Monday, June 28, 2010

Is The Kingdom for the Poor?

Answering the question on Facebook: "Are the beatitudes really talking about the economically 'poor'? And if they are, is it all the poor? Does every poor person obtain the kingdom of God?"

"Poor" in the beatitudes should certainly be taken literally. This is why it is combined with words like "mourning" and "hungry" and "hungry and thirsty for justice" and "meek". And it is in opposition to the "rich". Even "poor in spirit" means those who has an attitude like the poor. (see Proverbs 16:19)

However, we must be clear that the context doesn't allow us to say that it is about ALL poor people, regardless of action. In Luke 6 Jesus is speaking to his disciples when he says "Blessed are YOU that are poor; Woe to YOU that are rich"-- He is distinguishing among his own disciples those who surrender their possessions and those who keep them for their own personal use (Luke 14:33; Luke 12:33). In Matt. 5, the poor, the mourning and the meek are blessed, but so are the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart. In other words, Jesus is narrowing the field even more. Those who own the kingdom are not only those who have suffered as the outcast in this life, but those who, in the midst of that suffering, acted like Jesus in His mercy for others.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Would Jesus Preach Today?

A response to the above question posed on Facebook today:

Jesus would preach the same today as He did 2000 years ago:

-That no law is greater than mercy
-That the merciful outcast are the owners of God's kingdom
-That political change happens through personal sacrifice and God's power
-That God's kingdom is yet to come and we should stop treating this world as our heaven
-That we would do well to rejoice in our suffering

Jesus would preach the same thing because those who call themselves by His name act more like Pharisees than His followers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Example To All Churches

This is a commentary posted on blog. Just an amazing story of God's grace!

Sin, forgiveness and mental illness

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune ran a fascinating and moving story about a church that welcomed Jim Deichman, a mentally ill man, into their congregation. What elevates this story from inspiring church newsletter material to a national news report is the fact that Deichman ended up burning down the church building. Despite this, the church has responded with love and forgiveness.

There are many good questions raised by the story (see GetReligion’s discussion, for starters). Did the church behave responsibly in this situation, both toward Deichman and toward the rest of the congregation? What is the place of forgiveness when mental illness is involved?

Despite the inspiring grace and forgiveness shown by the church in the aftermath, the story doesn’t have a satisfactorily happy ending. Mental illness upsets our ordinary understanding of guilt, responsibility, sin, and forgiveness. Whether Deichman serves jail time for arson or (as the church hopes) receives treatment instead, it’s unlikely that anyone (even Deichman) will ever be able to answer “Why?”

Yet this remains an inspiring story—the patient love shown to Deichman by his brother, and the enthusiastic welcome extended to him by the church, are the very definition of Christ-like grace. And I think it’s a miracle—in the genuine act-of-God sense—that nobody was hurt or killed in the fire.

What’s your reaction to this story? Can you relate to the church’s actions—their embrace of Deichman and their forgiveness of his crime? How has your church interacted with mentally ill people in your community and congregation, and what have you learned as a result?

By Andy

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


This very well expresses my point of view. Except I'd go on a bit more and give more reasons. Perhaps briefer is better :-)

Snapshots of Life

In a day when we pay tribute to the individual who can make a success of themselves and become financially independent, we are confronted with the reality of the New Testament. In the New Testament we are reminded of the interdependent nature of the Church.

I was reminded of this recently in a conversation. People have often asked why I don't get another job and support my family. The answer? We are called as a family to live by faith. I had a full time job, but had to make a choice when God opened the flood gates of ministry to the homeless.

If every follower of Christ were financially secure then half of the Church would be unnecessary. In I Corinthians 12 Paul gives us the picture of the Church as the body of Christ. EVERY PART is NEEDED and EVERY PART is DEPENDENT on the other parts. There are NO independent parts of the body.

In the Church God has ordained some Christians to make a good income, while others have been called to live by faith. Those who are called to live by faith must depend on the giving of those who are called to make a good income. Those called to make money are dependant on those who are called to live by faith so that they can fulfill their ministry of giving. BOTH are NECESSARY and BOTH are NEEDED in the Church.

There is much work needed to be done in the Kingdom that requires a full-time commitment whether it generates income or not. There are many people in the Bible called to leave security behind and live by faith. It seems like a wonderful thing that they did that,we look at their faith and look up to them, but we tend to think someone is off their rocker if you see someone do that now and we tend to not ever think of doing that ourselves. Acts 4 gives us an example of the Church made up of rich and poor. Those who had possessions sold them. The money was then given to the poor and there were then no needy persons. May we realize that those called to make money and those called to live by faith are dependent on each other for the glory of God. What an awesome gift God gave us of being able to work hand in hand together.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A New Confession for Reformed Believers

The Reformed Church of America-- a small group of reformed believers compared to, say, the Presbyterians-- has decided to adopt a new confession of faith, in addition to their main one from the Reformation. It is called The Belhar Confession, and it is a wonderfully prophetic document created in South Africa during apartheid. You can read it here:

The Belhar Confession

It is a wonderful piece of theology, declaring the unity of the church and so denies the separation of church members based on race or any other reason. The summary statement is:

"Therefore, we reject any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Community Gardens With A Heart

Great idea! I pass it along: From's Religion Today

NC church's Garden Provides Fresh Veggies to Food Banks

One North Carolina congregation is doing more than a Thanksgiving food drive for local food banks. Volunteer gardeners at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in North Asheville, NC, have already harvested hundreds of leafy greens for Steadfast House women's shelter, according to the About 25 families from the church spend a few hours in the garden each week, donating 50 percent of the produce to food pantries or community kitchens. Summers are particularly tough for pantries in the area, said Joshua Stack, with MANNA FoodBank, which provides food to pantries in 16 counties around Asheville. "It seems to me that the enthusiasm is just from people who pass by," said Kathy Meacham, a church and garden member.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Self Love and Other Love

Adapted from the preface to Thomas Merton's book, No Man Is An Island.

Every human being ultimately seeks their own salvation and the salvation of those whom they live with. This salvation is the “good life”, not found in the realization of the “american dream”, but in the fulfillment of each individual’s God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. This fulfillment cannot come through one’s own ability, but each person must be found in and through others. These three Scriptures are fulfilled in this: “If any man would save his life, he must lose it”; and, “Love one another as I have loved you”; and “We are all members of one another.”

Some would say that salvation, then is discovered in the setting aside of ourselves. On the contrary, the discovery of Christ is never genuine if it is nothing but a flight from ourselves. Our salvation cannot be an escape. It must be a fulfillment. I cannot discover God—the power that raised Christ from the dead—unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am—a poor, limited perplexed soul.

Thus, salvation is a terrible tangle of paradoxes. We become ourselves by dying to ourselves. We gain only what we give up, and if we give up everything we gain everything. We cannot find ourselves within ourselves, but only in others, yet at the same time before we can go out to others we must first find ourselves. The best way to love ourselves is to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anyone else.

There are many errors in achieving a balance between loving others and oneself:

Giving for oneself
There is a spiritual selfishness which even poisons the good act of giving to another. It is possible for me to love selfishly in the very act of depriving myself of material things for the benefit of another. If my gift is intended to bind him to me, to put him under an obligation, then in loving him I am really loving myself. And this is a greater selfishness, since it traffics not in flesh and blood, but in other person’s souls. This says that in loving another we simply seek the most effective way to love ourselves.

Loving one other
We might be tempted to the hedonism of romantic love. In this, we deny ourselves just enough to share with one another the pleasures of life. We admit a certain selfishness, and feel that in doing so we are being realistic. Our self denial is just sufficient to provide us with a healthy increase in our mutual satisfactions. In a bourgeois world, romantic love knows how to mask as Christian agape. This limits love to only one, no other.

Destroying ourselves
There is the temptation to destroy ourselves for the love of the other. The only value is love of the other. Self-sacrifice is an absolute value in itself. And the desire of the other is an absolute value. No matter what the other desires, we will give up our life or our soul to please the other. This is a false love, which makes it a point of honor to follow the beloved even into hell. This says we must only love others.

Another temptation is to go the other extreme and say, “Hell is other people.” In that case love itself becomes the great temptation and the great sin. Because it is an inescapable sin, it is also hell. But this is simply the love of self in solitude. It is the love that is mortally wounded by its own incapacity to love another, and flies from others in order to not to have to give itself to them. This says we must only love ourselves.

All these answers are insufficient. The true answer, which is supernatural, tells us that we must love ourselves in order that we would be able to love others, and that we find ourselves by giving ourselves to them. True love is the gift of ourselves—cared for and fully functional—for others.

This is not merely a helpful suggestion, it is the fundamental law of human existence. Man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother. This division cannot be healed by a love that places itself only on one side of the rift. Love must reach over to both sides and draw them together. We cannot love ourselves unless we love others, and our love of others is incomplete without loving ourselves. And a selfish love of ourselves makes us incapable of loving others.

This truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe. We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.

What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others. We have what is called a “death instinct.” It is the power of a self-love that has turned into self-hatred and which, in adoring itself, adores the monster by which it is consumed. It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves, but for others.

We will only be able to do this when we face our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be “as gods.” We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” we will begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement.

Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Every Christian is a part of my body, because we are members in Christ. What I do is also done for them and with them and by them. What they do is done by me and for me.

Only when this truth is absolutely central do other teachings fit into their proper context. Humility, self-denial, action and contemplation, service, giving and community—none of these make sense except in relation to the central reality which is God’s love living and acting in those whom he has incorporated his Christ. Nothing at all makes sense unless we admit, with John Donne, that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”

To love others is to make a gift of oneself.

God v. Gods of Humanity

No one is able to be enslaved by two lords. Either he will hate one and love the other or he will love one and despise the other. You are not able to be enslaved to God and Mammon. -Jesus

The audience of Jesus’ sermons knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. Sure, they all worshipped one God and served him at one temple. But in every nation all around them and even within their borders are people who worshipped more than one god. There were a ton of them: Jupiter, Caesar, Ishtar, Ra, and thousands of others. Many people tried to worship more than one god, just to make as many happy as possible. Ultimately, however, they had to rely on just one of them, and usually that became the god of the household, with specific holidays and rules and service that the particular god required. There really isn’t any room for any other.

But today, we don’t worship so many gods. Sure, there are a few Hindus who worship more than one god, but the far majority of us recognize that there is simply one God in the heavens, the Creator and Lord of all. If we worship, we worship only Him. There is only one God, and there exists no other.

To follow this line of reasoning, we are neglecting the wisdom of the ancients—including that of the Hebrews and the New Testament. There is more than one god in every society. And most of us don’t even know which one we serve.

Systems of Meeting Needs
Humans, at their core, are pretty simple. We have millions of wants, but really only six needs. We need to have what we need to survive—nutrition, warmth, and we need to avoid death and illness. We need to have peace in our lives and to avoid anxiety and unmanageable stress. We need to have security and avoid attack or vulnerability. We need to have honor or respect and we need to avoid shame as much as possible. We need social connection with others, and we need to avoid isolation. And we need a certain amount of pleasure in our lives, and to avoid pain and lethargy.

There are millions of ways to meet these needs, and these are our wants. God wants to help us achieve these needs, and He said he would—but at times we may need to wait and not have our needs for a period of time so he can get us what we need in the best way possible. However, we are impatient, and we want what we want and we want it now. And there are systems—many systems—that assist us in meeting our needs outside of God. These could be the system of employment, the system of governments, the system of religions, or the system of education.

These systems, in the ancient world, were not seen as just human institutions or ideals, but seen as spiritual entities. They were called gods. There is no difference from the ancient world and today, except that we ignore the spiritual power of the gods, no matter how true they are.

Serving v. Using Gods
Are these gods all evil? Should we avoid things like medicine and science completely as evil entities? Absolutely not. God is the God over all gods, and He has given these systems to assist us to meet some of our needs. However, if the system itself becomes our god, if we are serving the system instead of using the system to serve God, then we are worshiping the wrong god.
How do we know if we are serving another god? We need to look at the following questions:

A. Do we trust in a lesser god? Do we see the system as what meets our needs, is the core of our fulfillment? Is the system itself our security, our contentment, our means of survival? Do we feel that we couldn’t live without the system?

B. Do we participate in a community whose focus is to serve the system? Do we find our well-being to be found in being a participant in that community, or in the community of God?

C. What images do we put around us? Do we honor and serve images that represent the system?

D. Do we ignore God’s limitations on the system? Do we feel the need to obey the system more than God?

If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, we may need to recognize that we are not worshippers of the Most High God, but of a lesser god.

Human Gods
We live in a secularized, materialistic society, but this doesn’t mean that we do not have our gods. The gods are simply shown as something we feel we need. There are many systems that Americans have served as gods, we simply have not recognize them as such. Below are four ancient gods whom most modern Americans worship daily, or almost daily.

Venus was the goddess of erotic love. Today, she is honored somewhat in Playboy, but more firmly in Cosmopolitan, Glamour and romance novels. In advertisements, sex is displayed as the final salvation, which the product helps you obtain. Lifestyles of sex are displayed on television and movies, and they are considered a healthy alternative in our society. It might be easy to think of pornography as the image of sex, which is worshiped by men through masturbation. But the image of Venus is also carved upon our own bodies as we all attempt to make ourselves look like models, and feel inadequate for every blemish and deviation from the “ideal” shape. Abortion is finally the ultimate destructive sacrifice to Venus, killing the children for the sake of “free love”.

Sex is not evil, but God has placed limitations around Venus, so that she may not roam free. Sex is to be placed within a life-long commitment, and should be given full freedom between a husband and wife. To be pure before God, sex is not a casual pastime, nor is it to be done between family members or the same sex.

Mars is the name of the ancient god of War, and he is the god of human weaponry. Weapons are the image of Mars, and those who serve him, honor weapons and recognize the gain of destruction. Those who display weapons, use weapons on people and depend on weapons for security. Those who join the military or the NRA, although they may be doing it for noble reasons, are joining organizations that fundamentally serve Mars.

God has used Mars many times to carry out his will. However, Jesus placed the limitation on those who follow Him to never join Mars, but to do good to one’s enemy, not evil. And God placed the additional limitation on all who use Mars’ power not to kill or oppress the innocent—the civilian or those not guilty of a crime.

Bacchus is the ancient god of parties and drunkenness. We can see an image of him in Fantasia, the original Disney film, riding on a donkey and holding a huge cup of wine. Today, however, Bacchus would just as well hold a bong, a pipe or a needle. To get drunk or high is to serve Bacchus, and to have a lifestyle of it is to declare Bacchus your god. Bacchus courts his worshippers with pleasure and then he keeps them with his promise of feeling no stress or guilt about anything. Bacchus rules on many college campuses, and people hold services to him in their homes on a frequent basis. Many rock concerts are traveling Bacchus worship vehicles and bars and casinos honor him daily.

However, God is not averse to a party. Jesus attended many parties himself, and drank much wine. Parties are a part of God’s kingdom. But they are limited by God as well. Drinking is okay, but God does not accept into his kingdom a drunk—one who cannot limit oneself. God does not allow of sexual immorality in his parties. And he welcomes the poor and the needy to join.

Mammon was never a god worshipped in a temple in the ancient world, but is Jesus’ name for the god of material possessions and money. Everyone who says that “money is the bottom line” ultimately recognizes Mammon as their god. Advertisements serve Mammon by convincing the populace that they need what they have not even wanted up until then. The business section of the paper is about serving Mammon and who has succeeded in serving it the best. Those who serve Mammon will work just for their own personal gain and desire much. They will see money as the measure of all things, whether worth or security or pleasure or contentment.

The use of money is not evil in itself, but how we use it indicates whether it is a tool or a god in our lives. God told us that our money should be used to meet our basic needs and the rest is to be used to serve the poor. However, if we use money to obtain more for ourselves or if we are always looking for the next thing we can get, then we are not serving God but Mammon.

One or Two Gods?
Jesus was clear and plain. He didn’t say, “It’s really hard to serve two lords.” He said it was impossible. Just can’t be done. Perhaps one could coast along with two lords for a while, but eventually there will be a crisis point. At that point, everyone will know that they have to make a decision—will it be the God of the universe, or my personal god. Will I serve and love Yahweh, the Creator, the God of sacrificial love, the Most High above all gods? Or will I serve my own god whom I have cherished for years? And we may pretend—even for the rest of our lives—that we really can serve two gods. But we can’t. It’s one or the other. And as time goes on, it will be more and more clear. Make your decision. Serve the God of Jesus.

Complainin' Amos

This is a chapter that I threw out of my book:

What does God do when a king or a nation or a town does the opposite of their command from God? What if they oppress instead of assist the poor? What does God do, how does He right the wrong?

Well, in ancient times, God would first send out a prophet. He might send an Elijah, to pronounce punishment on a nation, or he might send an Elisha to reform the government. But usually God will first send a spokesperson, a warner, to clearly inform the people what would happen if they continue in the route of oppression. This is Amos.

Amos was a shepherd, who cared for his flock and plowed his fields. He wasn’t doing much one day when God spoke to him—‘Amos, you’re my prophet now, go out and tell the king what I said.” Amos was shocked, “I am no prophet! Do you see me flailing around like a prophet? Do you see me speaking to kings? Do you see me trying to grab the ear of the high and mighty? I’m a humble man, just a shepherd.” “Try again, Amos—I make prophets, and so that’s what you are.” Most prophets of ancient days weren’t of the John the Baptist model. Most of them didn’t hang out in nowheresville, prefering their mesquite raw, straight off the tree, and hold the meat, please. No, most prophets liked the high life, the rich clothes, the occasional orgy (when they aren’t fasting, of course), and getting the attentions of the nobility—especially the female nobility. Most ancient prophets followed the model of Rasputin rather than Gandhi. The occasional trance, a flood of flattering comments, a lucky break in a prediction and a number of sermons against the king’s enemies and a prophet can have room and board for life, as well as a significant advisory position.

This model of prophet—shockingly!—led to much abuse. I know it’s hard to believe, but many prophets of this type didn’t actually hear from God at all! Some of them might even be said to—and I say this in fullest confidence—be deceiving those they spoke to. This is why God had to pull his true prophets from different stock. He didn’t want his prophets to be concerned primarily with the desires of the high and mighty. Rather, he wanted his chosen spokespeople to say the hard truths, and to speak for the lowly and needy. Thus, God made unlikely choices for prophets—Jeremiah, the young; Michaiah, the irritating; Jonah, the xenophobe; Habakkuk, the questioner of God; and Amos, the lowly shepherd.

Well, Amos had heard prophets before, and he knew that they flattered the nation and preached against the kings enemies. But Amos had a judgment against Israel—a nation his own home (Judah) has had border disputes for decades. How would the king of Israel, Jeroboam II, ever listen to that? Let’s see, Amos thought. Ah, I know. God has plenty to say about the surrounding nations, why not start with them? So Amos stood before Jeroboam II and opened his mouth and spoke first about Damascus.

“Damascus,” he said, “used excessive violence in war, and so Yahweh, the God of Jerusalem will destroy him.” So far, so good. Even though Amos mentioned that Yahweh was of Jerusalem, not Carmel where Jeroboam worshipped Yahweh, at least Jeroboam was still listening. “Gaza,” he continued, “enslaved a whole people, and so Yahweh will destroy them and all of the Philistines.” The king is nodding now—that’s a good sign. Then Amos continued with condemning Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. All neighboring countries, all condemned to punishment. The king wasn’t displeased, but he didn’t hear anything really new. This was the kind of stuff he could hear from any of his local prophets. Now, thought Amos, we can reel him in. “As for Judah, they have ignored Yahweh’s laws and so they will be destroyed by fire.” King Jeroboam II was smiling now, for Amos, a prophet from Judah, was condemning his own nation. He liked this new prophet—Amos was saying what he wanted to hear. But there was a bit of confusion as well… What were these laws of Yahweh? He couldn’t remember any laws that God had laid down that Judah wasn’t obeying that the king’s own nation was.

Now it was time for the coup d’gras. “But Israel, you are also condemned. You say that you worship Yahweh, but you ignore the law of God daily. Look at what you are doing to the poor? The poor have debts and so you steal their livelihood to force them to repay! You sell those who owe you money into slavery because they weren’t able to repay you for a pair of shoes! You raise the rents of the poor, so that they would be bound to you eternally! And if someone needs shelter for a night, you drive them away! You immoral, godless people! When you were under the thumb of the Amorites, didn’t God deliver you? And when you were enslaved in Egypt, didn’t Yahweh redeem you? Then why are you acting like the power, the great, the mighty? You are but a nation of slaves, set free by God! You are but the poor, made wealthy by God! Show your gratitude by doing justice to the needy!”

This rampage became so heated, that a priest, standing by his king said, “Why don’t you go back to Judah and prophesy to them? We have plenty of prophets here. We don’t need to hear your diatribe!” Amos responded, “I am not a professional prophet, but a shepherd, called by God to come here and speak to Jeroboam. Because, you priest, are complaining about God’s messenger, simply because he isn’t saying what you like, then your wife will trade her sexual favors to strangers for food and your house will be divided and sold to immigrants!”

A prophets life isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to tell people with power and authority God’s true message that they’re messing up and will face judgment unless they change their ways. It’s not a popular message. But God has always found someone to say it. Most of the time, God was telling his people to live according to His law, that he gave to Moses. And very frequently, he was reminding them to do right by the poor. Isaiah told the people not to steal from the poor.33 Ezekiel told them not to take interest on loans to the poor. Jeremiah reminded them to defend the needy in the court.35 And all of them, at one point or another, commanded the people to assist the poor when they were in need—do acts of charity. To not give to the needy was a sin before God, disobedience to his law.

It is so easy to forget the poor. And it is easier to blame the poor for the tragedies they face. “If only they would work harder!” “They are trying to steal from us!” In the end, though, all oppression comes from two sources—“We are afraid of these lower class,” and “They would be better off if only they were like us.” A person doesn’t become financially secure by being smarter than others or by being more like the middle class. A person doesn’t become wealthy by doing good or by being wise. A person becomes financially secure because some Fate has granted them a huge amount of Fortune. You can look at it one of two ways—either you get lucky, or God grants you a huge favor.

God, of course, sees wealth as a loan, a favor. He picks certain poor and lowly and says, “Here’s someone I can make lucky” and he grants them wealth or power or fame. Or some combination thereof. And they are released from poverty, from debt, from a lower class lifestyle.

This doesn’t sound fair. And it isn’t. Why should God pick certain people for the “good life” and others are left behind? Many of the poor people I know and live with would say, “Why them? Why couldn’t it have been me?” And, from all I read in the Bible, I can say, “You are the lucky ones.” Because, no matter how much debt they have, they are free of the larger debt of God.
Personal wealth is a debt that is owed. Freedom is a debt that is owed. And God demands a repayment of the favor. His demands are not what some think. Some think that if we are wealthy, we owe the government, or maybe a tithe to a wealthy church. That if we are free, we owe it to veterans. That if we have power, we owe the people who have given us that power. But God demands something different. He says, “If you have wealth, you owe it to me to give it to the poor. Not to wealthy churches, or to a greedy government. Rather, you should use your wealth to help the poor. And if you have freedom, you have a debt to those who do not yet have freedom. Not to kill them, but to grant them life, to redeem them with your freedom. If you have power, you have a debt to assist the powerless—the elderly, the sick, the helpless, the outcast.

This is the message of the prophets—God set us free, and he wants us to grant freedom to others. God gave us power, so he wants us to assist the powerless. God gave us wealth, so he wants us to surrender that wealth to the poor. It doesn’t matter if the enslaved, the powerless or the poor are worthy according to our middle-class standards. That’s not our job, that’s God’s job. It is our task to pay the debt to God. And we pay it to God by giving to the needy.

It is a not well-known fact that for people who live on the street, socks are as good as gold. If you are walking around all day, trying to go to a meal or earn some money, it isn’t long until the wear of boots and the puddles one walks in wears a pair of socks out. On the street, if one’s socks have holes, then one’s feet will soon have holes. As a pastor to the homeless, it is one of my noble responsibilities to hand out socks. Because our resources are slim, I hand out one pair of socks per request, so I can hand out socks again next time.

But suppose, as sometimes happens, that I give to one of the folks on the street the responsibility to hand out socks to folks. I am handing to them the great wealth of socks to grant them to others. Some, whom I give this responsibility to, hand out two or three socks to certain people who really need it. I understand that compulsion. But suppose the person to whom I handed the bag of socks decided, in their anxiety, to keep all the socks for themselves. After all, eventually they would need them all, so why not keep them?

Because it is clear that the socks were not meant for one person—there are a hundred pairs of socks there! The socks were meant to be distributed, not horded by one. But once a person has a hold of a resource, no matter how enormous, they begin considering it their own. And once a possession is considered our own, we absorb it as a part of ourselves.

This is what happens to everyone who has wealth. It becomes a part of ourselves, inseparable from our own personal wants, needs and desires. Perhaps other people need that wealth, but an array of excuses come up in our minds in order that we might not separate from that which Another once gave us. The issue is not the need of others, or the worthiness of others, it is the fact that we do not want to separate our own from ourselves.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

All Our Children

by Heidi Unruah, Found at Evangelicals for Social Action site:

A little girl in my son’s first grade class, Desaree, was shot in the head while playing outside. The bullet was intended for two young men who happened to be running by. Thankfully, she is making a recovery, but her family will never be the same.

Some, though, consider this just par for the course After all, three other children here were shot in the same week. And Desaree is only one of 135 children who were shot in our community in this past school year, 20 of them fatally.

I’m not too worried about it.

Because actually, Desaree Sanders lives in the South Side of Chicago, not my hometown of Hutchinson, KS. Yep, I lied to get your attention. It took this report about a child my son’s age to grab my own awareness of this epidemic of violence. Before that, it was just something happening in another city, to other people’s children. The devastation of Chicago families—mostly minority, mostly poor—has largely swept by under our nation’s radar.

While the overall crime rate in the city has declined, Chicago has the highest juvenile homicide rate in the country. The violence in some neighborhoods is so out of hand that some state lawmakers want to call out the National Guard. More black children have been killed in Chicago than Chicago soldiers were killed in Iraq during the bloodiest years of that war. The murders didn’t just start this year: 42 children died in the 2008-2009 school year, 27 the year before that, 31 the year before that. The heartbreak keeps stacking up.

“When I was young, if a child was murdered, it was a big deal. Now, I’m sorry to say, it’s somewhat routine,” said Ester Stroud. Stroud’s 16-year-old son was stabbed to death on the way home from winning a dance contest.

What will it take to shake us out of this ennui? “We didn’t care about drugs until it hit everybody’s community,” remarked Chicago priest and activist Michael Pfleger, who himself lost a foster son to violence. “When it hit the suburbs, when it hit lawmakers’ children, all of a sudden we cared about drugs.”

Jesus said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We can wait until the violence literally hits our neighborhoods—and retreat ever further into protected enclaves to stave off that day. Or we can claim those who have been traumatized by violence as our neighborhood, our school system, our family. What if this truly had been my son’s first grade classmate? Are his friends any more precious than Desaree?

It takes a poet to say for us all what needs to be said. In a rally at a Chicago church the day after fifteen people were shot in fifteen hours across the city, Maya Angelou cried out: “The children are being murdered. … At some point, we have to stop this madness. We have to stop it! We have to say, ‘Wait a minute. Hello! Hello! Hello! No! No! Stop it!’ “