Love’s Percussive Proclamation

A reflection on Amos 9:1-8 for Wine Before Breakfast (After Dinner)

I saw the Lord spitting on the altar,
spray can in hand,
scrawling verse after verse
of invective poetry
at a people, a nation,
of ill-begotten gains

I saw the Lord cursing at the altar,
the priests
and political leaders
for their blindness,
their so-called colour-blindness
another poisonous incarnation
of white supremacy.

I saw the Lord standing on the altars
of a nation,
ripping down flags
like Bree Newsome,

toppling statues
of Confederate generals
and Canadian Prime Ministers
needing no more public reminders
of what blood and bones
cannot forget

I saw the Lord setting fires to the
racist legacies
memorialized and enshrined
in our churches,
political institutions,
collective memory
and public policy,
for all that we have done
to bestow advantage to some
and poverty to others
based on the colour of skin
stealing land
enslaving and murdering entire peoples,
desecrating sacred
lands and waterways,
squeezing every last bit of
economic value from
divine and priceless gift.

I saw the Lord and trembled,
hearing the command
to strike down the capitals
until Queen’s Park shakes
and Parliament Hill quivers,
until Megachurch and Cathedral fall
and Christian celebrity is no more;
until the mining companies
shutter all operations,
no longer defended by
the now defunded police,
and the judges acquit
land defenders,
at the Uni’sto’ten Camp
and 1492 Land Back Lane

I saw the Lord and trembled,
unable to run and hide from
the coming troubles
the upheaval and upside-downing,
the sheer destruction
of the way of life I have built,
that was built for me,
the life that was given to me,
that was taken from another.

I saw the Lord and trembled,
comfortable as I was
in my small mountain town,
800km from Trans Mountain
and the incursion on Tsleil-Waututh
territory, but now resident on the ancient
burial grounds of the Sinixt,
conveniently declared extinct
by the Federal Government in 1956
securing rights to extract all resources
on land now declared empty.

“Though they dig into Sheol,
climb to the heavens,
or hide at the bottom of the sea,”
the Lord says,
“though they flee into the embrace
of the Russians—or whomever—
even so trouble is coming,
and it’s coming hard
and it won’t be escaped
by any of us”

not even those like me
who have fled the big cities
to nestle themselves
amongst mountains
in idyllic skiing villages
in small-town BC.

Abraham Joshua Heschel once said
of prophets that they are
intent on intensifying responsibility,
impatient of excuse, and
contemptuous of pretence and self-pity

The prophets are about love, pure and simple.
But this love, Austin Channing Brown writes,
is a love that takes risks
it’s a love that requires sacrifice
it’s a love that protests hate

And that’s where we find ourselves
with the prophet today:
love as percussive proclamation
as judgment both present and pending;
images that burn to shine;
that sear our memories and
call us to the truths we’ve
buried under layers of murder
and denial we call
peace, order, and good government.

That’s where we find ourselves
with the prophet today,
called to the loving truth that allies itself with the
resilience, resistance, and reclamation
of the gifts of personhood, community, story,
nation, and land, all in service of
a decolonizing reconciliation.

Our gatherings, though smaller this year
gatherings of Thanksgiving and gratitude,
do their best to acknowledge the blessings
of this life,

yet how do we parse what is blessing
from the ill-begotten gains
of racist extractive genocidal policies and practices,

how do we parse the divide between
the free gifts of the Creator, and the
fruit of theft and oppression?

This weekend I was reminded,
listening to a podcast with
Womanist Biblical scholar Dr. Wil Gafney
about the need to look
further back in our story
to our earliest mothers
and it caused me to wonder:

When God said to Hagar and her rapist,
that they and their descendants
would be blessed and numerous
is this what they had in mind?

When God said to Sarai and to her husband,
that they and their descendants
would be a blessing to all people,
is this what they had in mind?

When God made covenant
with Hagar and Sarai and Abram, is this
world of fear and of shame
the future they intended?

The Lord stands on the altar
in the heart of the temple,
the heart of Israel’s religious
practice, and promises to topple
every last artifice of piety.
This is not what was intended
in the beginning
This is not the fruit of covenant

This is not what God intended,
and so it’s time
to burn the village to the ground

The God we meet in these verses with Amos
is not a God of reform
and gradual progressivism,
who would like the people to
change—eventually and on their own time.
This is a God on the streets with
righteous rage demanding a living wage
for one and all.

This is a God on the streets in protest
against the brutality of the police
and anti-black racism

This is a God who demands
that the church repent of
its lust for power
its doctrine of discovery
its sacrifice of the poor

This is a God calling not only for the defunding
of the police, but of the clergy,
of any other gatekeeper who would
keep one of God’s children from
this fierce and reckless love.

This is a God who calls out the
white moderates for what we are:
friends of maintaining order
and impediments to justice.

This is a God who takes rage to the
hardened heart of religious and political power,
offering a Punk Prayer at the altars
of grand Cathedrals and modest country churches
demanding the full embrace of all God’s
children. Not tomorrow. Not someday.
But now.

“Are you not,” the Lord says,
“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me?”
“Are you not my beloved children too?”

“I love you. You are beloved,”
God shows up saying.
But I love you no more than I love the rest of my children.
You are beloved, and you are enough.
Neither more nor less.
Enough. Don’t get me wrong, I love you.
But I will sacrifice no one else
to help you believe it.

And the good news here, dear friends.
The good news here,
is that God sees us that way too.
We are beloved, and we are enough.

There are those of us
who have spent our lives
without enough,
and with the lie that we aren’t enough
And for those whose
lives have taken that shape,
God’s proclamation is this:
You are my beloved.
You are enough,
I will stand with you and for you on altars
disrupting and upending the systems
that are keeping you and so many from having
and believing they are enough.

And there are those of us
who have spent our lives
with more than enough,

perhaps even believing and repeating the lies
both personal and political
that we are more than enough
that we are better than others,
that we have received what we have
because of our merits
and God’s favour

paying no regard
to our neighbours
whose lives, whose intrinsic and relational worth,
whose very basic needs
we have denied by our willing participation
in systems that steal, and mask, and divert
attention from the divine gift
given to one and all

For those amongst us, those whose
lives have taken that shape,

God’s proclamation is this:
You are my beloved.
You are enough,
But you are not the centre
of my dream for the world.
I am about to disrupt and upend the systems
of hatred and violence that you have maintained
and that have kept
my beloved children—your siblings—
from knowing that they are enough
from having enough to sustain their lives,
I am calling you to lay down all that you have taken
as though it was rightfully yours,
to overturn altars and pulpits and boardroom tables
until there is enough for one and for all.

God’s eye is on the sinful kingdom,
but God’s eye is also on the sparrow.

And the good news is
that there on that altar
in person
and in wine and in bread,
God will—day by day—
work to destroy the foundations of the lie
keeping us enslaved
as strangers from one another
as strangers from the land
as strangers from the Creator
who holds us all in fierce, motherly love.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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