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Justice Is Not Just Extra Credit for Poet Micah Bournes

MicahBournes_038_resizeBy Sarah Miller

While attending the Justice Conference in Philadelphia several weeks ago, I had the honor of sitting down with spoken word artist and creative writer Micah Bournes.

Micah was a featured artist at the event, which is one of the largest international biblical and social justice conferences in the world. For those unfamiliar with spoken word, Micah describes it as poetry that is "written to be performed rather than read on a page.”

Much of the Long Beach, Calif., artist's work focuses on social justice, either directly or indirectly. Micah says he didn’t set out to be an advocate for justice or to necessarily inspire others to be justice-minded—a lot of his writing has been “accidentally justice-focused,” he says. “It’s just really paying attention and listening to people.”

Micah was first exposed to spoken word during the summer before his junior year of college. A friend invited him to an open mic in L.A. and he decided to participate. He had no idea how much that night, and the unique form of expression, would impact his life.

At the open mic Micah saw a bunch of people “spilling their hearts, and it was amazing to [me] that people would be so vulnerable with a group of strangers and yet it didn’t feel awkward—I saw people talking about their deepest spiritual wounds.” He recognized that “here is an art form… or platform, where people are already being open and inviting spiritual conversations.” He saw it as an opportunity to take what many saw as a time to reflect on sorrow in their lives and use it instead to “speak some hope and some truth and some life into [it]."

I first heard Micah’s testimony on YouTube; he talked about his modest upbringing and the important role faith played in his life from an early age. “My mom had a very simple plan for teaching us the truth of God and that was, ‘Read the Bible, just read it.’” Micah’s immersion in the Word has greatly influenced his faith and his work. 

“[Jesus] was a brilliant poet," Micah says. "He used art to communicate truth… When Jesus is revealing himself, he could have just said, ‘I am the second person in the Trinity; God in the flesh’. No, he said, ‘I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Door. I am the Light’. These are metaphors. He was using poetic language to reveal who he was to us. I see that in scripture. That influences me.”

 

Micah says that when he began to get at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, he was not only called to live uprightly, but also to recognize God’s greater call on our lives. “Caring for widows and orphans and living uprightly, that’s the heart of God, that’s the heart of Christianity, as said in the Bible.” He says that he is bothered by the idea of justice as "extra credit."

"So you do right, you do good, you live morally, and it’s also good if you volunteer a couple times a year at the homeless shelter; God likes that," Micah says. "[But it's seen as] extra credit—it’s not central, and that’s wrong, 'cause it is central. So my thinking shifted to this is not something that’s extra credit, this is something that should be at the heart. It should be a pillar of what it means to be Christian.”

During the Justice Conference, Micah performed the piece "An Unlikely Candidate," about civil rights icon Rosa Parks and her legendary action, which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. His poem portrayed her quiet bravery in the midst of  terrifying opposition. But Micah also pointed out that it doesn’t take a hero to bring about change. It takes only a person willing to take a stand up for what is right and have a voice.  

“Heroes are not super-humans deserving the adoration of ordinary people, they are ordinary people, fatigued by the sub-human treatment of themselves or others, demanding their due equality," Micah said in the poem. "They are ordinary people, sick and tired of trying to be neutral."

We can all be heroes and advocates if we are willing to stop being neutral and raise our voices.

Sarah Miller is a church relations intern at Bread for the World.

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