Prophetic Priorities for the Poor and Democratic Duty Dichotomies: A Spin Off

One area for me that makes the discussion concerning Christian responsibility for the poor more of a complex one, is the reality that we do not live under Caesar and the Roman Empire, but rather in imperial America we have a democracy, which means we (everyone not just politicians) in some form take the place of Caesar (as the government). This means that we are accountable for the policies and laws of the land as individuals, in as much as our small voice, vote, and communal activity has influence. And it is clear that laws and policies can systemically have favorable or adverse consequences on the lives of poor people (and everyone else).  How does this play into the discussion of Christian responsibility for the poor? As Christians, as has already been stated, we are responsible to sacrifice, serve, and find solidarity with the poor as a part of our faithful witness. This responsibility is not to be a dichotomy in our lives where aspects of us are concerned for the poor and other aspects are not, rather it is a holistic totality of our being. By this I mean that we must consider our spending habits, our social circles, our speech/deed enactments, our exposure, and the various means that we have accessible to us as Christians to impact the lives of those who are socio-economically disenfranchised. One of the means available to us, as I began to discuss, is that of democratic influence. Certainly none of us are Caesar, and therefore we cannot snap and get whatever we want to be manifested. However, that does not remove the responsibility for us to do what we can faithfully. That is where the prophetic tradition and the Anabaptist tradition have been extremely helpful for me, given the reality that most Christians traditions have not been holistic in their response to those most marginalized, and likewise most Christian individuals politically are puppets for our imperial political parties, having nothing else to add other than their particular political parties ideology (of course with their Christianity-ism slant).

The prophetic tradition, evident in the likes of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King understood (even without democratic opportunity) that as Christians they have a responsibility to impact the fallen broken social order that they are a part of through a violent clash of ethics, values, and theological vision. It was their faith that shaped and motivated them to seek political change inspired by God’s revolutionary Kingdom.

On the other hand, the Anabaptist community is one of the few Christian communities in America that have continually been holistic in its understanding of our responsibility to the poor. They give generously, serve continually, and they even teach to sacrifice luxuries and comforts so they are able to give as a basic tenet of Christian faith and identity. Sacrifice and service (for the poor rather than one’s own church’s institution) is rarely one of the ABC’s of most church’s teachings.

In America, the closest thing to modeling the life and teachings of Jesus, as it relates to ministry to, for, and with the poor is seen clearest in my opinion when we do not get excited about which tradition has the best doctrine and systemic theology, but rather when we are ecstatic about traditions that have faithful theological vision and are obedient in embodying this divine narrative concretely in their communities and contexts.

The thing that is great about the gospel is that it is comprehensive. It is about Newness; New life, New Humanity, New Jerusalem, and New Creation.   The gospel is that Jesus came and ushered in a new social order in the midst of our old, decaying, and fallen social order. And in Christ, we can be a part of and experience this divine renewal of all things right now. So yes, as the Church it is our responsibility to be salt and light and our responsibility to care for the poor, which means we must be faithfully bearing witness and making a difference in all spheres of our influence, including our democratic system through prophetic  stance.  So sacrifice, give, share, vote, speak out, and stand alongside the poor as the active implementation of God’s gospel is rehearsed in your lives.

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Christ’s Victory In Light Of The Cross


How significant is it that Christ was victorious over the authorities and the empire, which were actually the ones to sentence him to death? American Christians do not often talk about the cross in that type of manner, not being necessarily concerned with the social implications, but rather emphasize the cross’ ability to offer personal redemption and forgiveness from sin. Yet the New Testament writers seem to have no problem talking about both its ability to cover our sin as well as its social implications over power (including, Sin, death, empire, rulers, authorities, and Satan). The cross was a low and humbling death, reserved for common thieves, and those involved in revolutions wanting to overthrow the Roman Empire. In many ways, the Cross contextually is an image of defeat, designed to shame and embarrass its victims, while serving as a visual warning for those who would find themselves with similar values. How then do we interpret Christ’s Victory in a place of utter defeat and shame? How do we in our own lives take up our own cross, going up against all the odds? How do we in wanting to save our lives, basically lose our lives for Christ? What does that look like in the 21st Century? What does that look like in your neighborhood?
I believe that when we find ourselves in that lowly place of despair and hopelessness, that we will most clearly understand Christ’s Victory. The significance of the victory seems to be directly contrasted with the seemingly drastic desperation and bleakness in which it comes out of. It is as though, God is choosing what is low and despised to reduce to nothing the things that are powerful and dominant (1 Cor. 1:28). Therefore by putting his money on the underdog or the impossible situation, God shows himself as sovereign over even the impossible. And so we reflect on the Cross, keeping it as the center point of everything that we do, as we seek to true comprehensive victory in every sphere and realm of life.

“And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

Joining God’s Activity

Exodus 6:6-8 “Therefore, tell the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to myself for a people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob – and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord!’”

 

This passage is a great illustration not only of what God has done for the Israelite community, but representative of who God is and how he has actively worked throughout history on behalf of all humanity. God has been actively intervening in creation, taking and choosing sides, always favoring the weak. In these verses we see that he has been revealing himself as the One True God, liberating and redeeming the oppressed and enslaved, forming lasting covenant relationships, and journeying with his people all the way to the Promised Land.

Let us turn not only our eyes but our loyalty to the LORD, joining him in his liberating activity. Let us take note of how God has worked and is working so that we may align ourselves in continuity with the very work of God in our communities and neighborhoods.

 

 

A Child is Born

We don’t know exactly what Jesus looked like, in the Occident most portrayals of Jesus are blond haired and blue eyed. Some scholars are describing him as Afro-Asiatic in descent given his background, geography, and the common ethnic mixing of that particular time. While we don’t know exactly what he looked like, I always appreciate various African and Black expressions of Jesus.  While many are offended by such pictures (while never giving a second thought to European depictions of Jesus), I think it is important for those who have been oppressed (socially and psychologically) to be able to identify with the God who came down and incarnated to identify with us.  It is not a visual message of colonial oppression, power, and dominance, but rather of liberation, empowerment, redemption, solidarity, and love.

Martin & Malcolm

This picture was taken during the one and only time these two great men met. No one knows what exactly was said between them and so we are left wondering what was shared in that moment where their destinies briefly crossed. Was it a friendly exchange or was it one of tension and disagreement? We know that they were drastically at odds during most of their lives, however both went through monumental shifts in idealogy in the final stages of their lives.  Malcolm X clearly began moving away from his radical ideology which endorsed hatred of white people, to embracing all people who were willing to struggle for equality. On the other hand, Martin Luther King became more aggressive, realizing that the injustices and racism in the North were more resistant to justice and equality than he originally thought.  Many have even suggested that the ideological trajectory of the two men would have eventually met in the middle had their lives not been ended so abruptly (both where murdered at the age of 39).

I personally appreciate both men.  I love that Malcolm X was able to affirm his humanity and manhood in the face white supremacy and hatred. He did so with courage and strength, which is why he has and will continue to be an important icon in the black community.  I love what Martin Luther King did and stood for.  When I imagine someone taking serious the life, teachings, and death of Jesus Christ I think of Martin Luther King Jr., because of his commitment to peace, justice, nonviolence, and love for all humanity even to the point of death. Both the Church and all of American society are indebted to him for his example and unwanted progress he accomplished.

Freestyle with me, what are Martin and Malcolm’s significance to you…

Born Again or Entering the Kingdom of God???

Did you know that Jesus only talks about being born again one time, and it is to one specific person (Nicodemus) and only found in the Gospel of John. On the other hand Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God countless times throughout the gospels  (mostly Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew because they showed so much reverence to God’s name). Even when Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, he mentioned the Kingdom twice, explaining why one must “enter” the Kingdom.  I think we should focus more on what Jesus ACTUALLY said, and less on the Evangelical tradition’s infatuation and limited focus with this one biblical metaphor.

We need more of a Christ centered, and scripturally faithful theological approach.  This does not mean discard the “born again” metaphor Jesus uses. It is both great and biblical! But lets keep things in focus and not major on the minors.  When we talk about being born again and divorce it from entering the Kingdom of God (which Jesus did not do) we justify our individualism in which our faith in Christ is only about us.  When we teach entering the Kingdom of God, we are subversively telling people that you have become a part of something bigger than yourself.

Once you are in God’s Kingdom, you must live as though Christ is King, and are now free to live free as a loved child of God. No longer enslaved to this world (its things, its appeal, it’s threats) but now may participate in what God has ultimately created you for… mission with God (to liberate, to save, to redeem, to reconcile, etc.)  and community with God’s people (while sharing love with one another). And we do this while we await the final return of our King to fully establish His Kingdom here on earth.

Given this, the thing Christians should explore is what it looked like for Jesus to do Kingdom ministry in the 1st century, and what that might look like for the church now in the 21st century.

We Had Some Church Today

I can remember time after time leaving the church service on Sunday, hearing one of the older saints in the church yell out that “we really had some church today”, or actually “chuch” would be the more accurate vernacular. Typically that meant that when the believers had gathered together, everything was right on point. Worship was inspiring and God-adoring, the choir sang their hearts out, and the preacher stirred the congregation with a Word that was really powerful. New people probably even came forward and asked Jesus to come into their hearts as their very own personal savior. That sounds great doesn’t it…. sounds like a day full of church doesn’t it? Or was that really good church after all? On our best day, when we have our best voices singing in harmony, people are lifting hands and clapping, is God pleased? When have we had some good church?

Honestly, I question our understanding of good church. Do not get me wrong, I think God desires for us to come together regularly in His name. In fact Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should not neglect coming together, however we should not so easily skip over verse 24 as many are in the habit of doing.It says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (TNIV). The emphasis of the verse doesn’t seem to care as much about the nature of our coming together, but the fruit of our coming together. It seems clear that the fruit of our coming together, is the producing of a community that is loving others and is doing good deeds. Our gatherings are not for the purpose of feeling good on the inside nor merely just becoming better people.

It goes way beyond that, we gather to get something going, to jump start a movement. When we gather we are supposed to be inspired, provoked, and ignited. However we are not provoked merely on how to pray better or read our bible more. (Important things to do, don’t confuse what I am saying). If our coming together only provokes our personal piety, personal spiritual lives, and personal morality without breaking into the sphere of loving others and doing good deeds then we have missed it. It seems that our coming together regularly should be shaping us as a people that go out into our communities bringing relief to those with aids, adopting children who have been neglected, standing up against injustice, living counter-cultural lives that challenge powerful institutions that oppress their workers.

Our gatherings need to be formed for the very purpose that “we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” And if that is not happening when we gather, then we have hardly had some “chuch”. Maybe our having good church is less about what goes on inside the walls of our facilities that we gather in and more about what happens once we leave. Maybe it’s about our engaging our neighbors with love, helping that elderly woman fix that broken faucet in her house. Mabye it’s about taking some time to spend with that young boy who wanders the streets at all hours, without any guidance and mentors involved in his life. Maybe it’s spending the time to help someone create a good resume and help them network to get a job. (Since getting a job is more about who you know, than what you know.)

Hardly do we see Jesus inside the synagogue, and the few times he was, there were attempts or at plots on his life because he taught or stood up for justice. If Jesus spent most of his time and “ministry” outside the walls of the church engaging people, meeting them on their terms while trying to liberate and empower them from the burdens, sin, and sickness of life, why have we revolved our lives around what goes on inside the church. I think its time for us to encourage one another that we can’t spend all our time at church meetings and services throughout the entire week, but instead urging each other to be active in our communities as salt and light as we love and do good deeds. Once the church has left the building, and we are in our communities serving and loving folks. We can call each other up on the phone and talk about how “we had some church today!!!”.

(Hebrews 10:24-25)