“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps…” Amos 5:21-23
When it comes to art my tastes are not exactly avant-garde. My preference tends to lean toward the masters – Monet, Cezanne, Turner, and Rembrandt; then the 20th Century American painter Andrew Wyeth; and the vivid colors and movement of contemporary artists such as Tarkay and Peter Max.
So-called “public art” (larger installations – typically sculpture – usually in town centers or parks), generally leave me scratching my head. To be honest, that was my initial response to the large metal circle parked on the side of a pathway near the walled garden at Joyner Park in Wake Forest.
I wasn’t out of hand dismissive, but I didn’t really “get it” either.
Then something caught my attention. Rather than looking at the installation I looked at the rest of the park, and the sky, through the big metal circle and its intricate web of leaves and branches. I realized the artist’s intention wasn’t for people to miss the world and look at the art so much as to look at the world through the art.
As a theologian this reminds me of an ongoing difficulty with religion, the fact that we so often allow religious structure to obstruct our view of God. Religion – and this can apply to Christianity too – can become the focus of our devotion and our attention and our efforts to the extent that we become locked in on religious practice and leave God out of the picture almost entirely.
I love the way the prophet Micah talked about this in his not so subtle tone: “I despise your religious festivals and your assemblies are a stench to me,” God wants the Israelites to know. “And by the way, your music sucks and your offerings can go right into the trash for all I care….”
But… “You want to know what really floats my boat?” God continues… “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24)!
My experience of Christian faith inspires me to follow Jesus and helps me to see God more clearly. Then, in response, I am motivated and equipped to work for justice and practice righteousness, much in the way the prophet Micah expressed the same sentiment as Amos:
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with many containers full with oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
I don’t think so! However…
He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
That is what happens when we look at God through the structure – the framework – of the Christian faith, and then look back at the world through the compassionate eyes of Jesus.
Here are some more photos from Wednesday’s walk in the park: