?
This was a tough one for me. At one point, I seriously considered writing to Lisa Nichols Hickman for a consultation! Amos was a challenge for me to understand and Cornel West speaks form an intellectual tradition that is unfamiliar to me. I can write of God’s goodness from now to eternity, but I feel totally unqualified to comment on what God hates. Nevertheless, I persevered. What I discovered: the harsh words that Amos directed at Israel were to shake up the nation and help them see more clearly the needs of the least in society, and the reason for God’s anger is that God loves each and every one of us so dearly. Every life matters to God!
I decided to order two books to help me think through this assignment: Cornel West’s newest book Black Prophetic Fire and Gregory Boyle’s Tattoes on the Heart. While I was waiting for the books to arrive, I started to fret, maybe what God hates most is those who claim to know what God hates. So I decided to look to scripture and keep close to God’s Word on this subject. I found this passage in Proverbs that provides a remarkably clear answer:
After reading, my first thought was of how Judas Iscariot embodies nearly everything this passage says the Lord hates. But I’ve been taught that we all have a hand in shedding the innocent blood of Christ through our sin, and that JESUS PAID IT ALL! His death on the cross is ultimate injustice. And how can we respond? The only way I cans see is to live the goodness Jesus teaches: Not to be haughty, but be poor in spirit; not to have a lying tongue, but to have a pure heart; not to have hand that sheds innocent blood, but to mourn our sin and the loss of innocent life; not to devise wicked plans but to hunger and thirst for righteousness; not to make haste to run to evil, but to be meek; not to be a false witness, but to be willing to suffer persecution; not to sow discord, but to be peacemakers. In short we honor the injustice suffered by Christ, described so well in this passage, when we live the beatitudes.
I read Black Prophetic Fire and then I read the book of Amos. As I read, I kept a list of things God hated about society when Amos was prophesying. The original list had 30 complaints, about a third of which I struggled to know what Amos meant. The very first complaint stumped me: Damascus…threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron? Mercifully, I found a good online study of Amos, which helped. For instance, regarding the first complaint, he suggested that this meant that Damascus was unnecessarily cruel when they defeated Gilead in battle. I did my best to boil the complaints down to a simpler list and put them in my own not-so-fiery words:
God hated to see the cruelty and brutality of the battles in the nations that surrounded Israel; the slave trade in Tyre and Gaza; and to know that Judah reject the law of the Lord. God also had a crazy long list for Israel, which made it to my margins:
Seek good and not evil that you may live.
Do not oppress the poor or crush the needy.
Do not let lending practices become onerous or overtax the poor.
Take care that your justice system does not take bribes or treat the poor badly or ignore the crimes of the rich.
Be fair and honest in your business affairs and do not be overly anxious to be constantly engaged in trading and profits.
Respect the vows of religious people.
Listen to the prophets.
Learn to do good.
Don’t be puffed up with pride or boast in your strength.
Curiously, so much of the criticism that Amos leveled against Israel applies to our own times, and the themes in the book of Amos also run through the Cornel West’s Black Prophetic Fire. Brother West condemns the slave trade, the brutality of war and the loss of innocent lives, the treatment of the poor, our criminal justice system in the United States that lets white collar criminals off the hook and puts poor people in jail for minor crimes, the materialism of our culture, and our banking system that bails out the banks and left so many homeowners caught by the sudden drop in home prices.
At the time Amos prophesied, God hoped:
Let justice role down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
As I illustrated this passage, it occurred to me that there is a sense in which justice is a lot like rain. On the day of a picnic or parade, nobody wants rain, but when rain is gone for long, it is the ONLY thing for which we hope. If God’s love is like sunshine, God’s justice is like rain. As I illustrated this page, I prayed for our country and the world that we might be renewed and refreshed by God’s justice and true righteousness. Justice and righteousness are absolutely critical to a thriving society! And if you can overcome some of the difficult political rhetoric, Brother West’s voice simply reminds us: There are too many places where there still exists a drought of justice!
God tells Amos that he has set a plumb line in the midst of his people. Some words from the Pledge of Allegiance came to mind as I thought of what plumb line God would set for us in the United States today:
I thought I would turn my attention to what God hopes. I think one thing God hopes is that Christians will heed the prophet’s voice and remember what God tells us to do:
A recent cover story on Barron’s (of all places!) caught my attention, gave me a little hope, and reminded me that God mixes things up all the time! It featured Danny Lubeman who left a successful banking career at Wells Fargo to attend divinity school and head up a prison outreach ministry, Project Cope. I’ll just give thanks the prophetic voice was heard and keep him in my prayers that he will live our true purpose according to the prophet Micah: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God!
God hopes that Christians will carry the light of God’s love wherever they may be. Lisa Nichols Hickman referred to the book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion in this chapter by Gregory Boyle, so I read this book in preparation for this assignment as well. I was a mess of tears as I read story after story of God’s love reaching into the darkest of places. Father Greg modeled God’s perfect love that shines on the just and the unjust! The verses Luke 1:78-79 seem to define his ministry and Father Greg is an example of what St. Francis said: “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” Even if we don’t minister to gang members in Los Angeles, we can all be rays of light for each other in dark times:
Father Greg’s book is a reminder that God’s powerful love is ready to shine on us no matter where we are in life. In the book of Amos, God tells Israel that he will hold up a plumb line against the society, but God does not seem to do the same thing to us as individuals who have embraced Jesus Christ. God wants us personally to know only unconditional love, and when we experience the vastness of God’s love, it becomes harder to judge others. Father Greg reminds us of God’s boundless compassion for each of us as individuals, beloved in his sight:
How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have. More than anything else, the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval. This joy just doesn’t know what we’re talking about when we focus on the restriction of not measuring up. This joy, God’s joy, is like a bunch of women lined up your parish hall on your birthday, wanting only to dance with you—cheek to cheek.-Gregory Boyle
After reading Tattoos on the Heart, I found myself shopping at Walmart, filled with the most beautiful and intense awareness of God’s amazing love for everyone around me.
I heard in a sermon that the local church is the great hope of the world, and I believe that God hopes for the light of the true church that circles the globe to shine brightly! It would be awesome to hear people note the exceptionalism of the church and Christian communities around the world and the power of Christ. A little wisdom from the Bible goes a long way toward making this whole world better for everyone. God’s slow work for thousands of years now has been to create a Kingdom of God that transcends all boundaries of race and nationality. It is such a rich blessing to know that we belong to it!