Monday, August 7, 2017

How to be a Neighbor

Like most folks who have read (and in my case, preached on) the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, I always thought the point of the story was Jesus answering the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor.” But after reading David Young’s excellent book, “Systems, Salvation, and Solidarity,” I have come to see his view that the real questions Jesus wants to invoke in this story is, what does it mean to fulfill God’s command to love your neighbor and am I being a good neighbor to everyone I encounter?

To understand this properly, you need to read Luke 10:25-37 in light of Leviticus 19:1-18.

Well, don’t just sit there! Go read those passages and then come back here.

Ok, glad you’re back. The first thing I want you to note is that when the lawyer responds to Jesus’ question, “What is written in the Law?", the lawyer replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind"; and, "Love your neighbor as yourself.”

"Love your neighbor as yourself" is the summation of the Leviticus passage I asked you to read. Note that it begins with a passage about keeping the Sabbath. Thus, I think it is fair to say that our state and federal legislators who refuse to raise the minimum wage and thus force many of our lowest paid workers to hold down two or more jobs and work a seven day week just to afford the barest necessities are not being good neighbors to the working poor. And they certainly have no right to say they want America to be a Christian nation when they force people to work a seven day week to survive.

If you think about the "harvest" passage starting at verse nine in Leviticus as an instruction for the wealthy to provide for the poor among them, then the "neighbor" is the poor person, whether citizen of alien, who needs our assistance to survive. We love our neighbors by making sure their basic needs are provided.

I think we can extrapolate from verse 13 that for a business owner to be a good neighbor to his employees, he or she must pay them a living wage. Verse 14 tells us that we must not, like our current president, shame the physically disabled but instead be a good neighbor to them by removing stumbling blocks that keep them from thriving. In verse 15 we see that a judge is a good neighbor when he shows no partiality based on class in his rulings. And in verse 16 we are told not to do anything that might endanger a neighbor's life. When the Thumpublicans in Congress and the White House do away with OSHA's workplace safety regulations and the EPA's environmental protections are not they indeed endangering the lives of their neighbors, their fellow citizens? And in so doing, are not these self-proclaimed Christians flagrantly disobeying the command of the Scripture to love their neighbors as themselves?

End of my rant. Thank you for reading it all.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I Pledge Allegiance...

I Pledge Allegiance...

As a Christian, I pledge allegiance first to Yahweh’s Kingship. This is not a statement against the United States but is, in fact, a statement for the kingdom of God. It is a statement for the teachings of Christ; for the Sermon on the Mount; for parables of the Good Samaritan and the Sheep and the Goats; and for the scores of verses in both the New and Old Testaments that command both church and secular peoples to adequately care for the poor and to love aliens living in their lands as if they were brothers and sisters.

As both a former UAW and USW member, I pledge allegiance to labor. This is not a statement against the United States but is, in fact, a statement for the rights of working people in the United States. It is a statement that recognizes the thousands of union members (and even their spouses and children) who lost their lives, too often from bullets fired by U.S. troops and state and local law enforcement, in labor’s fight against child labor and for the eight-hour day, the five day work week, job safety and a liveable wage. It is a statement that demonstrates which side I am on as today’s politicians in both prominent parties try to roll back laws protecting workers and working conditions.

In solidarity with the people I walked alongside in the 1960s voter registration drives in Mississippi (but admittedly always with the knowledge I could flee to a place of safety--i.e. White Privilege), I pledge allegiance to the Black Lives Matter Movement. For truly I believe that people who can’t bring themselves to say the words, “black lives matter,” don’t, in fact, believe they do matter. I say this because so many of the folks I know who insisted we can only say, “all lives matter,” made excuses for, or seemed to be ok with, the Trump campaign’s frequent use of memes, slogans and video’s lifted directly off of white supremacist websites. Frankly, that scares me. It says to me that they are ok with the beatings I and my colleagues received at the hands of the KKK and WCC back then and would not raise a fuss if it happened again in our day.

And remembering when my wife was the assistant director of a public library but received no benefits because the library board said they could not afford them, but then gave full benefits to her male replacement “because he was a father and husband and needed to support his family,” I pledge allegiance to the Feminist Movement. I have been very fortunate to have always been able to find meaningful employment. I want to live in a society where that same opportunity exists for my daughters-in-law and my granddaughters. When my wife was a senior in high school she wanted to be a scientist. She was a National Merit Scholar. But her high school counselor would not help her apply for scholarships to college because, he told her, if she got one, it would mean a male student would not get it and he would need the degree to support his family after college. Instead, he helped her get into a local hospital’s nursing school. I want to live in a society where my granddaughters will be encouraged to excel in whatever excites and motivates them.

And finally, yes, I pledge allegiance to the United States of America. Not to the white male dominated America of our past, but to the America envisioned by Thomas Paine, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, César Chávez, and the tens of thousands of people working today to build a society where every man, woman, and child is respected regardless of ethnicity, family background, or place of origin. I know I won’t live to see that day, but my prayers will eternally be with those working to that end.

And God bless all who endured to the end of my rant. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Maria Skobtsova

Maria Skobtsova (Mother Maria) was an Orthodox nun who was arrested by the Nazis for the crime of aiding Jews to escape from Paris and France after the German invasion. She was sent to the gas chambers at the Ravensbrück concentration camp on Holy Saturday, just weeks before Germany surrendered, in 1945. Perhaps her best known quote is this: "At the Last Judgement I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, nor how many bows and prostrations I made. Instead I shall be asked if I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoners."

My Imprecatory Prayer

Psalm 94:6-7 They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless. They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed.”
Psalm 146:9 The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
My imprecatory prayer for these difficult times: Lord God, Almighty Father, I ask, I beg, I plead with your Word in my lap, that you will indeed prove that you do see, that you will indeed "frustrate the ways of the wicked" who sit in power in Washington acting like you don't see as they plan to enact laws and regulations that will most certainly cost many, many lives.
Protect, Father, the innocents, the aliens, the children, the elderly that your very Word commands us to love, from those who are preaching hate and doing harm. Show us how to promote justice in this time when the most powerful are proving they care only for the rich and powerful. Grant us the courage to speak out and go the way of Shalom even though it may cost us dearly. Amen.

Make It So

Psalm 12:5 “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,” says the Lord. I will protect them from those who malign them.”
Make it so, Almighty and loving Father. Make it so in our time of need. For even now, as your Word says, "The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men"(Psalm 12:8).

A Religion of Hate or Compassion?

"Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of "lawfulness" in Jesus' time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context." -- From "The Prophetic Imagination" by Walter Brueggemann
Sadly, most non-Christians in America today think of Christianity as a religion of hate rather than as a religion of compassion. Largely, I think, because biblically illiterate church goers spend so little, if any, time reading the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25:31ff.

Better to Listen to the Prophet than the President

Zechariah 7:8-10 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.'"
Meanwhile, our president who received a reported 80% of the Evangelical Christian vote is sending his ICE agents to arrest undocumented Hispanic parents of young children while they are driving their kids to school. His Secretary of Education is talking about eliminating free school lunches for undernourished poor kids, and both the White House and "Freedom Caucus" members of Congress are proposing significant cuts to WIC. Already we have zip codes in America where the infant mortality rate is higher than in some third world countries. And cuts to WIC will certainly increase our already embarrassingly high number of baby deaths due to poor nutrition and inadequate postnatal care.
The verses above from the Prophet Zechariah are among hundreds of verses in both the Old and New Testaments that command both secular (political) and religious rulers to adequately provide for the needs of the poor and the aliens living in their land. The fact that so many purported Christians vote for people whom they know will do just the opposite suggests to me that either they don't actually read the Bible they profess to love, or it is not Christ they worship, but Mammon.

It is no wonder then...

In his book, "Vision of a World Hungry," Thomas Pettepiece writes, "James considers it natural that a person with faith also has works. It is not a heavy and moralistic Christian duty, it is the Christian lifestyle...response comes from faith.
"On this theme, the Bible is clear and direct in both Testaments--God loves and cares for the poor. Jesus said to be perfect. In other words, to be imitators of the perfect God, to do as God does. If we are to love God, we are to love and care for the poor and hungry, too. 'You will know them by their fruits' (Matthew 7:16) he said, and by that he meant we are known by our behavior...."
So on the one hand, we have literally hundreds of verses in Scripture that command God's people to care for those marginalized by society, particularly the poor and the aliens living amongst us. And on the other hand, we have powerful people in the White House and Congress who, though claiming to be Christ's followers, demonize, shame and plan to harm the poor and the aliens whom God commands us to protect and love.
It is no wonder then, that the New Testament epistle writers warned us time and again to be on the watch for "false prophets" and "anti-christs" in our midst who seek to subvert the Gospel. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Where to Find God

"An old rabbi was once asked why so few people were finding God. He wisely replied that people are not willing to look that low. Jesus was born in a stable, and (as His Scriptures make clear) God is especially concerned for the poorest, the lowliest, the lost, and the neglected." --From "Liberation of Life" by Harvey and Lois Seifert.