“Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”(Micah 6:8)
I was recently asked what it means to live a Quaker lifestyle (which for me is a Christian lifestyle), and I felt a strong pull to reflect on it more than just the casual answer that I could have given. In that reflection, I kept hearing the guidance of Micah over and over again. And each time it came up I asked myself in what ways I was living these words. Here’s an account of some of the things that came to my mind.
On the surface, I aim to keep my word and deal fairly with others. This seems just. But that alone doesn’t do justice when I find myself in a world of unjust structures, norms, and habits. I am called to fight for justice on broader levels toward racial justice, prison abolition, and LGBT rights and dignity, among other things. I look for those mindsets in myself and others that reduce the humanity of others or promote inequality and I challenge them. Sometimes this takes the form of going out into the streets to protest the murder of a Black person by police or against an unjust law, and sometimes it means speaking hard truths or taking a stand with a family member or at a committee meeting. Sometimes it means listening and reading about ways that systems of oppression are acted out and reflecting on how I uphold those habits or ideas, even though I’d rather stay comfortable in my ways. There is also further justice to be done when harm occurs. I do justice by working to restore and make whole what is broken when I do harm or harm is done to me.
The clearest and most challenging way I’m called to love mercy is by showing it to others through grace and compassion. This is clear because God’s own words and presence call for it so plainly, but challenging because it’s not a trivial or shallow kind of grace and it’s by far not my first inclination. I have to work against my desires to tally others’ worth by counting what I perceive to be their wrong deeds while still setting boundaries, communicating my own needs, and speaking up for what’s right. It can’t be cheap grace or forced reconciliation that I ask of myself or of others. I have to replace my own desire to be punitive with approaches that are restorative, and I have to work to do the same in the systems around us and what I teach my children. I love mercy by working toward peace, which requires justice, not retribution.
In Quaker circles, outward humility is an easy path to follow. I can dress simply and do without prestigious titles fairly easily. I can gather up fewer things. I can listen more and speak less. I can even (sometimes) be open to the fact that I may be wrong. But to walk humbly in all ways I need to look for those places where I’m raised up and others are not, and then work to break them down. Apparent humility is not enough in a world that hides so many ways in which some are built up while others are pushed down. I work to live every moment in the knowledge that I don’t earn or deserve anything on my own merit. All I have is a gift from God and God’s people.
With your God
I will admit that simply being with God is sometimes the hardest for me to do. What I was taught about God as a child didn’t make spending time with God seem like a comforting or uplifting thing to do. God made me feel shame, worry for myself, and worry for the eternal welfare of others. And sometimes I’m just not that intellectually certain about what God is or possibly could be. But now when I walk with God and live my daily life with God, I find the presence, comfort, and love are worth any ambiguity or effort.
I walk with God by spending time throughout each day listening for God’s voice and guidance in many places including the words of others and of the Bible. I open myself to feeling God’s loving presence even (especially) when I don’t feel like I deserve love. I practice staying open to that presence for longer times each day and through more settings and circumstances. I remind myself that when I encounter others, I am encountering God.
What would you say a Quaker or Christian lifestyle is like? How are you doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God?