We're living in a Micah moment

August 5th, 2020

The Book of Micah has become one of my go-to resources for getting perspective about the time in which we are living. Micah looked at Israel and Judah and said in effect, “We are in deep trouble.” It is easy to look at life today and draw a similar conclusion. Matthew Fox (a Micah-like prophet today) describes our situation succinctly,

“As we stand back and look critically at what is transpiring on this planet today — and in the U.S. — we can see that climate change, coronavirus, hundreds of years of racist history and genocide toward indigenous peoples, the rise of extreme nationalist movements and the role that bad religion, reptilian-brain-driven patriarchy and cannibal capitalism have played in so much loss and destruction and present-day angst, we can recognize that the human race is in deep trouble.” [1]

Life in ChristWe are living in a time akin to the one Micah lived in 2,700 years ago. It’s not the first time his words have spoken directly to people since he wrote his book. History goes through cycles. Our time is one in which Micah’s message is needed. We are living in a period of history when the question, “How then shall we live?” is on our minds with acute relevance. Micah provides us with a broad-stroke answer. He does it by showing us what kind of moment we are in, and by offering guidance in how we should live in it.

First, what is a Micah moment? In the first five chapters, he describes it in several ways.

In chapter one, Micah names the fundamental problem, and repeats it as the book continues. It is a moment of national crisis in need of a moral restoration. In other words, it is a time when a nation is experiencing root rot, and in doing so bears the bitter fruit of unrighteousness. Like every crisis, Micah reveals in the first five chapters that it is a time fraught with danger, but not bereft of opportunity.

In chapters two and three, Micah exposes the root issue: leaders have defaulted on their assignment and perverted God’s will, reversing what God intended. They “hate the good and love the evil” (3:2). Leadership failure is doing great harm to the people, and Micah uses stark metaphors to describe the damage. The corruption of leaders, and their collusion with false prophets (see chapter two) is as dire as tearing the skin off the people, eating their flesh, breaking their bones, and chopping them up like meat to be cooked in a kettle (3:2-3). Meanwhile these leaders reign with bravado and live in luxury, and the false prophets who are in the leaders’ pockets cover over the truth so that the people are led astray (3:5) — that is, deceived. Injustice (inequality) and falsehood (lies) dominate and shape the nation’s narrative.

But something else is happening in a Micah moment. There is an awakening among the people. There is a stirring in the national consciousness. There is a movement mounting. Micah points to it in chapters four and five. It is small (a remnant), but genuine — a people’s campaign emerging out of the cries of their oppression and expressed in their shouts, “Enough is enough!”

Sociologists call it a tipping point. It is a pivot away from passivity. It aims to topple the status quo (“the kingdoms of this world”) and restore righteousness (”the kingdom of God”). A tipping point is usually something people do not see coming, something unexpected that throws a wrench into the imperialist works. A tipping point includes a period of hesitancy (i.e. “Is this something I should get involved in?“), but as it becomes increasingly evident that the status quo has become a sacred cow no longer worthy of honor or support, more and more people find the courage to join the movement.

We are living in just such a moment — a Micah moment — when a leadership failure glossed over by false prophets has brought us to an “enough is enough” moment which ignites passion and invites participation. It is a Micah moment in that people are awakening from their sleep, recognizing they have been deceived, and taking actions that overcome evil with good.

And it is when we recognize this moment for what it is that Micah helps us answer a second question: What do we do?

Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you?” (6:8). The “you” is the people, not the corrupt leaders and the false prophets. They have had their chance, and they blew it. They muffed their mission. The “enough is enough” moment is one in which God bypasses the potentates and turns to the people. A Micah moment is a movement — a peoples’ movement. It is a resistance movement characterized by three verbs and three qualities.

The verbs: dolove and walk. A Micah moment is a time for action. This does not mean words are unnecessary; it means the words are enacted — words on the move. Each verb carries an implicit meaning. 

Do is a word of advocacy. We voice our values, we support the oppressed, we stand up for what we believe. This is what Eugene Peterson called “lived theology” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined as “the cost of discipleship.”

Love is a word of devotion — to God and to others. It is the devotion that strengthens our resolve to obey God rather than people — an obedience Micah described in chapter four of his book, the obedience Jesus named as the two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40).

Walk is a word of endurance. The reform that is needed is not accomplished quickly or easily. It is achieved little-by-little, step-by-step. Sometimes it loses ground, but rather than giving into despair, we heed the Spirit who simply says, “Keep walking.” As we do so, we learn the lesson of history: achievements are won by those who do not give up. One of God’s repeated exhortations in history is, “Don’t stop!”

The qualities: justicekindnesshumility. A Micah moment is characterized by nonviolent resistance. On two occasions, Micah described the crisis as one of violence (2:2, 6:12). The cure must issue forth through nonviolence. All three qualities are carried in the container of peace-making, what Jesus later re-emphasized in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9).

Justice is the movement of fairness, equality and inclusion. We call it the common good. It issues forth through our justice system, to be sure, but justice in and of itself is not a legal term, it is a leveling endeavor, where hierarchies are removed and entitlements are ended.

Kindness is the movement of gentleness, generosity and care-giving. We call it compassion. It issues forth through empathy and solidarity. It is relating to people and things in ways that honor their sacred worth and enable their ability to thrive.

Humility is the movement of renunciation, servanthood and teachability. We call it consecration. It issues forth through self-surrender (Matthew 5:3). It is the offering of ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and asking God to make us instruments of God’s peace (the prayer of Saint Francis).

All this comes together for us in Frank Laubach ‘s morning prayer, “Lord, what are you doing in the world today that I can help you with?” [2] It is the prayer which engages in a Micah moment without being overwhelmed by the enormity of it. It is a recognition that we each have something we can do, and it is an indication of our willingness to do it. We cannot do everything, but we can do something. Living in a Micah moment is becoming a co-creator with God, contributing our effort to the larger work God is bringing to pass.

[1] Matthew Fox’s Daily Meditations, 7/18/2020.

[2] I did not get this from a book that I can reference. Dr. Thomas Carruth, who knew Laubach, told me this was a question he asked in his morning prayer, a question that led him into listening and then into acting. In this way, Laubach was praying in the classical pattern of contemplation/action. John Dear’s book, Living Peace (2001) commends the same pattern in relation to nonviolent resistance.

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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